Buried Treasure in a Garden of Sound

Driving past the homogenized “warmth” of the brick retail chains that have appeared since I was last down on the outskirts of Baltimore’s Fell’s Point neighborhood, I couldn’t help but think of John Brenner from Revelation discussing the inner harbor in that interview that went up last week. These places with all the trappings of economic stimulus except any investment back into the community that hosts them the way feet host blisters. There for a painful while and then gone. Pop.

It was different once I actually got into Fell’s Point. Not that the neighborhood wasn’t gentrified from its working class harbor roots, but that at very least it was actual gentrification, independently owned businesses or at least smaller, regional chains and a most welcome onslaught of pubs, eateries, and other gastro-type decadences. Kooper’s Tavern, where The Patient Mrs. and I had lunch, had tables set up outside selling oysters and recycling the shells for use by — wait for it — other oysters. Seems nobody is immune to the economic ravages of our age. Even the oysters have to buy used.

Fitting that act of conservation would be prelude to a radical haul whose like — in what otherwise might be considered a regular ol’ record shop — I’ve not seen in some time. Sound Garden (no relation) was just down the street from the pub where we ate and several others, and it wasn’t my first time there by any stretch (seems impossible that it would’ve been over three years ago, but I guess that’s why old posts are dated), but I didn’t remember it being quite the trove it was this time around. Walking up the middle of the three aisles, I went past the metal and the midsection divide — I’d come back to the metal, no worries — something strange compelling me forward, and that’s when I saw it:

The Psychedelic section.

Oh yeah, that’s right. The monkey that lives in my head where my brain should be clicked on the dim bulb of his cavernous abode and for a moment I said a prayer to my pagan octopus god that I might win the $300 million Powerball and come back to Sound Garden to purchase every album in the Psychedelic section on principle alone. A mere celebration of the existence of such a thing. Portrait of the mouth, drooling.

What fun I had. Flipping through was like opening presents. I limited myself to two discs about which I knew absolutely nothing but what was written on the eloquent description labels — Truth‘s Truth from 1969 and EscombrosEscombros, from 1970. The former is a poppy, folksy thing, not bad but not quite as bizarre as I was hoping based on the cover, and Escombros is a heavier Chilean obscurity that opens with a cover of Hendrix‘s “Stone Free,” so I guessed I was pretty safe in grabbing it. Turns out I was right about that. The vocals sounded mixed too high on my office speakers when I listened, but I expect on a different system, it might not be an issue at all, and there were a couple gems there anyway. Wicked Lady‘s Psychotic Overkill was a welcome find as well, all buzzsaw-this and early-’70s narcodelia that.

I also picked up Goat‘s World Music based on the tarantula-sized hype surrounding. That hype is probably earned, and however problematic I might find European acts copping a feel on some Fela Kuti afrobeat fuzz, they’re hardly the first and they did it well enough. I wasn’t quite enchanted, but sometimes with albums like that I go into it determined not to like them and usually find I don’t. That wasn’t the case with Goat.

In the “I reviewed this and I’m annoyed at buying it” category, the newest ones from Golden Void (review here), Astra (review here) and Six Organs of Admittance (review here) were fodder enough for a grumble, even if Astra and was used. Six Organs was $15 new and the sleeve isn’t even a gatefold. Call me a privileged shit if you want — boo hoo you don’t get free stuff, etc. — but for the time and effort I put into even a shorter review, I don’t think a CD is too much to ask, especially when I know that I’m one of like three remaining motherfuckers who cares in the slightest. Apparently the music industry disagrees. Grumble grumble, man.

One might include the new Neurosis (review here) in that category as well — and the Grand Magus I didn’t even step to this time around — but the fact is on that one I was just being impatient and that a physical promo of Honor Found in Decay would show up sooner or later (it did, today). However, my wanting to hear it right that minute met with such logic on the field of diplomacy and the compromise reached was that I’d buy the digipak edition, because it’s limited and the promo would likely be the jewel case anyway. I never got the digi version of 2007′s Given to the Rising and there’s a little bit of me that still regrets it. That same part is very much enjoying listening to “My Heart for Deliverance” as he types this.

