When you first step into Beautiful World Syndicate, it may seem like any old record store. Vinyl is everywhere (the tables, the walls, the stairs), and visitors are immediately greeted by collections of punk and indie music, two genres that fit the preferences you might expect from the type of people you’d conjure up when you envision “vinyl enthusiasts.”
But we promise you, if you roll up your sleeves, look past the charming film of dust settled over everything and give yourself at least a half hour to browse, you’ll be surprised. And then delighted. And maybe a bit confused. And then confusedly delighted. Beautiful World Syndicate offers one of the most wide–ranging music collections that can be found anywhere in Philly, not just among retailers specializing in vinyl. Arranged faithfully by genre and loosely by alphabet, their offerings move through rock (including classics, mainstream and metal) and into jazz, hip–hop, world music, soul and reggae.
In a world of iTunes and Spotify, this store genuinely makes you feel like an active participant in the act of loving and learning about music. Even if you don’t recognize half the artists in a given section, seeing them lined up next to some of your favorite bands prompts a curiosity to explore. And there really is something for everyone. In the 12” New Arrivals section — separated from used arrivals, which are on display next to a record player for sampling albums — I came across a Hot Chip EP, Madonna’s original single recording of “Like a Virgin” and something by Quincy Jones collaborator James Ingraham. Music snobs or exclusionary purists these people ain’t.
The store’s welcoming vibe is rounded out by reasonable pricing, as most records go for between $2 and $5, and there’s a vast collection of $1 vinyls. You can also pick up something cheap from their used CD, DVD and cassette offerings, which are small and filled with non sequiturs, but are still worth perusing. The lack of utility for something like a cassette (or even a CD, these days) is balanced out by the sheer awesomeness of being able to say that you now own some late 80s music in a format for which the words “Side A” have meaning and you can actually go through the liner notes.
Because Beautiful World Syndicate is all about discovery, it’s best not to go in with a particular objective. Head out with an open mind and a friend or two in tow; you’re going to want to chat about your finds, especially when you hit the hodgepodge weirdness at the back of the store that includes — I kid you not — a $5 LP of Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Overcoat,” with a label helpfully indicating that it was recorded in the U.S.S.R. You can even make a day of it, since this block of Passyunk also has a vintage shop and a couple intriguing restaurants (and its very own Capogiro — see, it’s not that different from campus after all!). The 20 or so minutes you’ll spend each way on SEPTA are well worth it. Where else in the city can you get go–go beats, garage rock and Gogol all in one stop?
BEAUTIFUL WORLD SYNDICATE
1619 E. Passyunk Ave.
What you’ll find there: Vinyls, DVDs and cassettes, featuring both rarities and old favorites
Bottom Line: Good music, low prices, a sprinkling of oddities in a cool pocket of the city — what’s not to like?
For the original article, visit 34th Street Magazine’s website.
Elena Gooray for 34th Street Magazine; originally published February 22, 2012.
(Photo by 34th Street’s Sarah Tse)