Last Trip To Other Music

Photos: Brian Li

It's half past seven on a drizzly Friday night in New York City. I'm a little bit of a mess; soggy from the sporadic downpour, weakened by a full day's work, and still regretting the sub-par pork and chive dumplings I wolfed down earlier. All day long I've been fighting off the urge to inject myself with cold beers (preferably Guinness) and binge watch Wong Kar Wai films. It's one of those days.

I'm with my friend Brian Li and we're walking in the East Village. Our destination: Other Music.

Pause. Allow me to back track and offer you, reader, some potentially relevant background information.

About me: I currently own a pair of Technics SL1200 Mk.2s with Shure M44-7 cartridges, Technics headshells, and Dr. Suzuki x Technics slipmats. Their primary function is to manipulate (dare I even whisper the word "scratch" on digital Serato vinyl for DJ'ing purposes. I live for beauteous $2 record bins and my most frequented "record stores" to date are a homeless man on 7th Avenue, and bulk surprise lots on eBay. (Michael Fremer—I sure hope you aren't reading this, but if you are, I'm sorry.)

About Brian: Brian is an electronic music designer who does Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, national tours, and live theatrical productions. His extensive resume includes Lion King, Aladdin, Newsies, Finding Neverland, and he's just accepted the long-term programmer position for La Rêve at the Wynn Las Vegas. He is a diehard music fanatic in his work life and home life, but he does not own a turntable. Yet.

About Other Music: An iconic, legendary New York record shop known for their esoteric selection, highly qualified staff, and influential role in helping indie labels grow. OM's been thriving for over two decades, but just last week, they announced to the world that they'd be closing up shop come June 25: The reason being none other than . . . the change in the times. Apparently, it's not forcing them to close instantly, but they're being cautious and closing down before the situation gets any worse. Smart move.

Un-Pause. So here we are, perhaps most appropriately finding ourselves in the category "other people," as I assume that cheap-o pedestrian listeners like me and turntable-less vinyl shoppers like Brian are not the norm. Other people entering Other Music.

We enter and are greeted by Stephen Mejias and Michael Lavorgna, whom we had made plans with to mourn OM's passing. (And to shop for records before word fully travels and selection runs thin.) We then go our own ways and immerse ourselves in the hunt. I—all of a sudden—feel uplifted, and immediately look for a record I've been wanting for a little while now, Bibio's A Mineral Love, only to learn that it is currently out of stock. Sigh.

I then begin to look for albums that I know and love. The idea of paying more than $20 on an LP isn't a totally foreign concept to me, but it is not something that I, personally have done more than once or twice in my life. Because of this, I'm not feeling especially frisky and am reluctant to purchase unfamiliar albums—even if they are in the sale bin. So here's what ended up purchasing:

Elliott Smith: From a Basement on the Hill ($21.99)
I love everything Elliott Smith ever did. For me, nothing can top that scratchy VHS tape upload of Elliott and Brad Mehldau on the Jon Brion show that resurfaced a few years ago, but all his albums are deeply meaningful for me.

J Dilla: Donuts ($21.99)
My go-to party album and the first Dilla I ever heard. Tasty samples and chill beats for days.

Wilco: Sky Blue Sky ($26.99; came with a CD)
I'm a massive Wilco fan. And Nels Cline fan. OM also had Star Wars and A Ghost is Born available, but Sky Blue Sky is the Wilco album that I've listened to the most on repeat. I've probably devoted entire weeks of my life to this album.

All together, this single visit to OM cost me more than the rest of my current record collection combined, totaling up to $77.27 with tax. But in a way, this single visit was also more enriching than any other LP purchasing experience I've ever had.

It almost felt like a visit to the hospital to see a distant relative with little time left in the world. I felt saddened, but knew that I could not possibly feel the full impact that someone closer would experience. Or in this case, the way that Stephen, one of many frequent OM shoppers, would feel about the shop's closing. In being reminded of mortality, I desperately cling to fading life while simultaneously reminding myself of the many joys that my own life holds.

Once I heard the news about OM, I was reminded of the unfortunate economic truths of today. I then frantically tried to learn more, and was suddenly ready and willing to invest in brand new LPs. A huge step for me. It makes me wonder if there are other $2-bin Jana Dagdagans and currently turntable-less Brian Lis out there inspired by the life changing OMs of the world.

The key is, of course, to never let this feeling die down. To not let this fire fade along with OM's impending expiration. To constantly feel reinvigorated without need for reminder—in life and in vinyl hunting.

Anton's picture

The portents for vinyl seem auspicious. I wonder what they know that we don't know?

Anyway, that is also my favorite Wilco album. At our hi fi club meetings, another guy and I use it as our generational divide LP. If people like it, they are "young," if they don't like it they are "old."

As such, we have "old members" who are in their 30's, and a "young member" who is 70 and loves Wilco!

When I first heard the intro to the song 'Sky Blue Sky' I had to blurt out, "What the heck, why haven't I heard this Grateful Dead song before?!?!?"

The person playing me the track laughed and then played "What Light" I said, "It's not Jerry singing."

Then the chorus hit and I said, "Oh, there he is on harmony."

There followed a great joyous round of verbal abuse and I was nominated to buy the beer for the day. The nomination was quickly seconded, thirded, and so on.

So, I call that Wilco's 'Grateful Dead album' and when it's my turn to buy the beer, I insist we replay that event as a fantastical skit. The gestures have become more broad, and my incredulity increases each time. It's great.

It makes me aspire to become something 'good.'


Listening to Elliott Smith still bums me out, but I will go back some day.

ken mac's picture

Digital including CD sales have collapsed at Other and everywhere else; vinyl sales remains strong. But I take it Other don't want to be a vinyl only store. They're getting out while the getting remains good.

