The Joy of Indie Record Stores: Criminal Records

by Michael

As there are only so many reviews that can be done, I decided for a change of pace for today in the form of a short article about indie record stores. In particular, my favourite store in toronto called Criminal Records. The plan is to have other writers talk about their favourite indie record stores in Toronto and elsewhere.

Criminal Records is such a change from your traditional music store. Having grown up looking for music in HMV, I was completely astounded the first time I entered Criminal Records, located on 493 Queen Street West.

HMV really limited my field of vision when it came to buying some of the albums I have reviewed on the blog thus far (for example, The Ghost is Dancing and Zeus). I came to accept the fact that when an indie album had been out for several months or years, I would have to buy it for more than it was originally priced (example: I had to buy Heart Attack by Woodhands for $20).

So when I walked into Criminal Records the first thing that floored me, after the fact that virtually every artist I couldn’t find in HMV was there, was that the prices were all extremely fair. Here I was able to buy Chad VanGaalen’s Infiniheart for $14 and not $20.

The store also carries a very impressive collection of vinyl as well as record players to actually play said vinyl. They also have quite a huge collection of band merch and t-shirts. I had to try not to salivate when I found a few t-shirts from Radiohead’s In Rainbows tour. There are also framed posters, most for sale, of various tours, such as a poster I found of Final Fantasy’s (aka Owen Pallett’s) 2007 tour.

But that is not all that makes this store so great. It also holds in-store performances, and has hosted the likes of Dan Mangan twice and other bands like Ghostkeeper.

And finally, there is also a really great atmosphere. There is always great music playing in the store, and usually by Canadian acts. And it is also the kind of store where you can have a twenty-minute conversation with the only guy working there and not feel like you’re wasting anybody’s time.

Criminal Records is basically the perfect indie record store experience. Follow them on Twitter (@criminaltoronto) to get updates on sales and new merchandise as well as on the Canadian music scene in general.

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3 comments

  1. clearly you dont have great expectations for record stores in Toronto then. Criminal records is the worst store in the city.
    Rotate this – much better selection.
    Vortex & Hits and Misses – much nicer people
    Sonic boom – good selection – shite prices.

    criminal records do have some good prices- but god forbid you want a record the staff dont like. you will be made fun of on twitter once you walk out of the store

  2. Duly noted. I haven’t actually been to the other stores you mentioned in your comment yet, so I can easily write about what makes them great as well. I suppose I made it sound like Criminal Records is the best in the city, which wasn’t my intention.

  3. I agree with Michael’s review. Criminal Records tends to be my favourite as well.

    As for the staff, they tend to be opinionated and straightforward. I bought a Karen Elson album solely because one of the store’s owners claimed it was “crappy Neko Case.” I thought to myself, I’m not the biggest Neko Case fan, maybe I’ll like this more! Just because they dislike a record, doesn’t mean I or you will.

    Why’s Criminal Records the best? It goes beyond prices. They have “stuff.” I suppose “merch” would be the most appropriate description but what it really is is a record store packed with stuff while managing to evince that rundown feel. You can buy poster prints, band t-shirts, turntables, headphones, etc. with your vinyl or CD purchase! Sounds cool to me.

    John: the other stores have faults as well. Rotate This: how about the eclectic selection and CD’s which have been opened if they aren’t named: the new Radiohead album, the new Arcade Fire album, or the new ‘Best New Music’ album according to Pitchfork? Cheap prices on show tickets are the highlight here. Sonic Boom: good selection is accurate. A year ago you could say great selection but not anymore. Used CD stock is dwindling and prices on those used treasures are starting to draw even with new CD prices from competing stores. As for Vortex, I haven’t been in years and think I’m probably due for a visit. Either way, to beat out Criminal Records, this place better have a knowledgeable staff, cheap prices on a wide continuum of music, and something that makes it unique from the rest.

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