A sure sign that Old Man Time has sent a lot of calendars to the recycling bin is the appearance of staff picks compilations at local independent record stores. During the season when retrospective lists are seemingly being compiled for everything, lists of favorite records can actually be useful beyond inspiring heated debate among music nerds.
For store patrons, the lists can give examples of what other people have been listening to during the year, which, for the store featuring the list, hopefully means that patron will then go ahead and plunk down cash on the barrelhead. If you're planning to spend some Christmas card cash -- here's a wrap up of locations where some suggestions are ready and waiting. Be sure to call ahead, though, because hours can change around the holidays.
436 State St.; 255-1977; Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
The list of selections by employees and alumni of B-Side Records, compiled annually by co-owner Steve Manley, is easily the most anticipated such compendium released by a local store. It's also one of the longest-running, appearing every year since 1991 -- the store itself celebrated its 25th anniversary a couple years back. The list can be picked up for perusal in hard copy form at the store, and can also be viewed online (PDF).
This year's overall most-picked album on the B-Side lists was Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion, which has been bestowed with "album of the year" honors by various critics seemingly since even before its release last January. Runners-up with six votes (out of 18 lists) were albums by The Flaming Lips and Grizzly Bear.
As always, B-Side's lists include a number of local releases. This year there were three picks each for The Mighty Lunge by His & Her Vanities and At the Gates by The Midwest Beat. Other records by local bands, or those with Madison connections, include releases by Archie Powell and the Exports, The Cave Weddings (featuring former Super Eights and Ric-Rac Attack drummer Nathan Meltz), Cougar, Former Ghosts, The Honey Slides, The Hussy, Icarus Himself, Squarewave and Zola Jesus. Appleton's Cory Chisel also appears on one list.
254 W Gilman St.; 257-6402; Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. 12-5 p.m.
When I stopped in to see if underground metal and punk specialists Ear Wax had a list this year, there was a scribbled note listing some titles posted near the front door, which owner Rob Cleveland was kind enough to type up and share.
Baroness: Blue Album (Relapse), Brutal Truth: Evolution Through Revolution (Relapse), Drudkh: Microcosmos (Seasons of Mist), Gnaw Their Tongues: All the Dread Magnificence of Perversity (Crucial Blast), Goatwhore: Carving Out the Eyes of God (Metal Blade), Obscura: Cosmogenesis (Relapse), Sameal: Above (Century Media), Suicide Silence: No Time to Bleed (Century Media), Sunn O))): Monoliths and Dimensions (Southern Lord), Wolf: Ravenous (Century Media)Of the bands on the list, Cleveland notes that "Baroness could be the next Mastodon, as far as finding a more widespread audience beyond the metal scene."
508 State St.; 255-2433; Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Exclusive's staff lists just went up over the weekend, and are posted along one wall. However, I didn't see any in a handout form which I could peruse and compile, and the shop doesn't seem to have a website, so I'm not able to give much of a wrap up of what they contain. Head to the store and check them out!
MadCity Music Exchange
600 Williamson St.; 251-8558; Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun. 12-5 p.m.
MadCity's list features picks from five folks, along with a handy guide to the store's best sellers for the year -- which makes an interesting comparison with the favorites lists. Out of five lists represented, Love and Curses by The Reigning Sound made it onto three. Reissues by Big Star and Death, and new releases by Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr., The Spits, Vieux Farka Toure and Volcano Choir each made a pair of lists. The local music scene is represented by The Antiprism, El Valiente and Zola Jesus. A hard copy can be picked up in the store, or the list can be viewed online.
1900 Monroe St.; 259-1991; Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Strictly Discs sent out its staff picks via email a few weeks ago, and the complete set of seven lists can also be viewed online. Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix by Phoenix takes top honors on four lists, with the latest albums by Animal Collective, Neko Case, The Flaming Lips and Wilco making three.