Regaining hope in the mainstream record store

A view of the music section at Fully Booked Alabang Town Center

You’ve probably read me mention this a bunch of times, but it’s hard to be a record collector in the Philippines. Tower Records (and its post-bankruptcy successor, Music One) has closed down. Astrovision has some gems in its shelves, but it’s mostly predictable fare. More so in Odyssey: all you seem to see are the usual pop records, American and Korean, as well as local artists doing acoustic covers of the aforementioned pop records. Sure, the more “credible” acts are also represented in our record store, but you’ll either have to dig deep, or dig for nothing at all.

If I’m looking for an abashedly indie record, I head to Fully Booked’s flasgship store at Bonifacio High Street. Half the fourth floor full of CDs! And with lots of artists, too! I haven’t done a deep survey, but it’s the only place where I can see records from Laura Marling and Grimes, to mention two artists whose albums I have a physical copy of. It’s also a place with a pretty interesting back catalogue: I’ve seen the Sundays’ second album there, as well as the last two releases from Camera Obscura.

The downside to that place, however, is how it seemingly is never updated. Sure, there’s a shelf of new releases, one that can go leftfield, but often the albums there have been in the Philippine market for six months – the other record stores have already moved them out of the front of the store. It probably is the only record store in the capital that hasn’t sold Haley Reinhart’s Listen Up!, for one, although it did sell her EP of American Idol studio performances. They still only sell Laura Marling’s first album. You get the idea. The place feels a bit like a time warp, and an incomplete one at that – I have memories of seeing Elbow’s pre-fame studio albums at Tower Records, while buying Missy Higgins‘ debut record.

But at least they’re doing something properly. Among the mainstream record stores they have a pretty good collection, and in my case, I’ll wait for a CD to show up there (or not) before I get impatient enough to list it down for a record-shopping trip in Singapore. (Now, I don’t always do that, but when I’m there, I make it a point to grab at least four albums.) So imagine my joy when Fully Booked finally opened a branch at Alabang Town Center, near where I live. (As a guy who lives in Cavite, and one who doesn’t always have access to a car, going to High Street is an expensive chore.) It’s similar to the flagship store, although inevitably smaller, and their music section, while still half-empty – the whole place it; they’re still on soft launch, after all – looks promising.

I say this because, when I visited yesterday, I saw Suede’s Bloodsports, a record that I thought I would have to buy in abroad. I got pretty giddy. And then I saw the Strokes’ Comedown Machine, which should make my friend Chesca happy, if not for the fact that it’s an EU import and this costs upwards of P800 (as opposed to the P500 a usual foreign record costs).

I always believed that, if our record stores were to stand a chance against illegal downloading, they should sell what we want to buy. There may be a few of us still collecting records, but we’ll stick with it as long as it’s a little easier for us to get our hands on a physical copy. (Kids today, they’ll probably never know how it feels to save up for an album of their favorite artists. Or perhaps it still happens. A group of friends were there when I visited, fawning over Daniel Powter and, in one girl’s words, “OMG, Lifehouse!”) I’m a little glad it’s easier for me now, although I will still hope to see record stores here sell, say, First Aid Kit or Kimbra or the Staves, but, hey, this is a start.

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