Flaming Lips, pirate metal, and why you should spend more time in record stores

Last weekend, my wife and I took a trip up to Newport, Rhode Island, to spend some time at the beach.

We got some sun, we ate some seafood, we drank some pretty terrible local beer, and we visited one of my favorite landmarks: The Music Box.

I’ve essentially made a trip to the Music Box once every summer since I was about 14, and though it has expanded its reach beyond music and video over the course of the last decade-and-a-half (if you notice on the store’s official website, they also sell sports memorabilia and “gourmet food”), it remains a good old-fashioned record store at its heart.

I almost always go in looking for a handful of specific things—for no other reason than tradition, I always pick up a copy of the new Warped Tour compilation, as I have been buying those things since they’ve been called Punk-O-Rama; this time around, I was on the hunt for the Flaming Lips’ Heady Nuggs, a limited-edition Record Store Day collection of the group’s first five Warner Bros. albums on vinyl—and also for some browsing: Whenever I visit a new city, I always try to seek out a used record store to dig out soundtrack compilations from ’90s teen movies, which I constantly purchase on the cheap for reasons I’ve lost track of.

The Music Box did not disappoint (though they were playing Train’s cover of “Umbrella” on their in-store sound system, which bummed me out profoundly). I walked out with the Lips set (at a fantastic price) and a promotional compilation of Lollapalooza performers from 1994, which includes tracks by Green Day, L7, Nick Cave, Stereolab, and the Breeders.

But the most thrilling moment of the afternoon was completely unexpected. While I was thumbing through some used soundtracks (alas, they didn’t have anything I didn’t already own), I spotted a piece of album artwork that caught my eye. Sitting in the A’s was the latest release from a band called Alestorm, who I had no knowledge of prior to noticing the cover of their latest album Back Through Time.

Based on the image on the front, I assumed they were some sort of epic metal band, and the list of song titles (including “The Sunk’n Norwegian,” “Death Throes of the Terrorsquid,” and, most importantly, “You Are a Pirate”) revealed that they apparently existed in a one-band genre called pirate metal.

This sort of thing used to happen to me all the time. I spent the better part of my teen years wandering around music stores (I could ride my bike to Coconuts and Lechmere in Manchester, Connecticut, and when I finally got my license I had access to the much cooler, indier Record Express in West Hartford and Music Outlet in Enfield), and I would often take these trips with no real shopping agenda.

But whenever I came across a staff recommendation or a great album cover or even a compelling title, I allowed myself to make a spur-of-the-moment purchase. Hartford radio was weak (we didn’t get a modern rock station until way late, and college stations weren’t the kind that played Pavement), and I wasn’t resilient enough to stay up and watch 120 Minutes, so my avenues of discovery were somewhat thin. Outside of reading music magazines, allowing myself to be randomly inspired while walking among the racks seemed like the only reasonable way to discover new music.

Obviously, this was in the era before the Internet, and by the time I arrived at college in the fall of 2000, I could generally sample whatever I wanted to before buying it. It made for more reasonable spending habits, but it also took a bit of the fun and thrill out of fishing for new music. The possibility of finding something great or compelling was enough to keep me coming back, because in my mind, the next great band I loved was already at my fingertips. It lead to a lot of regrets (I really should never have bought that Babylon Zoo album), but it also gave me just as many things I loved (I picked up Archers of Loaf’s Vee Vee based on its entrancing cover; it became my favorite release of 1995).

Sadly, I did not purchase Alestorm’s Back Through Time, though I regretted it almost immediately. The whole experience bummed me out for a number of reasons, mostly because it made me feel less adventurous but also because it made me feel kind of old (writing this blog post hasn’t helped either; reading the whole thing back, I realize I talk about the past as though I listened to music via a crank-powered Victrola).

But for a fleeting moment, I got back that thrill I used to feel when I was taking adventures into the unknowns of the music universe. Nostalgia can be a toxic thing, and I normally gag at the idea of paying homage to the past simply because it’s the past, but sometimes you have to treat yourself to a little backward-looking thrill.

So I ask you, readers of the Music Mix: Do you still go to record stores? Did you ever go to record stores? And do you have any great tales of discovery from your crate-digging past? Give a shout-out to your local joint and wallow in a pit of nostalgia in the comments below.

Read more on EW.com:
The Flaming Lips release a song called ‘Is David Bowie Dying?': Do they know something we don’t?
Independent record stores protest Jay-Z and Kanye’s album-release shutout
Happy Record Store Day! Do you remember your first album purchase?

Comments (28 total) Add your comment
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  • Alex

    Yes. I prefer having a physical copy and ripping it over strictly digital versions.

    That said, if prices for new music are as consistently high as I saw them last night for a 10-track album, digital is going be be my sole medium.

    • Grandmother


      • kal

        Yes, please keep mining your local record store for golden discoveries! There’s great music waiting to be found, still. . .BTW,I wanna share a good news to you.My best friend ,she just has announced her wedding with a millionaire man who is a celebrity !they met via
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  • Anth

    I love record stores and almost exclusively purchase CDs. Music should be an experience, and so should shopping for it. The pick-and-click method is so soulless–there’s nothing like stepping into an awesome independent record store for the first time and soaking it all in.

