Our Favorite Record Stores: Artists’ Picks, Part 1

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.

The Darcys and more…


Cains and Abels’ David Sampson

The record store that means the most for me in my life is Dodd’s Record Shop, a dark, dusty hole in Grand Rapids, Michigan with an ancient owner who never talked to me or even played music that I can remember. I didn’t have any money, but I wanted new music, so I would get together six bucks and go down to Dodd’s. The whole back wall was filled with deep discount records, and that’s where I bought my first Elvis Costello, Fleetwood Mac, Harry Nilsson, Talking Heads, and David Bowie albums, all stuff that influenced me heavily. The inventory never changed, so every time I went, I would just pick a different letter in the alphabet and go record by record ‘til I found everything I wanted or kind of wanted. Part of the reason I got so into ‘70s music was having that resource of awesome cheap records. I think he made his money selling esoteric record player needles or something, because his focus was clearly not on records. I go back there every once in a while when we play in Grand Rapids, and it always brings back that treasure hunting feeling.

My favorite two record stores in Chicago are the Milwaukee Ave. Reckless Records and Permanent Records on Chicago Ave. Reckless is the old stalwart, which kept me alive by buying my old CDs when I first moved here, is always cool about putting up C/A show posters these days, and is where I discovered Kevin Ayers’ weird awesome album, Rainbow Takeaway. Permanent Records has extremely cool curation and a really nice personal vibe. It feels more like looking through a really cool person’s really well organized and displayed record collection.

My favorite record listening experiences have all begun with a discovery moment holding the record in my hands. I love that we can find new music all the time wherever we are through the Internet, but I can’t ever totally give up the tactile experience of flipping through shelves of records at a store.

Cains and Abels have just released My Life Is Easy (Whistler) earlier in April and will be doing an in-store performance for Record Store Day at Saki Store in Chicago.


Neal Casal of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood (Photo by Piper Ferguson)

The Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s Neal Casal

One of my favorite record stores in the country is Grady’s Record Refuge in Ventura, California. It has the right selection, the right staff, and it’s the right size. But most importantly, it’s got the right vibe. There’s something genuine about this place, not an ounce of pretentiousness to be found here. These people are in it for the right reasons, and that’s of utmost importance when I’m out shopping for vinyl. They’re not in it to sell units, they’re in it because they truly love music.

The Chris Robinson Brotherhood (current project of the Black Crowes frontman) is releasing a seven-inch single “New Suede Shoes” (Megaforce) for Record Store Day, in anticipation of a full-length in June. Neal Casal’s solo album Sweeten the Distance (The Royal Potato Family) came out last year.


Jon Cleary

Apart from Daddy Kool Records on Hanway Street in London, where, as a 15-year-old in the late ‘70s, I’d push my way through the Rastas huddled at the entrance and squeeze up front near the bass speakers to vie for the latest 12-inch singles from Jamaica, the store I would pick out is Jim Russell Rare Records on Magazine Street in New Orleans. I was dropped off outside on my very first day in the U.S. with a list of records I wanted (impossible to find in the UK) and ended up blowing 50 of the hundred bucks I’d brought with me, which was somehow supposed to last me two weeks. I still have those 45s thirty years later, and, despite them taking a bath in Katrina, scratches and all, they still sound great.

Jon Cleary recently released a new album, Occapella (FHQ).


The Darcys’ Wes Marskell

I grew up buying records from Toronto staples like Rotate This! and, later, Sonic Boom. I bought Steely Dan’s Aja on translucent yellow vinyl, my first vinyl purchase, from Rotate This! I ended up buying the rest of the Dan catalogue from Rotate over the years.

At Sonic Boom, I bought a copy of Do Make Say Think’s Goodbye Enemy Airship the Landlord Is Dead only to realize later that Justin Small, a member of the band, had cashed me out.

Both stores have since moved locations, but still exist in different forms and were very kind to us when once we had records of our own to sell — one of which just happened to be an interpretation of Steely Dan’s Aja. Being able to come full circle like that has solidified Rotate and Sonic Boom as the record stores closest to my heart.

The Darcys released a full-album cover of Steely Dan’s AJA on Arts &Crafts last year.


Ducky (a.k.a. Morgan Neiman)

I haven’t gone record shopping since I moved out of San Francisco, but my favorites were always:

Aquarius Records

Turntable Lab

Recycled Records

Ducky released a new EP The Whether in February.


