Shopping for new music can be a pain, especially these days as record stores grow increasingly more cavernous and the suggested retail prices for new major-label CDs creep above $20. The trick is to find a good markdown on price -- a necessity for struggling retailers these days -- and to be able to get in and out as quickly as possible -- you want to hear that disc now, after all. Circles, among locally operated record stores, aids that process most ably, selling new discs by big-name artists for $14.88 and $15.88 long after their release. It also helps that Circles' managers understand their customers -- display cases for new urban music, the leading seller nationally as well as locally, are put up front, kiosks that throw Mary J. Blige, Chingy and other objects of hip-hop desire in your face.

Readers' Choice: Best Buy

If Tempe's power-pop upstarts Ticker Tape Parade remind listeners of Jimmy Eat World and the Gin Blossoms -- fellow East Valley bands that struck gold before them -- there's good reason. TTP's guitarist and chief songwriter Aaron Wendt worked with Jimmy Eat World's leader Jim Adkins before forming his own band, and almost every local guitarist who's strummed a tasty arpeggio since the Gin Blossoms' early '90s breakthrough has probably played together at one point or another.

Also working in Ticker Tape Parade's favor is the band's uncommon work ethic. The average-guy amalgam of hardworking stiffs have been honing their tight set of hook-laden songs for more than a year. They've stirred up word-of-mouth interest by playing whatever influential West Coast club will have them, or gathering up a few other local hopefuls for self-promoted shows here in the Phoenix area, and reinvesting their door proceeds in the band -- instead of blowing it on personal extravagances like, say, food. The band has even been selling its debut six-song EP, You're Creating a Scene, for little more than cost. "Sure, we have a CD that we think is worth a lot more than four bucks," says Wendt. "But at this stage of the game, it's way better just to get the music out there." Take that, RIAA!

Readers' Choice: Authority Zero

As any large, multigenerational black family can attest, no generation gap cuts deeper than the one between fans of old-school R&B and their hip-hop-loving kids. Folks who once felt confident enough to bust a move on the Soul Train dance line can be made to feel about as limber as Christopher Reeve once their teens start showing off the new club moves.

Alex Santamaria, program director and drive-time jock on KAJM, "Arizona's jammin' R&B," effectively bridges that gap by shrewdly peppering the station's boomer-skewed playlist of classic Motown and cruisin' slow jams with songs that reveal the source of current hip-hop's most sampled beats. The kids in the back seat won't hear the Beyoncé/Jay-Z hit "Crazy in Love" on KAJM, but they might hear the 1970 Chi-Lites platter "Are You My Woman," from which Beyoncé's hit lifts its propulsive horn riff. Santamaria, a longtime player in the Valley R&B scene (he helped program AM powerhouse KQ in the '80s), also allows himself to share in the uncoolness foisted on his listeners by humorously mishandling current slang and copping to his own dance-floor ineptness -- even while coolly cueing up that old Gap Band jam that Ashanti lifted for her latest CD.

Readers' Choice: Dave Pratt

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