A swan song for the tactile pleasures of physical media, Sound It Out draws its name from the one of the last remaining record shops in Northeast England, a cozy bastion for what’s become a progressively marginalized hobby. Befitting its outsider standing, the shop is a haven for misfits, collectors, and general eccentrics, a clientele director Jeannie Finlay recruits in explaining the significance of vinyl, which she posits as a symbol for the importance of human contact. It’s not an understated approach, and sometimes a shallow one, but it pays dividends in highlighting the collateral damage of an increasingly digital world.
The film mostly works because it doesn’t overplay the consequence of its subject. There are no teary proclamations about the death of vinyl or the physical form, and the world Finlay depicts isn’t likely to disappear completely, it’s just been moved to the fringes. This marginalization comes with the recognition that such specialized commerce has now mostly moved to the Internet, where shop owner David Laybourne has considered moving his business, to avoid the pressure of real-estate developers breathing down his neck. Sound It Out displays what would be lost in that conversion, namely the makeshift community formed between Laybourne and his customers, who use his store as a an alternative to the local pub, a place to congregate and discuss common interests.
Finlay does well not to psychoanalyze Laybourne or his customers, and mostly avoids playing up their status as colorful weirdoes, despite the film’s “High Fidelity with a Northern accent” tagline. They’re treated with a cautious humanism befitting the kind of hesitant film this is, a depiction that allows for an innocuous surface treatment of the subject. If Sound It Out never really digs its claws into its material, it at least approaches it with a careful level of thought and commitment.
In some sense, the film seems to sympathize with its subject formally, content to exist as a scrappy 75 minute document. There’s not much visual ambition beyond static shots of the shop and its surroundings, and no real attempt to plumb the deeper implications of the subject. Instead, Sound It Out is content to exist as a modest portrait of a store that offers not only largely obsolete collectors’ items, but also the resolute glimmer of human contact.