Thursday, April 26, 2018

#RSD2018: Iris Blooms In Jersey City

When it comes to Record Store Day, I’m in it for the music not the promise of eBay resales or collecting some gussied up version of an old favorite just to pin it down like an asphyxiated butterfly. This is why I’m at least as excited about the used CD I tracked down this past Saturday during my observation of the 11th annual celebration of record store culture. 

Yes, I’ve heard all the complaints and read all the amusing think pieces (“The 10 Most Reprehensible People You’ll Meet On Record Store Day,” etc.), but for me it’s an opportunity to use the calendar to force me off my beaten path and check out a new spot. This year was similar to 2013, in that I had a few other hard-scheduled things I had to do, one of which involved using my car, which is why I ended up going out to Iris Records in Jersey City, which has been around off and on for about 20 years. 

I confess that I was also influenced by their canny Facebook advertising, which kept their existence front of mind for the last few months and also informed me that they would be opening at noon, just like any other Saturday. This would fit perfectly with my errand to Bay Ridge, even if it meant spending enough on tolls to fill a couple of potholes! Iris is run by Stephen Gritzen, with whom I have been acquainted for at least a couple of decades through our mutual friend, nightlife photographer extraordinaire, Catherine McGann. Steve is a such a stand-up guy that about 10 years ago when I mentioned to Cathy that I was desperate to find a copy of Basement 5 In Dub, he found it in his crates and had her pass it on at no charge. So, my visit would also be a chance to thank him in person for completing my collection of one of the most misunderstood bands of the 80’s. 
Lining Up For Goodies
I arrived a few minutes before noon and got on a line with about 30 other people. Besides the fact that I was adjacent to three smokers (including a cigar - yuck!), it was a congenial crowd, including at least a few people making Iris their second stop for RSD. I kept an ear out to hear what other people were looking for so I could help them if I spotted it first. Eventually the line started moving and I could see that Steve had two tables set up on the sidewalk with crates full of this year’s exclusive releases. I had already read though lists of what was coming out this year and had my antenna up for a couple of things. Due to budgetary concerns, it was important for me to stay focused and not get distracted by shiny objects that might not provide the musical satisfaction I needed. 

By the end of my perusal of the outdoor crates I had a small stack of items to sort through, including two items on my must-have list, Un Esercito Di 5 Uomini, one of three Ennio Morricone soundtracks out this year, and An Evening With Ornette Coleman Vol. 2. There was also an album of Laraaji remixes by the likes of Ras G, Dntl and others, a seminal punk album by The Lurkers recommended by Billboard’s Ron Hart, and a record of Mozart sonatas played by Florian Fricke of krautrock legends Popol Vuh. I decided to take a look around the rest of Iris before making my final cut. 

Located in an old apothecary shop, Iris has loads of atmosphere and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore, with almost an equal amount of used and new LP’s plus a solid supply of 45’s and CD’s. There are  also some videos, books and memorabilia scattered about and the back counter has been converted into a DJ booth. I flipped through quite a few sections and found things to be fairly priced and often in excellent condition. New arrivals are conveniently segregated and there are also bins of budget vinyl where you can take your chance on a ragged obscurity or two. 
Digging In The Crates
As far as I remember, all CD’s are $4, which is more than fair and led me to take a cursory look through what Steve had. Bingo - a copy of The Moon Looked Down And Laughed, the second (and last) album by Virgin Prunes, which came out in 1986 and was hard to find in the U.S. even then. As I am a huge fan of theirs and lead singer Gavin Friday, this was a real thrill. The Moon... is a gorgeously gloomy (and occasionally wayward) album that can be seen as the missing link between Friday’s art-goth provocations and the brilliant song craft and interpretive genius of his solo career, which started three years later with Each Man Kills The Thing He Loves. I now see that Mute Records did a whole Virgin Prunes reissue campaign in 2004 that I somehow missed - I'll have to get the rest!

Now it was time to decide and pay before my hunger for lunch interfered with my judgement. It turned out not to be all that difficult. The Fricke album was a beautiful package but in the end it was Mozart and that’s just not a priority for me right now. Since I wasn’t familiar with all the remixers, I worried that the Laraaji album could end up being hit and miss. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some or all of it on Spotify at some point. At that point, it was easy to relinquish The Lurkers to keep my costs down while sticking to my original Morricone and Coleman plans. I consider myself lucky to find two exclusives, which is more than I usually get on RSD. 

Now that I’ve had a chance to listen, I’m even happier with my decision. Un Esercito Di 5 Uomini (Five Man Army) is quintessential Morricone, with all the rich melancholy and unusual contrasts that implies. Side Two is particularly staggering and this reissue replicates the Italian cover perfectly while using translucent blue vinyl for extra pizzaz. The Ornette Coleman, recorded live in 1965 and briefly issued 10 years later, features a lineup that was unfamiliar to me, with David Izenzon on bass and the great Charles Moffett on drums. Coleman himself plays more violin and trumpet than usual, almost making it sound like a quintet. Side One is dense and filled with raging fury, while Side Two is spacious and filled with the joyful melody-making that is one of his greatest characteristics, especially on the song called Happy Fool. Lots to unpack and the clear vinyl was a nice touch. 
My RSD Finds
I enjoyed my visit to Iris and even had a chance to thank Steve for the Basement 5 EP. I plan to make a return visit soon and also wouldn’t mind going back to Skinner’s Loft, where I had a fine lunch. On my way there I saw a freshly coiffed rock & roll dude in a leopard print jacket come out of a hair salon, towing a guitar and amp on a luggage cart. Next thing I know, he’s playing classic rock covers in the middle of Newark Street, where a block party was taking place. Apparently he’s a regular fixture known for his Bowie covers. Maybe I’ll see him again on my next trip to Jersey City. 

Coda:  On my way back to the car, I noticed that the hair salon also sold records so I thought “why not” and went in. After flipping a bit I realized that Iris was supplying these records, too! I found a pristine copy of Be Bop Deluxe’s The Best Of And The Rest Of, which has never been reissued and has a few tracks not found elsewhere. Call me an axe victim, but I like Bill Nelson in most of his incarnations so I picked that up, too. It was that kind of day. 

If you went out on RSD, how did you fare?

No comments:

Post a Comment