After the 7th year of Record Store Day and reading a few intriguing if not wholly accurate lists from the likes of Buzzfeed, LA Weekly, Paste, Pitchfork and Spin, I reminisced about all the music meccas my addiction to noise has led me to over the years and assembled a list of my own. There’s no better way to experience a new city than hunting down what audio treasures it has to offer. Some of these shops I visited decades ago but most are still kickin’ and hopefully as mindblowing now as they were when I first stepped into ‘em. Each shop offered the all-circuits-are-busy overload a kid in a candy store experiences, stocked with so many killer slabs of wax that it required some tough improv decisions to edit my stack down to a (semi) affordable stack of jams. I look forward to some day hitting some other legendary spots like End of an Ear (Austin), Goner (Memphis), Mississippi (Portland), Other (NYC), Waterloo (Austin) and others I hope you’ll be compelled to share in the comments section. Until then, make note of these sweet shops…
Amoeba – San Francisco, California
I’ve yet to visit Amoeba’s newest store in Hollywood — the world’s largest indie record store — and I can’t fathom how massive that place is. Can’t wait to hit it, but I have sincere concerns about choking in the face of so much vinyl. I’ve nearly had that experience at their S.F. store, where there was so much awesome music at my fingertips that I couldn’t begin to decide where to start. My want list went out the door as I just jumped in and improvised, stumbling across more heavily desired records than I could carry. It is hands down the best place I’ve been in the U.S. for buying records. Sweet finds: the first Red Monkey 7″, Striborg Embittered Darkness, and Fushitsusha Allegorical Misunderstanding.
The Antiquarium (RIP) – Omaha, Nebraska
Before moving out of its original location, which shared a 4-story building with a used bookstore, comic book store and art gallery, you’d have to walk past reading groups to descend down the staircase into the record shop. It offered you a quick scan of the ample selection of quality goods that were offered at ridiculously low prices. Most used vinyl was in the $4 range and there were tons of thing you’d see here and no where else. Their last location wasn’t as funky, but it still offered a more than healthy selection of indie punk garage jams, with lots of local product. Sweet finds: the first Box Elders 7″, Halo of Flies Garbage Rock, High Rise 2, For Against Echelons, Whitehouse Great White Death.
Aquarius Records – San Francisco, California
If you aren’t on their email newsletter, loaded with contagious fandom for all things weird and outré, do yourself a favor and sign up. Every week you’ll be exposed to dozens of reviews by obsessed audiofreaks with encyclopedic knowledge and unbridled enthusiasm, plus sound samples to back it up. With an eclectic mix of “….indierock, punk, metal (black, doom, sludge and all things in between), reggae, sixties psych, seventies proto-metal, international music, experimental electronic music, hip hop, field recordings, found sounds, country and bluegrass and avant garde music of all types,” this densely packed shop in SF’s Mission District is always worth a visit. Sweet finds and discoveries: Urfaust, F/i reissues, Skull Disco imports, Bohren and Der Club of Gore, the Russkie Wig Out! compilation.
Love Garden – Lawrence, Kansas
Now celebrating 24 years in this college town about 40 miles west of Kansas City, this Mass Street mecca is always stocked with a heap of great used vinyl, local treasures, and a wide swath of genres to satisfy pretty much any sound craving. While the original second floor location had the charms of a magical stairwell adorned with hundreds of album sleeves and a creaking wood floor, their new street level digs have added character to a shopping district that’s done fairly well defending against the encroachment of corporate retail. Sweet finds: first Slug 7″, Pitchfork CD discography in limited-edition Monkey Army screen print cover, first Unsane LP, Fag Cop 7″s, Helios Creed The Warming 7″, Savage Republic Tragic Figures LP.
