It’s time once again for my favorite fake holiday. Record Stores are gearing up for their special events of in-store performances, which is great, and limited edition vinyls, meh. Like I’ve said before, taking the word “record” too literally is a mistake.
Yes, there has been a certain percentage increase in people buying records. But it’s such a miniscule number that while a few small specialty shops might benefit from it, it makes no difference at all to the music business at large. This includes small, medium and large labels who go through the extra expense of making these records. They’re not making any money from it. It’s just a gift to the vinyl fetishists and collector scum who somehow think they’re doing the world a favor. But looking at the bigger picture, the sad reality is that while there is still plenty of money flowing in the music business, people are buying less and less physical product from brick and mortar stores every year. Stores keep closing, leaving fewer options for music lovers. Except that there are actually plenty of options. You just have to stop looking backwards and pay attention to the present. So rather than recycle the same old nostalgic stories of record stores in my past, this year I’m focusing on what’s actually available now and in the future.
Ironically the literal-minded nostalgia invoked by many supporters of Record Store Day ultimately hurts overall music sales. The idea that the only legitimate way to buy music is to go to a local store and buy a vinyl album, excludes more than 99% of the music-buying market. My main go-to local music stores have been Dusty Groove for any Brazilian, reggae and soul needs, and Reckless Records for most other things (where I bought the new High On Fire in honor of RSD). Unfortunately, Reckless no longer carries “most other things” as far as my interests in stoner/psych/doom goes. So I have to look elsewhere. I’m working on a NWOBHM piece, and ordered some reissues last week through Import CDs andAmazon.co.uk. I’ve also recently ordered from All That Is Heavy and Aquarius Records (if you’re curious, I got Ufomammut’s Oro: Opus Primum, Ancestors’ In Dreams And Time, Baby Woodrose’s Third Eye Surgery, The Machine’s Calmer Than You Are, and discounted CDs by Alunah, Blind Dog and Humo del Cairo. Stores like Dusty Groove, Aquarius and Newbury Comics are kept healthy via online sales. If you don’t have a store nearby that meets your needs, check them out. They count. I also buy a lot of music, both CDs and FLAC downloads throughBandcamp (I highly recommend the latest offerings from Christian Mistress, Conan and Deepspacepilots). It all counts. The important point that should be hammered on regarding Record Store Day is that despite the fact that music is sometimes available free, or cheaply through streaming and cloud services, it is still valuable. Music is still worth buying and owning.
Regarding streaming, Spotify still doesn’t have half of what I listen to. And even if they did I still wouldn’t use it — I can’t use streaming services nor cloud storage at work. There’s only so much bandwidth to go around that’s needed for actual work. I keep a backup of my collection on two 2TB hard drives at work. Let’s say you have a Spotify playlist and you have a particular favorite album or ten that have gotten heavy rotation lately. You know at least one will be a part of your life for a long time. So buy the damn album. It doesn’t matter if you do it via download or a brick and mortar. What matters is that you’re getting way more value for it than you’ve been paying via streaming. This way the band gets a much bigger portion of the money. Even more so if you buy an album direct from them or at a live show, but I suppose that leaves out the music stores altogether!
So do venture out to your local music store this weekend if you have one you like. But if you can’t find what you want, find it online and buy it! Pop Matters has some decent Record Store Day articles this week that may be nostalgia-heavy, particularly with the artist selections, but does focus mainly on existing stores.
April 16, 2011
Last night I revisited a recurring dream I’ve had for more than half my life. It takes place at a record store. Dreams can be a wild ride, an often chaotic jumble of images and adventures as your brain attempts to sort through the problems of your waking life. But every few months, I end up at this dream record store. It doesn’t have a name, but it has a very solid sense of place. Part of the dream always involves the trip to the store that sparks excitement and anticipation. The geographic landscape around the store is distinct and familiar in the dreams but hard to describe while awake. It involves a neighborhood that somewhat resembles the layout of streets and hills some blocks from my first childhood home.
Visiting the store in my dreams always signifies a respite from any conflicts or worries that might have been going on. It’s most certainly my “happy place.” Not a lot happens once I’m there. I swan past the familiar, friendly faces of the clerks and get down to it, browsing the labyrinth-like stacks for the next musical treasures that will change my life, or at least add a few hours of pleasure. The dreams sometimes extend ot the point that I leave the store, and go on to a cafe where I sift through my spoils. Here, the landscape morphs a bit more according to the dreams, and sometimes the action picks up again.
