The Timeless Appeal of Vinyl Records

April 13th was Record Store day across the world, an annual event created to keep the legacy of records and record stores alive. The local Ann Arbor District library set up a Record Store Day event, including a market of new and used vinyl records from various record shops in Ann Arbor, along with a DJ and other entertainment. I was lucky enough to be able to go, and it was a great experience: I didn’t expect there to be many people, and I was worried it would be an awkward and uncomfortable environment, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was a large turn out. Even more surprising was how diverse the group was, most notably in age. It was interesting to see so many young people talking to the older people about records, and it got me thinking a lot about the role of vinyl records today. They’ve reached an age where they’re obsolete in a practical sense, but have become a symbol of nostalgia and good taste: many people will boast about the unique and superior sound of vinyl records; if they’re being sincere or just trying to sound cool, it can be impossible to tell. Regardless, vinyl records have maintained their spot in popular culture and it doesn’t seem like they’ll be leaving anytime soon.

 

Personally, it’s easy for me to see why vinyl records have stayed relevant compared to other music formats, such as 8-tracks, cassettes, and CDs. I’ve always appreciated the artistic format of vinyl records: their size alone demands attention and respect, not to mention they can be great examples of quality art and design. They take the concept of album art to an entirely new level by making the entire product a unique piece of art, from the front cover to the back cover and everything in-between. Some of my favorite examples are actually newer albums that are being sold in vinyl record format; I find it especially fascinating that modern musicians are releasing new music on vinyl. Maybe they see the unique artistic potential as well and they want to sell a work of art that will never age. Either way, I hope it’s a trend that doesn’t die out.

 

(Header Image: Google Images)

Albums featured:

  1. Zaba Limited Edition by Glass Animals
  2. Monument Valley Soundtrack by Stafford Bawler, OBFUSC and GRIGORI

Swimming: Before and After Mac Miller’s Death

When Swimming was first released in 2018, I was quick to listen to it. . . and was quick to forget about it. It wasn’t that it wasn’t good, I just didn’t find it very interesting; it seemed monotonous and there was a lot more singing than rapping, which Mac Miller was known for. I saw it got a lot of negative reviews by music critics as well; one even gave it a 3/10. I remember around that time thinking “Geez, this isn’t a great year for Mac”, and the next thing I heard was that he had died from an apparent overdose. To me, the saddest part was losing someone so young who had so much to give, and who had always tried to make himself and others happy. The more I thought about how tragic his death was, the more I started relistening to his music, and eventually I came back to Swimming. I approached it with a new perspective, realizing that this was his last gift to the world, and it was a completely different experience. Suddenly it all made sense; his singing was heartfelt and authentic, and even though it was off-key (which critics emphasized in their reviews), it was a refreshing break from the over-autotuned rappers of today. The instrumentation was also incredible, featuring trumpets, pianos, and violins, along with great production value, proving just how much Mac cared about making Swimming a thoughtful and genuine album.

Most important though were the lyrics, in which he talks about finally having reached a peace with the world. He had been known to struggle with drugs before, and he talks a lot about dealing with his inner-demons. It takes on an existential attitude as he talks about living a simple life and realizing that what he had been looking for was looking for him all along. In the end, Swimming was his most mature album yet, and yet nobody had seemed to realize it. Some part of me feels as if Mac knew he wasn’t going to live much longer, and that this last album was going to be his meditations on life before death. However, it’s sad that it took his death to fully appreciate this album. It begs the question: would it be better if he had chosen a simpler life and lived, or should we be happy that he gave so much to the world through his music while he was alive? Overall, I can’t recommend enough listening to this album, it’s a masterpiece. My favorite songs are Self Care, Jet Fuel, 2009, and So It Goes, which is the closing track of the album. These songs are the core of the album and show the real depth of Mac Miller, both musically and personally. Hopefully you find the album to be as genuine as I did, or if you listened to it before and weren’t impressed, try listening again. Either way, Mac Miller will always be remembered by the music community, and also by the people like me, who were fortunate enough to realize how wise and kind-hearted he truly was.

(Image Credits: Google Images)

Juice WRLD and the Rise of Emo Rap

On March 8th, rap artist Juice WRLD (who gained popularity from his single Lucid Dreams) dropped his latest album, called Death Race for Love. The album cover is what caught my eye; it’s in the style of an old PlayStation 2 video game, which made me feel a major sense of nostalgia for the older days. I gave it a listen, and I was surprised to find that it started off strong, with catchy hooks and simple instrumentation. And then I realized there were 22 songs on it. Who in their right mind thought it was a good idea to make an album with 22 songs? Not to mention some of the songs are incredibly short, and the average is about 3 minutes, which is nothing to boast about. Needless to say, I got bored around the halfway mark; I couldn’t distinguish one song from another and I couldn’t even tell you the names of them. It got me thinking though; what is the appeal of an album like this? How is it supposed to be listened to? And that brings me to the recent trend of emo rap.

The pioneers of this movement were XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, who have both passed away within the last two years. They were known for simple, melodramatic music, but more importantly for their personalities and presentations. They both gained a large musical following, and their deaths were incredibly tragic. However, rappers like Juice WRLD have carried on what they started. Namely, music that combines the simplicity and lyricism of rap with the themes and ideas of emo culture. Emo culture is a topic in itself entirely, so I won’t try to engage that too much, but basically these rappers appeal to the sadder side of people.

