My boyfriend and I, after years of wanting one, finally invested in a record player. Though I’m guilty of romanticizing records, I can’t help but adore them. Albums are fun and beautiful. Rummaging is an adventure. Listening is an experience.
Not only do vinyl records produce a spectacular sound, but they require an active listener. The Spotify experience, for example, is wildly different. I can just put on an artist, algorithmically driven radio station, or expertly curated playlist and listen passively for hours. But with records you’re constantly flipping sides, changing speeds, and pulling the disks out of their sleeves and slipping them back in again. You’re picking dust off the stylus, or wiping smudges from the vinyl grooves. This interaction with the physicality of the record itself is also something I appreciate about vinyl: that it’s tangible.
I can hold an album in my hands and examine its cover or the dips that circle its surface. I have to move each record from one spot to another with delicate precision. I clean them often. To actually hold onto the medium from which my music comes from is something I didn’t realize I was missing. In our digital, cloud-based world, holding a thing in its precious physical realness is kind of magical. And as we build our record collection, I feel like I’m taking part in a personal preservation effort.
Another part of the magic in record listening and collecting is the adventure of perusing record stores. Each store, like every record, has its own story. Some are wide and expansive and others are small and tightly packed. There are more expensive stores and cheaper ones. Some specialize in particular genres, and others seem to offer a hodge-podge. And while each store is different, they all share a communal spirit between customers and employees; we all enjoy music, but we also revel in the same tangible, active experience that records provide.
There’s also an undeniable nostalgia associated with buying and listening to records. I can’t help but feel connected to the youth of my parents when I hear the stylus hit the vinyl with a faint scratch and start playing. Or when the record ends and the arm picks up and returns to its original position. And while I’m actively against the perils of celebrating nostalgia too much in our society and popular culture (in that we seem to be resisting progress as a result of an idealized past) I can’t help but appreciate the connection I feel to a different time and place when I’m listening to The Doors, Thelonious Monk, The Clash, and Outkast. Even contemporary records – like Beck’s Morning Phases or Beach House’s Thank Your Lucky Stars – feel nostalgic simply because of the medium.
So while slowly building a record collection does take time and money, it’s an investment that’s thoroughly fulfilling. Whether digging through bins, listening, or flipping a record and pressing play again, there’s an attentiveness and a physicality to the record experience that I simply can’t shake.