WPL.A. graphic by Vivian Martinez

“Waxing Philosophical, L.A.” is DUM DUM’s Tuesday column written by Christina Gubala, co-founder of L.A.’s premier cassette-tape label, Complicated Dance Steps. A die-hard vinyl collector, you can find her spinning records at local bars near you.

Our city has a continuing history thick with vinyl love, now more than ever with record shops opening their doors instead of shuttering. