What’s Old Is New And Other Musings

| Music

A while back I heard that Kim’s in NYC was closing.  It felt like another sad sign of the times, as music in a format you can touch and own went the way of all things digitizable.  Fortunately, it wasn’t completely true.  Kim’s Music didn’t disappear but its main location did close, leaving only one shop further away.  Nevertheless, Kim’s continues to sell hard copies of rare, imported, and hard-to-find music and video which is nice because hardly anyone does that anymore.

For those not lucky enough to have shopped at Kim’s over the years, here’s an anecdote.  I had gone to New York to visit my brother, and since I was going to be there anyway, I figured it would be a good opportunity to pick up some new music. In this case, my quarry was actually old music — a compilation of the Fire Engines oeuvre from around 1981.  At the time (about five years ago) there were still record stores, and we made the round of all the shops we could find, from the big corporate store to Other Music and maybe three other shops in the vicinity of Washington Square.   No one had it.  Finally, in exasperation, my brother said, “Ok, we’ll go to Kim’s.”  Off we went, and when we got there, not only did they have the disc I was looking for,  but it was on display in the featured releases rack at the front of the store.  That was the kind of place Kim’s was and is, a cabinet of curiosities in recorded format, where whatever record you’re looking for can probably be obtained, especially if there’s any buzz at all about it and no one else is stocking it.

(In case you were wondering, the trek was totally worth it.  Fire Engines remains one of my favorite forgotten art punk records, still refreshingly loud and chaotic.)

I don’t get into New York much, so I haven’t visited the other Kim’s.  But I did visit their mondokims.com web site and found that it was just what someone like me needs — a curated collection of new music from the indie fringes of the so-called industry, with reviews and links to sample tunes.   In short, it’s a pretty good music blog, with the added benefit that you can buy the record (the physical CD) from them if you like it.  Knowing how I am, I decided to sign up for their newsletter too, so they could nudge me from time to time about new music.  As out of touch as I’ve been recently, I still like the stuff.  I just don’t have time to look for it.

Which brings me to this week’s newsletter, a nicely written compendium of new discs, reviewed, with links to sample tracks, ending with a list of upcoming releases.  I sampled some tracks:  my faves were Lal Waterson, Cities Aviv, Casket Girls, and Cibo Matto.  Wait a minute — Cibo Matto?  Are they still around?  A further scan of the upcoming releases list netted another dozen artists that I had assumed were enjoying well earned retirement:

  • Guided By Voices
  • Beat Happening (reissue)
  • Beck
  • Neneh Cherry
  • Morrissey (reissue)
  • Superchunk (reissue)
  • Thalia Zadek
  • Dean Wareham
  • Johnny Cash
  • Afghan Whigs
  • Swans
  • Trans Am

Granted, some of these are reissues, but clearly the music lives on.  I’m not complaining.   What surprises me is how relatively undated a lot of the older stuff still sounds.  Noise rock doesn’t seem to get old, even if recorded on 4 track.  Shoegazer is back, thanks to parents who bought My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless way back when.   (Their kids are buying m b v.  But can music still be described as MBVish?)  Punk rock continues.  Old and Nu School hip hop remain viable.  Techno, ambient, deep house, the list goes on.

But, as one who has accused many new groups of producing knock-off music that is tamer and less innovative than the pioneering efforts of their forebears, I’ve decided that indulging in the old stuff may not be such a bad thing after all.  If those records could be mined, not for sounds, samples, and beats, but for the spirit of creative adventure they embody, we might find that the music of the coming years will benefit, not from retread shoegaze, punk, or techno, but from something else completely and compellingly new.

Exploring new territory — that’s what artists do, n’est-ce pas?  It’s happening all the time, usually in relative obscurity, here and there around the globe.  The only problem is finding it.  And that’s what I love about Kim’s.  If it’s a little bit out there or not from here, they’ve probably got it.