When Wilco’s incredibly critically acclaimed album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came out, I remember reading a review of it on Amazon. To paraphrase the review, it said this is an amazing album, but you have to get it on compact disc. It assured the aspiring listener that on the CD, you could hear things that you wouldn’t hear on the MP3’s. Not long after that, I went to my friend’s record store, CD Alley, in Chapel Hill. “Your really have to get Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on vinyl,” he told me, “you can hear things on the record that you can’t hear on the CD.” I laughed, thinking about the online review.
I guess that explains the hierarchy of sound quality (or at least, what many believe the sound quality hierarchy to be). MP3 < CD < Vinyl.
I don’t consider myself a vinyl snob. I buy about half a dozen records a year from artists that I really like. Most of the time, I enjoy listening to music streaming from my iPhone to my Beats Pill or coming from my Amazon Echo as much as playing something on my trusty U-Turn turntable. Sometimes, though, you run across a record that actually does allow you to hear things you couldn’t on the digital version. One album, that has grown on me quite a bit over the years, Washed Out’s Paracosm, is such a record. For the recording, Ernest Green stepped outside his usual process and added a lot of live instruments and organic sounds.
From the Pitchfork review of the album:
Paracosm possesses more texture, which can be partially attributed to the presence of a live rhythm section. “Entrance” begins with chirping birds, and elsewhere there's snippets of laughter, harps, house parties, bongos, and slight swings of human imperfection in the rhythm section. “It All Feels Right” bumps with light reggae upticks before momentarily collapsing into a sunstroke, while “Great Escape” leans off the beat just enough to generate a little bit of Southern soul.
All of this really shines on the vinyl record. The aforementioned birds especially, in the beginning track, the appropriately titled “Entrance,” sound like they could be right outside your window. This is a warm weather record, and all the subtleties of summer embed themselves deeply in its grooves. Over top of that foundation, both the ebullience and contrasting mellow that together form the paradox of this time of year,1 establish themselves firmly in the sequencing of the tracks. Everything feels unhurried. Layers and textures envelop the listener in their sound. Even the flowers on the cover of the record are textured in a way that rewards the tactile.
I realize I’m writing about an old album from an artist that just released a new record. Honestly, though, I find reviews of classic record to sometimes be more helpful than reviews of albums that have just dropped. I want to know how the record holds up. What ages well and grows on you? What sounds dated as musical trends shift? How has the recording rewarded you over time?
At least during a normal year, which 2020 is most certainly not. ↩︎