If you grew up spinning Floyd and Zepp way too loud on turntables in the basement, you understand the near-mystic allure of listening to music on vinyl. The warmsizzle-pop-hiss of an LP isn’t a flaw– it’s a strand of music.
Angelenos and tourists who miss the hiss can rediscover the natural beauty of records at one of the music shops – mostly mom-n-pop, pocket-sized caves – where L.A.’s vinyl renaissance thrives. The city that launched bands as diverse as the Doors, the Beach Boys, N.W.A., the Go-Gos, the Byrds, Black Flag, Metallica, Tierra, and the Runaways is, not surprisingly, a center of old, new, and rare vinyl.
You don’t have to be a hipster-of-a-certain-age to understand vinyl’s appeal.
Digital technology paints every overproduced note with unsettlingly perfect clarity, so music lovers of all ages turn to vinyl for a toothy sound that feels deeper and more real. For oldsters it might be nostalgia. For the D.I.Y. generation, the sizzle of vinyl feeds a craving for authenticity.
Art lovers worship vinyl’s eye-popping cover art (which is never as seductive when shrunk to fit CD sleeves or clickable “download” icons). Album covers
make an ideal canvas across which images flow in a swoon-worthy melt of color. There is something primal in eyeballing a great piece of cover art, picking up the album, and turning it over in your hands. Holding an album is the musical equivalent of the hunter’s “proof of kill”.
Amoeba Music is the King Kong of L.A. music shops, boasting an encyclopedic selection, expert staff, and frequent concerts. Amoeba came early to the
vinyl renaissance. It launched in Berkeley in 1990, opening the Hollywood store a few blocks from the iconic Capitol Records building in 2001. Scoping records at Amoeba on Sunset is like digging through the exhaustive vinyl collection in your cool friend’s basement pad, if he had a really big basement, say, the size of an underground NORAD hangar. In a contemporary twist, Amoeba is now digitizing a curated vinyl collection in their Vinyl Vaults.
At the other extreme, small record shops are quirky labors of love launched by owners who share the magic of vinyl with their neighbors in historic districts that have tumbled into decay – hello, reasonable rents! – but are trying to rise from the ashes. Local culture – art, eats, and vinyl – often play a big part in steering a depressed neighborhood back from the brink. These little shops can feel held together by twine, tape, and wishful thinking – but deep music passion and knowledge are there.
Small music shops excel at handcrafted touches like the silver labels affixed to many records at Mount Analog, album descriptions ranging from the workmanlike to the poetic (consider “bubbling funk,” or comparing an album’s sound to time spent “in Laurel Canyon”). Mid-size shops have their charms and treasures too, like the bargain bins at the Last Bookstore, where a discerning customer can purchase the “Carousel” LP (cover graced by an impossibly young Shirley Jones) for 99 cents.
Four fabulous vinyl destinations for music lovers in L.A.:
1. Everything and the Kitchen Sink
6400 W. Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028
(323) 245-6400 | www.amoeba.com
Hours: 10:30 am – 11:00 pm Mon – Sat, 11:00 am – 9:00 pm Sun
CDs, DVDs, and armadas of vinyl. Buy, trade, sell. Concerts and events. Vast selection.
2. Shoot from the Hipster
453 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013
(213) 488-0599 | http://lastbookstorela.com
Hours: 10 am – 10 pm Mon – Thu, 10 am – 11 pm Fri – Sat, 9 am – 9 pm Sun
Used books and vinyl. Art galleries. Events. Quirky, artsy, gritty downtown hipster-haven.
3. On the Dark Side
5906 ½ Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, CA 90042
(323) 474-6649 | www.climbmountanalog.com
Hours: 12 pm – 8 pm Tue – Sat, 12 pm – 6 pm Sun, Closed Mon
New, indie, and rare vinyl. Dark and edgy, with occult wares like Tarot cards.
5123 York Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90042
(213) 422-0069 | www.wombletonrecords.com
Hours: 12:00 pm – 10:00 pm Thu, Fri & Sat, 12:00 pm – 7:00 pm Wed & Sun, Closed Mon & Tue
Classic, imported, and rare vinyl, with a heavy British inflection.