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Leopold and His Fiction
Leopold and His Fiction
Ryan McGarvey
Ryan McGarvey
Let It Grow
Let It Grow
 V.21 No.4 | January 26 - February 1, 2012 

Aural Fixation

R.I.P. Natural Sound

Albuquerque's oldest independent record store closes shop

Courtesy of Natural Sound
It's true, music fans. After decades of peddling CDs, tapes, videos, DVDs, vinyl records and other merchandise, Natural Sound is going the way of Bow Wow Records (where music was “a man's best friend"). Natural Sound's last day of business is Saturday, Jan. 28.

The past year and a half has been punctuated by change for the business. In late 2010, the store relocated from its longtime, hyper pedestrian-friendly spot on the corner of Central and Amherst to an Upper Nob Hill storefront east of Morningside. Then the store moved again—this time back to Nob Hill proper—to its current location at 205 Wellesley SE. Coincidentally it's the former site of Alibi world headquarters.

Like so many other people, once upon a time Natural Sound was my main source for buying music in Albuquerque. The store's passing gives me pause: I'm suddenly nostalgic for those days of being impossibly broke, trying to decide which combination of CDs would give me the most value for my paltry music allotment. This was back before digital music libraries, before my video camera / web browser / appointment keeper / phone contained thousands of songs. Life was simpler then, sort of.

On the other hand, I love the freedom of looking up almost any track or album on the web and being able to buy it (or, if it's too obscure, download it for free) without having to take a shower and drive somewhere. More than that, though, I'm thankful I no longer have to mess with relatively expensive CDs and their shoddy plastic jewel cases. Storing music on a computer, where it just takes up megabytes and not a corner of your apartment, makes more sense. This is the future—it’s supposed to be convenient.

That's not to say I stopped going to Natural Sound or other record stores with the fall of the compact disc. Quite the contrary—I started collecting vinyl records. As Chan “Cat Power” Marshall said in Old Rare New: The Independent Record Shop (Black Dog Publishing, 2008), "Vinyl boutique shopping—dude. Vinyl's the only way to go. And the whole world knows that. If Apple would make a cool record player, everybody would buy vinyl again."

There's never been a more accessible time for music, which is great for the fan/collector, good for the musician and bad for the shops that sell it. Despite falling music sales since the late ’90s, the future hasn't changed people's affinity for music: It's changed their consumption habits, which, to the Recording Industry Association of America's dismay, have been dictated by the volume of free material on the web, both legal and illegal. Yes, this has also been a pox on the independent record store. But it doesn't change the fact that people like physical formats—you can't caress an MP3. (Though I’m sure there are plenty of kids today who’ve never even purchased a CD, tape, record or whathaveyou, and therefore have never known the pleasure of being 14 and stroking Robert Smith's hair as pictured in the liner notes.)

Independent record stores can and should still take the form of culture emporiums, by attracting people who don't necessarily need to shop at them. That means selling things besides CDs—like comic books, zines, clothing, coffee, live music, vinyl. I love digging for big scores at the record shop. It's an exercise in searching out music history and learning more and more about this beautiful and unspooling universe. The fact is, your favorite musicians probably keep record collections and practice the art of digging. That’s a comforting notion. And it makes me certain that independent record stores aren't going away any time soon.

Attention iPhone and Android users: Music blog The Vinyl District has created a new, free app that locates the nearest U.S. record store to you. I downloaded it and Mecca Music & Books appeared, although it was the only one in Albuquerque that did. TVD takes user submissions, so go tell them about the other stores you like for vinyl.

Public Comments (15)
  • Poor poor Albuquerque  [ Fri Jan 27 2012 12:06 PM ]

    Kind of sad that the article isn't really about Natural Sound, or Paul's dream, or anything pertinent to his several decades of being a community hub... just about trends in general, and where you can access more stuff online, thus continuing the movement away from stores like this. I don't want to hear about what Cat Power thinks about vinyl, I want to hear what Paul wants to talk about on his last week of business. Poor poor Abq, even the Alibi doesn't know how to write a decent eulogy.

  • You Said It, Lewie  [ Fri Jan 27 2012 3:01 PM ]

    Paul and all the many Natural Sound employees have done more to help create and foster much of what is now reconized as the "local music scene" more than too many people realize. Although I too am disapointed at the lack of depth of this "eulogy", I'm not surprised. After all, the author has consistantly appeared more interested in sounding hip, than actually digging into a story with much real passion.

  • Hip?  [ Fri Jan 27 2012 4:44 PM ]

    Not trying to sound "hip," Steffie. Must you be a jerk? Unfortunately, I was on deadline and nobody could talk to me about this when I called Natural Sound, and nobody returned my calls.

  • Paul's wife left me a message with his cell number  [ Fri Jan 27 2012 7:17 PM ]

    and I passed it on, but I guess too late. I bought my first two records from Natural Sound's Menaul/Pennsylvania store when I was about 15. I got Frank Zappa "Zoot Allures" and Grateful Dead "Wake of the Flood." I felt pretty hip back then in 1977, and I guess I'm not too ashamed of those choices even now.

