The Vinyl Frontier

Jake Leigh-Howarth explains why for him, vinyl is the superior music format.

What do vinyl records mean to you? Are they a symbol of a bygone era dwarfed by the pragmatism of the MP3 file and upheld only by the dogmatic luddite? Or is it a medium that helps to fully immerse the listener into the artistic raison d’être of a record?

The-Endless-RiverFigures suggest that they are indeed getting more popular. For instance, in November 2014 vinyl record sales reached over 1 million; the most sold since 1996, and Pink Floyd’s latest opus, The Endless River released in 2014 was the fastest selling vinyl release since 1997. Of course, vinyl records are outmatched by the popularity of music-streaming sites such as Spotify which has under its wing 10 million paying accounts as well as an additional 40 million non-paying accounts. The juxtaposition in popularity between these two music mediums is staggering, yet the increase in vinyl sales is much more important. It represents a growing contingent of consumers that don’t see vinyl records as an anachronistic echo of the past, but who fully realize that the physical aspects of a vinyl record – the artwork, in-sleeve, and vinyl disc – play a key role towards the understanding of messages, themes, and emotions prevalent in amazing records.

You just can’t beat the feeling of listening to a vinyl record. Selecting it, removing it from the sleeve, placing it on the turntable, dropping  the pin, studying the artwork, reading the lyrics, switching to side B, and then the glorious silence as the last note make its final journey is a concatenation of events almost ritualistic in quality. Searching for vinyl records is even more fun. Sadly, the exciting prospect of discovering music by browsing a record store is an experience that has had its chances diminished over the years. Buying records just because their artwork interests you or because the band has a weird name such as ’Lesbian Dopeheads on Mopeds’ seems to be a thing of the past now, confined to the halcyon days of the 20th century. Luckily the survival of small independent record stores has ensured that this experience hasn’t been lost to the ages. In Leeds, Crash, Jumbo, Norman and Relics records work tirelessly to procure the best new records for their customers and to help upkeep a thriving vinyl scene pioneered by local bands and vinyl fans. To those that love music and want to expand their relationship with it; giving vinyl records a try is an opportunity to explore, in greater detail, the stunning elegance with which a tangible piece of music – with its combination of design, music, and beauty – is able to conjure up feelings of transcendental magnitude.

panopticon‘Panopticon’ by ISIS is one of those records capable of this. The record’s central idea is that with the advent of surveillance and 24 hour CCTV we as a society are slowly turning into an Orwellian police state – such is the likening to a ‘panopticon’ prison in which there is one person at the central hub of the design watching over all the inmates. The fear that someone is watching you prevents you from breaking the prison rules. Quotations from Jeremy Bentham, the creator of the ‘panopticon’, litter the in-sleeve further elucidating the idea, and the artwork shows an ominous CCTV camera image of a town suggesting that surveillance drones will rule the sky in the dystopian future. Also, the bleak, icy, mountainous expanse that is the artwork for the Russian Circles album ‘Memorial’ is perfectly reflected in the music of the record, which invokes both the beauty and harshness of such an environment via delicate acoustic flourishes and rousing passages of cyclopean heaviness. Similarly, the violent image of a politician being ravaged by cartoon demons on the cover of Iron Reagan’s ‘Tyranny of Will’ evokes the juvenile, teenage angst rampant throughout its frantic 33 minute duration.

Having a vinyl record is like being in possession of a work of art; that has an additional accompanying soundtrack able to replicate the messages and ideas of the artwork into musical form. This is why emotions ranging from intense beauty to eldritch despair can be so powerfully conveyed by the vinyl format. And why most importantly, it is the king of artistic mediums and here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Jake Leigh-Howarth


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