Melbourne is a city of laneways and Victorian Gothic buildings, which has earned the city its many comparisons to European capitals. If you’re brave enough to look away from Google Maps, you could dedicate an hour or a day to just wandering randomly from street to street, lane to alleyway. If you really find yourself lost, Melburnians are hugely friendly (usually) and there’s trams going in every direction so you won’t be stuck for long. What’s this got to do with record stores, you ask?
Many of Melbourne’s laneways are home cafes, boutique clothing stores, vintage shops and record stores. These semi-hidden shops often have piles of free street press magazines and flyers for live shows, which offer the best way to stay attuned to the local scene. Every year around the world, Record Store Day celebrates the community that grows around record stores with special releases and events; normally held in April, Record Store Day in Australia has been postponed to 20 June.
Whether you intend on visiting Melbourne when travel restrictions lift, or whether you want to take a virtual tour of Melbourne’s music scene, I’m here to guide you through. This isn’t a definitive list, since some record stores may not survive the high rents and lockdown period we’re currently just emerging from. Record stores in my own inner city neighbourhood of Collingwood have remained open throughout the lockdown though, with hand sanitiser and limits on how many people can enter at a time. Anecdotally, it seems more people than ever are buying record players and vinyl. The call of nostalgia during crises has been well documented – what better time to listen to high-quality recordings at home for extended periods than now?
For over 30 years, Pat Monaghan has been selling records. Prior to opening Rocksteady Records, he worked at the cult Melbourne record store Au Go Go until it closed in 2003. The store is a bit tricky to find. At the intersection of Lonsdale and Elizabeth Streets in central Melbourne, walk into Mitchell House and take the elevator up. Timber shelves are neatly stocked with local and international records, mostly new. There’s turntables, books and CDs too.
Monaghan recommends a few Melbourne outfits he’s currently loving listening to, and which are providing some soul therapy. “Nat Vazer, a Melbourne singer-songwriter, the new Karate Boogaloo, a great Melbourne band who are kinda jazz, funk and instrumental. I also recommend checking out a band called Close Counters, another live jazz and house outfit from Melbourne. I also want to mention Big Yawn. Their album No! was meant to be launched at iconic music venue The Tote Hotel on the same day all venues were closed.”
When in doubt, ask a DJ. That’s my mantra, anyway. Even better, bypass the asking and head straight for a record store owned and run by three Melbourne DJs, Mark Free (who also owns nearby cafe Everyday Coffee), Tom Moore and Mike Wale. It’s been a local favourite in Collingwood, just five minutes from the city by tram. The store is a sacred place for DJs, with sections divided into house, techno, disco and Balearic. Check out local producer Escape Artist, a favourite of the owners.
Just as the name implies, this underground store has championed live music and artists since 1994. Suzanne Bennett and Rodney Jacobs transformed an abandoned basement into both a record store and a live music venue, stage included. In addition to vinyl from various genres, you’ll find second-hand CDs, DVDs and books with a music focus. Since 2018, there’s also vintage clothing and jewelry. They’ve hosted lunchtime gigs almost weekly, including Melbourne favourites Jen Cloher and Saskwatch.
All your soul and funk needs are satiated here. Chris Gill has a network of friends who perform in store, do record signings, drop by for coffee and suggest local artists he should know about. There’s even a disco ball hanging from the ceiling, which feels apt, given all the disco, dancehall, dubstep and jazz on vinyl; you’ll also find CDs, DVDs, books and magazines. Most of the records are new, but there’s a good selection of second-hand vinyl and rarities.
“For US readers and visitors looking for great Melbourne acts, I’d start off with a band called Cookin’ on 3 Burners. Check out their album Soul Messin’ and the song ‘This Girl‘ from 2009,” Gill recommends. “I’d also steer towards Nai Palm; her latest release is Needle Paw. We had an in-store signing for [the release, and] she brought her pet bird, Charlie Parker, in for the event. Sampa The Great is doing amazing things with her great album The Return.”
Check out the Record Store Day Australia website for the full list of participating record stores and updated news on how the event will be recognised.
ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Beth Winegarner flips through an old collection and finds it relevant even today.
When I was a teenager, I had a ritual every Saturday afternoon. My mom and I would go to Coddingtown, the Santa Rosa shopping center immortalized on Primus’ Brown Album, and I would make a beeline for International Imports, which sold rock-band posters and T-shirts and had a small, well-curated rack of 7-inch vinyl singles.
I was methodical. I would flip through the singles alphabetically, fingertips brushing against the colorful paper sleeves, working my way from A-Ha to Dweezil Zappa. I wasn’t a completist; I didn’t need copies of every single, not even every single by my favorite musicians. With an allowance of five bucks a week, I couldn’t afford to be.
My love of music started when I was about 10, with albums like Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, Duran Duran’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger and Madonna’s self-titled debut. I spent my afternoons and weekends listening to them over and over, flipping the cassettes every 20 minutes in my cheap plastic boombox. When an album didn’t come with a lyric sheet, I would lie on the floor in my room with a notepad and pencil, the tape deck close by, stopping the tape after every line to write down the words, rewinding when I needed to hear it again to puzzle out what they were singing.
Music dropped me straight down into my feelings, which were swirling thanks to puberty. Music made me want to cry, laugh, move my body. It made me want to kiss the boy in my class that I’d had a crush on since fourth grade. I felt it in my heart, my belly, my arms and legs, my stomping feet. Nothing else came close to making me feel so good, or feel so much.
Sometimes I saved up my money to buy full albums on cassette, but there was always a risk that those albums were just a few hit songs and a lot of boring filler. Seven-inch singles were cheaper, and you were guaranteed at least one good song; often the B-side was great, but other times it was a dud. Partly because of the posters and t-shirts, International Imports was my favorite place to shop for singles, even though it didn’t always have the best selection. Some Saturdays the rack looked like it had been picked clean by collectors, down to its last Debbie Gibson or Phil Collins 45s.
