The Renaissance of Vinyl Records in the Digital Age

This is, undeniably the second Golden Age for music collectors.  The industry has finally acknowledged the massive resurgence of the vinyl format as a cultural response to the first decade of non-physical digital media.  A growing percentage of the listening public are re-claiming the participatory listening experience of the vinyl era.  And the undeniable consumer demand is most visible with the format’s own holiday – National Record Store Day.

There has been a tremendous shift over the last 10 years in the availability and selection of vinyl.  Where once buyers had to dig through innumerable copies of Firestone Christmas, Barry Manilow LPs, and Sing Along With Mitch to find a hopeful grail, local new-and-used record shops are once again staples of every major city.   Of course, the independent record store never really disappeared, but vinyl’s new-found popularity has drastically affected the stock you’ll find at your local store.

The compromise is of the “hip” exclusivity of the format.  Once-rare and prized LPs are now flooding the shelves of every local record shop.  The Jesus and Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, The Stone Roses, Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream… nearly every critical album of the 90s is being repressed by the thousands, and many for the first time on vinyl.  The market is approaching a level of absurdity as even the least-likely candidates for what was once an audiophile market are now being issued as “limited edition” colored-vinyl exclusives.  The soundtrack to the Nickelodeon series, The Adventures of Pete and Pete is scheduled for an upcoming release as is the soundtrack to the movie, Clueless (available in special yellow-plaid vinyl.)

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The market was further impacted by the emergence of Discogs.com.  Launched in the year 2000, Discogs raised the bar and revolutionized web-based record sales. The site’s users have cataloged 5.7 million pressings of over 800,000 community-contributed albums.  This crowd-sourced system has made Discogs the ideal place to buy and sell music and democratized record values to a single global standard.

This marks a potentially-dangerous turn for the format, where abundance of supply may result in a supersaturation of the market, and the flood of “nostalgia-vinyl” may cripple the perceived value of these novelty LPs.  Where dedicated collectors previously drove city-to-city crate-digging for scarce acetates and private press LPs from special collections, the market was rapidly-transformed by web-based services offering global-accessibility to even the most elusive recordings.  Now labels are repressing anything and everything that might tug at the nostalgic heartstrings of a budding collector, further changing the market landscape.

In the last decade, countless buyers shelled out an average of $95 to claim a hallowed copy of Aphex Twin’s classic, Selected Ambient Works Volume II.  They likely paid an extra $20 to import it to the States.  The scarcity of the record made it a grail for many lovers of electronic music.  Fortunately for hopeful fans around the world (though not for the original buyers) WARP Records widely reissued the album and copies are available in malls across America for just $29.99.  The lesson of this example and of thousands of others like it is that rarity-inspired purchases are a losing game, more so now than ever before.

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 Portishead’s Dummy from 1994 – reissued in 2014 on colored vinyl.

But in this new buyer’s market, collectors should celebrate it as a wonderful time for music lovers everywhere.  Listeners can have all the classic albums from their youth, or deluxe editions of classics from decades past – available right in their neighborhood and at an unbeatable price.  But whatever you do, buy first and foremost for the love of the music – a return-on-investment that will not be shaken by the ebb and flow of a fickle consumer market.  Free your holy grails from their sleeves and spin them.  Your music is waiting to be played and enjoyed.  And today, you can have it all.

First 25 LPs at the New Lair

Greetings friends!  It’s been a crazy month but I’m finally moved into my new Lair (which you can check out here).  I apologize for neglecting the blog but I’m back with the last 25 LPs I’ve picked up.

One of the first people I met at the new apartments is close personal friends with Mark Burgess of the Chameleons, and we went out to the first goth night at a club in town.  She turned me on to proto-industrial, post punk and minimal wave music and so I assembled a collection of 319 essential albums from artists like Cabaret Voltaire, the Chameleons, Einstürzende Neubauten, Fad Gadget, Muslimgauze, the Residents, Solid Space, Suicide, Television, The Normal, Throbbing Gristle and others.

As luck would have it, I stumbled upon two NM Chameleons singles at a flea market two days later!

Chameleons, The - As High As You Can Go

Chameleons, The - Singing Rule Britannia (While The Walls Close In)

Just before the move, I found a little hole-in-the-wall used record shop which had sprung up in town.  I was delighted to find a few LPs I’d had on my list for some time, and I traded a small pile of duplicates and got them all free!

Hugo Montenegro - A Fistful of Dollars
I have his Moog LP and this was a wonderful addition to my library.

