That's my living room. Obsessively buying records doesn't always coincide with a healthy living situation.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of buying records is the thrill of risk-taking and the satisfaction of a sweet-ass purchase. Many of us vinyl obsessives came from a time when little tools like the Internet, mp3s, streaming video clips, and social networking were still twinkles in some evil robots eye. We were left with our instincts (and mail order) to discover new music.
Although contemporary tools remain at my disposal, they don't always come in handy, but mostly because I get embarrassed looking at my smartphone in a record shop. It's totally tasteless and gross. Anyway, here's an insider guide at how to judge a record by its cover.
Flagrant false advertising.
1. Don't Take Anything For Granted.
As humans, the first thing we do is judge a cover. It's the truth, but I'm not sure it should be sad - most people can't help but make judgements based on looks. Take Meatloaf's 1977 LP Bat Out of Hell. Apart from making us feel slightly concerned for old Meaty Loafy, it makes us feel like we're about to buy an extremely heavy metal record or an extremely bad ass rock record of Judas Priest of Motorhead proportions. It could even pass for some early 80s Maiden speed metal.
Record covers, like this one, could lead to a loss of money, a wasting of time, and most importantly a feeling of sincere disgust. This can all be avoided with the proper knowledge and a rigid, systematic evaluation. I can't imagine how many metalheads have been pissed off over the years, picking up this bad boy and hearing "Paradise By The Dashboard Light."
Have you heard "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" recently? It sounds like this:
Is this like a freaked-out Tori Amos vibe? Or maybe an 80s 4AD Records direct descendant?
2. Follow Your Hunches.
Sometimes a hunch could lead you in a favorable direction. Imagine seeing Zola Jesus's Conatus LP for the first time. I'd think she sounds like either an overly melodramatic and occult Tori Amos or like a Siouxsie Sioux/Elizabeth Fraser/4AD supergroup. Based on the record label's location in Brooklyn (which isn't on the cover - work with me here), some her choices for song names, and the cover itself would eventually prove that the latter of my two impressions wasn't all that far off. This of course doesn't always work in your favor though.
Tom Troccoli's Dog? This is actually an SST Record? Color me intrigued!
3. Read The Label.
Historically, record label association has been one of the easiest ways to decide if an artist is worth your time. The initial idea behind record labels (when records were literally given the same stock label by a record company) was to encourage people to buy more of the same musical "product." For example, Blue Note had some of the highest quality jazz shit of yesteryear, so it makes sense for me to snatch up all their recordings. This continued into the 80s and 90s, when kids found themselves buying blind through mail order catalogs from obscure labels - check Asian Man Records' 1996 comp Mailorder Is Fun! for a pure example of the ethos. Even today, when Epitaph is putting out lo-fi summery pap, you can still sort of trust a label to do what you think it'll do.
Once you really start getting your hands filthy with record buying, the basic rules will become useless and you'll have to find new ways to take chances. Find out where the group or artist is from, what kind of instruments they play, if they thank anyone notable in their credits, and of course what year the record was released. Your own assessment and buying system will help you to achieve a more personal record collection and keep you safe from buying garbage and ending up on Hoarding: Buried Alive.
Previously - Does Carly Rae Jepsen Sound Better on Wax?