Over time, I built a small collection of about 50 singles, several of which are now considered classics. Among them are Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” (backed with “I’d Die For You”), The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” (b/w “Breathe,” which I immediately loved more than its poppy, whirling A-side), INXS’s “Devil Inside” (b/w “On The Rocks,” an unreleased track) and Prince’s “When Doves Cry” (b/w “17 Days”).
Many others are one-hit wonders only a teenager in the mid-1980s could love. Does anyone else remember Icehouse’s “Electric Blue,” Noel’s “Like a Child,” Times Two’s “Strange But True,” The System’s “Don’t Disturb This Groove” or Pebbles’ “Girlfriend?” If you’re a true aficionado of ‘80s music, sure. I have them all on 7-inch vinyl, and I’m not sure I would still remember them if I didn’t.
Although we shopped regularly in Santa Rosa, a medium-sized Northern California city, I lived 12 miles away in Forestville, an unincorporated town that had a population of just a few thousand. We didn’t get access to cable television – and hence MTV – until 1987. Before then, I relied on popular radio stations and the DJs at our school dances to find out about new music, and as a result my tastes were strictly mainstream. The vast majority of the singles I bought were from stars popular with teens, including Tiffany, Duran Duran, Madonna and Wham! But several are a reminder of how R&B and rap mingled with pop at the top of the charts, then as now: Rockwell, Terence Trent D’Arby, New Edition, Billy Ocean, Salt N’ Pepa.
The Saturday-afternoon Coddingtown visits were only part of the ritual. Once we got home, I would immediately listen to any singles I’d picked up. We had a respectably nice Sony record player in our family room, although that meant either subjecting my parents and little brother to the latest hits, or sitting on the floor with headphones as the songs played in my ears, since the cord didn’t reach to the couch or my dad’s recliner. More commonly, I listened to them in my room with the doors closed. I had one of those portable turntables that folds up like a small plastic suitcase, the outside decorated to look like it was made of patchwork denim. The turntable’s small, single speaker made everything sound tinny and far away, but being able to enjoy my favorite songs on my own terms made up for a lot.
I dreamed of buying a jukebox – I could load all my 45s in it, and choose among them at the push of a button! The sound quality would be much better, and I could listen to a dozen songs in a row without having to get up and change the record every three to five minutes. I had no idea, at the time, how much a jukebox would cost. Finally I saw one listed in my dad’s Sharper Image catalogue, and my heart stopped when I saw the price: about $10,000. There was no way I would ever be able to afford that, and no way I could convince my parents to buy one for me.
My love of 45s came just as the format was on its way out. Seven-inch singles existed throughout the 20th century, and were hugely popular in the 1950s through the 1970s, when they made popular music easily portable for the first time. Sales were already on the wane by the 1980s, although it was still standard procedure for pop artists to release their latest hits on 45-rpm vinyl. Some record companies lured buyers by wrapping the singles in a large poster, folded to create a kind of envelope, although that left you without a sleeve if you wanted to put the poster up. My copy of Duran Duran’s “The Reflex” spends its days in a sleeve I made out of printer paper after I pinned the promotional poster to my wall. The poster is long gone, but the paper sleeve I made remains.
Seven-inch singles carried me through from the beginning of my passion for music until 1987, the year I turned 14. It was a year of big shifts, both for me and for the 7-inch single. That was the year American record companies largely abandoned vinyl singles in favor of the cassette single, the unfortunately nicknamed “cassingle.” It was also the year I gained access to MTV and the year I entered high school, leaving my pre-teen tastes behind me. Glam-metal and hard rock were on the rise, particularly bands such as Dokken, Poison, Guns N’ Roses, Motley Crue and Whitesnake. My collection of 45s reflects this; some of my last purchases include “Wanted Dead Or Alive” and Def Leppard’s “Love Bites” (b/w a live version of “Billy’s Got a Gun”).
International Imports stopped selling 7-inch singles and I stopped buying them, although I kept visiting for things like posters and shirts, plus more “international” items like funky jewelry and nag champa incense. I turned away from pop and R&B and towards anything featuring electric guitars and scruffy-looking male howlers. And instead of buying cassingles – which needed flipping just as often as a 45 but lacked the elegant ritual of moving the needle, turning the vinyl over and setting the needle in the groove – I recorded videos from MTV’s Hard 60 and Headbanger’s Ball and watched them repeatedly until my tapes just about gave out.
I still have all my 45s, tucked alphabetically inside a specially designed box on a shelf with the rest of my vinyl records. I rarely listen to them anymore, but I can’t bear to sell them or give them away. A few musicians today release their singles on 7-inch records, mainly as collectors items, but it’s rarely musicians whose music I love. The most recent vinyl single in my hoard is “Backworlds” by Lusk, a psychedelic rock band co-founded by former Tool bassist Paul D’Amour; I received it as a promo when I wrote a feature about Lusk in 1997.
Record collecting is often thought of as a man’s activity, epitomized in Nick Horby’s High Fidelity (and the movie based on it). There’s an assumption that only men would be so obsessive, so knowledgeable, so nerdy – or that it’s a club to which women are not allowed to belong. As academic Emily Easton has pointed out, research on record collecting has pretty much excluded women, even though there are plenty of female vinyl nerds out there. “Records remain one of the most important forms of objectified cultural capital in many musical communities because they have been recognized as a symbol of musical expertise and investment,” Easton says. “Understanding how women have participated in these practices contributes to an emerging body of knowledge on the experience of the female music fans and connoisseurs.”
