The email came to me courtesy of Brent Butterworth, who until recently was our go-to guy for headphones. “I can’t do anything with this, but it’s super-cool and I figured you might want to write about it.” The pitch Brent forwarded was a press release describing how Vinyl Moon, a company that each month releases a unique LP of mixed new music along with nifty original artwork, is now providing an augmented reality (AR) visualization of their experience.
More about the AR part later. It struck me sideways when I discovered, upon exploring the Vinyl Moon website, that the company had been running this gig since 2015. Intrigued, I shot out an electronic howzitgoin to see if I could find out more. I received a reply from Jordan Wiggins of Vinyl Moon, and he arranged to send me a couple of sample copies. In the meantime, I arranged a Zoom call with company founder Brandon Bogajewicz.
Vinyl Moon was launched in 2015 on Kickstarter, and the first volume was mailed out in August of that year. The idea grew out of Bogajewicz’s music blog, where he built his chops sharing music, and the company formed from there, retaining a fair bit of the music blog’s spirit. The music itself is going to be a surprise to most people. Bogajewicz told me that it’s extremely unlikely that I’ll have heard of any of these artists. They’re independent bands from independent labels, and most of the music is heavy on the various indie flavors. The goal, according to Bogajewicz, is to achieve eclecticism without descending into a music lesson. The result must be approachable, which requires careful sequencing and attention to volume consistency, along with (and this is paramount) a focus on a cohesive mood or energy level. That said, he told me pointedly, there are always variations along the way, just as in any good story.
Each album has its own theme, and each album’s art is unique. The liner notes provide details on the musicians, along with track info, and there are artist bios as well. Each album comes with one or two little extras—magnets, keychains, board-game pieces—physical items that relate to the physical medium.
While the records are available individually, Vinyl Moon is based on a monthly subscription model. If you subscribe on a yearly basis, the 12 albums will cost $31 each if paid in advance (all prices in USD). There’s also a three-month plan, whereby the cost rises to $33 per record. On a month-by-month basis, each record will set you back $34. The records are available separately, at $39 each, but Bogajewicz warned that they sometimes sell out.
The company itself is quite low-key in that they don’t spend much time or money on marketing, preferring to let word of mouth spread the message. As of our discussion, Vinyl Moon had around 2500 subscribers. Bogajewicz is well aware that there’s an element of trust involved in subscribing to his service—you’re paying for something that you haven’t yet evaluated, trusting a stranger to curate the music that you’ll receive.
Two Vinyl Moon LPs arrived in short order and I tore into them. Both LPs came well protected in stronger-than-average cardboard mailers.
The jackets are beautifully printed on high-quality stock. As you can see from the photos below, the LPs are pressed on colorful translucent vinyl, which in both cases complemented the album art.
I was extremely taken with the first album, Lost and Sound (Vinyl Moon, Volume 83). From easy-listening electronica through synthwave to dreamy chill out, the genres here are quite varied. Please note that I’m not a musical ontologist; I had to look up some of these artists to determine their genres. The Lost and Sound album is quite low-key—ideal for just relaxing and letting the music wash over you. In an odd self-referential, recursive way, it turned out that Lost and Sound was the perfect soundtrack for me to write about the album. And that goes well with the loosely articulated theme of found objects and lost trains of thought.
The second compilation, The Palm Rose (Vinyl Moon, Volume 86), was a bit less dreamy chill out and a whole bunch more straight-ahead but still rather relaxed pop, which usually isn’t my cuppa. That said, there really is some lovely, juicy, evocative music here—it’s less consistently soothing, but still well put together. The theme is music to start a vacation, and the more up-tempo beat suits this concept.
As with any compilation, I found myself enjoying some tracks more than others. No surprise there. What pleasantly surprised me was that I was fine with the tracks that I didn’t like that much. My feeling is that Bogajewicz curates the tracks on each album so that there’s a consistent flow. So even though the music might change to something that doesn’t appeal to me as much, I found myself rolling with it rather than getting annoyed.
The pressings I received were flat and quiet upon unpacking, so they’re obviously of good quality. According to Bogajewicz, Vinyl Moon isn’t wedded to any one specific pressing plant. Instead, they rotate among several facilities based on availability, which in these heady days of the vinyl resurgence is somewhat limited. The sound quality is, for the most part, excellent. Given that each track is by a different artist, it’s impressive that the sound quality is consistently good across the entire album. Some tracks stand out as superb, but there’s not a single clinker in the lot.
Vinyl Moon makes full-length playback of each track available on their website so you can take a listen. This is most generous of them, as you can sorta-kinda try before you buy. That said, though, I’m not sure that a casual sampling of the MP3 versions does these albums justice. No, I think the whole experience—receiving the package in the mail, opening it, soaking up the gorgeous artwork—perfectly primed me for a session of playing both sides.
I took a peek at the Vinyl Moon AR Experience, which essentially is a web page where you can play an entire album, complete with some ticks and pops; so it’s taken from a needle drop. While listening, you can doodle with the image on the screen, rotating it in three dimensions. The visual effect is kind of neat, but the novelty wears off quickly. I did enjoy playing the needle drop on my computer (it’s playing now) as the sound quality is decent, and there’s something about the easy-going, approachable music that seems to fit well with the lo-fi quality of my computer speakers.
The act of playing an LP is utterly tactile. From pulling the record off the shelf, opening the gatefold cover, and perusing the artwork to sliding the record out of its jacket and placing it on the turntable, it’s all about the physical feel, the touch, the sound of these actions. The Vinyl Moon experience has all these sensations down. The music is really pleasant too, and the support-the-little-guy vibe doesn’t come at the expense of the music’s quality. These Vinyl Moon records are luscious, worthwhile things.
I highly recommend that you check out the company’s website, and since you can take a quick listen to the music, you can get a good feel for whether these records are for you. My suggestion: if you even remotely like the music, spring for at least one of their records, as the final experience is hugely enhanced by interacting with the whole package, which supports the music far more than you might expect.
Postscript: I’ve found the perfect use for these two sample records. I just finished my review of Meitner Audio’s DS-EQ2 optical phono stage. While proofing the review, tidying up the grammar, and verifying the technical details, I played both records end to end, and they totally blended in with my task and environment. The music on The Palm Rose was just upbeat enough to power me through my work, while remaining sufficiently low impact to avoid distracting me. That’s a serious value in my books.
. . . Jason Thorpe