Made in 2020, Vinyl Nation digs into the stacks about the incredible resurgence of the vinyl album for present-day collectors. Featuring insights from several record sellers, manufacturers and collectors as to why they love the format more than CDs or any ‘digital’ music. The digital documentary footage is well-shot, archival materials don’t seem to be from the best available sources however and the lack of any licensed music kind of puts a damper on things. No extras on the disc, the insert is listed on the cover as a "special feature." Recommended
Vinyl Nation starts out in a Kansas City store on Record Store Day, an annual event to raise awareness of record stores in a time when far too many have been going out of business. The main draw of this day has been limited-edition records that some customers line up early for- this year the big item is a reissue of The Crow movie soundtrack. From here we meet several people who are passionate not just about music but about vinyl LPs in particular, which were close to going the way of the dinosaur in the 1980s after the CD was introduced.
We see most of these people in their homes, and some at their workplaces- some are just enthusiastic collectors but others run small record stores and some make the records themselves at old and new record pressing facilities in the US. The editing of the documentary keeps subjects together- we hear the subjects explain what it is they like about records, for many the cover art and packaging is just as important as the music contained. We see some engage in the thrill of the hunt at stores and large events where several dealers gather for a day. Visiting records stores of all sizes across the country, we see small ones that have found the niche in their community and the large Amoeba Music in San Francisco which is the last truly great store left in Northern CA.
The visits to record pressing plants are the most amazing, as we see that today’s records are largely made the same way as they have been for decades. We even get to see a demonstration of a “pro-sumer” level cutting lathe, essentially recording sound onto an empty record in real-time. One of the people who stood out was a younger girl who said she brought a record player over to the home of a guy she liked, resulting in his first time ever hearing vinyl. Where were these girls when I was younger? I remember trying to attract some with my technical prowess years ago only to be met with confusion and indifference. There’s also insight from one of today’s primary record player sellers for better or worse, Crosley (a decades-old brand which like most others has changed hands many times.) While much maligned by the hard-core record collectors (I’ve seen record stores in my area post signs advising people not to use their turntables, and that records are not returnable if such turntables won’t play them properly) we see a bit of their marketing success. One girl shows off her Crosley turntable with built-in speakers remarking how she likes the way its color complements the rest of her room. Never been my reason for buying any A/V devices, but this shows the way some current record collectors think.
Inevitably we do hear a few reasons why records sound better than CDs or digital media- the main reason is the “warmness” analog audio brings, which I have heard many times since the 80s. Some say the format’s slight imperfections add a ‘human-ness’ to the music which is proper with artistic expression. Nobody gets really technical about this though- if the filmmakers had sprung for licensing some music we could have had someone compare an LP and CD of the same album on camera and point out what exactly makes the LP “better”. While I’m all for keeping the old formats alive, I still remain unconvinced of vinyl’s superiority. Nevertheless I’m glad that it’s being kept alive and not completely forgotten as many had predicted it would by the post-2000s.
I’ve learned not to expect a lot in terms of picture quality from most documentaries, but this one is at least reasonably well-shot in digital, 24 frames per second. Most current documentaries tend to look about halfway between like a movie and home video, this one leans more towards that of an actual movie. All of the footage is well-lit so there is no awkward graininess that results from poor lighting, and I did not see any obvious compression artifacts or banding. The footage interspersed though doesn’t look as good- much of it looks like it was taken from online sources and the poor compression of those accompanies the clips here. A lot of older footage that was shot in 4x3 is cropped to 16x9 here. The movie clips (from films like Boogie Nights and High Fidelity) definitely don’t look as good as they do on Blu-Ray, but not quite as bad as being directly ripped from YouTube.
The back cover merely indicates “Stereo Audio” but you actually get a 5.1 DTS-HD MA track of respectable quality. The presentation is front-heavy with little to no use of the surround channels. While no major songs that are included, the music that is used to underscore the documentary footage is kept out of the center channel, with the ‘live’ location audio isolated there. The filmmakers made sure to record everyone well so that you can understand what they’re saying with no distracting background noise or room echo.
An alternate 2-channel track in Dolby Digital is also included, obviously lacking the ability to keep the center channel discrete as the 5.1 mix does.
Absolutely none on the disc- the menu options let you select scenes, select audio tracks and turn subtitles on or off, but that’s it. The cover lists the booklet as a “Special Feature”. Inevitably there had to be a few hours of unused footage which would have been nice to see in one form or another.
As an obsessive media collector myself who has long enjoyed record shopping but mainly now favor looking for video rather than audio formats, I couldn’t get enough of this even if I didn’t 100% agree with the main sentiment that records are the greatest things ever. As I’m often misunderstood in my passions, I’m happy to see the people here express their love for LPs and know that other people I run into in stores may be thinking similar things. The lack of extras on this disc is disappointing, but Vinyl Nation is a must-see for anyone into media collecting regardless. Recommended