Flipping through the singles at International Imports, it never occurred to me that my passion for collecting 45s might make me part of an unusual or under-recognized family of music fans (I mean, when Rob Gordon says he’s rearranging his albums chronologically, I knew exactly what he meant). I only knew I was following my 10-, 12-, or 14-year-old heart, bringing home the songs I loved in a format that felt good in my hands and sounded good on the turntable. Knowing now that female vinyl collectors have been sidelined and ignored makes me want to clutch my records to my chest in defiance and never give them up. Maybe someday I’ll buy myself that jukebox after all. I’ll push the buttons, flip “Pump Up The Volume” by M/A/R/R/S or “Paranoimia” by Art of Noise (featuring Max Headroom) onto the player, and dance.
Spin On finds Nashville’s beloved independent record shop Grimey’s New and Preloved Music partnering with the Nashville Convention & Visitors Crop and Showfields to bring vinyl records made by artists who live in Nashville or were recorded in Music City to NYC. Grimey’s has been an important part of the fabric of Nashville’s music scene since opening its doors in 1999, offering an expansive archive of vinyl new and old, along with used books, magazines, cassettes, CDs, turntables and more. It also provides support for local talent, hosting performances and album release parties for the likes of Jason Isbell and The Black Keys. Metallica also recorded their 2008 live album, Live at Grimey’s, at The Basement, a popular nightclub housed below the shop’s previous location that’s run by Grimey’s co-owner Mike Grimes.
Meanwhile, Showfields is a modern, multi-purpose retail space that opened in Noho in December 2018. It’s easy to see why it’s branded as “the most interesting store in the world” with four innovative floors dedicated to multi-media products and a vast array of rotating clients ranging from holistic wellness company Almeda Labs to candy artist by robynblair and smart mattress manufacturer Eight Sleep, in addition to serving as a gallery and community space.
The idea for Spin On came after the Nashville Visitors Corp participated in a panel in Manhattan alongside a member of the Showfields team. Inspired by Showfields chic and slick business model that shines a spotlight on creativity and artistry, the Visitors Corp wanted to partner with the eclectic NYC store to create a retail shop that reflects a vital aspect of Nashville’s music culture – vinyl. “There’s something about vinyl that lends itself to a simpler, more authentic time. Couple that with the fact that the music sounds so much better on vinyl that it makes it important for cities that produce music to deliver the best possible product available,” Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp, shares with Audiofemme.
More than 800 vinyl records have made the voyage from Nashville to New York for the collection curated by Grimey’s, featuring music icons like Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley to country legends Dolly Parton and Roy Orbison. Living alongside them are albums by Kings of Leon, The Milk Carton Kids and Jessy Wilson, the latter a Brooklyn native formerly of Nashville-based rock duo Muddy Magnolias who dropped her solo album Phase earlier this year.
The pop-up also features performances and signings by Nashville-based singer-songwriters Andrew Combs on November 5, Trent Dabbs of duo Sugar & The Hi Lows on November 10, The Cadillac Three on November 19 and Caitlyn Smith on December 4. Hootie & the Blowfish are scheduled to sign copies of their new album, Imperfect Circle, on November 1. Every Thursday, Spin On is serving up $2 beers from Tennessee Brew Works.
“Nashville’s music brand is as diverse as the day is long, but 90% of the time people want to gravitate to country only. This town is built on diverse music and it is well represented in the store. That’s the message we want to send through the pop up,” Spyridon says. “Nashville is a diverse, welcoming, creative community.”
Spin On: Nashville’s Vinyl Collection is open until January 15, 2020 at Showfields (11 Bond Street, NYC). Hours are Sunday and Monday from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. and 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
It is no secret that in the increasingly capitalized digital age we now find ourselves living in, independently owned record stores are struggling more than ever to remain afloat. The first annual Record Store Day was celebrated ten years ago as an initiative to support independently owned record stores around the world. Once a year, the Record Store Day organization provides participating independent record stores with exclusive releases and reissues. This year, Landlocked Music hosted Bloomington’s Record Store Day. Situated one block north of the city’s square, Landlocked has been selling vinyl, CDs, cassettes, magazines, zines, posters, and turntable equipment since 2006. It is a great place to find local music, attend exclusive listening parties, and catch live shows that feature local and touring acts.
I pulled up to Landlocked at around 11:35 Saturday morning. Even though I only arrived five minutes late, there was already a crowd of music-lovers fervently descending upon the “free stuff” bins outside. Inside, a line had formed to purchase records that wrapped around the entire store. The aisles were packed with early birds, who were presumably scouring the store for exclusive scores. Meanwhile, a local DJ played a mixture of mostly rock, soul, and pop tunes. I arrived having a few things in mind that I wanted to get ahold of, and ended up leaving with a bunch of new things that I hadn’t heard of before. Here is some of the loot that I scored at RSD 2017.
Crushed Butler Uncrushed (LP)
Label: Radiation (Reissue)
Before punk was called punk, British hooligan rock group Crushed Butler was at work laying down its cacophonous foundations. The songs on Uncrushed were recorded between 1969 and 1971, predating the subculture by half a decade. Rock and roll proto punk meets affected glam on this album’s six tracks, which center around themes of youthful hedonism and working class frustrations. I would call this an early punk album if it weren’t for the virtuosic psychedelic rock/ blues-influenced guitar solos and steadfast drum fills.
Blowfly Forever Fly (LP)
I picked up this record because it had an image etched onto the vinyl. The label on the cover called this genre “porno-funk” and “cooler than anything in my collection.” Obviously, I was too curious to pass this one up. Clarence Reid, aka Blowfly, was a dirty rapper/porno-funk artist who passed away in 2016. This album is truly unique and cannot be replicated in any other format because as it plays, the grooves pass through the etchings on the record. On the opposite side, different etched out grooves spiral out from each other, giving the listener a 50/50 chance of knowing what songs will play at any given time. If that’s confusing, take a look at the YouTube video below.
