Now that grooves and large wooden speaker cabinets have been supplanted by strings of binary code and tiny white earbuds, it can be easy to lose the personal connections that make the best albums such powerful works. The creators of Record Store Day are trying to show that records as physical objects and the stores that sell them are far from gone, despite the rising prevalence of digital music. Conceived by record store-chain marketing vice-president Chris Brown—no, not that one—this ‘holiday’ is now in its fourth year and promises to bring exclusive records and artist appearances to independent record stores across the world. Although music lovers usually look towards Tuesdays for new album releases, Saturday, April 16 promises to lighten the wallets of aficionados.
Despite the day’s honorable intention, many local Cambridge record stores abstain from festivities because they feel the holiday is too corporate—the 2011 Record Store Day Ambassador is none other than Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath and bat-eating fame. As Ozzy Osbourne’s musical output of late has been less than stellar, his contribution to the event is merely his big label success, and his selection as Record Store Day Ambassador betrays the profit-seeking mentality that partially motivates the event. However, putting aside big-label biases, it’s hard to discredit some of the day’s better products. The day provides some exciting new releases, but is also proving to be a venue for older bands to put out rare or previously unreleased material. Nirvana is reissuing “Hoarmoaning,” their limited-run 1992 EP, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are re-releasing their eponymous debut in addition to their second album, “You’re Gonna Get It!”
Substance aside, Record Store Day has often been characterized by gimmicky releases, and this year’s event is no different. For listeners who are more inclined to this sort of product, the event’s creators have put out a “Side by Side” series designed to combine originals by classic bands with covers by contemporary mainstream artists. This makes for some odd pairings: “Don’t Want to Know If You Are Lonely” features ’80s hardcore band Hüsker Dü and pop-punk rock trio Green Day. If that’s not weird enough, another from the series—“Havana Affair”—is split between punk stars The Ramones and California rockers The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Unexpected combinations seem to be one of Record Store Day’s trademark gimmicks; although not in the “Side by Side” series, Of Montreal and Norwegian pop act Casiokids are releasing a record in which the former covers Buffalo Springfield’s “Expecting to Fly,” while the latter performs a new track called “London Zoo.” Though not a joint effort, the limited edition Flaming Lips’ “Heady Nuggs” box set combines five LPs into one gloriously overpriced yet undoubtedly enticing package.
Because Record Store Day is intended as a full-fledged musical event and not merely a day for new releases, performances and record signings abound. Newbury Comics’ Newbury Street location is the best place to check for events closest to Harvard—TV on the Radio is set to autograph their new album “Nine Types of Light,” and there will be performances by the synth-pop act Dom and country-rock group Buffalo Tom.
Record Store Day might be a gimmicky way to hype the dying music industry, but music snobs should still remember its core principles. As Jack White says on the official website, “Show respect for the tangible music that you’ve dedicated your careers and lives to, and help it from becoming nothing more than disposable digital data.” Although it’s easy to be seduced by the ease of buying all your music from home, the goal of Record Store Day—to preserve the time-honored ritual of going to the record store, buying an album, and keeping it for as long as it lasts—at least provides a necessary chance for reflection on the state of modern music.