Music Features

Celebrating Record Store Day: No Ripcord Writers Select Their Favourites

 To tie in with the various events happening around the world in the name of Record Store Day 2009, a selection of No Ripcord’s writers have contributed short pieces on the local shops closest to their hearts. I think this is a great opportunity for all of us to discuss our favourite indie stores and what they mean to us all – use to comments facility at the foot of the page to get involved!

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Off-Center Records and Collectibles
Utica, NY
By Alan Shulman

Right in the heart of downtown Utica, at what used to be un-ironically called the “busy corner”, sits a humble, unassuming, record collector’s paradise – Off Center Records and Collectibles.  Owned by local musician John Keller, this place is the textbook labor of love.  To open a record store overwhelmingly devoted to vinyl in what even residents acknowledge is a bit of a cultural backwater, in the late 90s when CDs were the undisputed champions of the world, probably seemed like a foolhardy venture rather than the acute display of foresight its looking like today.  Who would have predicted vinyl’s resurgence in recent years?  Not me, probably not even Keller, but this place was in a perfect position to serve this reviewer’s addiction to the format that has grown to financially perilous proportions.  I’m there once or twice a week, and not simply because it’s the only locally-owned record joint in town, but because over the years Keller has amassed a simply astonishing collection of records, from the ordinary to the exceptionally rare.  Here is where my girlfriend bought me my original mono copy of Sgt. Pepper; here is where the Fugs first album hangs on the wall; here is where I just picked up a shiny new copy of Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl.  It’s simply the love of music that elevates this place, and if you love it as much as I do, as much as Keller does, you should stop by if you’re passing through or shoot him an email at (or call at 315-738-7651).  What a wonderful place to fiddle while Rome burns.

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Siren Records
Doylestown, PA
By Sean Caldwell

It may have been about twelve years ago the first time I took a step into Siren Records. My dad took my brother and I there one day, his mission to offload some of his classic 45s and LPs.

Its somewhat congested layout was a testament to “packing it all in.” Its walls were encumbered with a dissimilar array of shelving, flyers and posters masking any once bare wall space. Magazines, DVDs, used and new CDs sat below rows of tacked vinyl, a veritable tic-tac-toe grid of classics, out-of-prints and imports. A lengthy island housed the vinyl, rows and rows of jazz, indie/post-punk, classic rock, punk, metal, hip-hop…all shrouded behind thick transparent plastic.

I remember being there for hours though feeling like we’d just arrived. It was important that I explored everything, because I didn’t want to miss anything. I knew that whatever my heart desired, whether I consciously knew it or not, I was going to find SOMETHING in that store.

Years later, though I don’t get out there as much as I’d like, Siren Records is a mandatory stop whenever I trek over to Doylestown. They’ve moved twice since I was first introduced to the store, and their new location is their best. The claustrophobia of their first location is gone, though they’ve maintained their atmosphere and personality, a specialized focus on vinyl being their biggest draw.

First purchase: Crass – ...Best Before 1984

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A.K.A. Music
Philadelphia, PA
By Sean Caldwell

A.K.A. Music is the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing an independent music mall.

The day A.K.A. and I were introduced I was overwhelmed, my mind more or less emptied by the multitude of available vinyl and CDs I soaking up. A better selection you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere, so focus is easily blurred and money is easily spent. I’ve made sure to keep a list with me any time I’ve returned, though that’s only helped occasionally.

The store’s new release wall greets you at the door as you walk in, row upon row of CDs with Sharpie’d descriptions of the contents therein providing relevant information and comparable artists. I always feel better about taking chances with music at A.K.A., as its workers are set on being informative. More than a few obscure artists I’ve discovered at A.K.A., enticed by that invaluable Sharpie scrawl and excited spoken recommendations. Beats the online experience any day.   

First purchase: Diamanda Galas – Plague Mass

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Bull Moose
Portsmouth, NH
By Andy Pareti

For those that don’t know, New England has its share of wildlife. If you’ve ever seen a picture of a bull moose, you pretty much just know it’s the Charles Bronson of the animal kingdom up there.   I lived in New Hampshire for three summers, and though I’ve never seen a bull moose up close (thankfully), I can see how the record store in Portsmouth earned its name. There are actually many Bull Moose stores – eight in Maine and two in New Hampshire – but the only one I’ve physically been to is the Portsmouth store. It may not steal your food or turn your car into an abstract sculpture, but it is the king of the record stores up there. With a terrific selection of indies and imports as well as one of the best selections of used vinyl I’ve ever seen, it has certainly earned its antlers.

