My first major (non-professional) life dream was to partake in the Great American Road Trip. I wanted to see the country, spend a considerable amount of time learning its ways, studying its roads, and meetings its constituents, not to mention indulging my inner feminist Jack Kerouac. You can read about one of my favorite record stores I discovered along the way—Black Hills Vinyl—right here.
My second life dream was to live in New York City some time in my 20s. I checked off that bucket list item last summer when I found a summer sublet in Astoria, Queens. Of course, the first place I staked out in the historically Greek (and Turkish) neighborhood was the local record store.
HiFi Records and Café, which only opened in early 2015, is located just north of the BQE in Queens. And for those not hip to the local lingo, that’s the stretch of I-278 called the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The tiny shop, started by owner Javi Velázquez, is the only contemporary music shop in the area. In just two years, Velázquez and his team have amassed a diverse collection of new and used vinyl, stocked a strong selection of both new and refurbished turntables and speakers, established a recurring pop-up event with the local micro-brewery SingleCut Beersmiths, and more.
Although tucked away into a tiny space in Astoria, HiFi serves as a hugely needed musical one-stop-shop for record-buyers in the area. With just a few shelves and bottom-feeding bargain bins beneath them, the selection of records in HiFi Records and Café spans genres and eras. Velázquez carries both vintage records and new releases—organizing them accordingly—so that most basic record collectors can find what they want to hear. But as for HiFi ‘s staff, we checked in with Managers AJ Pacheco and Tanya Gorbunova to see what five records they think everyone hear on wax.
AJ Pacheco and Tanya Gorbunova Managers, HiFi Records and Café
Artist: King Crimson
Album: Court of the Crimson King
Reason: This first release from King Crimson is likely the most conceptually concise album the band has released to date, down to its memorable cover of a face screaming in agony or terror. Court of the Crimson King, an "observation" by King Crimson, represents the heart of the progressive rock movement. The melodies cannot be contained in the three-to-five-minute limit that is often put on commercial rock songs; King Crimson gets lost in the soundscapes they create. The sound ranges from noisy, heavy rock to spaced-out instrumentals and playful flute solos. Tracks like "Epitath" and "Court of the Crimson King" are somber laments of human ignorance and government corruption. Conversely, "I Talk to the Wind" embodies an introspective day in the woods and "Moonchild" tells an entire fairy tale.
Artist: Miles Davis
Album: Kind Of Blue
Reason: If there was ever a perfectly composed album, perhaps this is it. Kind of Blue is both relaxing and evocative, allowing listeners to get lost in their thoughts while demanding a higher awareness. It is one of the best-selling albums worldwide, as well as at HiFi Records. While it is a myth that the whole album was recorded in one take, Davis gave few instructions and encouraged minimal rehearsal with his sextet (including John Coltrane, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, and Bill Evans) before the recording sessions. Most of what we hear is the result of improvisation on a few scales and melody lines. Davis is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, and Kind of Blue is a perfect first step in experiencing his work.
Artist: Kate Bush
Album: Hounds of Love
**Reason: **Kate Bush is the patron saint of weird art pop. She released Hounds of Love, her fifth album, at the age of 27. It is the culmination of her early musical explorations and features a still quirky yet mature Kate Bush. The sound itself ranges from early electronic pop accented by string arrangements to Irish folk music discovered by Bush's brother, Paddy Bush. Lyrically, Bush deals with subjects such as Wilhelm Reich's cloudbuster machine in "Cloudbusting," one's future self imploring the present self to keep living in "Jig of Life," a witch trial in "Waking the Witch," and switching bodies with her lover in her popular single, "Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)."
Artist: Serge Gainsbourg
Album: L'Histoire de Melody Nelson
Reason: Serge Gainsbourg wrote songs dedicated to many women, but few inspired a whole album. Jane Birkin, his partner for over a decade, was the muse for L'Histoire de Melody Nelson. This album is Gainsbourg at his bluesiest, relying on sultry string arrangements that were born out of the need to set the mood. This record, like the rest on this list, yearns to be listened to through the warmth and richness of vinyl. Earbuds just won't cut it here.
Artist: Fela Kuti & The Africa 70
Reason: Confusion is a full-body, kinetic experience. Fela Kuti's Nigerian Afrobeat movement embodies the true beginnings of rock music. Restless percussion and driving funk bass yeild equal parts self-expression and political revolution: Your hips are hypnotized into motion by the syncopated rhythms and blaring brass, yet, your brain is aware of the meaning behind it all. Kuti's music is highly reactionary to the Westernization of African music. Lyrically, Confusion ridicules the society of post-colonial Nigeria, describing the traffic and marketplace of Lagos. Aiming to bring out the roots of his people's music, he laid the foundation for musical and cultural rebellion.