Archives

Exploring the record stores of Chicago

[Spoils from exploring the record shops of Chicago]

Back in October, I attended a conference in Chicago and stayed with my sister to save on hotel costs. When I’ve visited her in the past, I would pretty much ride along wherever they went, not really getting a sense of her neighborhood.

This time around, I scheduled a day where I would explore the city by myself, visiting as many record stores as I could before the conference started. Thankfully, almost all these stores had websites with searchable inventory, so I knew where I wanted to go and what I wanted to find.

Reckless Records

Reckless Records has three locations, and somehow I managed to hit all three during my stay. Real estate in the city’s core is tight, so Reckless optimizes its space by filing only the CD booklets in its bins. That leaves floor space for records. I spent a lot of time on the store’s web site searching through my various wish lists and managed to find everything I’d intended to get. It’s probably the best way to shop because flipping through a stack of paper booklets is a lot more challenging than flipping through a bin of jewel cases. The Wicker Park and Lakeview locations are much larger than the location in the Loop, so I would recommend visiting those shops first.

Dusty Grooves

I didn’t find anything on my shopping list at Dusty Grooves, but I do like the store’s layout. CDs take up the perimeter of the floor with records bins in the center. Disc cases are labeled with enough an artists name to scan quickly through an alphabetized section. For example, I looked for Bill Frisell in the jazz section and could quickly find approximately where he would be filed just by looking for the first three letters of his last name. Dusty Groove’s inventory gave off a very curated vibe — it’s not as thorough as the stock at Reckless, but it is diverse.

Shuga Records

I had bought two copies of the Sibelius Symphony No. 1 conducted by Sir Colin Davis, and both had a lot of surface noise. Shuga Records’ web site indicated it had a copy, so I stopped by to see if I could grab it. It wasn’t on the floor, but the clerk at the counter did find it for me in a back room. The floor space is about half the size of Dusty Groove and the Wicker Park Reckless location, so it makes sense that some stock won’t be on the floor. As it turns out, the third time was the charm — Shuga’s copy of the Sibelius first symphony is the one I’m keeping.

Jazz Record Mart

I found a longbox at Jazz Record Mart. It was a copy of Where in the World? by the Bill Frisell Band, and if I didn’t already own the disc, I would have bought it. Jazz Record Mart was the most impressive store in my visit for its size and its focus. The floor space was easily as big if not larger than Reckless, but as its name indicates, the stock is almost entirely jazz. I went down the list of Naked City alumni and found everyone — Frisell, Wayne Horvitz, Fred Frith, Joey Baron and John Zorn himself. There’s a tiny section for modern classical music and a cursory row for rock. But if you want jazz, this shop will have it.

Tags: ,

Guide to Music Shopping in Seattle, 2015

[Seattle waterfront, April 25, 2014]

If it weren’t for vinyl, I probably would have never explored Seattle beyond my immediate neighborhood.

My vinyl addiction led me to seek out places where I could find them. Capitol Hill certainly has a large concentration of stores, but some of the best selections can be found in West Seattle, Fremont and Ballard. I’ve even found a few out in Bellevue.

Nearly two years on, I’ve sussed out the strengths and weaknesses of all the stores I visit with regularity. Here’s a guide to help you, the random reader, navigate the area.

Jive Time Records

I’m sure if I ran a report in Quicken, Jive Time Records in Fremont would be the destination for most of my disposable income budgeted for music. Jive Time specializes in used vinyl, and their stock is in wonderful condition. As such, the prices may seem steep, but you get what you pay for — vintage vinyl in awesome condition.

Of particular interest for me is the classical section. It’s not the biggest, but it’s one of the best organized. Modern music is filed separately, which is awesomely convenient for me.

Everyday Music

Portland-based Everyday Music isn’t picky. If they have room for it in their spacious Capitol Hill store, it’s out on the floor. That said, the condition of their stock can range from falling apart at the seams to still-sealed vintage. The pricing, on average, is incredibly fair. Sometimes, you get a real bargain. Other times, you wonder whether how they can charge for something in that condition.

But it’s the diversity of their stock that makes Everyday Music an essential destination. If I’m looking for low-hanging fruit — say, an easy-to-find ABBA album — the store just might have a copy in the bins or understock. Lately, Everyday Music has brought in some real impulse buys — Kings of the West Coast by L.A. Dream Team or Meeting in the Ladies Room by Klymaxx. I almost picked up the self-titled album by Ta Mara and the Seen.

Silver Platters

Silver Platters is aptly named. Most of their floor space is dedicated to compact discs, and with the market in CDs tanking, some great bargains can be found. At Silver Platters’ price points, it’s more economical to get an album on CD than to download it.

When I first moved to Seattle, the Lower Queen Anne location of the local chain inhabited what used to be a Tower Records. As a result, the store inherited Tower’s excellent classical section and maintained it, even as it moved from Queen Anne to SoDo.

In terms of used vinyl, the selection is hit or miss, but new vinyl is competitively priced on release day. Silver Platters has some of the lowest prices on new vinyl.

Perhaps the store’s greatest strength is its web site. Its entire inventory is searchable online, and for the really anal retentive, you can search by barcode. It’s how I discovered the SoDo store carried a vinyl copy of the self-titled Naked City.

Sonic Boom

I’ve found a few used vinyl gems at Sonic Boom, but that’s more of the exception than the rule. Sonic Boom isn’t a very big store, and the used vinyl section isn’t as thoroughly organized as other stores. Rather, Sonic Boom focuses on new vinyl, oftentimes pricing LPs competitively with Silver Platters. I usually go to either Sonic Boom or Silver Platters for vinyl reissues.

Easy Street Records

Easy Street is definitely the priciest option on this list so far. New vinyl is usually priced a dollar or two more than other stores, but used vinyl? Easy Street tends to score some incredible collectibles. I found a Korean pressing of Duran Duran’s The Wedding Album, and no, it wasn’t cheap.

Easy Street had a Queen Anne location, but like Silver Platters, they were shut out of the neighborhood by rising rents. The Queen Anne location had the floor space to stock a good classical section. The original West Seattle location isn’t as impressive with CD stock as the Queen Anne location had been.

Where Easy Street has other shops beat hands down is the café. They serve a really tasty breakfast.

Spin Cycle Records

Spin Cycle is an essential destination for me personally because it’s up the street from my apartment. I’ve found some really great titles there, and the stock is a nice mix of rock hits and indie obscurities. They also have the most personable Facebook business page, sometimes offering some interesting specials. When the drummer for AC/DC was arrested in a murder plot, Spin Cycle offered a 10 percent discount to customers who said “Dirty deeds done dirt cheap” at the time of purchase.

Neptune Music

Neptune Music is located in the basement of the Neptune Theatre in the University District. It’s a cramped space where every nook and cranny is crammed with used vinyl, CDs and tapes. But the purveyors of Neptune do their best to optimize the space, organizing the sections thoroughly.

Prices on their stock are some of the fairest in town — reflective of the quality of the product without being too unreasonable. Where many stores tend to lean toward a particular genre or style, Neptune has a diverse selection that’s expertly curated.

Wall of Sound

Wall of Sound absolutely caters to a very specific audience. The store carries a number of genres, but their specialty is avant-garde music — jazz, electronic, classical. I’m surprised, given my tastes, I don’t shop there more often.

 

Tags: ,