What really makes Bull Moose special, though, is its online store. It has an excellent selection, fabulous delivery time, and prices that consistently beat out much larger competitors like Insound. I am a real stickler for comparing prices, and I always find myself coming back to this place (they also have a great DVD selection). Well done, Bull Moose – you are the kind of Cervidae we can all love (and not worry about plowing into on a dark road).

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Reckless Records
Chicago, IL
By Alejandro Martinez

With CD sales tanking nation-wide and the extinction of behemoths like Virgin, I was hardly surprised when the Tower Records near my office in downtown Chicago closed its doors.  If they couldn’t survive, what chance did independently-owned music mongers have?  At least in the unique case of Reckless Records, the answer is, a very good one.  Having benefited from the recent resurgence of vinyl and fueled by a population as music-savvy as it is diverse, Reckless has thrived even in this unforgiving economic climate.  It’s probably no coincidence that the store created to shoot High Fidelity is just a few blocks from one of Reckless’ three Chicago locations.  While their employees are a lot more helpful than the Barry character in that film, it does unabashedly cater to the types that rummage through vinyl with no less enthusiasm that a 12-year-old goes through his stash of porn. Their arbitrary filing system (they sort items not just by artist, but by date off arrival, genres, sub-genres and record labels) can make finding a particular album a bit of a head fuck.  Thankfully, you can search their entire stock online on their well-kept site  For the jazz collector or the working DJ, there are much better specialty music stores, but for the rest of us music junkies with a wide musical palate, Reckless is tops.  If you just want to pick up the new Kelly Clarkson CD, they have you covered too.  And chances are, you won’t be heckled by the staff. 

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Rex Records
Ipswich, UK
By Joe Rivers

As a teenager at the turn of the century, there were only two oases of salvation amongst the cultural abyss of Ipswich: Vagabonds Café and Rex Records. Vagabonds was a relaxed haven and a perfect meeting place and happily, Rex was opposite. In those days when iTunes, Amazon and their ilk were still yet to make their mark, a store where you could discover new music and people had conversations about the latest Sparklehorse record seemed impossibly exotic. This shop was listed in the back of Mojo and everything!

The assistants occasionally strayed onto the arrogant side of hipster cool, but their knowledge of music and their shop could only be described as encyclopaedic. Take any empty album case to the till and the guy behind the till would turn to a wall consisting of a seemingly infinite number of - to the untrained eye - identical blank cardboard CD holders and find your chosen disc almost instantly.

They’d play obscure indie releases, spoken word albums, forgotten classics, local demos, anything. They sold older albums for £6 when you couldn’t buy anything in the high street chains for under a tenner. It was the kind of place in which you could lose an afternoon poring over racks and racks of discs, the kind of place every town centre would benefit from.

Vagabonds is now named Central Canteen and is run with a soulless, military efficiency and Rex Records is now Urban Vintage and sells derivative T-shirts for around £70 a pop. Ain’t that always the way though?

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Brighton, UK
By Jody White

If you are ever in Brighton, its well worth spending a few minutes seeking out this tiny shop on the popular Kensington Gardens in the city's North Laine area. I loved this shop from the first time I went in, mainly because they are always promoting music which I also happen to think is excellent! Great minds and all that. Shameless egotism aside, it's fair to say their taste barometer is particularly high if you figure in the relatively small amount of space available in the shop. The 'Every home should have one' rack is inspired and full of absolute classics that aren't really that expensive.

The buzzing young staff of informed, helpful guys and gals never make you feel awkward and really know their stuff. Allow me to reminisce if you will... I popped in not long after Efterklang's Tripper came out, a record which I loved and had been religiously enthusing about. Despite its quality, I saw precious little about it anywhere else. I happened to venture into the shop one lunchtime and on recognizing the music playing, approached the gentleman at the counter:

Me (pointing at the speaker): “This is a great album.”

Resident Guy (without even looking up and with the utmost seriousness): “It's utter genius.”

Since then, I've never really been able really to fault them, aside from one guy who it probably wouldn't hurt to smile a touch more. That and they don't seem to be aware of Oceansize, heathens!

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Record Collector
Sheffield, UK
By David Coleman

I couldn’t post this piece without offering a few words on my own favourite record store, Sheffield’s Record Collector. I used to enjoy spending a few hours here every week back in my student days and a fair chunk of the CDs in my collection (now sadly gathering dust in Cumbria) feature one of the shop’s price stickers. I discovered a great deal of music here, most notably Neutral Milk Hotel’s In Aeroplane Over The Sea – a bargain at £12.99 back in early 2002. Living on the other side of town, I don’t get the chance to visit as much as I’d like to these days, but when I do I like to spend an hour or so browsing the well stocked vinyl racks, which are housed in a separate little vinyl only section in the lot next door. It’s a great Sheffield institution and, to me at least, the embodiment of what the independent music store should be.

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