Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Times I Want Is Times Like This - We're Where the Action Is

While my immediate desire was to begin addressing the Beggars Banquet series of Omnibus releases, I'm going to set that aside for another day, as it was requested, quite reasonably, that I discuss the stores in the area I live in and that seems important in this day and age, as I'm not sure who does or does not know about them. As I'm writing this, making it a revolving series seems like a good idea, as I'm likely to wax poetic about a lot of them, or at least a few of them, to make sure I give a good approximation of the kind of variety each carries and what to expect from them.

If you live in the Triangle--the part of North Carolina so named for its set of three cities in relative proximity to each other: Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh--there are a number of music stores actually still present and doing interesting business and providing different advantages for those seeking music. We've lost some good ones, some not so good ones, and some middling ones, even in the time I've been around. Some persist, some persist for strange reasons, and some go for even more mystifying ones.

I frequent two stores for new music on a semi-regular basis, occasionally browsing one or two others, and dipping into a chunk of used stores even more erratically. It's a weird sort of community in general, but the persistence of independent music stores is a good thing. Most cover vinyl and CDs, and all of the sealed, new music purveyors also sell used material.

I'm not going to delve too much into vinyl, though I'll address the locations I've had luck with it, because I'm not enough of a connoisseur of the stuff to address who has the best, most pristine stock, or who is best for collectors. Me, I couldn't care less if what I just ran across that I want is a first pressing. It's a nice bonus if it is, and I can delight in stumbling across it, but I won't turn down second presses or even reissues.

The best place to start is probably the store that caused me to move to the area. About ten years ago, I visited Chapel Hill for the first time in my life, shortly after I'd started expanding my taste into modern independent music. I was in the midst of obsessions with At the Drive-In and Aphex Twin, and the former I could actually still find in places like Best Buy and Circuit City, but you'd be lucky to get past The Richard D. James Album or Come to Daddy (the US issue that combines the original, separate British singles into a single release) in the catalogue of an artist who has been releasing music since the early 1990's under various aliases. So when I went into this newfangled idea of an "independent music store," my new fascination with vinyl and my interest in these harder-to-find artists drove me to look in those places first.

It was eye-opening--these stores carried things that I liked and no one else had. They even had some of them on vinyl! At that time, two stores dominated Chapel Hill, though I also managed to end up in a third while visiting with the friends I was there with at the time. First, foremost--still foremost--is CD Alley. CD Alley is a tiny store down the main drag of Franklin Street, cramped and contorted to hold a mystifying range of things for its tiny size. At the time, I remember finding a load of Aphex Twin vinyl, and being in awe but of course absent--being an unemployed high schooler--of the funds to do anything about this lovely discovery. Indeed, I found my peculiar-ly preferred Aphex album: Selected Ambient Works, Vol. II. It's a triple album on the extremely, extremely rare (and now extremely expensive) limited brown-vinyl release,¹ and contains varying numbers of tracks depending on what format one purchases it on. Thankfully, what I saw was not the vinyl release--I'd be cursing myself to this day, if I had, for not picking it up--but just the Sire-distributed US release from the original Warp Records.

Now, to be fair, though this is the version I did eventually acquire, the Sire release inexplicably omits a track, bringing the CD release down to 23 tracks in the US, down from 24 in the UK and 25 on vinyl and cassette. Yes, the odd instance where the vinyl actually has more tracks. I didn't get it that day, but I was beyond enthused to even see it, and to see a number of his albums on vinyl even. CD Alley continues to operate happily to this day, and has the kind of backstock rarely seen anymore. It's less than it used to be, but still a happy amount. It's heavily biased toward bands they know people are interested in, but I can't complain too much about that--it's still a business and they have to stay afloat, of course. They carry a decent chunk of used vinyl (though I stopped looking through it years ago, to be honest), a decent set of used CDs with a strong base for interesting releases. To an extent, you can pull out a ton of influential independent bands (especially local ones from labels like Merge Records) and find most of their catalogues hanging around on CD Alley's shelves, but without any snobby upturned noses at more popular modern and classic artists.