Sadly there used to be a lot more stores that could fit this description in reality 20 years ago than today. I bought some of my first records at a gloriously seedy record store/headshop combo in downtown, Dubuque, IA called The Asteroid. When I was in high school, the town’s only cool record store moved and took over the Team Electronics space at Kennedy Rd & Asbury, just a half mile from my apartment. I went to St. Paul to college, where there were dozens of great record stores in a 15 mile radius. I could take a break from studying and go to Cheapos just a block from campus, where Grant Hart of Hüsker Dü once worked. A mile away on University Ave was Northern Lights, where again, both Grant and Greg Norton worked, and practiced in the basement. Every couple months I’d take a special trip to Minneapolis to Tatters ‘n’ Platters, Garage D’or and Oar Folkjokeopus. After graduating I lived closer to those stores, and would hang out at the cafe next to Garage D’or where my friend Kristen Pfaff (later of Hole, R.I.P.) worked, who also worked at Oar Folk.
When I first moved to Chicago, I hardly knew anyone, and Blackout! Records on Southport was a nice refuge, with owner Jillian and Lisa, who I went to college with. I’d also frequent Ajax, Evil Clown, Reckless, and a dozen other shops. Many stores are gone, but some closed even during the 90s economic boom, so it’s not always all about downloading or the brutal economic climate. I even miss corporate stores like Virgin and Tower. They were sometimes the only fun stores open as late as midnight on a Sunday night, and after an evening run or walk, were great places to browse.
Fortunately there are still plenty of record stores that have survived, and even thrived. And for the past several years, we have a spring holiday to celebrate their existence,
A couple years ago some friends and I made a 30 mile bike trip out of it, going to Hyde Park Records. Since then I made it a point to visit stores I don’t often get to. I’m still a regular at Reckless, where I go nearly every week. This year there are a lot of great, even highly anticipated new releases in the weeks leading up to record store day, so there’s plenty of stuff to buy. For those who still have turntables, there are a bunch ofspecial releases on that day.
Because of these special vinyl releases, it seems many have the misconception that this day is only about collector scum and vinyl fetishists getting these rare releases and watch their value skyrocket on eBay. That’s simply not true. As big a music fan as I am, I was never smitten with vinyl. Like many normal folk, I bought my last new vinyl album in 1985, when I switched to tapes and three years later, CDs. I occasionally bought used records that weren’t available on CD, and even 7″ 45s, until my turntable died around 1996. After that I sold most of my records. While there were mastering snafus in the 80s when CDs were still a new technology, vinyl simply is not superior anymore. The new $25 limited release LPs are almost always cut from the same exact digital master as CDs, often suffering the same problems with over-compression. It’s about the mastering, not the format. I don’t begrudge vinyl lovers their fun, but Record Store Day is for everyone who enjoys shopping for music, both the regulars, and the ones who haven’t in years and are encouraged to do it again for old time’s sake.
For the normal folk there are a bunch of May reissues of the first five Queen albums, a deluxe 20th anniversary set of Primal Scream, Screamadelica, Traffic,John Barleycorn Must Die, new releases Bloodiest, Descent, Radiohead, The King Of Limbs and more. Below is a guide to April releases:
TV On The Radio – Nine Types Of Light (Interscope)
After releasing the best album of the decade in 2008, TVOTR took a much deserved break. However, they stayed busier than ever with Tunde co-starring in Rachel Getting Married, his biggest role since 2001’s Jump Tomorrow, Kyp Malone’s Rain Machine, and Dave Sitek’s absolutely manic sustained multitasking of producing other bands, his solo venture Maximum Balloon, and even joining Jane’s Addiction! I was worried I wouldn’t hear new material from the band for another five years. So Nine Types Of Light comes as a relief. It may not top the ambition of Dear Science, but as a collection of love songs it’ll be most likely unmatched this year. TV On The Radio are no strangers to love songs, going all the way back to the odd but lovely “Ambulance.” It’s also their best sounding album. | Reviews
Graveyard – Hisingen Blues (Nuclear Blast)
Graveyard’s much anticipated second album was released in March in Europe. And though the U.S. release date is April 19, I ordered it from the label and received it on the 14th. Like their debut, it feels way too short, because the songs are that good.Hisingen Blues eases up on manic, slavering rave-ups and features more slow tempo, bluesy numbers that still manage to whip up some mighty performances, both from the tighter-as-hell band, and Joakim Nilsson’s throat-ripping vocals. Think of Dax Rigg’s recent performances and multiply talent by five. Anyone who dismisses them in favor of Witchcraft (who lead their previous incarnation Norssken a decade ago) are damn sad fools. Reviews: Obelisk | Doommantia