  • The story came off as an afterthought.  [ Mon Jan 30 2012 10:41 AM ]

    Yes, deadlines, blah blah. This story needed a proper write up and it seems like the article could have waited until that was able to happen. And sorry, but the vinyl talk was unnecessary and came across as pretentious. A little more self-reflection and a little less defensiveness would be nice from Ms. Cassyle Carr.

    Last edited [1/30/12 10:42 AM]
  • What about Charley's?  [ Mon Jan 30 2012 11:03 AM ]

    It seems like they often get overlooked, but Charley's is still flying the local-record-store flag out at Menaul and Pennsylvania. Was in this weekend and while there could have been more shoppers, they seemed to be going strong. New/used CDs, tons of used vinyl, and a reasonable new vinyl section too. It's not in Nob Hill/Downtown and yes, it occasionally feels like you've passed through a time-space anomaly back into 1988 (or at least 1995), but with the demise of Natural Sound they'd get my vote for biggest and best local store standing...they're definitely bigger and more diverse than Mecca, though perhaps not as tuned in to current hipster music trends...

    Last edited [1/30/12 11:14 AM]
  • Try this past Sunday's Journal  [ Mon Jan 30 2012 11:37 AM ]

    For a truly crap article about records and record stores.

  • Please,  [ Mon Jan 30 2012 4:34 PM ]

    retract your claws JCC. I wasn't the only one who thought the way I did about your article. I'm sure a minimum effort of checking your Roledex would have given you the names of many hip and questionably hip people who would have gladly provided more insight to the history and workings of Natural Sound.

    Thank you for at least getting the word out.

  • thank you Kojak  [ Tue Jan 31 2012 9:29 AM ]

    I might have missed that fine Journal piece without your help. I suspect the reporter is younger, but ever notice how anything the Journal publishes about the under-50 demographic ends up sounding like it's about "those crazy kids" and their wacky ways? And while I agree with at least some of the criticisms presented here, at least JCC captured the minor detail that Natural Sound was you know, closing...I guess no one mentioned that to the fella from the Journal?

    Last edited [1/31/12 9:30 AM]
  • natural geckos  [ Wed Feb 1 2012 4:44 PM ]

    sounds like there's a few folks here that also may recall when natural sound was located where gecko's is now. that was at least three or four moves back i think .

    speaking of moving, we buy music has moved a zillion times . it will never be hip and requires lots of digging but is by far my fave place for old vinyl in town. don't expect much in the way of indie or much punk but there's lots of good stuff in all other genres at reasonable prices. the owner does not suffer fools gladly but once you get to know him (not an easy task) he's alright.

  • Read the Journal Article  [ Fri Feb 3 2012 2:32 PM ]

    about this and you'll also see they weren't able to talk with Paul either. Seems like he doesn't want to speak with media about this, so how could the Alibi reporter write a good eulogy when Paul isn't willing to add his insight on the situation? I won't lie, while Natural Sound helped push good music in ABQ, I had a hard time buying stuff there because it was always pretty overpriced.

  • "so how could the Alibi reporter write a good eulogy...  [ Mon Feb 6 2012 1:21 PM ]

    ...when Paul isn't willing to add his insight on the situation?"

    I dunno, how about asking people like the cat that posted above you (the mighty Capt. America)? Or, as I mentioned before, check the Alibi Roledex for any number of past employees, local musicians, writers, gadflys, hipsters, aging hipsters, music junkies, KUNM dj's past & present, community pillars, known audiophiles and get their hit on the deal. Or just let the current state of the store questions lay still and ask Paul about the history, different locations, famous (or nearly famous) customers/employees, you know, a little investigative reporting..sheesh, how hard could any of that been?

  • Things I learned in the few years I worked at Natural Sound:  [ Tue Feb 7 2012 9:47 AM ]

    1. Playing Diamanda Galas will clear out the store.

    2. If you play Led Zeppelin for the crazy, homeless guy he'll take off his clothes and run around on Central.

    3. Paul can tell a great story, is fascinated by rock lobsters and vehemently disagrees with the use of cowbells.

    4. Local promoters hate it when you ask to be 'put on the list'.

    5. People like the darnedest things.

    There are many more things I learned; an amazing appreciation of music and what it takes to run a record store are among them. I was sad to see the store close. I wouldn't trade my time working there for anything.

  • look past the end of your nose much?  [ Wed Feb 8 2012 9:01 PM ]

    "I won't lie, while Natural Sound helped push good music in ABQ, I had a hard time buying stuff there because it was always pretty overpriced."

    Well now your hard times are over because the music store that pushed good music in ABQ isn't there anymore. We'll be able to save all kinds of money, now that there's somewhat less good music troubling us.

  • Still great stores out there  [ Thu Oct 4 2012 1:12 PM ]

    that are affordable. Natural Sound never was the only store in ABQ that sold good music, so no hard times here....

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