CD Alley has a great staff, with an interesting range of tastes and approaches--they all know me by sight at this point, and a few know me by name. The owner, Ryan, is a very decent guy and is happy to talk to people when he's working and takes music seriously. I don't know too many other names, but they've all been good to me.

The only woman that works there became my person to needle for information on post-punk bands, as that is clearly her area. When I decided to look into Howard DeVoto's band Magazine--formed after he split early from the Buzzcocks--she happily directed me to their first album, Real Life, which is now accompanied by their first two singles. She knew Burning Airlines--a band formed from the remains of 90's alternate rock band Jawbox who I will doubtless write about, as I love them dearly--immediately when I inquired about the availability of either of their albums, and brightened immediately once I started talking about that range and period of music. When I noted my embarrassing early confusion regarding Jawbreaker and Jawbox, she told me she saw both in their heydays and they both put on great shows, assuaging my fear that I was not "supposed" to like Jawbreaker as much, because they are considered early "emo."²

Brian--I believe that's his name, though I'm terrified I've got it wrong--knows me by name, and when I walked in just last night, pulled out my order for Big Country's The Crossing without a second word, and let me ramble about UK show Nevermind the Buzzcocks and its help in pointing me toward bands I'd "missed" by both age and ignorance, as well as being solid entertainment filled with all kinds of little gems for music fans.

And on that note, if CD Alley doesn't have what you're looking for? Ask and they shall order, and it won't be any more than it would be if they ordered it for the store and put it on their shelf. They're an independent store, but they price things very reasonably. It's not major, big-box pricing, no, but it's not the usual at-MSRP-no-matter-how-ridiculous endemic to both independents and smaller or more focused major retailers.

If you like music and you live in the Triangle--I'm going to go ahead and spoil this all with an anticlimax: this is the store to go to. They have more than everyone else, they have the best pricing on almost any given title, and they have the friendliest staff. There are reasons to hit the other stores around, and we'll get there, but overall, this store is tops in the area.

As a sort of nonsensical preview, here are the stores I'll have to look at in the future, most positively:
Hunky Dory (Durham), Offbeat Music (Durham), Bull City Records (Durham), Nice Price (in Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill), Edward McKay (Raleigh, Greensboro, Winston Salem and Fayetteville), Backdoor Cd's Records and Tapes (Chapel Hill), Schoolkids (Raleigh, formerly Chapel Hill and a few other places), and the sadly defunct-and-also-not-actually-local Musik Hut (Fayetteville). I visit some of these more than others, and some I almost never go to, but we'll get to all that.

Back to Post ¹There are some other vinyl releases of the album, but they're all rare and very hard to come by. He's a known quantity when it comes to limited releases and appreciation of price. Fans are rabid and obsessive. Some of us can pass once prices hit a certain point, but they do hit those points. My own favourite track, "Arched Maid Via RDJ" (an anagram of his name, which he has done a lot) was originally only available on a single 7" and absolutely nothing else, known as Hangable Auto Bulb EP.2. Eventually, the two "Hangable Auto Bulb" releases were compiled onto a CD, though a printing errors switched a few track names. Alas! Still, I've got that. I considered getting the vinyl for some time, but the price on it is beyond exorbitant.

Back to Post ²Though it's likely that no one would call them that now, outside of those who know where the term originated. Here's a hint, for those who don't: it was originally intended as an extension, not always appreciated by the bands labeled, as an abbreviation of "emotional/emotive hardcore." Hardcore is, essentially, extremely fast and aggressive punk. If this is sounding nothing like what you think "emo" is, well, you're probably part of the group known as "most people now." The original usage is lost except to those of us pedantic enough to try to put it back, usually just to be obnoxious and contrarian. Mea culpa. Can't help it. There's a sick delight in pointing such things out.

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