There is a certain snobbery about the sound quality of vinyl compared to CD. I’ve never owned an expensive “hi-fi” system so I’m not qualified to express an opinion. I understand the difference between analogue and digital but I’m not really sure that my ears can differentiate between them. I do understand that if you zoom in on a digital photograph, that at the greatest magnification, you only see a collection of dots whereas if you zoom in on an analogue photograph, there’s always more to explore. The analogy with music is supposed to mean that there are always hidden depths to an analogue recording. Exactly how that relates to the vinyl/CD argument is unclear because I assume that all recordings are made digitally these days and it’s only the means of reproduction that are different. Ironically, the first vinyl record I owned that purported to have been recorded digitally was “Bop Till You Drop” by Ry Cooder, not someone who, these days, is renowned as someone who embraces progress for its own sake.
Something that muddies the waters is the difference between a mono and a stereo mix. The one example where I can definitely notice a difference is “Tomorrow Never Knows”, the last track on side 2 of “Revolver” by The Beatles. When I play my mono vinyl copy on my record player, it definitely sounds better than when I play the stereo CD on my cheap music system. However, this is not a scientific experiment that inconclusively proves anything. There are too many variables. Firstly, the mix is different – i.e. the noises that you hear are different; in the instrumental passage in the middle of the song, the different tape loops come in at different times. I am familiar with the original mix so a “new” mix sounds strange and, therefore, worse. Secondly, do I prefer the sound simply by virtue of it being in mono? Thirdly, is it true that vinyl sounds better than CD? It’s worth bearing in mind that there are no scratches on my vinyl copy. That’s not because I’ve always been particularly careful about caring for my records – it’s just luck.
The sad thing is that I very rarely sit and listen to music these days without doing something else. Whether it’s my powers of concentration or simply a reflection of the many distractions of “the modern world”, I’m not sure. The way I listen to music is to have it on, not necessarily in the background, but to use it as an addition to some other activity. Writing this blog, watching a dull game of football, driving or eating a meal are all enhanced by music. I have become used to being able to access my music in many different ways and a CD is more flexible than a record. I read the other day about John Lennon having a car with a record player in it but all I can say is that the number of potholes in roads in the Sixties must have been significantly fewer than these days of Tory-inspired cuts to public services. I have a CD player in the car but not a record player. I seem to have veered off the point which is that I like the flexibility of a CD and my record player is in a room without a comfortable chair in it. Maybe when we move to Scotland, I can arrange things differently.
“Menneskekollektive” has been available to stream for a few weeks now. It’s brilliant and unlike anything else I’ve heard. It’s available to buy in two weeks time but only on vinyl. There’s no indication that it will ever be available on CD. Of course, I can continue to stream it but my concern is that I will forget about it. If I actually have the physical object to have and to hold from this day forth until death do us part, then I might remember to play it. In recent weeks, I’ve reacquainted myself with The Besnard Lakes and St. Vincent because I’ve seen the CDs on a shelf. I assume that not releasing this album on CD is some sort of statement. A shame because in a year’s time I may have forgotten all about it.
Jenny Hval is a Norwegian musician and novelist. Before the release of “Menneskekollektive”, she released seven albums along with two albums under the alias “rockettothesky”. She studied creative writing and performance at The University of Melbourne in Australia before moving back to Norway in the mid 2000s. She was lead vocalist in several gothic metal bands but this release is not in that genre at all.
Havard Volden in a Norwegian multi-instrumentalist who has been working with Jenny Hval for over ten years. Together, they comprise the duo, Lost Girls. The title of the album roughly translates as “human collective”. There are only five tracks on the album which is 45 minutes long. The musical style is a mixture of blissed out rave music set to a hypnotic beat which simultaneously manages to be exciting and relaxing. The lyrics are sometimes spoken and sometimes sung, the guitar playing is occasionally explosive and sometimes drone-like. There is much studio trickery and yet the overall feel is one of improvisation. The publicity material that comes with the album compares the feeling to the morning after a rave, where the sun comes up, the music has finished and all that remains is an inner monologue. I’m sure this is how I would feel if I ever went to a rave.
My favourite track is the 15 minute “Love, Lovers”. Its starts with a repetitive drum beat and occasional keyboard tinkling before Jenny Hval starts talking random phrases, for example, urging us to listen to our breath oscillating, or rhyming “opposition”, with “repetition”. She continually urges us to listen, listen, listen. Swirling keyboard sounds are introduced as her voice switches between talking and singing and the beat seems to increase with the intensity of the sound. After nine minutes, a ringing repeated keyboard riff appears along with some menacing guitar thrashing while Jenny Hval sings a lovely wordless melody. By stealth, the sound has completely changed from a quiet beginning to full out manic. Jenny Hval starts to sing the words that she previously spoke. If the song is an internal monologue after a night’s rave, at twelve minutes we are in a full out frenzy, dancing, ingesting, loving, losing or whatever it is that people do at raves. I’ve watched “Skins”, so I know all about this scene.
Oh well. I’ll just have to buy the vinyl. The whole album is unforgettable, unmissable and essential listening.