Herman Brood & His Wild Romance Rock & Roll Junkie (7″)
Label: Music On Vinyl
Judging by the cover, I had hoped that these guys were going to sound more like the New York Dolls and less like Bruce Springsteen. But as the saying goes, one cannot judge a book by its cover. Herman Brood & His Wild Romance were a Dutch rock and roll and blues group. The “Rock and Roll Junkie” single originally appeared on Brood’s 1979 self-titled album; the RSD 7″ was reissued on transparent red vinyl with “Street” as its b-side. Brood suffered from drug addiction, which contributed to his suicide in 2001 at the age of 54. While a bit too arena rock for my taste, Brood does find moments of genuine spontaneity, which are made audible through the affected growls and screams of his vocal performance.
While customers perused the aisles for gems like the ones I found above, local DJs, comics, and musicians provided atmosphere and entertainment. Mat Alano-Martin (limestone Comedy Festival), Caroline Marchildon (of Secretly Group), Spikes, and Jar performed DJ sets during the first half of the day, at which point the live acts transitioned the space into a music venue in order to keep people interested after much of the merchandise had sold out. Performing live were Comedy with Kristen Lucas, Peter Oren, Daisy Chain, and my personal favorite, Bloomington-based punk trio Manneqin. Although they only played a 20-minute set, their new wave-influenced, upbeat synth instrumentals and unassumingly affected yet commanding vocals had everyone moving around in the back of the record store. With all that it offered throughout the day, RSD 2017 truly provided a new layer of appreciation for all that Landlocked does for the local music scene here in Bloomington.
I take the same path to the same coffee shop every week. Down DeKalb Avenue, a right on Franklin Avenue, a left on Greene Avenue, and a final right on Bedford Avenue. My gait is calculated and mechanical. A determined trudge. There is nothing romantic about this habit, and while I’d like to applaud its efficiency, I haven’t actually done the math to prove that this course is the fastest. In truth, I take this route because it is the one I first took to the coffee shop. It is repeated out of reflex and muscle memory and stubbornness. It is firmly rooted in a strong longing for routine.
This path is so engrained that my body dictates every step while my mind is free to think – something I do best while in forward motion. Walking puts me in a trance – alert enough to dodge oncoming vehicles, but rapt in layers of thought. So rapt, that I nearly missed the fat Fela Kuti box set propped up against a wrought iron gate on Greene Ave one Spring day. I stopped abruptly three feet past where the box of vinyl rested, then ambled slowly backward looking left to right to see if anyone was watching me. This I am sure, did not look suspicious at all.
The box was over an inch in depth. It was black and white with a banner of teal across the front reading “FELA” in block letters. I couldn’t help but crouch down and open it immediately, praying that its owner wouldn’t come bolting down the stoop of his brownstone to reclaim it. Perhaps an angry lover had left it on the sidewalk along with other prized vinyl from his collection…like, that Fat Boys LP right next to it…and, that…Kajagoogoo maxi single…
Ok, these records were probably left out on purpose, but I still couldn’t believe it. Lifting the box’s slightly scratched lid I found an alarming amount of Fela Kuti records. I was expecting three, maybe four LPs, perhaps with some booklet taking up a majority of the box’s real estate. Instead I found a seven record pileup, each one opened yet minimally played and well cared for.
There was Zombie, Fela Ransome-Kuti and The Africa ’70 With Ginger Baker Live, Roforofo Fight, He Miss Road, Alagbon Close, Ikoyi Blindness, and Everything Scatter – a glorious heap of his recordings. I was in shock; seven intact, fabulous albums, the collective price of which would have been well over $100. It felt as though I’d stumbled upon a treasure trove, but I couldn’t understand why anyone would ever abandon it.
I grew paranoid again, remembering a time when my dad and I found a handsome sack of toys in the woods behind our house. At seven I was overjoyed at this discovery, but also puerile and hesitant, imagining the sad kid who’d lost their bag of wonders. My dad assured me that finders were keepers, and it was on our property anyway. To ease my concern he assured me that if the toys’ proprietor came looking for them, we could hand them over.
And that’s just what happened. The neighbor girl was ecstatic when reunited with her pink satchel of toys. I felt devastated but virtuous by returning it. To this day I cannot remember what was actually in the sack – just the absolute thrill of stumbling upon it in our mossy forest.
By the time I was halfway down the block my paranoia had dissipated, but I still clutched the Fela Kuti box tightly to my chest just in case. My sense of elation was difficult to unpack – I am by no means a believer of fate or the “universe” gifting me anything…but I surrender to the sensation of it from time to time. I have come across some of my favorite things this way – finding them while looking for nothing.
I first discovered Will Oldham because a neighbor left a stack of CDs in the hallway of my apartment building a few years back. It was in one of many fruitful “free piles,” a name my roommate and I thought we’d coined. The album was an oddball EP recorded with Rian Murphy called All Most Heaven. It had one of the worst album covers I’d ever seen, but something about it shouted “What the hell? Take me home!” It was eccentric, no doubt, but I loved it nonetheless. Its four twangy songs eventually graced a small road trip to upstate New York one summer (our car only had CD capabilities). Opening its jewel case now, the silver disk is nowhere to be found. It may still be in that car, but my only hope is that it has found a way into the music collection of anyone who would bother adopting a stray CD in 2017.
In our age of Spotify Discover Weekly and record subscription services and pre-programmed radios and playlists tailored to every hyper-specific situation we can dream up, coming to music organically and spontaneously is uncommon. It seems rare enough to exchange music between two people in the same room, let alone find one of your favorite records in the street. I wouldn’t suggest the scavenger lifestyle as anyone’s sole source of musical discovery, but I will say there is a taste of destiny in it. I don’t believe in destiny either, so anything that conjures a sense of it feels pretty damn nice, if not fleeting.