St.-Elmos-Fire
St. Elmo’s Fire – filed beside my copy of The Breakfast Club Soundtrack

Best of BBC Themes
Best of BBC Themes 2LP (feat. the original Doctor Who Theme)

Jimmy Castor Bunch - Supersound
Jimmy Castor Bunch – Supersound.  Funky!

Jimmy Castor Bunch - Butt of Course
But THIS was the Castor EP I’d been after!  “The Bertha Butt Boogie!”

The next two record stores I visited each had a few Miles Davis LPs I had been looking for, and I picked up each for no more than $4 apiece.  I am trying to assemble the complete Columbia recordings on vinyl.

Miles Davis - Round About Midnight

Miles Davis Sextet - Jazz at the Plaza

Miles Davis - Porgy and Bess (6 eye)
The week of the move I visited my old home town to pick up my items from storage and happened upon still another new record shop.  I was blown away to find a mint original press of Portishead – Portishead, Tom Waits’ Big Time (one of the few discs I was missing), and, believe it or not, The Black Rider!

Portishead - Portishead

This is an absolutely essential Trip Hop / Downtempo disc of the 90s and was a proud addition  to my collection.

Here’s the biggest hit from the album, “Only You” performed live in NYC.

Tom Waits - Big Time

I don’t know how I’d gone this long without ordering a copy of Big Time.  What a great disc!

I had to pass on the copy of The Black Rider, however as it was stickered at $100 and I needed to pay for the U-Haul that day.  Next time, Gadget.  Next time.

I received a few Discogs alerts for classic singles I’d always wanted from Underworld (I have over 250 of their releases between vinyl, CD and FLAC.)  Not passing up another opportunity I grabbed them both.

The first to arrive was the limited white vinyl edition of “Rez”/”Cowgirl”, two of their best-known songs.  This copy was still in its original shrink.

Rez Cowgirl

Here is the best-ever live performance of the two tracks, from the Everything Everything Live DVD.

But the real treasure came two days ago – an original first pressing of JBO29 – the first single featuring “Born Slippy.nuxx”.

Born Slippy Nuxx jbo29

If the title of this floor-stomping anthem isn’t familiar, you might know it better as “that song from Trainspotting.”

Next I visited my favorite antique market and didn’t hesitate when I found Steve Reich’s Desert Music.  I have a huge thing for 20th century minimalism and the next box set I buy will be Philip Glass’ Einstein on the Beach.

Steve Reich - Desert Music

I did make it to a record show just before the move and didn’t get a chance to post the one item from my list which I was able to find.  I’ve been on a HUGE experimental German music kick and felt like a kid at Christmas when I found Amon Düül II’s Phallus Dei on vinyl.

Amon Duul II - Phallus Dei
File under “creepy German psych shit.”

Also in the mail last week was a milestone recording – Nick Drake’s Pink Moon.  I had recently purchased a mint pressing from the late 2000s but flipped it for cash to order this elusive pink wax pressing as soon as I saw it post to discogs.

Nick Drake - Pink Moon

Speaking of colored vinyl I also sold off my mint sealed Spiritualized Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space 2LP and quickly snatched up a copy of the same album on blue vinyl, a Record Store Day release from 2010.

Spiritualized - Ladies and Gentlemen (Blue Vinyl RSD 2010)

This is my all-time favorite shoegaze record.  There is also a fantastic 3CD expanded edition which I highly recommend.

In my recent travels I’ve also been looking for Ken Nordine’s Colors and Word Jazz LPs.  So far I’ve only found Son of Word Jazz, but rest assured, I will find the others.

Ken Nordine - Son of Word Jazz
The interest in Ken Nordine was rekindled when I heard his guest vocals on DJ Food’s Kaleidoscope, an early release on Ninja Tune which I couldn’t resist ordering.

DJ Food - Kaleidoscope
Here’s the track feat. Ken Nordine – “Aging Young Rebel.”

Still on the Ninja Tune kick I ordered an original pressing of Cinematic Orchestra’s Remixes LP as well as the pressed-to-order reissue of their greatest album – Motion.

Cinematic Orchestra - Remixes

Cinematic Orchestra - Motion

And finally, I received another discogs alert when a seller posted the first two limited edition mint Black Swan drone music LPs for a total of only $15 including shipping!  The first, In 8 Movements was limited to 300 copies worldwide, and the second (my favorite) – The Quiet Divide was pressed on red vinyl and limited to 100 copies.  What a steal!

If you’re into drone this is some killer music.

Black Swan - In 8 Movements

Black Swan - The Quiet Divide (ltd ed red vinyl 100 copies)

Special thanks to The_Dig for kicking me in the butt to get blogging again.  So sorry I’ve been gone so long, but thanks for sticking with me!

It’s good to be back.