Eight and a Half’s Justin Peroff

There are two Toronto record stores that continue to matter to myself and the music loving community of Toronto: Rotate This and Play De Record.

Play De Record: Then, 1994 — The destination for the freshest hip-hop, house, techno, et al. was found on the east side of Yonge, north of Gerrard, in a space at the back of a convenience store. Going on a Thursday to experience the absolute mayhem of New Arrival Day was like experiencing the behavior of riot providers. It was fucking awesome. I still bang obscure white label 12 inchers that I dug out there and I still find myself there for their premium selection of DJ gear. I also hold events at Wrong Bar, owned by one of the original staff captain’s, Nav Sangha.

Rotate This: Then, 1993 — Ever see the film High Fidelity? Rotate This is that record store. One of my first visits to what would become my home away from home found me walking out the door with my imaginary tail tucked between my legs. I was a suburban, zitty, plaid-flannel-clad teenager who raked through every detail of his liner notes. This led me to discover the Melvins via my Nirvana research. During said Rotate visit, I stumbled upon a CD that is a collection of Melvins songs originally found on a series of seven-inches. I sheepishly walk up to the counter where Brian (one of the owners) stands. I ask him if he had listened to the tracks on the CD I was holding. He looked at me with what I gathered to be a patronizing glare, “Well ya, I own all of these on seven inch”…I say nothing. I am terrified, yet I have no idea why. I purchase the CD and walk out the door. Five years later, I lose my teenage jitters, run from the suburbs, and become a resident of downtown Toronto and ultimately…a Rotate This loiterer.

Eight and a Half, featuring members of the Stills and Broken Social Scene, have just released their self-titled debut album on Arts & Crafts.


Photo by Jody Kivort

Escort’s Eugene Cho

A-1 Records (New York City): Amazingly curated selection of funky records. If I had to buy an entire DJ set of records at one store it would be A-1.

Turntable Lab (New York City): If I needed to buy an entire DJ set of new music at one store, it would be Turntable Lab.

Other Music (New York City): They outlasted Tower Records across the street. I remember when Tower would have these huge lighted signs of crappy mainstream records and Other Music would counter them with their own lighted signs promoting the good stuff.

Déjà Vu Records (Natick, MA): My friends will be mad if they found out that I’m outing our secret record spot, but you should only go there if you’re willing to actually dig. I always leave with an armful.

Rhino Records (New Paltz, NY): If you’re in New Paltz, you must go to there.

Escort released its self-titled debut earlier in 2012.

I See Hawks in L.A. and more…


Eternal Summers’ Nicole Yun

In our hometown of Roanoke, we have The Bazaar, a consignment shop that has amazing vintage vinyl, as well as clothes and knick knacks. Plus, it looks like a basement from the ‘70s, which is creepy and awesome!

Academy Records in Brooklyn is a staple for us when we’re on tour. We never fail to find great records and can get lost in there for hours. Plus, the kitty cat there is adorable!

Photo by Samuel Lunsford

Wonder Records in Harrisonburg, VA is a fantastic new store connected with Wonder Skate Shop and the two parts really feed well into each other! Their discount vinyl is a great way to accrue classics on a budget!

Milk Crate in Philadelphia serves delicious fresh breakfast sandwiches upstairs while selling very well priced and eclectic vinyl downstairs. A gem!

Retrofit Records in Tallahassee is also a newer shop in a really up and coming part of the city. We were lucky enough to play a show here and their commitment to newer vinyl as well as classics is refreshing! The all-ages shows there are also an added benefit to a growing scene!

That’s it!

Eternal Summers are releasing a collection of their early singles, The Dawn of Eternal Summers (Kanine), on Record Store Day. Their sophomore album is due later this year.


Freakwater’s Catherine Irwin

My favorite record store is Mississippi Records on North Mississippi Avenue in Portland, Oregon. It is a tiny little store with a completely amazing selection of used records, cassette tapes, and sometimes Vietnamese sandwiches. There is a turntable in the front window where you can listen to records with headphones. All record stores should have this kind of a set up. I think that maybe they did back in ancient times. I have a beautiful Washington Phillips record that came out on the Mississippi Records label about five years ago. They have an astonishing catalog of reissues that would otherwise be impossible to find and also some groovy records by folks who are still alive.

Last year, I would have said that ear X-tacy in Louisville was my favorite record store (even though I always hated that name), but it closed in October.

