In the age of iPods and mp3s, illegal downloading and burned CDs, you would think that vinyl would be so, like, 1960. But I’ve recently been feeling an odd pull to the 12 inch black discs. And I’m not the only one. New bands are starting to release their albums on vinyl and there are even blogs and websites devoted to LPs. My roomate got a turntable earlier this year and I’ve caught myself scouring the stacks of records instead of flipping through CDs at the local record store.
So why is this archaic art form making a come back??
The answer might lie in something that my Intro to Rock professor, Mark Katz, talked about during the last day of class. The musical theme of this decade has been three R’s: Retro, Recycling and Revivalism.
Let’s break it down. A lot of today’s popular music is in some way borrowing or stealing from music decades earlier. First, take sampling. Artists — mostly in hip-hop — have started recycling older music by sampling it and putting new words, beats or ideas over top of it. Sure, they’re creating new music, but they’re taking something old and bringing it back. Prime example: “Gold Digger” by Kanye West samples Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman.” An even more extreme example is my new addiction Girl Talk, where Gregg Gillis uses as many as 25 different songs to create something totally new.
Retro and revivalism sound the same, but there are tiny differences. Retro refers to bands that are taking some of the ideas of older music but taking it to a different level. Take the lo-fi garage rock that was popular in the ’60s. You’re seeing that same rough and unpolished approach to music today in bands like The White Stripes or The Strokes. It may not be exactly the same style of music, but it has the same aesthetic.
Revivalism is pure copying of an earlier style of music. For this I’ll use the example of disco. Bands like the Scissor Sisters have brought back that “four on the floor” drum beat and falsetto singing that the Bee Gees popularized in the ’70s.
So in light of all these musical trends, it starts to become clear why the album is making a resurgence. Popular music now is being heavily influenced by musics of the ’60s and ’70s. So it makes sense that how we listen to this music would be influenced in the same way. It doesn’t feel right to listen to lo-fi stuff like The White Stripes on a digitized mp3. I need some crackle and pop of a record to make it feel right.
I still love CDs and my iPod is always by my side. But there is something distinctly different in the experience of putting on some vinyl. It’s an experience. Taking the record out of the sleeve, starting the turntable and lowering that needle to the groove. You can’t compare to that. And the little imperfections are what make it beautiful.
Go buy a record and put it on, see if you don’t agree.