Taking this into consideration, it’s easier to see why Death Race for Love is so long and uninteresting musically: the emphasis is on developing a gloomy, mournful, and emotion heavy atmosphere. It’s something you put on in the background when you’re feeling a little down, or on a rainy day when you’re stuck indoors. It’s consistent and without surprises, which makes it perfect for background music. To me, this is a shame; no music should just be reduced to background music. Music is art and should be appreciated as the center of attention. However, viewing the album in this way helps me better understand its appeal, and actually enjoy it. I can’t say there’s anything inherently wrong with Death Race for Love, or really any other emo rap album that has this appeal. They have a purpose and they achieve it well, even if it’s a bit self-deprecating. In the long run, I don’t think these albums will be classics, they’re just too forgettable. But I do think they’re part of a unique movement, and I’m sure it will only get more interesting in the future.

(Image Credits: Google Images)

Twenty One Pilots Peaked with Vessel

Somebody has to say it: Twenty One Pilots isn’t as good as they used to be. After listening to their newest album, Trench, I was taken aback by how synthesized and monotonous the band was sounding. The band I loved made cutting-edge music with clever lyrics and interesting instrumentation; this band was boringly consistent with repetitive lyrics and a choppy delivery. I started to wonder what happened; where did they go wrong?

This question brought me back to the best album they’ve ever made: Vessel. Released in 2013, this album features classics such as Ode to Sleep, Guns for Hands, Car Radio, and House of Gold, which show off the genre-pushing ideas the band was capable of. From the almost symphonic layout of Ode to Sleep with it’s grand transitions and build up, to the simple and wholesome House of Gold, featuring an iconic ukulele (which didn’t make it into Trench), the band was unique in almost every way. The lyrics were often clever, and although they could be dark and introspective, they never tried to be edgy; they were sincere. This album brought a large amount of well-deserved attention to the band, and their next studio album was an even bigger success.

Released in 2015, Blurryface gained popularity due to catchy and rhythmic songs like Ride and Stressed Out. As a result, the band entered the mainstream culture and was even played on the radio (ironic when you listen to Fairly Local). At first I couldn’t stop listening, but this album certainly didn’t age as well as Vessel. I noticed it the more I listened: the songs were formulaic. A majority of them featured prominent electronic melodies, edgy lyrics, and stripped down instrumentation. They were pushing the envelope for sure, but in the wrong direction, not to mention the lyrics were much more repetitive than those in Vessel. I wasn’t really upset about Blurryface, just disappointed. I figured they were just trying to appeal to a more mainstream audience and I couldn’t blame them for that. However, by the time they started releasing singles off of Trench, something had gone too far.

These songs were so ridiculously edgy and cliche, it was almost unbearable. From the constant references to death and depression, to the empty critiques of “culture”, you could tell they had lost their original spirit. Most likely, they saw how popular their darker songs on Blurryface were and they ran with it, essentially filling the void of the “edgy” band. In the short-run it’s no big deal, but I guarantee Trench won’t have the same longevity as Vessel: the newer fans of Trench are going to get tired of the edgy vocals and repetition and move on, while the older fans will still be listening to Vessel. Moving forward I’m curious to see where they go; they might prove me right by dropping another repetitive and monotonous album, or maybe they’ll surprise me with a revival of the energy that made them so great. Either way I’ll be keeping an eye out, because at the end of the day, they’re still one of the most interesting bands around.

(Image credits: Google Images)

The Creative Writer

The species that is known as the “creative writer” is one that has baffled me for centuries. Ranging from the hipster elite to that kid buried deep in Lord of the Rings lore, the creative writer takes all shapes and forms.

But really, can I criticize?

The creative writer (aka, me) just encountered her first workshop today. Terrified, she walked into class, prepared for the worst. They hated it, they didn’t understand the point, they wanted to burn the very words off the page. The creative writer had to sit, never explaining her decisions or why the poems were written that specific way, only drinking in the criticisms.

She dismissed the praise. They were lying, they only wanted a good thing to say so the bad things didn’t sound so bad. The things they liked were meaningless.

She rifled through the letters they gave her, reading every word for its double meaning. She wanted an excuse to rip up the pages and never look at them again. She searched, finding the critiques and holding them tight.

This is the life of a creative writer, the life I’ve chosen. Sometimes, I am happy with my choice. I love writing, I love reading, I love words. But most of the time, I am looking for that one glitch that is telling me that I’m not good enough to get published.

But now, I’m sitting in Hatcher. There’s nothing but me and my laptop. And so, to take a break from work, I pulled up Spotify, and decided to listen to one of my favorite albums from last year.

There are two versions of “The North” by Stars from their album of the same name. One is the normal version, the other, a bonus track, eloquently named “Breakglass Version.” This acoustic song has always been something that touched me, so as I sat, I thought of my piece, my classmates, and my future. But then I listened to the original track, and I realized that this version was sung by a different (male) member of the band. There’s always two ways to look at something, and one isn’t necessarily as bad as the other. It sounds (and probably is) very cliché, but just remembering that one simple fact helped me to breathe a little bit easier as I realized not everyone had to love my writing, and not everyone hated it. And that was okay.