Perspective: What Vinyl Taught Me About Album Listening


Renewed interest in vinyl records seems to be the most recent iteration of “old school” technology reentering the mainstream. Urban Outfitters carry suitcase-style Crosley record players in pastel colors; slews of records new and old — from Tyler The Creator’s “Flower Boy” to Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” to Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” — dominate a section of each and every store.

Until recently, I was intrigued by the idea of record players and vinyl, but didn’t give them much serious thought. The idea of purchasing a system and building a record collection seemed quite expensive and a little pointless — after all, I could access a whole world of music with my Spotify Premium subscription (only $2.99 monthly with a student discount!) at any time. My parents kept a record collection in a cabinet, and my stepdad had received a new audio-technica system to play them with a few years ago, but we rarely listened to records around the house.

This limited experience made it a complete surprise when I received a turntable, set of powered speakers, and two records from my aunt and uncle for my eighteenth birthday. It was a present that I had neither asked for nor expected, but was nonetheless thrilled to set up my turntable on the floor of my room. At first I alternated between Vance Joy’s “Dream Your Life Away” and an Al Green’s greatest hits record, the two that I had received alongside the present, but by the end of the week I had invested a significant portion of my birthday money in records to add to my collection.

There are various reasons the idea of a vinyl collection might appeal to someone. For older generations, there’s an element of nostalgia involved; some simply take pleasure in going through the motions of pulling a record out of its sleeve, placing it on the turntable, and setting the needle in a groove. I myself am quite appreciative of interesting album artwork — having blown-up, physical copies of images I would typically see shrunken down to iPhone size seems to add another level to the listening experience and encourages further consideration on an album cover.

However, the most striking thing I’ve learned since acquiring records and a record player is the power of an album that listens well from start to finish. When you listen to vinyl, there’s no “shuffle” mode, and no effective way to skip songs — for the buyer, this inherent limitation stymies any desire to buy a record on which they might enjoy only a few songs. This in turn encourages the artist to produce a cohesive, high-quality album that listeners will enjoy as a whole — not just a few chart-toppers accompanied by filler.

Today, music consumers have unparalleled levels of control when it comes to what they’ll listen to. Empowered by bluetooth technology and the famed “aux cord,” we listen to our own curated playlists in our cars, at parties, and while studying. When we can’t decide on a playlist, we’ll listen to somebody else’s, or create a queue of songs that will hold us over until we no longer need to be listening. Above all, the musical experience that results from listening to records forces the listener to relinquish this control and appreciate a collection of songs just as their artist intended. On the whole, this approach serves to magnify the quality of any album — whether by reinforcing its impactfulness or revealing that the success of its single is merely a false front.

Ten albums to listen to all the way through:


6 Feet Beneath The Moon — King Krule

Houses of the Holy — Led Zeppelin

Ctrl — SZA

Freudian — Daniel Caesar

So Long Forever — Palace

Doggystyle — Snoop Dogg

Blonde — Frank Ocean

Wish You Were Here — Pink Floyd

The Sun’s Tirade — Isaiah Rashad

Parachutes — Coldplay