What was the first music you ordered from a catalog? If memory serves, I sent away an envelope of well-concealed cash (LOL) for three CDs: Succulent Space Food for Teething Vampires by b-movie horror punks Blaster the Rocketboy, Boot to Head Records Sampler #1 and Statement by Australian hardcore band Ceasefire. This would have been around 1997 or 1998 when I was in high school, desperate to get some bearings on underground punk without too many resources in the suburbs of Atlanta. After weeks of waiting, a package came with the CDs and a Boot to Head Records catalog, which sent me down a rabbit hole that I've never been able to climb out of.
In-person record stores remain my favorite way to stumble upon something unexpected, but I've learned to tailor the music mailorder experience to both satisfy and challenge my tastes. Here are some of my go-to online shops, some of which happen to be IRL record stores, too.
A couple notes: One, I've purposely left Bandcamp and Discogs off this list; both are crucial to my digging, but are really thousands of individual shops. I'm looking for a singular — or a like minded collective — curatorial voice. And two, I've only included U.S.-based stores, mostly because my budget can’t handle international shipping on the regular. But I want to shout out Boomkat, World of Echo and upcomer Hot Salvation — I regularly scope their picks (and plunk down the cash if they’re the only ones that carry a record I crave).
Technique Street: Presumably named for the Homosexuals banger, this is the retail arm of Sophomore Lounge (label home to Arbor Labor Union, Footings, Frank & the Hurricanes). Reliably stocks hard-to-grip imports and vinyl/tapes released in absurdly small editions. Generally for chooglers and freakz, but also has a penchant for regional rap.
Courtesy Desk: I've made mention of Tracy's newsletter and shop several times… what can I say? I love my friend, her ears and cheerleader-like enthusiasm! But if you're new here, Courtesy Desk goes out of its way to crate-dig the most chic sounds — French pop music, exotica, jangly indie-pop, Broadcast-ian experimentalists, Afro boogie — the kind of records you put on at a party and your friends demand to know what it is. Occasional pop-up shops around Richmond.
Sorry State: Not only lists what's essential in punk and hardcore but recommends with heartfelt, encyclopedic knowledge (and entirely too-long newsletters). I blame Sorry State for getting me back into 7"s. An actual record store you can visit in Raleigh!
ImportCDs: My secret weapon. Once you learn how to game its Web 2.0 search, there's loads of budget CD box sets, European pressings of major label albums and discounts on overstock of indie label releases … if you're willing to scroll for an hour (or more). Also sells import DVDs/Blu-Ray, particularly anime and horror/sci-fi.
Stranded: If you don't know, Stranded — the retail arm of reissue label Superior Viaduct — took over the San Francisco spot that originally housed Aquarius Records. They've since expanded to Oakland and NYC, but still, big shoes to fill. Stranded is definitely its own thing, though, following its in-house label vibe: heady, but hearty music. Lots of cult punk, dub, psych and free-jazz reissues — and often the only place to get some of them — but also keeps tabs on modern drone/ambient.
Sisters in Christ: Thou's Bryan Funck runs this New Orleans shop, which I hope to visit IRL someday. There's some metal, as to be expected, but mostly a carefully curated selection of punk, emo, indie, hardcore, weirdo music and the big-ticket items that casuals (and pop aficionados such as myself) buy. New and used records; lots of comics and anarchist literature. Big emphasis on local acts/labels; low emphasis on description (e.g., "WE LOVE THIS BAND!"; "Epic, ambient, prog"). The sale section is dangerous.
Forced Exposure: The OGs of outré goods. An actual distro in the proper use of the word, FE stocks your local record store with Ideologic Organ, Eremite, Sublime Frequencies, Vampisoul and, well, just an absurd list of labels. I’ve been ordering from FE for what seems like forever. Many years ago, I tried to get a job there; I never heard back.
Further Records: This one's for the DJs and wannabe DJs (I have been both). Hard-to-find house/techno, small-press funk/disco, ambient/experimental jams and a generous import section featuring reissues from Mr. Bongo, Far Out, Soundway and the like.
UDiscover Music: I'm not one to shill for a corporate empire like Universal, but UDiscover's deals and rewards system — which, admittedly, can be a trap — are a good way to stock up on a classic (and conglomerate) catalog.
Tomentosa: Back when I ran a label, I could depend on and was delighted to have Tomentosa stock my limited-edition wares. That was the M.O. a decade ago — small labels only, zonked sounds — and still is now, in its relatively recent return. Mostly tapes, some vinyl, an extremely chill Instagram presence. —Lars Gotrich
P.S.: I'm on today's episode of All Songs Considered, sharing new music by Jana Horn, Nabalayo and PoiL Ueda. Check it out!
Florry, "Cowgirl in a Ditch"
London Brew, "Miles Chases New Voodoo in the Church"
Mowder Oyal, "Big Girl"
Zulu (feat. Pierce Jordan & Obioma Ugonna), "Where I'm From"
Nabalayo, "mtwapa siren"
Pizza Hotline, "EMOTION ENGINE"
New Pagans, "There We Are John"
Lia Kohl, "sit on the floor and wait for storms"
Worriers, "Pollen in the Air"
Deerhoof, "Sit Down, Let Me Tell You a Story"
Downfall of Gaia, "Bodies As Driftwood"
Nyokabi Kariuki, "Nazama"
Nico Niquo, "My Home in the Storm"
Katie Gately, "Brute"
Richard Skelton, "the plot of lunar phases"
The Shapiros, "Paris Kiss"
Fatboi Sharif, "Cinnamon"
Truth Cult, "Heavy Water"
Colossal Man, "Bait & Switch"
The Homosexuals, "Technique Street"
Wolf Eyes & Wolf Raven, "Tulsa Once"
Nu Jazz (feat. Jason Lindner), "Lying"
The Westerlies, "Move"
Ian Vine, "five strings IV"
Lee Bozeman, "We Should Rejoice / Burning Paradise"
Bosque Brown, "You Said"
Don Cherry & Jean Schwarz, "Bells Two"
Steve Gunn & David Moore, "Over the Dune"
Sam Gendel (feat. Meshell Ndegeocello), "Anywhere"
Brendan Eder Ensemble (feat. Ethan Haman), "Ending"