New Releases: Vinyl Nation (2020) - Reviewed

"Vinyl is the real deal. I've always felt like, until you buy the vinyl record, you don't really own the album.
 And it's not just me or a little pet thing or some kind of retro romantic thing from the past. It is still alive.” – Jack White

For close to 100 years, records were the predominant way in which the masses experienced pre-recorded music. Using technology dating back to the 1850s, the late 1880s saw the advent of lateral discs which could playback sounds cut into it them through use of a gramophone.  Made with shellac until the 1940s, the industry shifted to a more durable material called polyvinyl chloride, or ‘vinyl’, giving way to the rise of the LP era and providing the medium the name by which we call it today.

Like vinyl’s analog siblings, the rise of the digital age saw a sharp decline in sales. Beginning in the late 1980s, the music industry switched to the use of the compact disc format, as this technology was more portable and almost doubled playtime from 45 to 80 minutes. The additional luxuries afforded by CDs like fast forward, pause, and repeat caused scores of music lovers to trade in their vinyl records for this new format. The final coup de grĂ¢ce following in the aughts with the rise of the Napster era and the introduction of MP3s. 

Courtesy of Sherri Kauk

However, the last decade has seen a renaissance for vinyl, and on the eve of Record Store Day’s twelfth year, filmmakers Christopher Boone and Kevin Smokler have released Vinyl Nation, a documentary exploring this resurgence and its effects on music fandom. Shot in multiple cities across the United States, the film features interviews with various vinyl collectors, both inside and outside the music industry, and across a wide spectrum of age, race and gender. Abandoning a linear narrative, Vinyl Nation uses the interviewees to reveal the history of the medium within the context of their own relationship with their collection. The result is a film more like a conversation than a documentary, which feels welcoming and organic.

Although some background knowledge on the ‘digging in the crates’ community can be helpful before sitting down to watch this film, Vinyl Nation is highly accessible for even the novice viewer. The content is unpretentious, as the goal of the film feels rooted in values of inclusivity. Vinyl Nation discusses stereotypes surrounding vinyl collectors but never idolizes older collectors who “did it first”.  In the age of identities cultivated in service of toxic fandoms, this approach to a fan based community is a breath of fresh air. 

Courtesy of Sherri Kauk

To quote Victor Hugo, “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.” Throughout the film, upon listening to each person speak about his or her vinyl collection, it becomes apparent to the viewer an unspeakable emotional intensity is present that is both warm and heavy. Their relationship with their records is greater than that of the average media collector. The vinyl record is a vessel which makes intangible sounds tangible, giving its possessor a sacred listening experience that demands sharing with others.

Overall, Vinyl Nation’s love letter turned documentary is a success. The film is genuine and informative and viewers will come away from it with the feeling of having had a warm analog hug. Streaming for the film can be found here

-Dawn Stronski