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by Philip Sherburne

July 6, 2012

Balearic Oddities

by Philip Sherburne  |  July 6, 2012

One of my favorite record stores in the world is not in New York, London, San Francisco, Berlin, Tokyo or any other of the obvious metropolitan capitals. It's tucked away on a side street in Mahon, a city on the Spanish island of Menorca. Strictly speaking, it's not even a record store. Mostly, it sells sewing machines. There must be hundreds of them crammed into the shop's two dusty rooms, old and new (well, old and less old) all jostled together, covering practically every available flat surface, including the floor. There are regal black Singers with faded gold detailing and boxy plastic Pfaffs of more recent vintage; on the wall, a faded poster of a blonde woman with a fluorescent headband and a feathery perm promises the very finest that 1984 had to offer in technology and style.

And then there are the records. At first, it's hard to even pick them out amid the clutter, but the trained digger's eyes will unfailingly be drawn to the waist-high LP bins that line the walls, as well as the boxes of seven-inch records that have been tucked into every last available nook and cranny. (Maneuvering yourself into a position where you can comfortably flip through them is a challenge.) The first time I visited the shop, two years ago, it seemed almost too good to be true: My girlfriend is a designer with a growing stable of sewing machines of her own, and I collect records. Was this place made just for us? (According to the store's septua-or octogenarian owner, his late wife loved music, so he stocked records. Makes sense.)

At first, admittedly, the stock didn't seem too impressive. There were hundreds of unremarkable classical records, the usual hit-parade anthologies from the likes of James Last (since moving to Europe, I've seen more of that guy's records in flea markets than I care to count; sometimes I wonder if he's stalking me), and, inexplicably, 30 or 40 copies of the Superman soundtrack, all still in shrink wrap. But as my eyes began to glaze over and my fingertips turned brown with dust, a record jumped out at me: Ashra's New Age of Earth, a cosmic Krautrock classic by Manuel Göttsching, Harald Grosskopf and company, released in 1977 and fairly collectible on vinyl. There were three copies of it, in fact, which helped drive home the suspicion that I might have stumbled onto a goldmine of sorts. (I bought two and assuaged my conscience by leaving the last one for a future buyer.) And the further I dug, the more gems I began to unearth: Krautrockers La Düsseldorf, Ze Records' disco princess Cristina, Lene Lovich's disco project Kirkokos, Canadian disco from Ottowan and France Joli... basically, a whole lot of disco -- Philly, Italo and otherwise -- with a smattering of New Wave and Krautrock.

In a thrift store across town, I found a similar trove, this time with a focus on '90s house, techno and makina -- all styles that developed after the sewing machine shop presumably placed its last order. And I began to realize that it wasn't so much a goldmine I had stumbled upon as an archaeology dig that laid bare the musical history of the island's dance clubs. (Many records were stamped as the property of long-shuttered nightclubs.) Mixed in with Snap! and Soul II Soul, I found records by Cocteau Twins, Front 242, Marshall Jefferson, Suzanne Ciani and even the Athens, Georgia, post-punks Pylon, whom DFA recently reissued in an effort to rescue them from their perpetual obscurity. Here you had real, physical evidence of "Balearic" eclecticism -- a clean cut through the fossil record.

In tribute, then, here's a selection of some of the choicer specimens I unearthed there. Consider it a theoretical reconstruction, like a re-assembled T. Rex skeleton, of the Balearic sound.

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