Do you hoard music? Welcome to Shelf Life

A new column about hitting pause and digesting what's around us.


“What really matters is what you like, not what you are like. Books, records, films — these things matter. Call me shallow; it’s the fucking truth.”

-Rob Gordon, High Fidelity

Not too long ago, I was looking around the cluttered bedroom of my apartment when I came to a realization: My life is very easily quantified. It’s an assortment of words written and sounds heard. Evidence of such is collected in volume on numerous shelves and stacks. At last count, I own more than 530 physical pieces of music, mostly on CD, and that’s after my last run to unload 60 or so records for a paltry $30 score at Reckless Records. I’ve grown my book collection considerably over the past two or three years as well, but for all intents and purposes, my apartment is a den of musical sin.

And lest you think I’ve been living under a rock for the last 12 or 13 years, yes, I do own an iPod. I have an extensive iTunes library, and I’ve milked my $4.95/month Spotify account for all it’s worth. But I still love the thrill of combing through the racks and walking out of a record store with a handful of new finds. Record shopping, at least for me, has never been a pragmatic thing. It isn’t about ease or convenience. It’s about exploring, killing time scoping album art, or finding a few more choice additions to add to my own carefully constructed wall of sound. Ever since Green Day’s Dookie entered my world by way of a shiny metallic disc on Christmas morning in 1994, I’ve given in to the journey of finding new music, and to this day there are few things that give me as much immediate gratification as throwing some new tunes on my disc changer.

But there are some unfortunate realities that come along with being an avid collector that counterbalance the fun of coming across a great find. When your music collection tips the scale at over five bills, it’s almost impossible to give everything contained within the attention it deserves. I’m mindful of this, but try as I might to give all my CDs and records a little love, it’s full of gems that have been collecting dust and idling lonely on the shelf. There are some that I haven’t played in years, and others that maybe got little more than an initial play in my car on the ride back from the record store. I used to listen to Juvenile Product of the Working Class by the Swingin’ Utters every fucking day in high school, but I can’t tell you the last time I picked it up since then. I’ve also been meaning to check out the debut record by Channels, a side project fronted by Jawbox’s J. Robbins, for some time. That’s saying something since it’s been sitting at the bottom of my shelf since, oh, 2006? Sounds right.


My point is, I need to devote more time to this musical monster I’ve invested years and countless dollars creating. Enter Shelf Life, a new twice-monthly column that the good folks at Consequence of Sound have kindly given their blessing. More than a column, Shelf Life is a piece of my personal history that I’m sharing with you, one culled together by seeking out and getting reacquainted with the lost treasures I’ve found while combing through my collection. Each installment will shed some light on my connection to a particular artist and record. There will be old favorites (Amazing Crowns, Lync), fleeting obsessions (Futureheads), and other stuff that I don’t even remember buying (Oh, hey there, JJ Cale).

Call it a quirky journey of self-reflection set to a soundtrack, or maybe this is just a long-winded way of trying to save money by not throwing cash at every record store I stumble across. But more than anything else, it’s about taking stock of the past. Thanks to the Internet and websites such as the one you’re reading now, music is more accessible than ever, and it’s easy to hop from buzz band to buzz band on a day-to-day basis. But as fun as the immediacy of finding new music is, there’s also something to be said about hitting pause and taking time to digest what’s in front of you. I for one have a lot of catching up to do, and I intend to make up for lost time.

Okay, rant over. Look out for regular entries in the coming weeks. And if you’re like me and your bedroom/dorm room/apartment is cluttered with tunes, take my advice and give it a closer look. What you find might surprise you.

Check back next time when Ryan pops in Rancid’s Let’s Go.