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Sonic Boom – Scott Pilgrim shopped for music here!


Disclaimer: I’m from the Compact Disc (CD) generation and I’m not very tech savvy. What the hell is a hash tag?  I may be alone on this one, but I feel the CD is a more practical medium for collecting music.  I do collect records, but more as a means to collect cheap albums not available on CD, like my disco era Isaac Hayes albums that ended up being a little too lame to be reissued on CD.  Some will argue that records sound better than CDs, and perhaps this is true, but I can’t tell.  Besides, I can’t play records in my car, and at home I would have to get up every 20 minutes to switch albums or sides, rather than just load my 5 disc CD player and then settle into a 5 hour work report writing session.

Why not buy digital, you say?  I have an answer for that too. CDs (and vinyl) give you more of a 3D music experience.  Appreciating the artwork that goes into packaging is an element that is absent from digital downloading.  And more importantly, the CD and vinyl experience, in my opinion forces the listener to appreciate entire albums, whereas the digital format encourages fractured listening experiences.  Could this format (or has it already) lead to a music industry that creates watered down crap albums carried by only a couple of solid tracks, or even to less creativity in album creation?  Will there ever be any more ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ or ‘In The Aeroplane over the Sea’ masterpieces?  You get my point.

Whatever your music collecting habits, Toronto has dozens of great music stores to satisfy almost anyone’s interests.  If you are a professional DJ and want a rare funky soul Leon Haywood (Who? Exactly) vinyl record to spin, Cosmos Records is your place (but expect to pay steep prices for some of these rare used albums).  Again, if you are a DJ and just want the one rare track, Kops Records has Toronto’s biggest selection of 45s.  If you are a hipster who’s willing to spend $30 on the latest new indie vinyl LP or some new reissued hard bop jazz albums from the Blue Note catalogue, hit Rotate This.  Finally, if you want new CDs of all genres including “folk, jazz, world, psych, garage, prog, blues, soul, reggae, classical, experimental, noise, americana/country, electronic, hip-hop, R&B, metal and pop/rock” as stated on the store website, Soundscapes is a solid choice. All these stores are great, but cater to specific niche markets.

Then there is Sonic Boom.  In my opinion, the best music store in Canada.  It’s got new records, used records (at reasonable prices—Isaac Hayes’s Black Moses can be purchased for $10, Cosmos Records has it for something like $24!), new CDs, used CDs, new and used DVDs of all genres, band t-shirts, record players and accessories.  You know the scene when Scott Pilgrim breaks up with Knives in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World? That was shot in Sonic Boom!!! Well, in the old location. Now it’s been replaced by a cheap dollar store.  Sonic Boom moved just around the corner a few years ago after its lease expired, to an arguably better location in Toronto’s kitschiest landmark, Honest Ed’s.


Sonic Boom occasionally hosts free in-store performances, where you will often see the aisles filled with people for short sets from great international indie artists or lesser known local acts.  I’ve had the pleasure of seeing a few of my favorite Toronto/Canadian bands perform in the intimate basement setting at the old store, like Broken Social Scene, Do Make Say Think and Sloan.

The primary reason why I love Sonic Boom is its huge selection of used CDs.  Shopping for used CDs at Sonic Boom is akin to taking part in an Easter egg hunt.  You don’t know what you will find or where you will find it, but when you do find that prize, giddiness ensues.  I’ve been able to gradually complete my Gil Scott-Heron and Curtis Mayfield collections by scouring through the new arrivals bins periodically.  I usually don’t go into Sonic Boom with a wish list of any specific artist in mind, however.  I usually finger through the new arrivals used CD bins just to look for albums I don’t even know that I want.  These music hunting sessions have led me to a cathartic realisation. I can now say I understand how women can spend hour after hour shopping for clothes, an activity that appears tedious to the average man. Despite this apparent empathy towards clothes shopping with women, I admit I will still sulk if Kristine ropes me into watching her try on clothes at Kensington Market. As a compromise, I don’t make her go to Sonic Boom with me, usually.  I catch myself thinking as I spot a particular CD, “I hear a lot of comparisons of Labradford to Tortoise. Why don’t I take a chance on this album for a mere $7-$10.”  A more sensible person might say “go on YouTube and listen to a few tracks au gratis”.  Not me.  I have some sort of illness (diagnosed by loved ones) that compels me to buy stacks of used CDs by artists of whom I’ve heard nary a note.  If I like what I hear, the next thing you know I own all of Labradford’s catalogue on CD, mostly thanks to Sonic Boom (with a little help from Soundscapes if I’m impatient).

I’ve been to other used CD stores and predominantly all you can find are rejected Color Me Bad and Kenny G albums.  Not Sonic Boom.  I don’t know how they do it, but they manage to get tons of used discs that people actually want.  If you want every Flaming Lips album on a used CD, with patience and repeat visits, you will get them all eventually.  If you are a germaphobe and want your own fresh, wrapped copy of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, well they have that too.  I wonder how they keep the store stocked with good used albums.  Are they buying whole collections from some hip 30-somethings who’ve been given ultimatums from their fiancées akin to: “It’s either your precious CDs or me, take your pick”?  Or maybe they are bought from vindictive ex-boyfriends whose ex-lovers did not want to go through the awkwardness of going back to their place one last time to collect their belongings, thus sacrificing a toothbrush and an Arcade Fire album.

Currently there is uncertainty as to the future of Sonic Boom.  The Honest Ed’s building is being sold and will be closing its doors soon, likely to be replaced by another condo.  But I’m sure Sonic Boom will rise from the ashes, and I will be there fingering through rows of CDs looking for that one piece (or 5) to add to my collection. Unless I get that ultimatum from Kristine.


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