The other week I had finished my book and was looking for a new one to read. I had just spoken to a friend about how I’d oddly never read Hunter S. Thompson, which is strange as he fits the profile of my favorite writers (depressed, debauched, wry). Days later I walked through my basement, past a stack of books an old roommate had left three years ago when he moved out. I was drawn to a turquoise spine peeping out from under a couple of Bret Easton Ellis tomes. It was The Rum Diary, Thompson’s first novel. I am enjoying it tremendously, and can’t believe it has been waiting silently under my nose for three whole years.
Come to think of it, it was that same roommate who provided me with another bout of serendipitous discovery. When he moved, I upgraded to his bedroom after five years in the windowless cavern next door. His room had not one, but two windows, and he’d left his superior mattress and an enormous credenza that was far lovelier than anything I’d ever allow myself to buy.
I took my time moving in – I set up my haphazard bookshelf. I stuffed my 500 pairs of underwear into one of the credenza’s many drawers. I arranged my desk with reference books and a quantity of pens that would suggest I was deeply concerned about a imminent global pen shortage. After deciding that all of my portfolios from college would go in one of the credenza’s large cabinets, I opened the door and found around 80 forsaken vinyl records leaning against one another. I believe my mouth truly dropped open. This pile of albums ended up doubling the size of my collection, and included some true gems. There was Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love, Roxy Music’s Manifesto, Prince’s Controversy, Talking Heads’ 77, Joni Mitchell’s Ladies Of The Canyon, Blondie’s Parallel Lines, Lou Reed’s Transformer, and dozens more. It seemed like luck, or at least something like it, and I took it as a good omen – something I also do not believe in.
I hauled the LPs I didn’t love (Donovan, Heart) to the nearest record store and swapped them for a $25 dollar credit, which I used to pad my collection with bizarre French funk punk records, Peel Sessions, and anything I could find by Prefab Sprout. Puzzled by my fortune, I still couldn’t understand why someone would desert a collection that had clearly been accumulated over a few years…but I was more than happy to give it a new home.
Friends of mine tend to think that my insistence upon doing things the “hard” or “old-fashioned” way is merely my last cry of pubescent rage sputtering out like a tapped keg. A “contrarian” they call me. A “grandpa.” And I don’t mind. I don’t expect to get away with printing maps of where I’m going for the evening or writing down people’s numbers in my notepad without some ball-busting. I get it. Your grandmother knows how to use an iPhone better than I do and so does your three-year old nephew. Fortunately, this is the one place I don’t have to painstakingly explain my love of vinyl, which to many people outside of our music-website bubble is absurd and archaic. But what about how we acquire vinyl? For some reason I can’t deal with going into a shop to visit the shiny “New Arrival” or “New Release” sections without feeling like I’m phoning it in. I want a struggle. I want to dig. Sifting through piles of Lionel Ritchie and warped Rick Astley singles is a long and grimy endeavor, but the jewel found amongst refuse is always more brilliant.
Of all the junk shops I patronize, I’ve yet to find one as enthralling as Greenpoint’s The Thing. Rarely is an establishment so true to its title; this place is a grotesque organism of its own. An entire eco system of other people’s stuff. With nary a millimeter of free space, the Thing is an institution of sensory overload. Miniature cityscapes are formed by cassette tape skyscrapers, framed by mountain ranges of books, DVDs, and polyester dresses. Getting to the back room is hazardous and requires deft leg weaving through precarious stacks of you-name-it. A magazine asteroid could launch toward your head at any moment. I’d personally recommend a hard-hat.
At first glance, it’s difficult to imagine there could be more shit in the Thing. In the far reaches of the first floor rest thousands of records, leaning like post-storm trees and abiding by no system of organization. There are always a few people scavenging through these heaps, typically men in their mid-thirties, all shading their find with a furrowed brow, like an archaeologist dusting off a shard of pottery. They inspect the spine, note the release date, slip out the onyx disk in the hopes of a scuff-free surface. I suspect to most people this ritual looks as ridiculous as polishing a VHS tape, but to me it’s like local slang.
Much to the hoarder’s delight, this first floor is only the foyer. Teeter down the cement staircase, watch out for the low ceiling, and tiptoe into the basement if you’re up for some extreme rummaging. Down here there are only records. LPs, EPs, singles, ‘45s, maxi-singles, extended re-mixes, etcetera. If the records upstairs were mountainous, the basement is home to Everest. In the past I’ve seen guys down here spelunking for records, fully equipped with respirators and latex gloves. Today I have the cave to myself, and I’m determined to find something great if not rare.
But here exists the dilemma with a junk shop record dive: it’s 99 percent grueling pursuit and one percent success. Couldn’t we just go to a proper record shop? Of course. Will we? Absolutely not. It’s just too easy to waltz into a store and pay $26.75 for a 1980 release of More Specials. From their shelf to yours, with little more than a debit transaction to narrate the experience, it’s just no fun.
Now I’m not delusional; I realize that despite its obscurity, affordability, and hearty population of asbestos, the Thing is a still a store. We may be participating in Capitalism on the slightest level, but we are still consuming. Sure we can slap tags like “up-cycling” and “collecting” on it, but at the end of the day: we are buying shit.
It is not my goal to reprimand those who buy new vinyl instead of used. Nor is it my aim to pat us collectors on the back. That isn’t the point. The point is relaying the experience produced by finding a great record amidst a surplus of awful ones. The thrill of consciously searching for something that is not a necessity, but a pleasure defined by quality and nostalgia, is intoxicating. I like to think of it as cultural vulture-ism: we pick clean the bones of a dead medium.
However it isn’t a venture void of frustration; realizing the appeal of an album’s cover far exceeds its sound is annoying, accepting that an artist’s third album is garbage compared with their first two is disheartening, and not being able to reach that stack of untouched records jammed in a far corner is downright infuriating. I always try balancing on a milk crate, reaching an index finger towards the filmy piles that surely no one has flipped through, only to slip and risk a landslide of vinyl.
