August 2, 2015

Playlist Week of 2015-08-01

* Luetkeman, Albrici, et al.: Musica Baltica (Musica Antiqua Koln/Goebel) (Archiv CD)
* Revueltas: Night of the Mayas: Music of Silvestre Revueltas (Catalyst CD)
* Stephan Micus: Darkness And Light (ECM CD)
* John Abercrombie/Dan Wall/Adam Nussbaum: Tactics (ECM CD)
* Oregon/Elvin Jones: Together (Vanguard LP)
* Jose Roberto Bertrami: Blue Wave (Milestone LP)
* Grateful Dead: Dave’s Picks Vol.15: Nashville, TN 4/22/78 (GDP/Rhino 3HDCD)
* Grateful Dead: Mountain View, CA 1990-06-15 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)
* Spirit: Spirit of ’84 (Mercury LP)
* Blue Mountain Eagle: Blue Mountain Eagle (Atlantic/Rhino LP)
* Lindisfarne: Roll On, Ruby (Elektra LP)
* Lindisfarne: Happy Daze (Elektra LP)
* Uriah Heep: Uriah Heep (Mercury LP)
* Curved Air: Live (BTM LP)
* Walter Carlos: Sonic Seasonings (Columbia 2LP)
* Lucifer: Black Mass (MCA LP)
* War: The World Is A Ghetto (Avenue/Rhino CD)
* War: Why Can’t We Be Friends? (Avenue/Rhino CD)
* Lula Cรดrtes: Rosa De Sangue (Time-Lag LP)
* William Onyeabor: Who Is William Onyeabor? (d.2-3) (Luaka Bop 3LP)
* Mick Karn: Dreams of Reason Produce Monsters (Virgin LP)
* Jansen/Baribieri: Worlds in a Small Room (Pan East LP)
* The Dream Academy: The Dream Academy (Warner Bros. LP)
* Ogurusu Norihide: Modern (Carpark HDCD)
* The Sword: High Country/Hexenringe (Razor & Tie 7”)
* Montibus Communitas: Montibus Communitas (Cosmic Eye LP)
* Montibus Communitas: Hacia Aquellos Bosques de Immensidad (Trouble In Mind LP)
* Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp A Butterfly (Top Dog/Interscope CD)
* Inter Arma: Sky Burial (Relapse 2LP)



This article from Stereogum has caused quite a stir amongst record collectors by making a convincing argument that we have reached "peak vinyl" with a big crash looming over the horizon.

In some ways, I hope that's true.

My trips to record store the past several weeks have certainly convinced me that we are in a vinyl bubble market. Thirty-dollar reissues of Carly Simon's Greatest Hits and the complete catalogs of Styx and Lynyrd Skynyrd clog up the new release bins and I have to ask: who the hell is buying these things? Nothing against these artists, but those records can be found for next to nothing in thrift stores everywhere. Why? Because they sold a bajillion copies back in the day! And, really, any self-respecting record collector is gonna want an OG, all-analog, first pressing, etc., which can be found near-mint for a fraction of the cost these ultra-expensive (and no doubt inferior-sounding) reissues. 

There are only two types of people I see plunking down stupid money for such things: the obsessive super-fan who collects everything by their favorite band or the noobie vinyl hipster wannabe who just got a turntable and doesn't know any better. Or perhaps, a third type: the affluent, but lazy, baby boomer who dumped all his vinyl when CDs were cool and is now jumping (back) on the vinyl bandwagon. In any event, these folks are being played for suckers.

That's par for the course with the record industry. They always shit the bed, kill the golden goose. How? Well, most recently, by massively overcharging for CDs. By making criminals of their best customers instead of seizing on the MP3 as the ultimate zero-cost promotional tool. By inventing and promptly abandoning high-resolution digital formats. By thwarting every effort to create a viable, high-quality streaming service. Etc. The history of the recording industry is rife with corruption and cultural larceny on a grand scale. So of course they think the suckers will buy the same records again (and again and again) and they will, of course, flood the market with crappy, needless reissues--until the suckers stop buying.

