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Our Favorite Record Stores: Artists' Picks, Part 1

In honor of the upcoming Record Store Day this weekend, PopMatters checks in with artists across borders and genres to find out what their favorite record stores are, from Los Angeles to Toronto to Bamaki, Mali.

To mark Record Store Day, PopMatters is celebrating great independent record stores anywhere and everywhere by having artists and staff writers write up their choices for their favorite shops. Today, we begin a two-part list with picks by artists who cross genres and borders. They give us a nice sampling of great shops that span the globe, from the music capitals of New York, Los Angeles, and London to hip hotspots like Stockholm and Portland to Timbuktu -- or at least Bamako, Mali. What you'll find below are not only some recommendations for what stores to check out the next time you're in Toronto or Roanoke, Virginia, but also the up-close-and-personal experiences that make these places remarkable, whether they've persevered the economy and the Internet or only live on fondly in memory. Reversing the roles here, it's the artists who are the fans.

[ PopMatters Picks | Artist Picks Part Two]

4th Pyramid

Being from Toronto and into hip-hop, there's really only one record store that has stood the test of time out here and that's Play De Record. Snuggled between one of the cities sleaziest strip bars, Zanzibar, and a check cashing spot on Yonge St., this place defines grimy and quite frankly I like it. Not only do they stock the best and most obscure vinyl and mixtapes, but way back when, true aficionados knew to ask to get into the basement where the real treasures were hidden (for usually no more than $3). Play De Record is a Toronto landmark. Ya dun know.

4th Pyramid's new album Pyramid Scheme (Universal) was released in March.


Fortunately for me, my favorite record store is pretty close to where I live -- it's True Vine Records (3544 Hickory Avenue in Baltimore). Their stock is rotating constantly, so you never really know what you'll find there. It's best to keep an open mind and expect to be pleasantly surprised.

The store's owner, Jason Willett, is some kind of highly evolved human and one of my favorite people. Admittedly, I'm in there more often just hanging out with him than I am actually buying records. He'll often take a record that's playing and run it through this home-built synth/signal processor hanging on the wall that's got knobs, switches, and alligator clips, completely transforming the aural landscape of the store into some kind of warped alternate dimension. While all this insanity is going on, he's helping customers find records they're looking for and placing orders with distributors, all the while maintaining a relaxed and friendly demeanor. Then, in a room off to the side, this brilliant guy Karl has his workshop where he's building and selling custom synthesizers, mostly variations on an invention of his called "The Moisturizer", which is an absolutely fascinating device. All in all, it's an exceptional little place that should be a required stop for anyone passing through Baltimore, and a recommended frequent check-in for those of us who live in town.

Arbouretum is releasing a split LP Aureola (Thrill Jockey) with Hush Arbors for Record Store Day.

Khaira Arby

Mali K7: One of my favorite music stores in Mali is in Bamako and is called Mali K7 (Mali Ka-Sept or Mali Cassette). It is right behind a recording studio that I have worked in many times called Studio Bogolan. My last album, Timbuktu Tarab, was recorded there. Mali K7 is a strong supporter of Malian musicians and has released many artists' work. But most music in Mali is found on copies made from CDs or cassettes and copied onto cellphones, MP3 players, or other CDs or cassettes. Most music is traded that way. There are also a lot of cassette vendors in the markets who have copies of copies sometimes. Just like everywhere else, the musicians lose money, but the public gets to hear their music.

Khaira Arby will be touring the U.S. later this month through May.

David Baker of Variety Lights and former founding member of Mercury Rev

For my fifth birthday, my mom had every friend I knew come over for a wild screaming kid and cake party. After the usual games and chaos, everyone calmed down long enough so I could open my presents. There among the toys and coloring books was a gift which came courtesy of one friend's dad who worked at a local record store. An album!

