[Abby’s Road] Shopgirl Evolution

Once upon a time I worked in a record shop. It was way back in the day when cassettes (and cassingles…heeehee!) were purchased with as much fervor as the compact disc. To compensate the gigantic wage that a retail shopgirl could pocket in the early-nineties, I worked at an indie bookstore as well. Working at the Friar Tuck Bookstore is one of my fondest memories, job-wise. As far a retail jobs are concerned it was a peach. I could stand behind the counter and read without buying, point out the different departments (read: shelving units) without looking up from the pages of my ‘borrowed’ book and take tag team smoke breaks with my co-workers. I think I paid $375 a month in rent back then. Sigh. Back to the record shop.

It was a chain. I had to wear a red polo shirt with the name of the shop emblazoned over my right breast..and a name tag, if memory serves me. Bad. Badbadbad. Nevertheless, I worked there. It was a time when label reps actually visited the shop and had physical promo copies available for rotation play; a small gift for those of us working there wearing the scarlet shirt of shame. Over the year (or two?) under their employ I got to know specific reps and they got to know what I liked. I still own a few gems the reps handed over. I’ve kept them over the years, the small drilled hole in their spines and/or black sharpie swish over their barcodes reminding me they were freebees and “not labeled for (re)sale”. Exit Planet Dust was one of those records.

I was used to lo-fi and droney, shoegaze music – it was how I defined myself, musically and otherwise. Of course I was a child of the 80s, so I cut my teeth on New Order and, a little later, went to industrial dance nights at Pittsburgh clubs with the clanging sounds of Nitzer Ebb and Front 242, so I wasn’t a complete virgin to the electric/synthesized world. When I put the Chemical Brothers record on for the first time I was immediately drawn to it. Perhaps it was the cover art photo being so uncharacteristic of the music it was wrapped around. I played it in the shop over and over again, bucking the hard and fast rule of “top 40 rotation” in-store play. Of course it got monotonous but there were far too many “wait for it..wait..listen to this part!” moments I wanted other people to hear that I had no choice but to continue playing it over and over (and over) again. “One Too Many Mornings” is my favorite track on the record. At the time in 1995, a year after the loss of my father, music was medicine for me. Not sure why that specific track has stuck with me when the others have really become dated. It’s a catalyst for memories of sadness and elation and being young and silly. I’ll go with that.

Over the last 15 years, The Chemical Brothers were lost in a sea of thousands of tracks, digitized and unearthed only when my iPod shuffle mode to allowed them to say hello. A few months ago I stumbled over “Swoon,” a track from their 2010 release, Further. It is a mature version of what they did so well back in 1995. An amalgam of Valentines-ish drones and 80s pop synth basslines, “Swoon” is a lovely single (and the video is stunning as well). I recently described it to a friend as being the lovechild of MBV’s “I Only Said” and Madonna’s “Into the Groove” (do the research). Gorgeous.

Needless to say, I bought their new record. It is indeed packed with loops and beats but the added maturity of imperfect noise, sharps and flats and pitchy guitars was a surprise and brought them full-circle for me. As an adult I can appreciate not only what they created when I was a kid, but what they are making now as well. I find such simple gifts incredibly comforting. I can only hope that I, too, am a better version of what I was back then as well, evolved, well-adjusted and sounding better than ever.

Happy weekend.

[Abby’s Road is a Knox Road feature published every other Friday.]

1 comment to [Abby’s Road] Shopgirl Evolution

  • Damn, these are always so short! I scan over your pieces and at first think “oh, so many words” and by midway through I’m thinking “oh noooo, it’s almost done!” Now I’ve got to go buy that Chemical Brother’s CD too. Damn you Abby! xoxo