Three hours is the average length of time I can spend in these situations. By then my fingernails are piped with grime, my back hurts, and I’m primed for a bout of hypoglycemic rage. I’ll usually have a handful of records that are nothing more than desperate attempts at filling the 12’’ hole in my heart-usually hip-hop maxi singles that will only be heard at a party. All of this, for ten minutes of background music? The head hangs low.
I trudge upstairs and glance at the French DJ guy who has a Whopper-sized stack of records he will be sampling by dinnertime. It’s not fair. If I was a DJ I would be plum-fucking-tickled with the hundreds of unknown disco singles lining the floors of the Thing. All I want is one, just one great record. And yet, as I take a step to exit, I feel the tug.
The tug is the scream of something sought after yet looked over: “Turn around! Look at me! I’m right here!” The tug generally occurs the moment you decide to abandon everything. So I listen, I look, and there peeking out from under a Madonna EP is Squeeze’s Singles: 45’s and Under.
Now, this isn’t a rare record. It’s not even an original LP. It is, as the title affirms, a collection of singles; but it’s been on my list for quite some time.
There are two types of audiences familiar with Squeeze: the one that is privy to their entire body of work, and the other that inquires: “Isn’t that the band who did ‘ Tempted (by the fruit of another ?’” I was, for a very long time, part of the latter group. Seven years ago, when my then-boyfriend suggested I listen to Squeeze, I recoiled in disgust:
“I fucking hate that song. It’s on the lowest rung of the Dad-rock ladder, right there next to annals of Huey Lewis and his News.” He retorted with that typical, yet generally accurate remark: “You just haven’t heard their early stuff.”
Well, I now say the same to you. Though the band’s first three albums Squeeze (1978), Cool For Cats (1979), and Argybargy (1980) should all be heard on their own, Singles is the perfect appetizer to peak interest in a larger meal.
Formed in Deptford on London’s South Bank in 1974, Squeeze was the brainchild of vocalist Glenn Tilbrook, guitarist Chris Difford, and the now-revered pianist Jools Holland. As contemporaries of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe, the band occupied the space in English New Wave that exalted catchy, pure pop music salted with tongue-in-cheek lyrics. There is something doubly effective about Tilbrook’s honey-sweet voice recounting stories of accidental pregnancy and the ‘ol “Slap and Tickle.” These early years produced wry tracks that are tight yet raw, and a far cry from the overproduced “Tempted.”
The largest account for Squeeze’s shift in sound was the departure of Jools Holland in 1980. I liken his absence to a post-Mick Jones Clash, in which the songs lose a tremendous amount of integrity and quality. The lack of Holland spawned a breeding ground for songs like “Tempted” and “Annie Get Your Gun,” the only two tracks I’d skip on Singles.
The high-points of the album are truly in every other song, but if I had to narrow it down to three, I would recommend “Goodbye Girl,” “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)” and the painfully infectious “ Up The Junction.”
Despite a slightly nibbled sleeve, the record itself is in wonderful condition. There are no scratches to speak of, and it spins without any signs of warping. These are the nerdy details, but they are important ones nonetheless. These are the details that make three hours of dusty lungs and a debit of $1.99 all the more worth it. As my mom always said: “no pain, no gain.”
It was the day of my grandmother’s funeral. Having spent the better portion of my day mourning the loss with my father and chain smoking while driving familiar streets of my hometown where the old bars had new signs, I was unnerved with realizing not everything was as I left it when I moved out and to Detroit two years ago. By the end of the day, I was disheveled and still dressed sullenly in black. My face was puffy from crying and both my body and mind were fevered with exhaustion. David Bowie’s “Changes” came on the radio as my boyfriend at the time asked what I wanted to do. It was late. It was Saturday. I was tired. But without hesitation I stared out of the passenger side window at a sky that threatened snow and said, “I have to go to Temple.” This was not some prolific religious sentiment, although looking back maybe in some ways it was. Temple is “Temple Bar,” one of Detroit’s most unassuming vestiges and my salvation was (and still is) Haute to Death; a monthly dance party thrown by Ash Nowak and Jon Dones.
Creators, curators, and collaborators in life, love, and the dance floor, Nowak and Dones are more than DJ’s, they are partners and hosts to what will undoubtedly be your favorite night (if you’re lucky enough to remember it). Emotional electricians, they are instigators of catharsis with a killer record collection and an undeniably thoughtful approach to weaving a tapestry of people, environment, and sound. What started as a search to throw the best dance party for friends is now celebrating it’s eight year residency this month. “We’ve developed a family of people here,” says Dones. “Ash and I don’t have a lot of family. We feel so connected to the people that show up that I don’t necessarily have to know where they came from, or what they do for a living because we’re all here together. What we do isn’t about us, it’s about you.”
For eight years, Haute to Death has called Temple Bar its home base and in some ways its birth place. A pock marked parking lot surrounds an institution colored building with the name painted crudely above the door, Temple Bar is the last place you would expect to find the city’s most welcoming and unapologetic dance party. The DJ booth sits high above the dance floor where Nowak and Dones are glassed in and silhouetted by neon genitalia (one of many idiosyncratic details of Temple Bar’s landscape). The aforementioned dance floor is contained by a half wall and is no bigger than a few handicap accessible bathroom stalls side by side. The intimacy is the most intimidating quality of a Haute to Death event and paradoxically is what invites you in to stay. Since it falls on the third Saturday of each month, the T.V. sets are tuned to SNL (which seems meta in context) and the awkward pool table wedged between the bathrooms is always strangely occupied as people aim their pool sticks into the air because rarely is there room to make a real shot (hell, you’re lucky if can stand with your feet apart). Sometimes a dog shows up, and no one has ever seen anyone actually play the Sopranos pinball machine near the entrance. Skin will touch skin, sweat will converge with other spilled fluids, and your hair will refuse to hold whatever product or styling you came in with. The air is promised to be thick and salty and each party is not without its share of playful dance offs, fits of cinematic twirling and even the occasional new wave twerk-a-thon. Without fail there will be at least one tangible moment where the music finds temporary shelter within you and shakes something loose (or perhaps pieces something back together). You can be yourself, someone else, or no one at all.
