Ok - so I know that I am skipping a big chunk of my life, but so be it. I am going to move ahead from the record stores of my teenage years into my current favorite hangout - Vertigo in Grand Rapids. After all, this is all about Record Store Day, which is this coming Saturday (April 17), and anyone who is able to do so should go to Vertigo (on 129 Division Ave. in Grand Rapids) or to their local record store to show support. Herm has invited bands to play, so it will be a great day for music lovers to stop by - and there is exclusive new music released in the independent music stores that day: Sonic Youth release their Hits Are For Squares on LP, Soundgarden are reprinting their vinyl Hunted Down single, new music from Elvis Costello, Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds, Them Crooked Vultures, Queens of the Stone Age and much, much more...
This store has had me trawling both the used CD bins and the regular price bins for hours, just savoring the opportunity to actually physically look through collections of CDs that are out of the mainstream. They have the mainstream music as well, of course, but I believe it can be hard to compete with the easy access at the bigger chains, both when it comes to supercenters and big box electronics retail (I refuse to name names - I only namedrop Vertigo these days). Moreover, if I start really feeling the urge, I can browse through the many vinyl bins they also have - which indeed is a treat for me! I have not done it yet, but the similarities with both Playtime and Rockin' are many - so this is truly an oasis for me.
Even more than that, the prices are reasonable. Actually, they are more than reasonable, they are excellent! Both the hybrid monsters that call themselves record stores and are found in malls and the bookstores that also sell music tend to overprice every single CD - with prices closing in on $20 - but Vertigo sells full price CDs for around $15 for the most part - and often for even less (usually not much more than all the big boxes or the supermarkets who also push prices down). So what has happened is that I, even if I could save about a dollar on some of the CDs if I bought them elsewhere, return to Vertigo. I'd say that I stop by about once a week - at least - although I don't buy everytime I am there. And therein lies the answer - the reason that I still would buy a CD there if it got even a little more expensive. I actually interact with people making it a holistic music shopping experience again. And Herm, John, and the rest of the employees truly make it a great experience.
Isis - 20 Minutes/40 Years from Wavering Radiant
Now, let me try to explain what I am talking about. Last summer, Knut Hervik, a high school friend from Norway, suggested that I check out Isis and Kylesa. After purchasing Isis' spectacular album Wavering Radiant, I decided that I needed to listen to more of their albums. They had most in stock - but not all of them. However, after a brief chat with Herm, they were ordered, and not too much later they were in stock. Then, of course, John picked up on what I was listening to, and he suggested that I check out some of the other bands either on HydraHead Records or featuring members of Isis (Aaron Turner of Isis is also head of HydraHead Records). That lead me to both Jodis and Khanate, which both play painfully slow doom metal with vocals that truly convey agony and pain - and maybe a little angst. While this was intriguing and interesting, I was also led in the direction of the more ambient soundscapes of Isis taken to new highs - with bands and projects like Windmills By The Ocean and Red Sparowes (their latest, The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer is spectacular). This in turn led me to the more post rock/post metal bands of Pelican and Russian Circles - and then Herm suggested Explosions in the Sky. Then I started finding out what Brian Cook, the bass player for Russian Circles, had been up to before, which led me to more hardcore bands like These Arms Are Snakes and a band I have written about earlier: Botch.
So what is the point about all this? I mean, what I have done is namedrop a bunch of out-of-the-mainstream bands. The point is that my musical taste is developing again - big time. Through the relationship I have with Herm, John, and the rest of the staff at Vertigo, I have been able to discover music I otherwise would not have had any idea existed. I might eventually have heard of them, but this way I am somewhat engaging in dialog about music again - with people who care as much about music as I do. I really love having found a real record store again, one run by people who actually care about music and who strive to offer the kinds of music radio and TV seems to forget. Because of this, I don't buy music elsewhere anymore - at least not often. If Herm doesn't have it, he will get it. It might take a while - but it always ends up in his store. And - as the name of the store suggests - Herm is a Hitchcock fan. How can you go wrong with that?
Red Sparowes - Giving Birth to Imagined Saviors (from The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer)
Red Sparowes - Alone and Unaware, The Landscape Was Transformed In Front Of Our Eyes - live at The Knitting Factory, 2006
Red Sparowes - sampler from The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies The Answer