It changed my little life. I was baffled by the Union Gap staring at me from the cover in civil war attire and yet from there I was hooked. I needed and wanted to go to that record store. The place the long-haired music elite tripped out on cool, big kid psychedelic music and of course the Beatles and Doors -- I just had to hang out there.

Through the years and hundreds of stores, I have always felt at home at record shops more so than any kind of store. Pre-internet, the cool record store clerk was your info source, your search engine, and even social network friend.

I love record stores. I even chose Chicago as my hometown because it had and still has the coolest variety of independent stores anywhere.

Laurie's Planet of Sound is my hometown favorite amongst favorites because they were always kind and nice and knowledgeable, and John the owner actually even let me work there on Sundays for a while. This store has vinyl and CDs and pins and DVDs and books and collectibles and toys, and is filled with joy and, well, it's my fifth birthday every time I go there.

Variety Lights have a new single "Silent Too Long" (Fire) for Record Store Day, with a remix by the Silver Apples, and are releasing their debut album Central Flow on June 12.

BBU's Illekt

My record store pick would have to be Reckless Records. It's been a Chicago musical landmark for a long time, at least to me and hundreds of other Chicagoians. I remember dreaming about getting a band flyer on their windows. They choose which flyers they put up, so you just can't go do it yourself. You could try, though. I didn't know at first and just started to put one up and got yelled at. Oh well, it happens.

As for the music, they have a great selection of every genre in every medium; tapes, CDs, and, of course, vinyl. Luckily, I had a friend that worked there, so I was able to get records I really wanted put to the side for me, which was a plus. I always wanted to work there myself, along with almost every other Chicago musician and music lover. It's definitely hard to get in there -- I tried myself with no success. But I did succeed in getting a flyer up and not because of my friend, so that was awesome to see. For the most part, they are pretty friendly and will help you find anything you are looking for if you need help. They also sell a lot of cool movies. They sell and trade music, so if you don't find something one time, you never know if they might get it and that makes you always want check back in. My brothers and I usually exchange CDs and vinyl from there for Christmas. So all in all, Reckless Records is my favorite record store for both the music and sentimental reasons. So next time you're in the Chi, go check it out. Holla.

Chicago-based juke rap group BBU recently put out the mixtape, bell hooks, mixed by DJ Benzi and presented by Mishka Records and Mad Decent.

Steven Bernstein of Millennial Territory Orchestra, Sexmob, and Levon Helm Band

I love record stores. I was just on a Midwest tour with Levon Helm. We went to Bullseye Records in Milwaukee and found a super rare Julius Watkins on Mercury and Robin Kenyatta on Vortex. Chicago Jazz Record Mart...found Slide Hampton's first LP on Strand and, as always, a new Chicago artist -- whatever they recommend. And finally, the amazing Encore Records in Ann Arbor...all alphabetical!!!!!! I found records I was actually looking for. Thank you, Midwest. Thank you, record stores!!!

Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra recently released MTO Plays SLY (The Royal Potato Family), a tribute to Sly & the Family Stone, and will be performing at Bonnaroo.

Wil Blades

My go-to record store is Groove Yard in Oakland, CA. Not only does Rick Ballard have an incredible selection of old vinyl, but he also supports the local Bay Area music scene with his monthly newsletters featuring the local happenings around town. In this day and age, I think it's incredibly important to have small record stores and small locally owned stores, in general. The feeling of hanging out at a store and digging through records and even CDs is an experience you will never feel online.

Wil Blades is part of a duo with Medeski, Martin & Wood drummer Billy Martin, which will release its debut album, Shimmy, on May 22 (The Royal Potato Family).

Hollis Brown

Academy Records (Brooklyn, NY)

Generation Records (New York, NY)

ear X-tacy (Louisville, KY) RIP

The Exchange (Lakewood, OH)

Amoeba Music (Los Angeles, CA)

Feeding Tube Records (Northampton, MA)

Waterloo Records (Austin, TX)

Hollis Brown has released the new EP Nothing & the Famous No One earlier this month.

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