Surveying the stacks at Weirdo Records

Cellars by starlight
By LIZ PELLY  |  December 18, 2012

weirdorecords

On a Monday evening, Angela SAWYER is behind the counter at Weirdo Records, labeling a stack of micro-CDs. "They're the store's holiday cards," she explains. Each contains a recording of a piano player performing a song from A Charlie Brown Christmas, slowed down so it sounds really weird. "They're really obscure," she says about the medium in general. "Each can only hold about five minutes."

These are the sorts of eccentricities one routinely stumbles upon at an experimental record shop like Weirdo, which Sawyer opened in Central Square in 2009 after several years of running the store by mail order from her home, and after more than 20 years of working in record shops in general.

Weirdo's Mass Ave storefront feels like a glorified walk-in closet, with neon-pink walls covered in posters and shelves of CDs and LPs ranging from '60s Pakistani folk instrumentals and long-lost 1940s pop crooners to Spanish '80s punk compilations and CDs of noise recordings captured in Jamaica Plain. "Play loud on cheap stereo," reads a CD wrapped in a brown paper bag, propped on a shelf between "funny shaped stuff" and "outsider squares."

These sorts of tags — along with "free jazz," "world," and "sixties & seventies" — are the closest things to genre labels found at Weirdo. "To figure out how good music happens, and how meaningful music comes to exist, part of what you have to do is take out all of the fences that exist inside of your head," says Sawyer. "About this genre, or that genre."

Sawyer plays in several experimental bands herself: she's the singer in a hardcore band, Exusamwa; plays solo as Preggy Peggy & the Lazy Babymakers; and, most oddly, is a member of Duck That, an improvisational quartet where everyone plays hunting calls. "We all play little toys that make noises that sound like animals," she says.

Despite its tiny size, Weirdo Records hosts wacky live shows every Monday night. When I visit, however, the weekly show has been moved to Wednesday at 10 am as part of local Whitehaus duo the Bang Brothers' attempt at playing 12 cities in 24 hours. "There's a really healthy community here, one of the best in the country," Sawyer explains. "For people in this town who play non-denominational, nobody-knows-what-the-fuck-it-is kind of music."

Sawyer's involvement in the local experimental scene gives the shop a community-center feel. "Musicians and artists and people in general need a place where they can go and have that," she explains. "The world just gets more homogenized all of the time. It gets watered down really easily. Every city you go to looks the same. This is my tiny little dent into the planet that makes it better."

SUPPORT LOCAL RECORD SHOPS

Sentimentalized consumerism is weird. But if you are dropping cash on loved ones this December, supporting locally owned record shops is one way to make holiday shopping more purposeful. Here are four shops to check out this month and beyond:

Armageddon Record Shop:: For new and used punk, hardcore, noise, indie rock, and more :: 12 Eliot St, Cambridge :: armageddonshop.com

Looney Tunes:: Vintage vinyl shop, formerly at Boylston St, now located inside of Store 54; a good place to search for underground rock and pop from decades past :: 16 Harvard Ave, Allston, in the basement

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