“Jon and I like a lot of the same things. We ultimately have the same end goal but have extraordinarily different ways of getting there,” explains Nowak on their ability to collaborate. “You can’t play candy all night long. It’s fun and tempting, but it’s not sustainable.” Even under the shimmering lights and the waves of glistening skin, there are periodic points in the set where things go from moody, to dark all the way back to desert-like electro pop. “We focus on thoughtful sets with emotional arches,” Dones adds.
Over a bottle of wine, I tell Nowak and Dones (now considered my friends and creative cohorts) what I love most about their monthly sweaty soiree. “What is the more interesting story is your experience,” Dones says. “We’ve never been to Haute to Death. We don’t know what it’s like.” I walk them through the first time I showed up. I felt like a squad-less orphan until they spun a New Order mix that I would have never heard anywhere near my hometown suburb and how when I stand under the disco ball and Kraftwerk’s “Telephone Call” bleeds into Azealia Banks “212” (one of Nowak’s staple mixes) I feel like I’m being transported to another planet (yet feel completely grounded). I remind them of the time the speakers blew during their annual “Bosses and Secretaries Edition” and a resident babe and H2D’er dressed in an all white suit, booted up the jukebox to save the party with Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” and how everyone felt this shared emotional rush of relief, gratitude and well, praise to this unworldly little slice of party heaven that we all feel has been gifted to us. These magical moments are exclusive to what Nowak and Dones do which is far more than spin records or craft playlists. They provide a setting, a mood, and a warmth that encourages each person in attendance (whether they are actively participating or not) to formulate their own memory and to use the floor as their own therapy. (Nowak even adds that they’ve only had ‘one fight in eight years’, which is pretty impressive.) I recollect all the times I danced with a broken heart, physical injury, and creative malaise and how by the end of the night, even though I end up with my lipstick kissed off, my eye makeup running down my cheeks and my clothes adhered to my skin, Haute to Death never fails to stir me back to life. A confectionary and visceral collision, Nowak and Dones are artists of experience and Haute to Death is their torrid and glittered canvas. “It’s a mess,” Nowak says, “and it’s really fantastic.”
I just bought Modest Mouse’s 2015 album, Strangers to Ourselves (Epic), which is the band’s sixth record. A couple of months ago, I also snapped up a 10th anniversary reissue of their Moon & Antarctica (that reissue being now five years old). The tough thing for Strangers to Ourselves is being compared to the 2000 classic, which still hits me.
Moon & Antarctica (Epic) is an over-all solid album but there’s some songs I really could live without. When it clicks though, it feels amazing. There are several songs that just fit perfectly together and flow seamlessly into one another. I love the sequence of “3rd Planet,” “Gravity Rides Everything” and “Dark Centre of the Universe,” and then “Alone Down There” and “The Stars are Projectors.”
Modest Mouse excels at storytelling. Their songs aren’t just verse-chorus-verse. They are stories, parables and theories of our human existence. There’s also some really intricate layering going on, musically. “3rd Planet” swings like a pendulum. “Gravity” feels like riding down a long, rolling road infinitely. “Cold Part” sounds hollow. “Life Like Weeds” starts upbeat and jangly and devolves into a dirge. There’s a symmetry to this album.
That being said, I think Strangers to Ourselves will take some time to grow on me. That’s not to say that I don’t like the album enough, but I’m not enchanted with it. There are delightful moments of melody and foot-tapping rhythm on “Be Brave,” “The Best Room” and “Pups to Dust.”
I have no doubt the upbeat songs will play well live. Actually, with each listen as I am reviewing the record, I am catching more little rifts that I like. To be honest, when Moon came out, I was still humming The Lonesome Crowded West. It’s possible that it’s just a problem of delayed reaction. In five years, I’m sure that I will fully appreciate all the special pieces of this record. It’s not them; it’s me.
Packaging: Both albums have well-designed packages that show the care and thought put into a quality vinyl release. Moon & Antarctica includes lyrics, a digital download code and vibrant cover art. Strangers to Ourselves includes beautifully-designed sleeves, lyrics and a digital download code.
The first time I heard Hozier’s breakout (and Grammy-nominated) single, “Take Me to Church” I was sleeping. I woke as if from a beautiful dream, jumped out of bed and went to my computer. I needed to know what the song was before it slipped away.
Although I found out that the Irish singer/songwriter’s debut album was due out in the fall of 2014, I put off buying it because I was afraid I would be disappointed. I finally purchased the album on vinyl a couple of days ago, opened it, took a breath and listened.
I am not disappointed.
Hozier’s roots rock sound feels like it was born and bred in the Bible Belt of the American South. There are head-bobbing blues riffs, spare melodies, 1960’s soul, violins, cello and plenty of church choir style harmonies. Somehow, Hozier manages to wrangle these eclectic sounds into a cohesive album.
This record will appeal to fans of The Black Keys (especially the track “To Be Alone”). Standout tracks include “Work Song” and “It Will Come Back,” with the amazing lines “Jesus Christ, don’t be kind to me/Honey don’t feed me/I will come back.”
Packaging: Double LP. Beautiful collage artwork and lyric sheets. CD version included.
Where to Get It: You can buy the vinyl from Hozier’s website.
Fugees The Score
“How many mics do you rip on the daily?”