The Bell – Great Heat (Badman)
This Swedish post-punk/synth pop group’s second album supposedly came out on April 12 like many of these here. However I’m having a heck of a time finding it. Anywhere. I’ve streamed some songs, and while it explores similar territory as Cold Cave, the songwriting seems much better. The big story on blogs is the fact that since they live 300+ miles apart in Malmo and Stockholm, they recorded it while working via Skype and email. But the real story is not how they manage to sound like a great lost band that fell between the cracks of New Order and Depeche Mode, but how, from what I’ve heard, their songwriting is far more consistent than either 80s titan mustered between 1986-1987. | Review
The Feelies – Here Before (Bar/None)
I’ve been hoping for a Feelies reunion for years, and they finally did it, touring last year to perform their 1980 classic Crazy Rhythms, which has songs they had been performing since 1977 as the cream of the second wave of CBGBs bands along with The Dead Boys and The Cramps. And now a new album, which sounds to my ears consistently better than their last album, 1991’s Time For A Witness. It most resembles the potent mix of gentle jangle and pent-up energy of The Good Earth(1986). Nothing groundbreaking, but more of a good, rare thing. | Reviews
Pentagram – Last Rites (Metal Blade)
Formed in 1971, inspired by Black Sabbath and also Blue Cheer and The Stooges, Pentagram has inspired a devoted cult, including a Swedish band Witchcraft who began as a Pentagram tribute. They’ve released some decent albums in the 80s and 90s, and re-emerged last year with some ace live performances. Bobby Liebling was mesmerizing when I saw them at the Empty Bottle. With the return of original guitarist Victor Griffin, last heard on a Pentagram album since Be Forewarned (1994), this is not only a comeback, but also the first album where they achieved the sound they’ve always wanted. Well produced but still raw and heavy. If this doesn’t expand their audience, nothing will. | Review
Young Widows – In and Out of Youth and Lightness (Temporary Residence)
Young Widows first two albums were full of noisy, abrasive art rock that’s more admired than loved. Never intending to be lovable, their third album nevertheless lays out a thick, doomy but appealing atomosphere that reminds me of some favorite moments by Nick Cave and Black Heart Procession. | Review
Red Fang – Murder The Mountains (Relapse)
While metal seeming more popular than ever, the selection of good hard rock still seems to be slim. There are a handful of great bands that touch on metal, but come up with their own unique mix of stoner rock riffery and psychedelic sludge and actual hooks, including Baroness, Torche, Priestess, Black Tusk and Kylesa. Portland’s Red Fang is a welcome addition, with a cracking sophomore album. They probably need one more album to reach a more artistically original level, but for now this is pretty satisfying. Reviews: CityPaper | Blow The Scene
Cold Cave – Cherish The Light Years (Matador)
On Love Comes Close (2009), Philadelphia’s Cold Cave did a nice job in referencing icy synth pop of early Human League, Japan and O.M.D. and some Joy Division. This time around, they’re much more splashy and bombastic, with the help of producer Chris Coady who produced the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ It’s Blitz. Nick Zinner also helps out. It’s pretty great, recalling a more extroverted New Order. There are a few uncomfortable moments where they more resemble Duran Duran circa 1984, but overall it’s a solid followup to their brilliant debut. | Reviews
The Kills – Blood Pressures (Domino)
I initially liked the idea of The Kills more than the actual band. I’ve heard all their albums, but remember nothing from them. Many raved over their third album,Midnight Boom (2008), but it didn’t sound that special to me. I think Alison Mosshart’s experience recording two albums and touring with Jack White in The Dead Weather brought her out of her shell a bit, as Blood Pressures finds her singing much better than before, with some more memorable songs. I don’t know why I’m in the minority thinking this is way better than their previous album. | Reviews
Low – C’mon (Sub Pop)
Who knew in 1994 that this unassuming Minnesota Mormon couple would still be going strong 17 years later with their tenth album. Like a lot of long-lasting indie bands (Yo La Tengo, Eleventh Dream Day), it’s hard to imagine you need all their albums. Yet nearly one is such consistently good quality, it seems wrong to ignore. Following up a relatively feisty album about politics and war (Drums And Guns, 2007), they’re back to making gauzy, lovely pop that’s as good as anything they’ve done in the last decade. |Reviews
The Raveonettes – Raven In The Grave (Vice)
