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Vinyl's staying power

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Turntable
A turntable at the Uptown Cheapo in Minneapolis. Younger buyers are turning increasingly to vinyl as their physical musical format of choice.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

Listen to a song from the forthcoming album of Minneapolis indie rockers Rank Strangers, first on CD, then on vinyl. 

For Rank Strangers frontman Mike Wisti, the difference is obvious. Wisti is releasing his new album "Tucke des Objekts," which is German for 'fear of objects,' exclusively on vinyl. To ask Wisti why seems like a dumb question.

"I think because vinyl sounds better," he said.

Wisti repeats what audiophiles have been saying for decades. Vinyl sounds warmer, richer, more nuanced. It's truer to the actual recording. 

Mike Wisti
Mike Wisti, frontman of the band Rank Strangers, with his band's new album cover. Wisti regrets all the years Rank Strangers released its music on cd rather than vinyl.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

Warmer and truer than what? Certainly mp3s, which according to Wisti aren't even in vinyl's ballpark, and CDs.

"I mean the question to me isn't why vinyl now, but why would anyone not put their record out on vinyl?" he said. "And the answer would be, 'Well someone's gonna give me a million dollars.' "

Actually, no one is giving Wisti a million dollars, and that's the point. His highly literate, sometimes jarring style of indie rock has never been especially marketable, so...

"If you realize that you're not gonna buy a yacht with your album sales, why are you bothering to conform to a format that doesn't sound as good as another format?" he said.

Wisti and his Rank Strangers join a growing number of local bands, many of them experimental or undergound artists, who are putting their music out on vinyl. 

It's partly because that's how they prefer to listen to music. Chris Besinger writes and sings for the explosive Minneapolis punk band Stnnng. 

"All of my favorite records from the past ten or fifteen years I have on vinyl," he said.

It's not so much the sound quality difference that matters to Besinger. It's that in his opinion, a vinyl record, with its sheer size and art work and liner notes has more artistic value then a Cd. Think of writers publishing novels said Besinger.

Chris Besinger
Singer Chris Besinger of the Minneapolis punk band Stnnng holds up one of his band's vinyl LPs and his favorite ZZ top album. Besinger says vinyl records have more artistic value then cds.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

"You want the best paper," he said. "You want the best hardcover you can get. You want it embossed. You want all the acoutriments that kind of go along with that, and I think that's almost kind of like what the vinyl album has become."

Besinger said fans of Stnnng's music want it on vinyl. In fact, some say vinyl is making a minor comeback in the larger marketplace. 

You can find signs of a resurgence in the basement of the uptown Cheapo in Minneapolis, where rows of new and used records stretch almost 30 yards to the end of the store. 

Cheapo has always carried vinyl, and it used to be baby boomers who never got rid of their record collections who were the most frequent customers. Now, it's teenagers and early twenty-somethings, according to salesperson Eric Wiltbank.

"We have kids, a bunch of kids, that come in every week and spend 30, 40 bucks, buy a couple records, and I don't see them ever upstairs. I only see 'em come down here and then leave once they shopped down here," Wiltbank said. "So it looks to me all they're buying is LPs." 

Wiltbank said these young consumers still listen primarily to mp3s, but the vinyl record has replaced the CD as their physical format of choice. 

If you think about it, it makes sense. People switched from vinyl records to CDs primarily because of their portability and convenience, not because they sounded better. MP3s easily eclipse CDs on the convenience scale, which is one reason CD sales have taken a nosedive. 

19-year-old Cheapo shopper Frederick Potthoff of Chanhassen prefers vinyl, because of the new dimensions it brings to his music collection.

Cheapo
Salesman Eric Wiltbank sorts through vinyl albums at the Cheapo store in Uptown in Minneapolis. Wiltbank says a growing number of record labels are offering their music on vinyl with free downloads to entice younger shoppers.
MPR Photo/Chris Roberts

"I kind of like the crackling noise," Potthoff said. It adds an effect to the songs.

Record labels large and small are starting to release their music on vinyl and include free downloads to entice younger buyers like Potthoff. But right now he's more drawn to used vinyl.

"It feels a lot more, I don't know what the word is but," he said.

Authentic?

"Yes, authentic and gnarly and hardcore," he said. "All those words."

For Potthoff discovering used vinyl has opened up a lost world of music that has long been out of print in cd form and will never achieve MP3 status.