Around The World Via Record Store: Austin to Edinburgh

On March 8, 2016

Evan Fleischer is a writer for a variety of publications, including New Yorker, Esquire, and others. His travels writing for these outlets often take him around the world, so we're having him file dispatches from the record stores he goes to along the way. This edition covers his trips to Austin and Edinburgh.  

Sometimes a story requires me to be in Glasgow. Sometimes a story requires me to be in Washington, DC. And though I don’t perfectly fit the dictionary definition of ‘Foreign Correspondent,’ I recently realized that there’s a story I can tell concurrent with all the other work that I’ve been doing, and that’s the story of going from record shop to record shop.

In February, I left Edinburgh for Austin and decided to stop by Waterloo Records while I was there. On first blush, Austin seems to be a city that makes you say, ‘Who needs crickets when there are teenage skateboarders overlapping one another? When there’s 1920's New Orleans-styled houses mixing in the fig tree evening shade of 1930's California?’ It seems to be the city where you can become the actual 1950's-styled father taking an old fashioned Oldsmobile or Buick for a cross-country drive with the kids draping their arms over the seats. It’s where golf carts get taken for loop-de-loops atop parking garages and someone knows that -- in their wardrobe -- you know you have something you can classify as a ‘haunted yellow parking lot’ t-shirt. It's a city where someone reminds you that the motto of the city is 'Keep Austin Weird,' and so when you ask them what the weirdest thing they've seen in the city so far was, you get an 'Oh, um.' It’s a city where great-tailed grackles sound like they’re trying to build a collective house all together.

In this city at this shop, I ended up purchasing the latest from the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band and an old album by Ali Farka Toure featuring Idan Rachel. (One nice thing about this shop that I hadn’t had time to enjoy since HMV left Harvard Square: the abundance of headphones to listen to music before making a go at a purchase.) Later highlights include “Music And Friends” and Toure extending his music tendrils to mix themselves with eventual early morning muesli.

Having worked a miserable bookstore job while listening to shoppers croon about how much they love bookstores, I am cautious about providing any sort of fuel to a needless romantic disconnect (though I still believe in the romance of bookstores and love them dearly.)

I went to Avalanche Records in Edinburgh a few days after I’d returned from Austin. Heading uptown to the shop from where I was was one of the rare times I saw myself on the bus monitor screen that hung in the middle of the front window. I took the bus up and sat on the upper deck. Drizzle had begun. An old woman waited for the bus on the opposite side of the road. A boxer dog sniffed at some groceries a few doors down from that, got a tug of ‘No,’ and then tried to nip at the owner as a result. A young man in sweats ran in front of the bus. Someone slowly attacked a flower’s bloom of fish and chips with a fork. I checked back in with the screen: I was still there, being filmed in profile, modified knit hat still on my head. How are you? All right? You still living? A young African boy had gotten on the bus and been spotted by someone who knew him. His father, on the phone, followed. They spoke for a few moments and their conversation dropped below intelligibility, until I heard one of them say, Freedom, eh? Everywhere. And he spread his hands wide.

People outside Avalanche

I got to Avalanche with 15 minutes left on the ‘open’ clock and said hello to the man running the floor, who looked like an older, shaved version of Tom Berninger, Matt Berninger’s younger brother. I flipped through a few vinyl records: Rags + Feathers, read one title. Fred Allen in 1948 read another. The latest Leonard Cohen played over the system. I hesitated for a moment between a compilation LP of French artists the band No Whiskey for Callahan had brought in, a LP by NWfC themselves (a later listen of their bandcamp suggested that they were terrific), or an album that attracted my attention for two reasons: the cover (Sean Connery and Arnold Schwarzenegger in bed reading something together) and the group name: Murderburgers. My sympathies were further piqued by the fact when the Berninger clone told me that they were a punk band and that punk wasn’t a particularly big thing in the city.

I ended up going with a ‘shot in the dark’ random purchase of Get Color by the band Health. And as someone else and myself made ratatouille later on in the evening, I put the album on, and I was genuinely surprised it wasn’t terrible: it was mostly instrumental techno-rock colored by the sense that I was listening to someone who had just seen The Matrix for the first time. It was something in the ballpark of the Beastie Boys indulging in science fiction. I chopped away at some parsnips. I peeled some potato skins. The music continued.

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