Saturday, March 31, 2012

Zia Records, Bookmans, Toxic Ranch & PDQ

If you're from Arizona, at least one of those names should be familiar. They're all interesting cases of hipster media stores.
Zia is now a sponsor for Coachella. So, they're doing OK. They sell used CDs, DVD's Games and books. Very much like a "Tower Records" kind of vibe, and defintely my least favorite. But, the business model is very much the traditional- sell the new stuff, and trade ins are like Used cars- inspected, and assigned value based upon condition and popularity.
Bookmans, likewise, seems to be doing well, as well. Very much a traditional used-Book store, with some vinyl, some toys, some games, and so forth. My favorite is the Used magazines- a good way of getting your pop-media fix cheaper. The key for them, though is sheer volume. Each of their stores are freakin' HUUGE. Also, they're very keyed-in to environmental concerns, which is a selling point for me. My favorite of their stores is the Bookmans at Grant in Tucson, where they have had electric car chargers since the 1980's.
Toxic Ranch/ Westworld is more a tale of survival. Bill originally had the store in pomona, California, where I first encountered what was called "Toxic Shock" back in the early 1980's. Then, Bill moved to Tucson, after forming a mail order, and a record label. I moved to Tucson very shortly thereafter, so I feel like he and the store are familiar to me. But, it's much more the boutique model, and I think they'd have gone under if not for online sales. They're still trying to make it on Niche markets, as opposed to what's locally popular, and that's a hard road to toe. I respect the effort more than I actually shop there.
Then, there's PDQ, in Tucson. They didn't survive. They were a great example of failing to adapt to the times. They were a massive mostly-vinyl Used and new record store very, very much in the traditional indie spirit- very 'High Fidelity", if you will. But, you see, they missed the basic lesson of running a business- adapt to your clientele, or die. You cannot make them come to you.
When talk about Indie stores, these are the default models in my mind. In the romantic part of my mind, I think of the PDQ style. If I think about the early 1990's style, I think of Zia. If we're talking what I think the model should be, we're talking about Bookmans, and if we're talking about what most people are trying to do, I think we're talking Toxic Ranch. Different models, sure, and I bet there are individual variants wherever you are, but I bet the models aren't so very different.


So, in the past week or so, I was in Phoenix, Arizona. It's really not lovely- I far prefer Northern Arizona, these days, and have preferred Tucson, Arizona, but I was there for Family, so you have to go where Family is. But, that meant a trip to Zia's. Zia's is the last real holdout in this country that I am able to pinpoint. Sure, there are standalone record stores, like Amoeba, and so forth, but Zia's is the last independent chain of New/used CD store with the snooty clerks, and the dope-smokin' paraphernalia, tasteless posters, outdated cash registers and the rest of the jive you might remember from the late 1980's, early 1990's, So, did I get anything new? No! I got scads of stuff I already own, or have owned. So, just to re-iterate on some:
I got Quicksand-Slip. There was a time in the early 1990's when "emo" wasn't always a dirty word, and when Hardcore was dividing like cells in an embryo. Still one of my favorite times for music, if not my favorite. Sure, you had "alternative", and "Grunge", but in my mutant mental landscape, such things are but cells, in this new creation coming out of Punk/underground rock. From about 1985 to 1995 you had everything from Country/roots divisions to electronic/industrial divisions. In 1993, at the tail end of that fertile period, a former Gorilla Biscuit masterminded what I consider to be the Platonic ideal for this particular outcropping- the Emo/posthardcore division. Yes, that means I think Quicksand's "Slip" is better than Fugazi, Jawbox, and so on- Now, I think that Jawbox was a better band, overall, and had a few songs that eclipse everyone else, and Fugazi were definitely the spearhead of the genre, but song-for-song, sound-by-sound, note-by-note, I think this one is perfect. From the opening of "Fazer" to the last note of "Transparent" it's one of the few records I have that captures a moment, a feeling, a scene completely. And if you don't dig "Dine alone' I sincerely doubt that you'll dig any of this branch of my tastes. It's like the Cro mags playing a reggae version of a Jane's Addiction song- what could be better? One final note, though- listen carefully to the bass and guitar tone- I know of no one else who managed such a cutting, powerful midrange sound. If you really listen, it makes Heavy Metal sound toothless and mushy.
I also got dEUS- In a Bar, Under the Sea, from just a few years later. For some, it's their favorite period for dEUS. Me, I'm more into the MkII version of the later 2000's, but I don't hate this. It's very loose, funky Alt-rock, like a more Captain Beefheart version of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. But, even at that point, my favorite stuff was the Tom Barman pop songs. Overall, it's kinda like how I feel about the Flaming Lips. The early first version is good, and definitely hits the spot for the time and place, but the revamp is timeless, and spotless, and beautiful.
Then , I got Kasabian's 'Kasabian'. I'd never heard it before. I came in with the West Ryder LP, so, at the time this came out, I thought they were just a bunch of sub-Oasis yobbos. Wrong! This is clean, powerful Electro-charged british rock, of the danceable variety. Now, it's not anywhere near the Awesome-sauce that is Velocipraptor, but still, for that British dance rock thing, it's a nice continuation from the Madchester thing, from the late 1980's- a bit more Jesus Jones/PWEI than Stone Roses/Charlatans, but still of that same musical space. If you don't think I'm a massive fan of that sound, you need to google the title of this blog, and check out what you get.
Then, I also got British Sea Power's "Open Season". They've never been one of my favorites. They're ok, and I like to hear some of their tracks whilst driving long distances. They're like a very pop-influenced version of Shoegazing music. Again, it's good, but not great. I doubt if it'll offend your ear, but won't change your life, either. Ultimately, I think it's music for sad girls from small towns, waiting to go to university.
Newer still, but in a way, older- I got Kele's (Bloc party) solo record -The Boxer. I think I'm with Kele on the divide between he and his old(?) band. Yup, hard Electronics over increasingly nostalgic New Wave guitar rock. But, isn't that better "retro" if you remember the 80's?
Finally, I got my 4th copy of Wild Flag's LP. Yes, 4th copy. I bought one that I , unfortunately, thrashed. I got another on Mp3, that I still have. I gave away another copy to a friend, so now, I've got my 4th copy. Yes, it's that good. I'm happily married. However, I would be in love with Carrie Brownstein, if I could be. She plays a mean guitar, in her own style, she sings like Joey Ramone meets Sue Tissue, she's smart, she's funny, and she's stylish. In other words, it's probably for the best that I'm happily married, and that she's bisexual, and involved, because she's way too good for me, and I'd probably end up being some kind of creepy stalker guy. Anyway, my wife really is smart, funny, stylish and happy with me, to boot, so I win, but still, yup, Carrie's one of my ideal women. That aside, this is still the hottest album of party rock I've heard in awhile. If you don't have it, yet, seriously- go and get it, now.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Harry Crews

So, I just found out today that the old guy is dead. While too bad for us, I guess he'd suffered enough. If you don't know who Harry Crews is, read one of his books, and get back to me. I thought he was one of America's finest authors, and the world would be a better place if they taught kids to read his stuff as a requisite to graduate....