Arts & Entertainment, The Muse

Back to Basics

Brendan Zehnder has a typical college dorm room: a white Apple laptop sitting atop a cluttered desk, a cell-phone charging on his night stand, an iPod alarm clock system next to his unmade bed and a personal printer perched on a stack of calculus textbooks. Through the maze of all these new technologies, however, a dusty turntable and a bin of vinyl records have a corner all to their own.

‘I don’t even know why I have this,’ he said as he held up Bruce Springsteen’s Born in The USA record. ‘My favorite part about that album is that the picture’s the same on the front and the back. It’s just like two copies of Bruce Springsteen’s ass.’

Rifling through the bin, he tries to decide what album he should put on. ‘They say CD’s and MP3’s have better sound quality,’ he said as he finally settled on Armed Forces by Elvis Costello, ‘but I don’t want it any better than it was in the beginning. I want it just the same.’

He places the record down with the A-side facing up. ‘I don’t know, I guess it’s that whole idea of something being lost in translation.’ Laying the needle down into the black groove, the static crinkle that became the sound effect of the 70s echoes against his cement block walls.

Zehnder is just one of the many members of music’s younger generation contributing to the re-found popularity of vinyl records. Even with MP3 players and downloadable albums, vinyl record sales have increased rapidly over the past few years. According to Josh Friedlander, the vice president of the Recording Industry Association of America, record shipments have shown remarkable growth and have doubled in size from just 2007 to 2008.

‘Records are making a comeback. I mean, not like 20 years ago, but kids are buying records again,’ said Stuart Freedman, the owner of Nugget’s, a record store in Kenmore Square.

Freedman said sales started improving three to four years ago and that the store is doing surprising well during the recession. ‘We’ve always sold records. People thought we should have stopped selling them 10 or 15 years ago, but I’ve always loved records.’

Freedman isn’t the only person who loves records anymore. According to an article from Time Magazine, 990,000 vinyl albums were sold in 2007, which is up 15.4 percent from the 858,000 units bought in 2006.

Many artists and bands that usually only have their material released on CDs and mp3 files are now releasing their work on vinyl as well. Even Amazon has opened up a section of their site exclusively for the sale of vinyl records.

Sold in half-price garage sale bins a few years ago, records are re-emerging from the dust. Even though the technology is technically a step back, many agree that the old form of listening devices is actually a step forward. Freedman said the music industry expects double-digit growth in shipments during 2009. Music is finally going back to one of its purest forms, he said.

People are realizing that vinyl is a more authentic form of musical connection. CD’s and MP3’s have a habit of turning music into background noise. Vinyl is interactive; the side needs a flip around every twenty minutes and the needle needs to be adjusted. Listening to an album on vinyl is an activity.

‘You had to listen to the whole album all the way through, the way the artist intended. You were listening to what the artist wanted to say and in what order,’ Freedman said. ‘I think there’s too much to take in when you put on a CD. I’ll be listening to it for an hour and I won’t even remember one song off of it.’

One CD can contain 14 songs, while vinyl records have average of five songs on each side and are structured for a more personal experience. ‘CDs don’t feel as good physically to have,’ Zehnder said. ‘The case is plastic. This white, industrial plastic crap, and if you set it down wrong it’s going to crack.’

The art on vinyl isn’t hidden behind plastic. Vinyl covers are larger and therefore have much more room for creative expression. Many records have become famous for their cover art as much as they have for the actual music inside, the covers themselves defining the artists.’ The Velvet Underground and Nico name is preserved in history from a simple yellow banana against a white background envisioned by Andy Warhol. London Calling by The Clash displays a young punk smashing a guitar on stage, an image that signifies the end to corporate rock. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles is a collage of famous figures, a hint that the album is outside the context of just plain rock and roll.

According to an article from Wired.com, digital forms of music are compressed in order to be able to fit onto a CD or MP3 file. Listeners say that analog forms of music have a less calculated, much warmer sound. Zehnder, who bought his first turntable this year, said he notices a difference when he listens to a record through his speakers instead of the tiny headphones connected to his iPod. Freedman, whose favorite bands include The Kinks, The Who and Creedence Clearwater Revival, admits that he stopped listening to newer bands when they stopped releasing their albums on vinyl format.

Vinyl records did go out of style for a reason; they skip easily and the grooves can wear down to the point where the record becomes unplayable. The needle is incredibly sensitive and scratches can form all over a record just from an accidental hip bump in the record player’s direction. Music listeners are starting to realize, however, that the black plastic rings are worth their horrible temperament.

‘I would always hear my dad talking about, you know, the first time he heard Led Zeppelin. It was life changing; it was the first time he heard anything like that. It just changed music for him,’ Zehnder said. ‘I always just thought to myself, ‘That would be so cool to have that same experience that my dad did with Zeppelin.’ To just be blown away by them right off the bat. And so I got a copy of [Led] Zeppelin II and I put it on and was like, ‘Yes!”

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