Let’s be honest: Shopping for vinyl at Newbury Comics is a far cry from what comes to mind when you think of an authentic music discovery experience. All of the records are brand new, sealed in clear shrink wrap, and organized neatly by artist; you likely wandered in after looking up the store in a shopping mall directory; and about three-fourths of its merchandise is dedicated to cat and pizza shirts (not complaining; I love cats and pizza). It’s especially hard to think of Newbury Comics as an independently owned retailer — or an independent music store, at that — given its 28 locations across New England, including 20 in Massachusetts alone.
But don’t be too quick to turn up your nose at this ubiquitous, quasi-corporate shopping destination. A review of the Harvard Square record scene wouldn’t be complete without featuring Newbury Comics, the fourth and final store in the area for vinyl collectors. This particular Cambridge location of the chain is housed in a mini-mall called the Garage, so you’ll inevitably feel like a tourist after passing by a food court and riding up an escalator to get there. Yep, I’m sorry, but it’ll be a momentary blow to your status as a hip, in-the-know local.
Consider the following, though: Sometimes you don’t have an hour at your leisure for intense, focused record digging. And what happens when you reach the point where you just need the newest Vampire Weekend album on vinyl and you’re in no mood to wait for shipping? That’s what Newbury Comics is for, and there’s really no other place in Boston where you can get the instant gratification of owning the latest releases (plus lots of older ones too). If you missed out on some of the records gracing music publications’ “Best of 2013” lists, you can easily find them up for grabs in Newbury’s vinyl collection. Disclosure’s Settle, M.I.A.’s Matangi, Darkside’s Psychic, Haim’s Days Are Gone are just a few critically acclaimed list-toppers I found during my visit.
What’s also great is that Newbury carries just as many lower-profile but still excellent recent releases, such as Kwes’ ilp, Foxygen’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, and Sun Shy, the debut album from Portland indie-pop duo Dresses. Check out “Blew My Mind,” the infectious, happy-go-lucky single off the record that’s sure to bring some sunshine into your life despite the arctic freeze in Boston as of late.
Year-end reports about the music industry can spit out all the data they want about growing vinyl sales, but the existence of not one, not two, but four record stores in Harvard Square alone is enough proof that music lovers aren’t turning their backs on turntables anytime soon. With each shop in the area carving out its own niche and offering something different, you really don’t have to leave Harvard Square to get your hands on what you’re looking for. Want classic, used records? Hit up In Your Ear! or Planet Records. More of the subculture type? Try Armageddon Shop. And of course, if you want to stay up to date with the modern music scene, head over to Newbury Comics. All of the bases are covered.