  • Nancy

    I prefer being able to download my music for free on Bitttorent and after giving them a listen, deciding if the artists really deserve my purchasing an entire record or cd. In the past I have been burnt by bands/artists/etc who put out a record or cd, only to find after spending like $16.99 at a commercial store, that it contains just one or two decent tracks. The rest of the tracks being filler, unthoughtful or lacking creativity, and me wondering if I can return it to get something that I know is much better than something like that. With that said….

    Fans should support their favourite artists by purchasing a hardcopy from a local record store, or iTunes or whatever, but not all CDs or Albums I have bought in the past were really worth the hard earned money spent to purchase them sometimes. File-sharing, if it does anything positive, it requires musicians and the entire industry to work harder providing better quality product and what the fans really deserve. More live shows, and more one-on-one promotions with the fans themselves. They need to get back to what this is about, more than just scamming kids.

  • McFly

    I love my local indie record shop (Graywhale in Ogden, Utah!!). I’ve been getting my music there since I got my driver’s license in 1991 (before that, I too had to ride my bike to a closer store: Hastings, in my case).
    I don’t understand why people who really love music would rather click and scroll through iTunes than stop by a record store and hang out/make friends with other people who really love music. The list of bands/artists I’ve been turned on to by the clerks (and sometimes, other patrons) of GrayWhale is vast, varied, and includes some of my favorite all-time artists (Elliott Smith, Gaslight Anthem, Pete Miser to name a few).
    I think the loss of “brick and mortar” retailers for entertainment (music, books, games, movies) is tragic. The younger generation will probably say I’m just old-fashioned, to which I can only reply that newer isn’t always better and that they really don’t know what they’re missing.
    Oh, and yes, I love the thrill of taking a chance on unknown/unheard music. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes the gamble results in a total fail– that’s what makes it fun!

  • McFly

    PS: Kyle, if I’m you, there’s absolutely no way I’m leaving that store without a copy of Alestorm! Especially if I can find that on vinyl: that cover is going to be displayed proudly, where everyone can see it! (At least until my wife stops pretending to think I’m funny and makes me put it away).
    Long live metal fantasy/horror album art!!

  • Jay

    I still go to records stores, and I still buy my CD’s from the store. I do admit to downloading (legally) singles I like if its an artist that is outside of my genre (mainly pop or rap)

  • PN

    I still go to record stores! I still buy PHYSICAL albums and CDs. I am so PLEASED that vinyl is back in the stores, even in mainstream chains like Best Buy (you can only go on CDs for so long). I never download or go to Itunes. I like to hear the full album as it is and not this one or two song/ whining “I don’t like this one’ mentality so common in some music listeners. How these people prefer one of two songs on Itunes off an artist’s album is a letdown and an insult to the artist.

  • NonEntity

    Yes, please keep mining your local record store for golden discoveries! There’s great music waiting to be found, still. . .

  • Brad

    Absolutely. Getting lost for hours in a record store, finding a long fogotten treasure or experimenting on a spontaneous impulse, is somthing to be cherished. In UK each town has a half dozen second hand charity shops, each with 20-300 albums that have been donated … which is another great place for a scavenger hunt for random gem on the cheap. The process is almost as much fun as the music.

  • Chris

    Actually, “pirate metal” is not a one band genre (Alestorm); a German metal band, Running Wild (their early work was very influenced by Maiden), were doing the pirate metal thing since the early 80’s and only disbanded in 2009; their albums included such titles as “Port Royal” and “Under Jolly Roger”

  • Grigori

    I managed a used record store for over a decade… and yes, it was a GREAT decade.

  • buddymoore

    I have recently been buying the majority of my songs as singles on iTunes; however, I would love to go back to buying the physical albums, but I just don’t have the money at the moment. With that being said, there’s nothing like stepping into a record store and finding that album you’ve been looking for. I do a lot of shopping at Best Buy or Wal-Mart and they normally only have popular, mainstream albums so when I go into the local indie record store and find what I’m looking for it’s like finding buried treasure. Also, buying albums has also caused me to find some of my favorite songs. I’ll usually listen to all the snippets of an album on iTunes and only buy the songs I like from what I hear. When I buy an album, a song that I didn’t like at first listen will begin to grow on me because it always gets cycled through and I will eventually love it.

  • Mikey M

    I used to work at Record Factory in the 80’s. This was a time when CD’s were just out and the music business was booming. This was before the Record Companies got greedy and started uping the prices on CD’s to $18.99.
    What a different world it was then.

  • Laura W

    Hey I’m twenty one and I buy cds, always the physical over the digital. I only get the digital if I can’t go out of the house. Its always nice to have an collection.

  • Qwert

    Go to nuggets off kenmore sq & get a coulple grab bags & discover the thrill of the unknown. Streetlight in Santa Cruz is also great.

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