This is really happening. The Fugees’ The Score is almost 20 years old, people. It’s a vintage classic.
When I went to buy the Hozier record, I came across this re-release in the crates. Let’s just say it wasn’t cheap, but as I debated whether or not to take it home I realized that I hadn’t heard the full album since my tape player died. So, I bought the record.
The Score is a perfect and amazing album. It’s not a bunch of singles. It’s a story. There are even weird little skits in-between songs.
Think about how many tracks have become legendary from this record: “Ready Or Not,” “How Many Mics,” “Fu-Gee-La” and Lauryn Hill’s cover of “Killing Me Softly.” That’s just to name a few because otherwise I would have to list every track.
Smart. Funny. Funky. This record is worth the cost of 180 gram vinyl.
British singer/songwriter Ben Howard’s second full-length album, I Forget Where We Were, is a melancholy and musically-complex record. Howard experiments with tones and effects on each intricately crafted song. Instrumentally the work here is advanced and emotional, and Howard’s poetic lyrics add texture and depth.
The album opens with “Small Things,” featuring an electric slide-guitar melody that sounds like the reverberating echo in the chambers of Howard’s broken heart. My two favorite songs don’t come until Side D: The head-bobber “Conrad” and “All Is Now Harmed,” which gathers the energy of the album’s upbeat tunes and soars with India Bourne’s angelic backing vocals.
Although it wasn’t, Howard’s album feels like it was arranged specifically for vinyl because each side of the double LP ends on a dramatic note. The vinyl release even includes a bonus final track: “Am I In Your Light?”
My recommendation: Get the album and a bottle of red wine.
“Small Things” (live acoustic version)
Packaging: Double LP. Strangely uninspiring artwork. Lyrics are included. Digital download code included.
Where to Get It: Order the limited edition vinyl from here.
I found out about this Moss Icon reissue (which came in 2012) by accident. I was giving an old, double LP by Explosions in the Sky one more chance to wow me (it didn’t) when I pulled out the tiny little booklet advertising the Temporary Residence catalog. I couldn’t believe that one of my favorite band’s slender collection had been reissued on vinyl.
Hailing from Annapolis, MD, Moss Icon’s schizophrenically emo, art rock, post-hardcore sound gained a following in the D.C. scene, where they played alongside dischord bands like Fugazi, Soulside and Ignition during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but they only released fewer than 20 songs.
Moss Icon’s music is something of a performance art piece. Jonathan Vance mixes guttural vocals with esoteric musings. My favorite is the 11-minute epic “Lyburnum – Wit’s End (Liberation Fly),” which begins as gloomy as an early morning funeral and builds to an emotionally climatic ending.
I’ll admit that in some ways Moss Icon’s sound is stuck in time, but it takes me back to a place I like to visit.
Bonus: Moss Icon is playing a few reunion shows in December in D.C. and New York.
Packaging: Triple LP. The cover art is the same as the original releases and there is a customized etching on the sixth side. Digital download code included.
Each month in Willona on Wax, Willona Sloan reviews new vinyl, reissues, and vintage finds. For her first installment, she reviews a Soul Jazz comp of lesser-known Northwestern grunge bands, and an Analog Africa comp of psychedelic sounds from Benin and Togo.
No Seattle: Forgotten Sounds of the North-West Grunge Era 1986-97 (Volume One)
Compilation by Soul Jazz Records
The thing is, I really wanted to like this record. From the first song I heard — Thrillhammer’s “Alice’s Palace” — I knew that I would.
The majority of the bands on No Seattle never got record deals; they didn’t tour extensively outside of the North-West region and they didn’t achieve fame; therefore, their output was often raw and unpolished. The liner notes set the context for how tiny the rock scenes were in these small towns in Washington and Oregon, where the floor breaking from the walls at a house show could be a band’s biggest (or at least most memorable) gig — as it was for the band Pod.
It’s easy now to see how Nirvana evolved from this music scene. The band’s Bleach-era songs fit neatly into this musical context, where bands were blending hard rock, metal and punk with throaty vocals that matched the ferocity of the music.
Often, comps lose steam and focus, but Volume One is solid all the way through. Stand-outs include the delightful Starfish track “This Town;” a grungy, psychedelic tune by Yellow Snow called “Take Me For A Ride;” and Crunchbird’s erratic and emo “Woodstock Unvisited.”
Packaging: Double LP with a digital download code. The liner notes explain the idea behind the comp and give brief band bios.
African Scream Contest—Raw & Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s
Compilation by Analog Africa
While record shopping in downtown Athens, GA, I saw this amazing album cover propped on display: an African singer, leaning cool, dark sunglasses, flared bottoms and a rock ‘n’ roll mic tilt that meant business.
This marvelously funky, groovy compilation reissues singles from popular 1960’s and 1970’s artists from Benin and Togo. The compilation is the painstaking work of an enthusiastic German-based collector who selected the included tracks from the thousands of records he discovered during crate-digging expeditions in the two countries during the early 2000’s. In his notes, Samy Ben Redjeb explains that during the 1960’s and 1970’s the music of Benin and Togo was influenced primarily by Cuban and Brazilian rhythms; Congolese-style Highlife; French-African music, local traditional music, which included music used during Vodun (Voodoo) ceremonies; as well as American soul and funk.
Despite being a mishmash of influences, the compilation works well as a unit of highly danceable tunes. Standouts include “Oya Ka Jojo” by Les Volcans De la Capital; “Mi Kple Dogbekpo” by Lokonon André & Les Volcans; “Se Na Min” by El Rego et Ses Commandos and “Gbeti Madjro” by Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou (video below).
Packaging: The inserts include interviews with the musicians, many of whose records have been long out of print.
Where to Get It: You can order the vinyl or CD or get digital downloads from Analog Africa here.
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