There were odds and ends as well. With Kalas on my brain after The Johnny Arzgarth Haul resulted in another promo, Used Metal paid dividends in the first full-artwork copy I’ve ever owned — and in case you were wondering why I care so much about physical media, that’s how long I remember shit like that — and over in Used Rock, the first Grinderman happened to be situated next to a special edition of 2009′s Grinderman 2, the unmitigated sleaze of which I friggin’ loved at the time, as well as Grails‘ cinematic 2012 outing, Deep Politics (review here).

I wound up with a used copy of Dungen‘s 2002 third album, Stadsvandringar, getting the band confused with Black Mountain, I think because they both used to have the same PR. Thanks a lot, Girlie Action Media circa 2005. I felt a little pathetic when I discovered my error, but I checked out the Dungen and it wasn’t bad, covering some of the same sunny psych folk territory that Barr did on their 2012 sophomore installment, Atlantic Ocean Blues (track stream here), and giving me a new context for not onlyBarr, but a slew of other acts as well. Could’ve been much worse.

Cap it off with a used copy of Lewis Black‘s The Carnegie Hall Performance from 2006 — a stellar two-disc show recorded in the depths of American hopelessness post-Katrina but for the bit about air traffic control — and when I brought it all to the counter, the dude asked me, “Are you local?” I said I wasn’t and he said, “Well, I’m going to give you a discount anyway.” It was much appreciated, regardless of the geography involved, and by the time I left Sound Garden, I was more pleased with the outcome I carried in a red plastic bag than I’ve been coming from a single record store in a long time. Probably since I visited Flat, Black and Circular in Lansing, Michigan, over the summer, and that’s saying something.

My hope is that it’s not another three years before I get back there — appropriately enough, Lewis Black has a whole section early into his show about time moving faster as you age, and he’s absolutely right — but whenever it is, Sound Garden is definitely on the must-hit list for next time I’m in Baltimore. If you want to look them up, their website is here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Responses to “Buried Treasure in a Garden of Sound”

  1. JJB says:

    Oh, I could have joined you for a beer at the Cat’s Eye (same block as Kooper’s, which I also love–free mussels and tacos on Friday happy hour)! I was just at Sound Garden on Sunday; bought Yes “Relayer” on vinyl on $1. That was my big find! Yeah “Harbor East” is a wasteland of high rise corporate falseness between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, sprung up like giant mushrooms over the past 5 years mostly. But it gets tourists and suburbanites into the city. We’ll see how long that lasts. It’s better, I guess, than the abandoned warehouse district that it replaced.

  2. Ant Brown says:

    How is it that you don’t collect vinyl JJ? Its like a sommelier drinking nothing but cheap beer on his own time….!!!

  3. @Ant, that’s a fair question. First, it’s an issue of space. I don’t have a lot of it and CDs take up less. Second, CDs are a middle ground for me between ease of access and commitment to physical media — i.e., I can’t spin a vinyl in the car. Third, I think my wife would flip her shit because I’d be buying albums I already own once if not twice over (Really? Another Sabbath catalog?) just to own them on vinyl. I don’t make a lot of money. Fourth, stubbornness. Fifth, in terms of getting promos, I have a way easier time asking for a CD than an LP. Sixth, I’m too meticulous about upkeep and condition. A jewel case is more durable than an LP sleeve or gatefold. The list goes on, but the third one’s a biggie.

    @JJB, I had thought about hitting you up man but didn’t want to be a bother. Might be back down that way in January, and if so, I’ll drop a line.

  4. goAt says:

    I dig these pieces, JJ. Man, I love record shoppin’. That Grand Magus is a helluva good metal time. The Wicked Lady disc is a ripper. I could go on…

    As for vinyl, I’m broke and have limited space as well, but when you come across something like “Punctuated Equilibrium” for $19 including the bonus 10 inch, you can’t pass it up, man. Someday you’re gonna look back and say, “SHIT! I had that in my hands! Look how much that’s goin’ for!” I think about all the MANS RUIN that I passed on…>weep<.

  5. AntBrown says:

    Hahaha! I hear you JJ. Good on you for sticking to your guns and keeping with CD’s. Sometimes I wish I didn’t buy vinyl, but then I look at the deluxe edition of Bongzilla’s Gateway released on Hydra Head recently and know I made the right choice!! Each to his own my man, each to his own!!

  6. Disgrace says:

    I need to check out Sound Garden. It sounds like a place I could go broke. Also AntBrown, I think you meant to say Hydro-Phonic records not Hydra Head, easy mistake. I was able to snag the Deluxe Bongzilla Gateway and its killer.

Leave a Reply