Written by: @BrotherHayling
Once or twice each month, I gather with a group of friends on a Friday night. We convene with just one purpose in mind — to sit around and listen to records. Forty years ago this wouldn’t seem like a novel idea, but in 2012 I think you’d be hard pressed to find a group of twenty- and early thirtysomethings spending their leisure time huddled around a single turntable.
It started almost a year ago. After months of online searching, I’d finally gotten my hands on a 12” version of D’Angelo’s Voodoo. Before penning an article for this site that explored the history of the album, I asked bunch of friends if they’d like to join me at home for my first spin. After playing a gig on a Friday night, my bandmates and a few others joined me at my place, enthralled from the first crackle of the record to the album’s stunning coda. Although we’d all heard CD and mp3 versions of D’Angelo’s masterpiece, the sonic textures of every song jumped out to us like they never had before.
Technically speaking, analog LPs boast a large frequency range that adds that “warmth” to recordings, but you don’t need to be a sound engineer to appreciate the alternative to overly-compressed digital audio. Audiophiles still debate the merits of analog versus digital recordings, and at the end of the day the difference is a matter of preference. Fidelity aside, having to grab a sleeve, drop a needle and physically handle a record creates a level of engagement that vast digital libraries could never offer. Our crew recognizes this value, and since our first night with Voodoo we’ve linked up regularly with a few new friends to exchange our latest acquisitions and old favorites.
On a given Vinyl Friday, we might start with classics from a blend of artists like Otis Redding, Quincy Jones, Steely Dan, Patrice Rushen and Atlantic Starr. As the evenings go on, we’ll venture into newer territory with sounds from the likes of J Dilla, Erykah Badu, Flying Lotus, Robert Glasper, Little Dragon and Bilal. Funk, jazz and soul give way to electronica, hip-hop and modern R&B, but things stay live all the way through. Even if we don’t always get through each record from front to back, we always take the time to get the most from each listening experience. Oftentimes these gatherings turn into games of trivial pursuit, as we jog our collective memories to figure out which session players laid down what tracks. (“Didn’t Chuck Rainey play bass on that record? Check the liner notes!”) Each record sleeve is an artifact from the era it was produced in, and half of the fun is taking in eclectic images and narratives that were meant to accompany these sounds.
These rediscoveries and unearthings inevitably lead to hours-long conversations about musicianship, production values and artist biographies. Beautifully designed gatefolds are passed around and acknowledged with a sense reverence as we snap shots of covers and dissect the sounds we’re absorbing. Depending on the era we’re revisiting, jheri curl jokes are known to be exchanged, and we might even start the occasional soul train line. Night after night, we share something with each other that’s quickly become the highlight of the week for many of us. In an age where music is more disposable than ever and full albums are tossed aside for ephemeral singles, I’m grateful to be a part of a cipher that celebrates music and its history in an engaging way. It’s made me a better musician and a better listener.
If you have a turntable of your own or know folks with access to one, check it out with friend sometime– I bet you’ll never hear music the same way again.
About the author: Hayling is a member of Columbia Nights, a soultronic production trio.