Permanent Records – Chicago, Illinois
Like Aquarius, the refined tastes of the PR staff is reflected in a weekly email newsletter that drips with a palpable fervor for weird and wild sounds. Unlike some big shops with loads of less-than-interesting filler, the quality of stock cultivated at this tiny West Town shop is unparalleled, offering a focused degree of browsing that’s highly efficient and highly rewarding. In addition to this shop, they’re now operating a store in LA as well as a super clued-in record label. Sweet scores: Haunted George’s Pile O’ Meat, Bitchin’ Bajas/Moon Duo split 7″, Steel Pole Bath Tub Unlistenable, Cheveu Cheveau.
Record Collector – Iowa City, Iowa
Now at its third location within the handful of blocks that constitute downtown Iowa City, this college town mainstay has outlasted dozens of other shops with a small but well considered stock that reflects a clued-in group of buyers with sharp ears for sharp sounds. The original location that I grew to love was up two flights of stairs lined with flyers and not much bigger than the size of a bedroom, but it was absolutely bursting, stacked floor to ceiling with the detritus of indie punk weirdodom, stocked with a dazzling assortment of zines like Your Flesh, Bananafish, Bad Vibe, You Could Do Worse and more, plus more vinyl and CDs than you could imagine possible is such a small space. Sweet scores: Harry Pussy Zéro De Conduite double 7″, bottledog Hot Dolphin Terror @ Chirpgobble, Los Marauders Every Song We Fuckin’ Know, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 Tangle.
Rotate This – Toronto, Ontario
This Queen Street honey hole houses a heap of vinyl with a healthy cross section of any genre worth dropping a few loonies on. With a healthy assortment of stock that’s heavy in the punk and garage department, it’s the place to go if you’re sniffin’ around for all stuff underground Canada. Their used section is bountiful and priced well, so if you’re able to make it there be sure to wear some good shoes and prepare to walk out with a sizable stack of wax. Sweet scores: The World’s Lousy with Ideas Vol. 2, The Intelligence Boredom and Terror, Pink Noise Memory Box.
Singles Going Steady – Seattle, Washington
Specializing in punk, as the Buzzcocks-inspired name implies, this scuzzy jewel of the northwest is a riotous shop crammed with quality jams in 7″, 10″ and 12″ varieties. What’s great about SGS is unlike other shops that specialize in punk that feel more like a t-shirt/lifestyle accessory shop with a few records, this is an actual vinyl junkie utopia with loads and loads of rare vinyl both new and used. As someone fairly well versed in punk, I felt like a noob novice digging deep into the crates here with tons of crusty punk, thrash, doom and grind that was completely foreign to my eyes. It’s a great immersion point going deep into scenes yet to be discovered.
Sweet scores, A Frames 1 & 2, Spits 7″s, Night Kings 7″.
Twist and Shout – Denver, Colorado
While it may not live up to the legend of Wax Trax records in it’s heyday, Twist and Shout has become the go-to spot for all things vinyl in the mile high city. Their current space is a healthy sized space on Colfax that houses not only a deep collection of vinyl, but lots of DVDs and other stuff too. A trip to one of their earlier locations was amazingly fruitful, when they had a storefront across the street from the main shop that housed all the vinyl. At the time CDs were still the main business of the day and iPods had just begun turning things digital. While the main shop was hoppin, the vinyl shop had a much more focused feel and an huge amount of wish list material. Sweet scores: Faction Epitaph, Killing Joke Almost Red 12″, Coyote Insides, Destruction Unit Self-Destruction of a Man.
Zulu Records – Vancouver, British Columbia
Zulu retains the feel of an ’80s record shop, harkening to its 1981 opening date and the wide gamut of genres it expertly serves. If you remember digging in ‘import’ sections, where releases and labels that fell outside the main channels of music distribution, Zulu caters to any and everything, well stocked in punk classics as well as bleeding edge experimentalism and electronica. And, not surprisingly, they have a righteous selection of actual UK imports including some rather hard to find stateside electronic plates. Sweet scores: Scorn Plan B, Mick Harris Hednod Sessions.
Other fine shops of note: