Dust and Scratches

“I was the guy that on the way home from the record shop would smell the vinyl and couldn’t wait to get home to turn off the phone and the TV and sit in my room with the headphones to experience the album. I like looking at the liner notes, the packaging, the extras that come with the music. It all adds to the experience.”

–Trent Reznor, Nine Inch Nails

Some people may not understand this, but listening to vinyl can be one of the most intimate pleasures for anyone who truly loves music. The fastest growing music format last year, vinyl sales jumped almost 600 per cent, a testament to the fact that records are definitely anything but a product of the past.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a rabid wax fan waiting for the downfall of the CD. In fact, compact discs make up the bulk of my collection and I’d have it no other way. CDs provide a clean medium, allowing people to hear all of the intricacies of an artist’s material. In fact–though I might be stoned to death for saying this–I believe Pink Floyd’s The Wall sounds ten times better on CD than on vinyl, as you can hear each and every nuance as Roger Waters intended.

This being said, there are many recordings that sound much better on vinyl. These include most of those recorded in completely analog environments (something lacking in today’s digital age), such as many old jazz, dub and punk records. These would not have the same impact had they been pressed to CD. Plus, there’s nothing quite like the “snap, crackle, pop” of old wax. It’s like hearing a live show; never again will you hear the exact same sound coming over your system, as the vinyl takes on a new sound with every listen.

But where the experience of records really comes into play is during the first spin. The ritual of pulling fresh vinyl out of the packaging and placing it with care on the turntable, slowly lowering the needle onto the grooves of the wax. A quick crackle comes through the speakers just before the needle peels into the first song. This ceremony invests more of the listeners’ time with the album, creating an intimate link between the audience and the sound coming through the speakers; something entirely different from hitting play or skipping tracks on a CD player.

Now, one is able to sit back and leaf through gatefold packaging and full-colour inserts. Artists often provide plenty of material for their fans to read through and look at, usually including the lyrics for all their songs. With the music industry currently cutting costs, most albums don’t include lyrics anymore, let alone packaging worth looking at.

Instead, CDs have become a cheap commodity: a two-page insert in a pathetic “jewel” case.

Many artists release special editions of their albums on vinyl as an alternative to the widespread compact discs. They stamp their sound onto coloured or shaped wax and, on some extraordinary occasions, they include a picture disc (a full colour portrait forming the wax on which the music is pressed). In many cases, artists include extra tracks on their vinyl releases to ease the extra cost to consumers, and to make the vinyl fit to the length of each side. In some cases, the vinyl album contains entirely different versions of the songs on the CD, making the wax a necessity for any die-hard fan.

To say records are making a comeback is something of an overstatement; vinyl culture never left. With its organic sound and remarkable packaging, wax makes for an intimate medium between the listener and the artist. The experience of putting on a record puts people in a completely different and intense position relative to the music, an experience sorely missed by those pressing play for their background noise.


Vinyl shops in Calgary


A & B Sound

The downtown location of A & B carries a very small amount of vinyl by mainstream artists. However, if you want the latest DJ Shadow or White Stripes record, they usually have them in stock. They also have a couple jazz, blues and country titles on their third floor.

Feroshus (11-718 17 Ave. SW)

Also carrying a limited amount of vinyl, this underground/urban culture boutique stocks select titles aimed more at local DJs than your average listener.

HMV

While HMV does not stock any vinyl on hand, they are readily able to order vinyl by a host of both mainstream and underground artists. However, this does prevent casual browsing.

Hot Wax (114 10 St. NW)

The trendiest place in town to buy used records, Hot Wax comes off as a nicer version of Tramps with a better selection. As a bonus, if you ever want to get your Lorrie Matheson CD signed, he works down here.

Megatunes (101-932 17 Ave. SW)

Calgary’s most well known independent music store, Megatunes has a mediocre vinyl selection, though they do cater to a wide variety of genres.

Melodiya Records (2523A 17 Ave. SW)

One half comic book store, one half records, this building houses some excellent titles due to precision buying. As well, store manager Wes Hegg has a wealth of knowledge and is more than willing to help you find something you’ve never heard before.

Recordland (1208 9 Ave. SE)

By far Calgary’s premiere used record shop, Recordland is packed full of rare gems, as well as all the albums you should have. If you need a testament to vinyl at its best, just take a look at the astounding collection that decorate their walls.

Sloth Records (Basement, 1304 4 St. SW)

By far my favourite place in town, Sloth is what a record store should be: a basement hole in the wall, loaded with amazing titles. A large collection of indie rock and punk, they also carry some electronic titles.

Garage sales

A great place to find some amazing stuff, the trips are definitely worth it when you find Bob Dylan records at two bucks a pop.

Caring for records


As vinyl is very sensitive to any blemishes, keeping albums in good condition is vital to their playback value. Newer records are usually pressed on thicker and higher grade vinyl, but some key elements can keep your entire collection in top shape.

Vinyl should be kept inside the inner sleeve provided with the record, rather than just placed back into the cardboard casing. If possible, place the casing in a clear poly-sleeve to keep the artwork in good condition as well.

Should any of the records need cleaning, a 50/50 solution of water and isopropyl alcohol should be mildly wiped along the grooves with a lint-free wash cloth. Follow this with a light wipe of a cloth that has been soaked in water and then sqeezed out completely. Finally, dry the record with a soft towel, once again wiping along the grooves in the wax. Place the freshly washed album in a new inner sleeve.

Store the albums vertically, without any compression of the records that may cause warping. Keep them in a cool, dry area (especially out of direct sunlight) to prevent mould from growing on the surface of the vinyl.

Finally, make sure you keep your turntable properly maintained and your stylus in the best condition, as a poor needle can lead to brutal damage of your records.

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