Freakwater is reissuing its 1993 album Feels Like the Third Time (Thrill Jockey) on vinyl as a Record Store Day exclusive.


Moe Green

For my entire life there has always been a independent record store chain called Rasputin Music in my area. There is one in Vallejo (my hometown and where I currently live) and I have been going there constantly for years. I like it because it’s an independently owned record store that gives local indie artists a chance to sell their music on their shelves. It’s a big thing when you’re first starting out around here to make the jump from just moving music out of your trunk to getting your product in an actual store. Not only is it a selling point because people take us artists more seriously, but it also provides a personally empowering aspect when you can recognize progress. One of my favorite Rasputin Music memories was when I went in there to buy music as I regularly do and I saw my CD sitting on the display case right next to register where you checkout. I had known that we dropped some off to the main location to get put in the store, but I didn’t know that they were already in there and for it to be in my hometown was a big thing for me. So now I can tell folks who ask for my music, “You can get it at Rasputin.”

Moe Green has recently released a mixtape presented by OnSMASH and BRWTNSS.


Hieroglyphics crew member Pep Love

My favorite record store no longer exists. It was Leopold Records in Berkeley, CA. Anyone from the East Bay that’s old enough to remember Leopold knows what I’m talking about. For a long time, Bay Area hip-hop radio personality and journalist Davey D was broadcasting his show from UC Berkeley’s college radio station KALX right around the corner. Some of your favorite rappers used to hustle their cassette tapes and CDs in front of Leopold and Del [the Funky Homosapien] used to work there. The store’s magazine section was reason enough to walk in to see what was going on in the world of music.

Pep Love has a new album Rigamarole (Hieroglyphics Imperium), which was released in March.


Homeboy Sandman

I always loved Record Store Day at Fat Beats. Even though there was no air conditioning and the place would be a crowded sweatbox, it was always a great time. DJs would be spinning quality hip-hop for hours, broken up by special guest performers, the best NYC had to offer, from underground dudes to surprise worldwide superstars. DJ Eclipse on the wheels or DJ Spinna or Evil Dee or DJ Premier or whoever. When Fat Beats closed, I was crazy sad, but they still do Record Store Day in their warehouse. Not quite the same — sometimes the sound can be pretty dreadful — but the energy and the love is still there. People that went to Fat Beats were real authentic hip-hop fans, the type that always made for the best crowd. So whenever something was rocking during Record Store Day, the energy was dope. Yeah, Fat Beats really held it down on Record Store Day.

Homeboy Sandman has released two EPs of new material this year Subject: Matter and Chimera (Stones Throw).


Hospitality’s Nathan Michel

My favorite record store is, hands down, the Princeton Record Exchange in Princeton, NJ. It has everything I want in a record store: rows of frequently refreshed new arrival bins filled with all used vinyl (I hate when used records are mixed with new records); a super-knowledgeable and friendly staff; cheap prices; more dollar bins than I ever have time to go through, filled with backup copies of Tusk or Something/Anything; and lots of used, super-cheap classical CDs. They frequently also get large collections of records from downsizing individuals. The last time I was there, they’d just gotten a huge cache of contemporary classical and electronic records from a retired Princeton music professor, and I scored big-time.

Hospitality released its self-debut album on Merge earlier in 2012. The band will be playing an in-store at Horizon Records in Greenville, SC for Record Store Day.


I See Hawks in L.A.’s Paul Lacques

Amoeba Records is at the top of our record store list because they buy CDs from local artists. You walk in the store, and they buy the CDs. No consignment, no cautious perusing of product and whom you might be — they buy them on the spot.

Amoeba also runs a top notch live concert series, with great sound and video recording. They’ll feature big league acts like Tinariwen or Nickel Creek, and, again, local artists. Our band I See Hawks in L.A. has done three in-store concerts at Amoeba Los Angeles, acoustic and electric, and each was a memorable experience. If you can get serious collectors to look up from their journey through the aisles, you feel like you’ve accomplished something.

I See Hawks in L.A. recently released a new album, New Kind of Lonely (Western Seeds).


Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey’s Brian Haas

My favorite record store in America right now is Music Millennium in Portland. JFJO has been lucky enough to play two great in-store performances at MM and because of their amazing variety of sonic happiness, we always spend our jazz millions there as well.

Jacob Fred Jazz Orchestra is currently touring in support of its recent album The Race Riot Suite (The Royal Potato Family).