Introducing, Album Circle…

The continuing resurgence of vinyl LP popularity over the past decade or so will come as no surprise to the thousands of independent record shops that speckle the globe — for the LP’s value and role, as the definitive audio document, has yet to be surpassed by the digital evolution.

From a listeners perspective, streaming audio is a wonderful complement to vinyl as it provides omnipresent, instantaneous access to unlimited music catalogue and playback portability; which in turn puts into sharp relief the value of vinyl as the music artefact to own, the multi-sensory, high-quality format that celebrates a cherished recording like no other.

You could say, the public’s appreciation of the vinyl format has come full circle - having returned to the point where music lovers of all ages, once again, aspire to grow a record collection - vinyl no longer considered to bygone.

In recognition of the Yin-Yang dynamic between analogue and digital, here at Rough Trade US, we’ve taken a moment to reconsider what both artist and listener can further gain by weaving the two better together - taking the experience of acquiring, discovering, understanding, listening, discussing a newly released album recording — to an excitingly new, rewarding level…

As part of this appraisal process, we spoke with luminaries from all aspects of the music eco-system, from record label founders, LP sleeve designers, music journalists, to the artists themselves… “how would you embellish, like to better express; what qualities matter; what would excite and delight..?” within the specific context of introducing a new album.

The result is the creation of something new. A new service, new experience, new community. A new level of album recording appreciation…

Introducing, Album Circle…

Album Circle is a music discovery and appreciation experience — a monthly vinyl subscription service, the likes of which have never been seen before.

Note: There’s only 500 founder memberships (US only) available to start with, so you may want to skip the rest of this and sign-up before they’re all gone…

Combining the romance of analogue with the brilliance of digital, Album Circle rewards members with a very special monthly delivery…

Upon opening the custom delivery box, designed and engineered by Daniel Mason — one of the most revered music packaging designers (clients inc. Aphex Twin, Bjork, Led Zeppelin, Spiritualized, Massive Attack, Brian Eno, Warp Records, Stereolab, Primal Scream, Joy Division…) — the lid folds back to reveal a decadent, jewel-like disc, roughly 8" in diameter…

The disc is an exquisite, foil block printed volvelle — also, custom designed and engineered — sat within a 12² inch card with perforations that allows the volvelle to detach, be held, rotated…

Used since the 14th century to measure, record, predict and calculate everything from time and space to military history and recipes, a volvelle is an interactive wheel that rotates to reveal information through apertures.

Each Album Circle volvelle is an accompaniment to the LP that’s also contained within the box. Being an accompaniment, each monthly volvelle features a custom graphic design, co-developed with the LP artist’s record label, creating a unique - visually unified - tactile album package.

Rotate the volvelle disc to reveal, one by one, seven individual QR codes. Each QR code links to digital content either created or chosen by the recording artist to provide exclusive insights into the recording, whether it be themes, people, places, etc. One of the seven QR codes is always an audio LP introduction, recorded by the artist especially for Album Circle.

The word ‘volvelle’ is probably new to most people reading this. I first became aware of it when stumbling across a book in the always-inspiring curated selection of Spoonbill & Sugartown Books, Brooklyn. Entitled, Reinventing the Wheel by Jessica Helfand, the book celebrates and chronicles the history of the volvelle. As I began to turn the pages, the obvious similarities with the LP format were striking (physical articulation, graphic complexity), and so I was instantly fascinated, to the point I started to collect volvelles for myself.

A selection of 20th Century volvelles from my collection

So, what does an Album Circle volvelle look like? Well, there’s an illustrative example shown below. As you can see, the customised foil block printed artwork is deliberately emphatic, contrasting with the bold simplicity of the black and white QR code digital destinations. Beauty with purpose, they’re instant collector items worthy of coveted ownership.

And while we’re at it, here’s preview detail, below, of the custom delivery box, the monthly sighting of which is designed to trigger increasing heart rate and sympathetic nervous system activity, the firing of neuron chemical and electric signals to increase production of hormones… or to put it more simply, the sight of this box is set to get recipients very excited!

Delivery excitement is heightened by one significant factor — the identity of the LP recording isn’t revealed until the moment of unboxing. This is an intrinsic part of the Album Circle experience — gift-like anticipation, like having a birthday every month, not knowing what content to expect, other than it’ll be expertly chosen…

Please — if you’re wanting to join a record club where you choose the record or if you’d like an old classic — Album Circle is not for you; instead, Album Circle is for the curious of mind, music lovers wishing to go on an adventure…

As with any adventure into the unknown, it helps having a trusted guide, ideally one that synthesises expertise from an accomplished community and uses that precious knowledge to inform the best experience… In this ‘music discovery adventure’, that guide is Rough Trade

Having been at the ‘coalface’ of new music for the past 45 years, Rough Trade is the quintessential independent record shop, where artists themselves buy and discover music- from Ramones to Adele, Kurt Cobain to Björk — since ’76, Rough Trade is where you’ll bump into artists chatting at the counter.

Kurt Cobain giving an impromptu autograph for a fan, Rough Trade, Neals Yard, London

Yes, Rough Trade has a freak, unique network of contacts across the global music industry, including every notable label, big or small, plus many of the artists, managers, producers, A&R, and so on— a weave of threads that create a tapestry of music passion, knowledge, wisdom and appreciation, all of which goes to inform the selection of each, monthly Album Circle LP.

Chosen from any genres, from any label, the Album Circle LP is the one, new recording that most excites and intrigues this rarified community of music influencers.

Rough Trade’s newest store, located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, NYC

I can’t be alone when I say it often takes me a while to properly appreciate a new record, but it certainly helps when I’m investing that time if I know the recommendation came with good authority — in the case of Album Circle, that authority is a second to none.

Although we ultimately decide for ourselves whether we like something or not, the thoughts and opinions from others has importance, for enjoying music isn’t just a solitary experience, it’s also communal…

In fact, the communal aspect of discovering and appreciating a new album was a prominent request from the artist community when developing Album Circle, hence the name: ‘circle’ not just reference to the LP and volvelle, but also to the circle of people — a congregation of music lovers sharing a music discovery experience.

The communal element aspect of Album Circle is recognised by inviting members to a live group Q&A interview with the LP artist themselves, hosted by broadcaster and writer, Laura Barton.

For good reason, Laura’s been involved with Album Circle from its inception. Having interviewed umpteen recording artists across the globe, often at the request of the artist themselves, there’s no better person to conduct the live information flow between artist and listener.

And it’s not just Laura asking the artist questions in conversation — members also get to ask their own questions, direct to the artist, in the moment.

Conversation with the artist brings the album journey full circle — from artist, to listener, back to the artist — the Album Circle.

Listening. Tactility. Discussion. Analogue. Digital… A blend we’ve worked with leading music figures to craft into a something that lovingly updates on the past, harnesses the present, forward leans into the future…

Thank you for taking a moment to read this introduction. If you’re excited, I look forward to you joining us in the Circle.

Please note— we’ve had to limit the number of memberships initially available to just 500 due to the current US vinyl production crisis. This makes the first months of membership even more collectable, which can only be a good thing for those able to join early. We intend to issue further rounds of membership, as soon as possible, hopefully toward the end of this year.

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