Ithaca, NY: A Microcosm for the State of Independent Record Stores.

During last weekend’s trek up to Ithaca, NY (of ‘Ithaca is Gorges’ fame, yes, that one), I toured the local record shops to see how they were all doing since I’ve left the hills at the foot of Lake Cayuga. There was a time where Ithaca, NY was praised by Rolling Stone magazine for its thriving music scene, despite being a small college town. Indeed, the town is abundant with musically oriented people, with full range of influences and styles, and a fine collection of well-stocked instrument shops. It helps that Ithaca College itself is home to one of the finest conservatories in the United States, and a college radio station that is consistently voted as being among the best in the country. Additionally, the school on the other hill is an Ivy, proving to be a pivotal stop for most acts, and the the town also has a selection of venues.

Unfortunately, Ithaca’s retail community has struggled a little bit since late 2007.

Four years prior, two record shops opened in the Commons section of town, Volume Records and No Radio Records. Volume, despite being a smaller store, was consistently stocked with a variety of genre and artists of different levels of noteworthiness, and all at great prices. It was where I first picked up the album of this blog’s namesake, and became my go-to source for psych and garage records for the old show on VIC.

In comparison, No Radio thrived solely on the reputation of being THEE Community’s store. It doubled as a venue and (of all things) a tattoo parlor, but was less organized, less welcoming, and generally catered only to the crowd that felt that vinyl in and of itself was cool, whether they had Hi-Fis or players or not. It stocked mostly CDs, independent zines, and all at full price. Not my cup of tea, but a fine place for someone else more in tune to “indie” the genre and not “indie” the record label.

In the past two years, No Radio was the first to go, and is now open as a venue and coffee shop. Volume Records, however, straggled along, first by moving into the top half of a high-end vintage clothing shop (Petrune, for those in the area reading this), then by ridding themselves of new release CDs, then new release vinyl. I’ve learned over the weekend that they have since shut itself down as an independent store. The “Volume” signage and labels are all around Petrune still, but there is no longer a separate entity where you can chat up the clerks about what’s good, what’s new, or put in special request orders.

However, like a sprout in a dust bowl, another store opened up last summer, and is soon becoming Ithaca’s only independent record shop.

Angry Mom Records opened up independently of what used to be Autumn Leaves’ own music section (apparently, they combined efforts with Small World Music, a store that strictly caters to Ithaca’s local music) last summer, and has since created an identity refreshingly new to the Ithaca area. Let my proper review do the talking, however . . .

Record Store Review: Angry Mom Records.

Angry Mom Records' Bag Design.

There’s a certain epidemic threatening the state of independent music stores. Most record stores in the New York City/Tri-State area have succumbed to the idea that just because it is vinyl, and just because hipsters enjoy collecting things “ironically” (whatever that means), they will enjoy the same selection of crap cluttering the shelves. As such, a lot of record stores carry the same Lite Rock, Disco, and Novelty albums, and only seem to get a hold of less desirable albums by even the most popular bands (case in point: I dare you to go into any record store, go to the Who, and not find the “Quadrophenia” movie soundtrack, “It’s Hard,” and only the shittiest, threadbare, miserably damaged copies of “Who Are You” among everything else [and nothing against the “Quadrophenia” movie soundtrack — it’s a great soundtrack, and I love anything that combines the Who and “Louie Louie” with ease, but it’s not “Quadrophenia” itself]).  The ability to cater to a wide range of tastes, and provide high-quality products seems to be a struggle for most, but Angry Mom Records is a shining example of what a modern day vintage record store should be.

Owner George Johann, a cartoonist and vinyl scavenger in his own right, has provided Ithaca a store that is as as wide-reaching and intellectually stimulating as the Autumn Leaves bookstore on the floor above. Striking a balance between price and selection, the store is perfect for the casual vinyl listener as well as the more serious collector. And unlike other vinyl-oriented music shops, Angry Mom understands that even though record collecting can be a lucrative venture, these discs are meant to the listened to and enjoyed. Best o all, the store only stocks the cleanest copies and at the fairest price.

And with meticulously diverse selection in terms of genre, also come  beautifully expansive sections. This is the first record store I’ve seen where jazz is more than just a smattering of nobody’s and Miles Davis; Comedy actually features some of the heavyweight classics that your parents would never let you listen to as a kid; and best of all: a garage and psych selection to die for, in addition to a well-stocked punk/hardcore section and very complete rows of pop-rock shelves.

GRADE: A+ — Being situated in a town so out-of-the-way, I’m hesitant to say that Angry Mom Records is worth a trip to Ithaca, NY, alone. However, I never leave empty handed from the basement store, which is something I cannot say about any other record store I’ve been to yet. If you’re going up for Ithaca’s bi-annual Record Swap, wine-touring along Lake Cayuga, the bi-annual Friends of the Library Book Sale, or if you’re actually going up to see IC/CU, please be sure to stop by Angry Mom. I can go on forever about this store, and how it may be the only store with a well-working, free-selection listening station; how it may be the only store with a book section with great biographies and critic essays; or how, well. . . I can go on about it’s amazing selection. This store is a cannot-miss record shopping experience.

Likewise, I highly recommend this store for all of Ithaca to visit, so that the local music scene can benefit from a store so in debt to the true spirit of Rock and Roll. As much as I love Ithaca and its local scene, it needs a dose of traditional, high-intensity, 1-4-5 bash-it-out rock. Sure, the local aura may favor the political acoustic-folk, infused with funk-soul-reggae played by white kids, but it doesn’t hurt to get loud every now and then.


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