A Love Letter to the CD
(Or Any Form of Physical Music You Choose)
Technology often manages to fail us somehow. I remembered this fact not too long ago: Ahead of the release date of Palaye Royale's Boom Boom Room: Side B, which I'd been anticipating for months, I tried to change my iTunes payment details and the computer said no. A software update and a reinstallation of iTunes later, it still said no. No more downloads for you, Emma. That's what happens when you aren't rich enough to replace your computer every time something flashier comes out.
I had to buy this album. I had to think again. Mum needed to go to town, and I wanted to escape from my schoolwork, so I went with her. And, for the first time in what must have been years, I got out of the house, and I bought a CD. A real, shiny, jewel-cased CD.
With no HMV around, the only place I could find the new Palaye Royale album was an indie record store on the High Street. I'd had a wander in there before, but had never bought anything, being too frugal for my won good and too loyal to my self-imposed policy of never buying music without listening to it first on Spotify... I'd always wanted that to change. I'd always wanted to support an indie record store in a time of declining music sales. Support your scene and your scene will support you, and all that. So, I found the CD in the "New Releases" section and took it to the counter.
That's when I stepped into the time machine and went back to the glory days of music that people so idealise. I had one of those nice old-fashioned chats with the guy at the counter. Not about music, mind, about the wonders of contactless payment I'd only just discovered, but it surely beat the other conversations I'm normally too awkward and British to have in shops. It's because it was real. Not the unnecessary cliched stuff the staff in shops are trained to ask you - nothing is worse than the moment when they pounce on you and ask "Y'alright?" in an over sweetened voice—but a genuine, kind, human chat. The kind that makes you feel like less of a misanthrope, just for a second.
Back to the CD itself. Just like its purchase, I realised recently that a CD is an experience of its own. Liner notes are more underrated than you might think: holding the lyrics in your hands, alongside the photos and the dedications, makes it all the more real and beautiful. In this one, Palaye's drummer Emerson Barrett had written out all of the lyrics himself. There were drawings in there he'd done too. You feel closer to the band when you can see all of that in your own hands; there's so much you can tell about someone from their handwriting, and it feels more personal than Times New Roman. How odd it is that something people who make music take so much care and so much effort over is ignored and neglected as we move away from buying physical albums to streaming.
There's no shuffle mode either. As much as I hit the Shuffle button on my iPod, and as much as I believe in appreciating songs in their own individual right, there's so much more you can gain from playing a record front to back. You appreciate it more for the complete, unfragmented story it tells. There's a reason those tracks are in the order they are, and besides, in shuffle mode, you miss the beautiful seamlessness of the transition from one track to another (see American Idiot by Green Day if you want a particularly good example). And somehow, when you listen to the music just as the band intended, you feel it more. You connect with it more. You love the album for the body of work it is rather than the sum of its individual parts.
I've given up on iTunes. This is how I'm buying my music now. Try it yourself, if you can, or even buy a vinyl if you can pay a bit more or if you feel really cultured. You might just amaze yourself.