This is especially irritating to those of us who never gave up on vinyl in the first place: artists, labels and collectors who kept the format alive during the darkest days of digital, when major labels were closing profitable pressing plants and selling the irreplaceable equipment for scrap, doing their very best to kill the format while touting the new-fangled (and hugely profitable) compact disc. Now, here we are with very few working presses left in the world and they are overloaded pressing thousands of copies of Carly Simon's Greatest Hits while indie labels are squeezed out or placed at the end of the queue. Turnaround times of eight months or more are commonplace these days for non-major-label clients--more than twice as long as they were last year when I pressed Cosmologies (the first pressing of which was, as you recall, disastrous). I really want to put out another vinyl record but the current state of things puts me off. To say the least.

Meanwhile, no one wants CDs, which is sad in its own way. So much great music is only available on the lowly compact disc. LPs are expensive, heavy, fragile and artists on the fringe cannot afford the luxury of vinyl. But the hipsters turn up their noses in favor of overpriced status symbols or freaking cassettes for cheap analog purism. Urban Outfitters is one the largest retailers of vinyl records in the United States. What the hell is going on here?

It seems to me that the current model is unsustainable. Despite its exponential growth in the past few years, vinyl still remains a tiny percentage of overall music sales so when the bubble bursts, the major labels will barely register the hit. But the suckers will have been fleeced once again and the indie labels, record stores, and fans will either struggle or die. Win/win! And while CDs have come down in price vis-a-vis their vinyl counterparts (if they exist), they remain, bit-for-bit, a total ripoff by any rational estimation. The music industry continues to cling to an old, outmoded business model that ultimately drives consumers away--and I don't see that changing any time soon.

Hardcore record collectors like me will always be here and we will put up with a lot of abuse for what we love. And I am sure that some of these younger folks will persevere, despite being burned by a cynical industry. But we have our limits.


Roddus said...

Cool Rant dude, although I'm hoping I don't fall into the category of "the affluent, but lazy, baby boomer who dumped all his vinyl when CDs were cool and is now jumping (back) on the vinyl bandwagon." Baby Boomer, not quite, affluent, again not quite, lazy, yeah probably. I did dump all my Vinyl back in the late 90's a) because I was sick of transporting over 1000 records around every time I moved accommodation, which was quite frequent in those days, b)because the quality of new vinyl available here then was shocking and c)I was unemployed and depressed and needed money.
I guess I got into CDs because of the convenience of longer playing time, the convenience of their compact size, the wonderful silence behind the music and the fact that the music I was listening too was getting less and less available in vinyl.

I think I mentioned recently the appearance of vinyl reissues at our local version of a Walmart store and being suspect of the quality of these records. I agree with your thinking that it might be a good thing if the bubble bursts on the "vinyl resurgence in that I don't want to see the market flooded with shoddy overpriced product filling the shelves in our favourite record emporiums. Judging by the average value of a turntable sold last year though most of those vinyl buyers won't be able to tell the difference between the good and bad vinyl.

I have no intention of going out and buying vinyl copies of albums that I already have on CD. I hardly ever go and buy the latest remaster/reissue of any thing I already have with the exception of the recent Led Zeppelin remasters because I was never happy with the original CDs I had. The new ones are a definite improvement.

So I am enjoying getting back into vinyl and having an exceptional turntable is making it all the more enjoyable. Does CD sound better than vinyl? I'm still on the fence on this. I have CDs that take my breath away with their sonic qualities and now some lps that do too, the best of both worlds.

Spencer Cantley said...

Great rant, perfectly said Roger.I couldn't agree more. This is why I dont buy music on vinyl from majors. And try to get the OG when possible. Still, when the bubble bursts isn't it going to be harder to find some small label records as easily? Seems to me that this is a double edged sword. There are interesting times ahead.