AaronGarrett's picture

I love the jazz and classical reviews in Stereophile but I'm delighted also to see Aphex and Dilla -- two geniuses and two of my all-time favorites. If you haven't yet heard this podcast about Donuts it's fascinating and very moving ( Viva electronica!

cgh's picture

My musical taste is all over the place, but the one genre I never bring to audio club meetings is edm, trance, etc. Listened to Aphex Twin, Underworld Dubnobass..., and Orbital Halcyon + On + On last night. Was in that kind of mood, almost pulled out some earlier Autechre. Had a meeting this past weekend (brought Applewood Road on vinyl), listened to a bunch of jazz, vocal, and rock. Got home and listened to more of the same. I think I'm in an electronica and sparse-minimalist-modern mood for the rest of the week.

Eoldschool's picture

Jana, you beautiful soul! Don’t worry about Michael Fremer, he loves bargain bins! He would be the first (well, besides me) to tell you to dive into them. Michael is actually very nice and you would get on with him great if you ever met him. (In fact, check out his videos on YouTube, there is one he did about shopping at records stores, it's great).

I’ve pulled some nice gems (sentimentally) from the $2.00 bins. In fact, I never buy new records these days and I can’t really pay $20 for a used or new record except maybe that once in a lifetime thing. If I had to pay $20 or more per record, I would have but may 2 or 3 records to play instead of a small library of 400+ and counting. I live in the $2, bargain bins/boxes or what have you.
There is nothing wrong with and nothing to be ashamed of for shopping the bargain bins and don't let anyone tell you otherwise! In fact, it's smart.
While I have never pulled anything “collectable” from the $2 bins, I’m not into vinyl for collection purposes outside of building a library of vinyl. I’m in it for listening and the pure enjoyment of the tactile experience of vinyl that one cannot get otherwise. I grew up with vinyl records and while I am guilty of putting them away when CDs came to market at affordable prices, I also somehow, fortuitously did not get rid of all my records. (Although I admit feeling bad about many of the ones I did foolishly let go some years back). I got heavy back into vinyl records about 15 years ago, pulling my originals from storage and hunting new (used) ones. In fact, it is one of the greatest joys of the hobby, if you will, hunting records. I hit a local record fair every month, I love it.
It’s all about the music and I shop for what I like (which is quite a variety) and I love purchasing what I call, mystery records when I find them, you know ones that look strange but hold some promise of containing something interesting or better. In fact, I just bought one 3 weeks ago for $2.00 that I have no idea what it sounds like yet.
It’s always sad to see a record store shut its doors when vinyl is back with a fervor that will only increase. At least you got to visit one last time and help them by purchasing some records.

Anton's picture

Well said.

I recently grabbed a minty original Erroll Garner "Concert by the Sea" from the dollar bin.

Discogs lists it at 59 cents, so I know I overpaid, but it is a thrill to grab these and give them a nice bath and revisit something that someone before me sat and enjoyed.

That being said, wash your records, all!

Michael Fremer's picture

My first stop at shows and record stores. You never know what you can find that's's no fun spending a lot of money for a great record. The fun is finding something swell for a buck and it's often possible because the store owners don't know everything....and mono records that look trashed can often sound perfect with a mono cartridge...

synth's picture

Great post, always refreshing to see electronica and IDM mentioned in the pages of Stereophile. There's a ton of interesting and ground-breaking new music out there and a surprising amount of it on vinyl.

raferx's picture

Don't fight the urge for beer. Nothing good ever came of it.
Great stuff Jana!
Hopefully you can join some of us at Newport Beach in June for Hibiki.

garysi13's picture

I remember finding OM across the street from Tower Records(remember them?)and finding things I may never have found in Tower. What a wonderful place it is, soon to be was. I will miss the in-store contests and appearances. All things must pass.

Part-Time Audiophile's picture

I can only imagine the long, silent, and somewhat quizzically disappointed stare, the slow shake of the head, the sigh. And then ... that wink.

You are the company that you keep, Jana! And I will admit, you're keeping mighty fine company. Even Mikey would have to cop to that.

Keep 'em coming!

DanGB's picture

Sad to hear that what sounds like a great shop is going. I suppose the vinyl revival isn't enough to maintain a physical presence on the street. My local record shop went online-only a few years ago and it just isn't the same.

Now it's an hour's travel across North London to the excellent Alan's Records if I want to actually flick through some LPs. Either that, or enduring the crowds in Central London, which I try to avoid visiting unless I need to.

None of the independent record shops that started me on the record-buying path exist any more. Neither do many of the chain stores, for that matter.

I don't shop for collectibles, and I take cash so I can limit myself. Over the years, I have bought precisely one LP that was very expensive, but there was no alternative in that case, as only 500 were pressed and the album has never been reissued.

Great serendipitous musical pleasures can be had for low prices, if you're prepared to flip through bins A-Z. And when a record's cheap, you can take a chance on something that you don't know if you will like or not.

volvic's picture

And two great cartridges, will improve your Technics and your musical experience greatly. Nice read. Sad about Other Music, good place.

Allen Fant's picture

Nice pics and coverage- Jana. I hope to read more of your posts here. Feel free to take us readers on a "tour" of the many Record (and CD) Shops, in the greater NYC locales.

Happy Listening!

Utopianemo's picture

Nice article. I laughed when I saw the photograph of(presumably) you holding the Aphex Twin album as if it were your face; I remember dancing around one of the local record shops with the same album held to my face about 98', simultaneously creeping my friends out and causing them to laugh uncontrollably.

Portland, OR still has a fair amount of good record stores left, and I've found more than my share of gems in the bargain sections.