Portland, Maine Record Store Review I – Strange Maine

Rock Lobster

After weeks of delay and a nasty bout of the flu (sorry for the lack of updates), I finally have the pictures from my trip to Maine and can finally post the reviews of the two record stores that I visited when I was in the awesome city of Portland.

Somewhere in the sleepy state of Maine, where the Fore River pours into Casco Bay in Portland’s Old Port district, there is something truly strange– stranger that any of Maine native, Stephen King’s novels. Hidden among the old brick facades of myriad little restaurants, bars and art galleries, below the flicker of streetlamps, there is a drum that rolls to a different tune. The tinny sound of an old, mis-tuned guitar being eerily plucked trickles out the front door, down dark, narrow alleyways. Somewhere inside, a large, glassy-eyed, giant tarantula watches on, nearly leaping off of the wall– a taxidermist’s nightmare. Curious passersby find themselves drawn mysteriously to the store windows, which frame a collection of spooky, horror-themed vintage comic books and assorted stuffed animals. Music, books, movies, games, art & more it says across the glass. Do you dare enter STRANGE MAINE?

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The eerie storefront of the strangest store in all of Maine.

Hell yes.

Although Strange Maine sells much more than LPs, it is still a record store at heart, somewhere among the strange, staring stuffed animals, masks, bizarre, framed portraits and old, dusty books (one of which I presume leads to a secret passage). To be exact, it is a record store right smack dab in the middle of the strangest store I have ever seen. Point blank.

Goings on at the desk of Strange Maine

Strange goings on at the desk of Strange Maine

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Still a record store... for the record.

Owner, Brendan Evans uses the store as an outlet for all things off the beaten path and everything that you simply can’t find anywhere or anytime else. The store is loaded with used, antique books, records, VHS tapes (VHS is antique… right?), artwork, cassettes, vintage video games and little odds and ends. To top it off, Strange Maine is even an active concert venue for local, budding musicians and interpretive actors, as well as a gallery for local artists. Given the local boost, Strange Maine has flourished in a time when everybody wants the newest and best, not necessarily the oldest and strangest. And there is almost nothing in the store that is new, minus some of the art and music by local musicians. Everything is either sold to the store, donated or is simply a hand-me-down from the unknown (spooky). It is like a never-ending garage sale at the Adams Family estate.

Check out an interview with Brendan Evans and get the jist of Strange Maine here:

To capture the essence of the store in a post is a near-impossibility, nor would it do the store any justice if I were to try. But I will discuss their record selection.

All of their records are confined to two displays. In the middle of the store is the main display, which is organized by artist and just beyond it, against a bookshelf is a secondary display, which breaks the albums down by genre, such as 60’s and psychedelic. All of the records are used. Being a record collector, I wasn’t overwhelmed by the quantity of records and browsing them could be accomplished rather quickly, depending on what one is looking for. There is no need to so too much digging, as the selection is rather small.

All major artists like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Black Sabbath and the like had their own little alphabetical sections as one would expect, however all of the Beatles albums as well as albums by other prominent 60’s artists were confined to the 60’s section. Bands like Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Nektar and the like were placed into the psychedelic category. I found that this lumping together of records into broad categories is questionable, as these labels represent very “gray” areas of music and there is a lot of overlap and controversy as to how one should categorize them, but Strange Maine isn’t about conventions. Browsing through these categories also gave shopping for records there a fun grab-baggy kind of feel like you would find at an actual garage sale of flea market.

The selection of the records at Strange Maine leaned towards typical, with a healthy dose of obscurity. All of the staples that blared out of bedroom windows of ranch houses in the 60’s and 70’s were there– your Yes and your Doors. What caught my attention were the vast number of bootlegs and simply “unheard-of’s” hidden amongst the dusty displays. There were Pink Floyd bootlegs of live shows printed on thin, 100 gram vinyl with ridiculous artwork and there were records by artists hidden amid the more popular ones that nobody and nobody’s mother have ever heard of. Ever hear of The Strawberry Alarm Clock? I know I haven’t.

strawberry

Bacon makes a better alarm clock. Everybody knows that.

As for the quality of the records themselves, I was less impressed. Right off of the bat one can assume that all of these records are indeed, used, but most were just borderline unplayable. A tried and true statement is that you “get what you pay for,” and in this case the records are all dirt cheap. Every time I would find a record that I was interested in, I’d take the record out of the sleeve, tilt it in the light and shortly after place it back and return it to its place in the display. I’m all about form and function in my record collecting and their selection here was all or mostly form and just a hint of function. I need my records to not just be passably playable and drowned out by occasional pops and cracks, but I need them to sound good. Audiophiles, this store is not for you. However, curious, thrifty folks with a sense of adventure will find themselves immediately at home in Strange Maine.

So if you’re in Portland Maine on or near Congress Street, give into your inner intrigue and check out Strange Maine. There’s something for everybody’s strange desires here, even if it isn’t on vinyl… for the record.

STRANGE MAINE

578 Congress St.  Portland, ME  04101  U.S.A.
1-(207)-771-9997 :: strangemaine@kraag.org

http://www.kraag.org/strange/

(And like the name, their hours are also strange, so make sure to give them a call if you plan on visiting at an obscure hour or if you’re unsure that they will be open)

–NOTE: They are NOT going out of business. That’s just a rumor.–

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