Sweden’s The Raveonettes have been toying with their Jesus & Mary Chain does 60 girl group pop formula for a decade with varying success. On their sixth album, they get a bit darker, and come up with their most substantial album. At least, it’s the first that has held my interest. | Reviews
Meat Puppets – Lollipop (Megaforce)
The Meat Puppets have been a band almost as long as The Feelies, with at least two albums in the mid-eighties that are regarded as classics, along with their commercial peak in 1994’s Too High To Die. The original desert rockers have a recognizeable signature sound that has also evolved over 30 years, from hardcore punk to mellow Grateful Dead influenced stuff to more driving ZZ Top inspired riffing. After a half decade hiatus that included some serious drug addiction and jailtime for Curt Kirkwood, the band came back with solid albums in 2007 and 2009. Lollipop sounds to me like the best of those three, nicely summarizing their career’s work while throwing in some country. | Reviews
Joan As Police Woman – Deep Field (PIAS)
Joan Wasser is an immensely talented musician who has worked with a slew of folks, from the Grifters to Rufus Wainwright, Antony, John Cale and John Zorn. Her first couple albums were emotionally raw memorials about her deceased lover Jeff Buckley and her mother. This album lacks the intensity and experiments more with jazzy phrasing that sounds impressive, but may be more difficult to connect with emotionally. | Reviews
Panda Bear – Tomboy (Paw Tracks)
Animal Collective’s Noah Lennox has two previous albums under his solo nom de plume Panda Bear that has gotten a ton of rave reviews. I found them pleasant but somnambulant, with Person Pitch (2007) a bit overrated. The dense layering of sounds and samples were a little too boy-with-laptop low-fi, and sound too grating to listen to in one sitting. Tomboy solves that problem with much improved dynamics. The density is still there, but more subtle. Fans will mostly love this, but it’s still a bit too insular and inscrutable to draw in many fans who aren’t already Animal Collective followers. | Reviews
Indian – Guiltless (Relapse)
Chicago-based Indian’s fouth album is a harsh, relentless and sometimes difficult listen that makes the recent album by fellow locals Bloodiest (whose Descent was also produced by Sanford Parker) sound mellow. Imagine the doom of Electric Wizard, blackened and ground up, like labelmates Cough. Reviews: OneMetal | Revolver
Foo Fighters – Wasting Light (RCA)
I really like Dave Grohl, but could never get into Foo Fighters. Their songs just sank into the wallpaper of generic post-grunge mainstream rock to my ears. I re-listened to their first album, which has a couple good choons, but is way inconsistent. Coming off a wildly successful stint with supergroup Them Crooked Vultures with Queens Of The Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, he’s certainly not lacking in confidence. In Rolling Stone he said, “I know it’s our best record. It’s definitive, like AC/DC’s Back In Black, Metallica’s Black Album, or Nevermind. It takes that last 15 years and reduces it to 48 minutes. It’s bitchin’.” It’s certainly not at the level of the albums he mentioned, but it could very well be the best Foo Fighters album. Which is still not enough to convert me. One annoying thing is they made such a big deal about recording analog. But then he had Butch Vig compress the shit out of it just like he’s done with everything since Nevermind, so you really can’t tell the difference. | Reviews
Paul Simon – So Beautiful Or So What (Hear Music)
Ever since Graceland (1986) Paul Simon has struggled with the perception of a cultural colonialist, taking music from others, and dropping his lyrics on top to continued fame and fortune. I’ll give him more credit than that, though aside from Graceland and a few Simon & Garfunkel songs, I haven’t had any lasting enjoyment of his other work. He’s sort of like that nerdy uncle who insists on bringing his acoustic guitar to family gatherings who you politely endure. But this album does remind me of the exhuberance of his 1986 peak, even if the songs aren’t quite up to snuff. There’s a lot of rave reviews saying it’s the greatest thing this year. Don’t believe that hype unless you’re older than 55, purchase music at Starbucks, and/or believe Bob Dylan’s last several albums are even half as good as his 70s stuff. | Reviews
Material Issue – International Pop Overthrow 91 [20th Anniversary Reissue]
For those in Chicago, my Record Store Guide on Yelp. Special events at the record stores are listed at New City. One of the more interesting events is Numero Group opening a temporary, one-day only store on Saturday with 20,000 records, at 1371 North Milwaukee, 9am to 9pm. Special release Local Customs; Pressed at Boddie of soul, funk, rock and folk from a defunct Cleveland vinyl pressing plant available on vinyl, CD and cassette. I also intend to visit three new stores that have popped up in the last year, Transistor at 5045 N. Clark, Saki, at 3716 W Fullerton Ave, and Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records at 2307 N. Milwaukee Ave.