Amoeba is no more.
At least for the time being. As we wait for the quarantine to lift, its time to start thinking strategically about where to allocate some of our amazing savings we’ve all been holding on to throughout all this uncertainty. The world is a confusing place, and though the US has utterly lost track of the pandemic to such a degree the government seems to be accepting inevitable losses and pretending its deliberately opening up (as opposed to admitting that Americans are too individualistic to work in concert with one another for the common good), but you know the one thing that is not confusing? How good music makes us feel. Not to mention, it seems like a little bit of retail therapy may do us a little bit of good in the short term as well, since we don’t seem to have another option, anyway.
So! Pessimistic arguments notwithstanding, lets talk about some of the best record stores and hidden gems in the LA area. These are smaller stores and businesses that we as music lovers should all be supporting and deserve some degree of relief from the grinding awfulness that has been 2020.
Toxic Toast – Long Beach
Long Beach’s Toxic Toast records is coming hard for Programme’s crown as not only one of the best record stores around, catering to punk and independent music, but also as the venue doing the most to foster the scene at large. With the Toxic Toast Theater, who were all set to host none other than an Aquabats show before quarantine hit, as well as constantly supporting local artists and appearing at local fests, Toxic Toast has quickly and quite suavely made themselves mainstays in the Southern California punk landscape. The owner’s frequent overseas “hunting” trips for rare vinyl to both Japan and Europe results in a constant influx of incredible pressings and obscure and intriguing LPs. I, myself, managed to pick up two entirely different versions of the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack…which perhaps is neither here nor there, but indicative of the breadth and depth of the small shop’s ever-changing collection.
Soundstation Records – Westchester
On the corner, in an easily-overlooked street in Westchester is Soundstation Records, a surprisingly sizeable shop that boasts a variety of LP’s and cassetes, that span all genres, but where I, as a lover of independent music, found so many albums I wanted I had to be dragged physically away to be prevented from spending the entirety of my paycheck on pressings of everyting from Against Me to Chuck Berry to Howlin Wolf to Boris. While some of the more extreme genres weren’t as catered to, there is a wide variety of hip hop, rock, and an impressive amount of more alternative and independent bands, with a small but significant blues and reggae representation.
Timewarp Records – Mar Vista
A more apt name for a shop would be difficult to find. Timewarp Records feels like exactly that—stepping into a wormhole where rock music never progressed past the 80’s. Timewarp specializes in older vinyl, with a strong bend towards 70’s rock. While a lot of the time that doesn’t hold much appeal to someone with a more extreme and independent taste, but being able to pick up things like pressings of the incredibly underrated Wendy O Williams or some deeper cuts of Harry Belafonte, (not to mention finding copies of Saves the Day’s Stay What you Are and Modern Life is War’s Witness hidden amongst all the older vinyl) makes this a shop you don’t want to pass up checking in on periodically.
Record Surplus – Santa Monica
Again, record store’s ability to accurately name themselves is sometimes second to none. Record Surplus in Santa Monica sometimes feels like the absolute overflow of collector’s hoards. Every single shelf is packed to bursting, sometimes so much so that it can be difficult to comb through shelves with any kind of ease. Which…most collectors wouldn’t necessarily think is a bad thing, as long as they are not all that fastidious about condition. While their rock section is stacked, what makes Record Surplus unique is that their other genre’s are equally as rich, with not a few being genres with a depth that could not be found anywhere else in LA including blues, comedy, spoken word, historical, and world.
Headline Records – Melrose
There are two stereotypes that both punks and record collectors are often accused of—elitism. Not all that long ago, if you spoke about going to a record store you would probably be accused of being a bit of a snob, and punk’s insular-ness is legendary. Though that stereotype has changed somewhat as vinyl has experienced a resurgence in the last five years or so, sometimes experiencing truly what those things used to be like, in the form of a curmudgeonly and bitter shop owner, is strangely just as pleasing and satisfying as an innocuous interaction at a hip store. Headline is festooned with punk and hardcore vinyl and memorabilia, and not a little bit of metal, with shirts, mugs, and bullet belts all hanging from the ceiling or covering every surface. And when you collect your records and make a purchase you will get some AUTHENTIC punk record store owner guff. Don’t take it too personally–its not meant to be—but enjoy it for the true throwback it is.