I didn’t think it wise to lug such a bulky item to the continent, especially with limited baggage space. So, I spent the academic year 2017/18 in Germany turntable-less. In its stead, however, I expected to make use of the free downloads included in the sleeve. Alas, this was not always possible.
This may be a rather petty complaint, I understand. Why encumber oneself with an outmoded form of technology only to complain about the lack of convenience when you buy a largely redundant medium? Well, I have, and I have, and I won’t any longer.
In 2018 I bought just one LP that came with a download card (the record in question was IDLES' Joy as an Act of Resistance – an album I’d already purchased on iTunes and, prior to that, streamed many a time); the rest of which I searched the sleeves to no avail. I tried to impart some Joy to my flatmate without luck. The endeavour was unsuccessful owing to a failure to find the inner punk in all of us.
The remaining albums were all devoid of mp3 redemption, but each, on reflection, holds a uniqueness that transcends this inconvenience.
Texan trio, The Shacks have the honour of being my first purchase of 2018. Their new album Haze came out on limited edition transparent wax from US company Vinyl Me Please, which incidentally provides free shipping to the UK, if you’re willing to wait a good while. I suspect the relative obscurity of the group and the album’s 500 copy release can go some way towards explaining the lack of a download code’s inclusion. Nevertheless, the record is a joy to listen to, made all the more special given its analogue-only format. Its warm bass tones and vintage feel are best conveyed played aloud on a decent sound system and might feel almost trite through a pair of mangy earbuds.
I bought my second disappointment of 2018 in Leipzig – the biggest city in the east German state of Saxony. Based there for several months during an Erasmus semester abroad, I often walked past the Musikhaus record shop on my way from the humanities building to the main campus. Eventually, the draw proved too powerful and I surrendered to its magnetism.
What to buy? I was struck by a bright yellow cover; a bulky, cathode-ray monitor at its centre with a chunky keyboard below and in the middle of its oscilloscope screen the crude negative image of four Mount Rushmore-like titans of electronic music – it could only be Kraftwerk’s 1981 pioneering work Computer World, or as it was in the Bundesrepublik: Computerwelt. Yes, although I already had the album in mp3 format this was the German version of the record. Now I got to hear the ground-breaking soundscape as it was originally conceived in all its Teutonic glory.
Next was not an LP but an EP, namely the renamed Free Love’s Luxury Hits. This I ordered directly from Glasgow’s Rubadub Records – the only place stocking the title in this format. Free Love are smaller still than The Shacks, but I might have thought that with their almost entirely synthetic sound their technological reach might stretch to a link for the mp3 files. Not so. For all their love of synthesis, theirs is organic and analogue. I resigned myself. If you’re going to listen to a pre-CD soundscape then why not enjoy it in the mode of needle and groove just as New Order intended?
My final album sans download code was another German-language record, but this time of Swiss origin. In 2018 Klaus Johann Grobe released Du bist so symmetrisch (You are so symmetrical) – album number three. Based in Zurich, the group espouse a future funk sound with psychedelic elements and humorous, idiosyncratic lyrics. Perhaps obscurity is once more to blame for the lack of access to an mp3 drop box. Anyhow, its still nice to own a big old slice of plastic to demonstrate one’s devotion to a particular band, however impractical. It has been stressed many a time that the greatest romances are all the more passionate for their lack of convenience.
My New Year’s resolution is to pay less heed to the inclusion or exclusion of this “redeeming feature” found in LPs these days. 2018 has taught me that some artists just sound better on the vinyl format quite apart from its aesthetic appeal and that analogue technology put to tape will reach one’s ears more pleasurably replicated on wax. You’ll find on vinyl things that won’t come up straight away on an iTunes search and absence does make the heart grow fonder. More importantly, it removes the dreaded sacrilege of shuffle.