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The vinyl record, in one form or another, has been the preferred method for enjoying music in the home since the days of the wax cylinder and the early days of recorded sound. After the arrival of the cassette tape, followed by the advent of the Compact Disc in the 1980’s, the vinyl record appeared threatened. The analog sound and physical gatefold sleeve were thought by many to have been relegated to the dustbins of history. In a time where the musical format of choice has largely been filled by MP3’s and Spotify or Pandora, vinyl is making a surprising return.
Since the early 2000’s, an emerging collective of record enthusiasts and vinyl audiophiles have been fueling a renaissance fueled by diamond headed needles riding spinning discs and those dedicated adherents of the analog aesthetic. Call them hipsters if you will, but in the 2010’s this movement is catching on. The following selection of albums is a guide meant to curate the sound and aesthetic of vinyl and to demonstrate the lasting appeal of the record as art form.
The AlbumsJoanna Newsom – “Have One On Me”
Joanna Newsom’s “Have One On Me” is the perfect example of what drew me to vinyl in the first place. The packaging is composed of a hardcover box with whimsical painted artwork, vivid color, and elaborate attention to detail. From the outset, this is art that cannot be experienced properly at the level of a smaller scale CD, not to mention a vacuous digital image. This set has a soul to it. Contained within the beautifully illustrated box are 3 LP’s with stunning black and white photographs on the sleeves housing each disc. Newsom’s unique voice fits perfectly with the vinyl medium. The oddly melodic high pitched vocals, along with the sweet high and deep harp notes crackle and rise out of the warm sound with intention and purpose, making the ears come alive. I find this album is best enjoyed seated and accompanied with a cup of tea.
The Sword – “Apocryphon”
“Apocryphon”, the fourth studio album from metal/rock band “The Sword”, is dazzlingly colorful. The artwork from this album deserves a frame. On the cover, occult fantasy art abounds with a robed woman giving the sign of silence, space, fire, and textured symbols and text on the sleeve make up some of the best aspects of this release aside from the sound. The disc itself is orange colored and looks great spinning in your record player. The Sword’s 70’s influenced sludge metal is inherently analog. The fuzz comes out of the bass, fully warm and sonically rounded, and the crunchy guitar riffs almost compel the listener to head bang. Play this on your record player at maximum volume so that your neighbors don’t miss out on the fun.
William Fitzsimmons – “Lions”
Soft-sung vocals, personal lyrics, and simple artwork are a trademark of William Fitzsimmon’s work, and his latest album “Lions” is no exception. This demonstrates another aspect of vinyl. Simplicity. While I’ve been making much of the intricate artwork and the appeal of vinyl as a complex, ceremonial listening experience, “Lions” is a very straightforward album. Simple artwork, but the sound itself is so well matched to analog you can tell it was meant to be heard this way. Acoustic tones shimmer through in analog format in a way that just can’t be captured digitally. A warm full acoustic sound is this album’s hallmark. Although this is a studio album on vinyl, it almost feels like there is an acoustic guitar being played live in your room as you listen. I find giving this album a spin in the evening is a good way to relax and de-stress. Watch for his upcoming album “Pittsburgh”!
So where do you find vinyl? In an age and place where record shops seem to be disappearing, (I still miss The Beat), there are still a few options. Records at 1618 Broadway, Dimple Records with locations throughout downtown and suburban Sacramento, and the newly opened Delta Breeze Records on 1049 Jefferson Blvd. in West Sac are some of the best bets for the vinyl hunter. Many of these stores sell record players as well. Online orders can be a gamble, as transportation of vinyl is tricky due to the format’s fragility and sensitivity to heat. One of the most fun places to find vinyl records is at live shows. Most shows I’ve been to in Sacramento will have vinyl records for sale. And even if you can’t find the exact record you’re looking for, part of the fun of being a vinyl collector lies in the fact that it isn’t always easy. Something that makes vinyl more valuable and more appreciable is the fact that it isn’t the easiest thing to obtain. A store might have 1 or 2 copies of an LP whereas they may have 15 CD’s in stock. Sometimes you’ll go looking, be disappointed at first, and then find something new to fall in love with. The hunt and the search is all a part of the romance! Keep an eye out for our future articles highlighting some of Sacramento’s best independent record stores!