Finding your own way into music is not an easy task. You conflate genres; you lose track of history; you’re never entirely sure where certain artists stand in relation to others. Entering some scenes without context can be liberating, and can allow for clearer insights into the music; entering others blindly can result in completely missing the point. Your own musical history could be a series of invigorating experiences, or one of false starts. And you could wind up having unexpectedly warm feelings for a now-shuttered electronics chain.
The Nobody Beats the Wiz on Route 36 in Eatontown, New Jersey is a left-field response in the category of “influential early record store.” Other nearby stores had more indie-leaning selections on hand: Vintage Vinyl in Ocean (now closed), Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank (going strong). But a larger number of the albums I bought that I considered essential then—and still do now—came from The Wiz’s music section, a sprawling rectangular area in the back of the building, row upon row upon row. My uncle would often give me gift certificates to the store, and I would calculate just how many CDs I could end up purchasing with the amount. (Their CDs were often priced a few dollars cheaper than, say, those at the Sam Goody at the mall, which didn’t hurt.)
The majors’ alt-rock binge, the healthy selection of Britpop played by local alt-rock station WHTG, videotaped episodes of 120 Minutes, and close readings of SPIN’s record reviews pointed me in the direction of quite a few unlikely major-label signings—the Boo Radleys, Teenage Fanclub, Shudder to Think. Unrest’s “Isabel,” released on 4AD and named after the artist Isabel Bishop, was part of that ecosystem and it quickly made its way inside my head, thanks to its subterranean melody, disproportionately buoyant yet entirely fitting bassline, and horrifically, surrealistically bleak lyrics.
And so I picked up the EP when I saw it at The Wiz. [...]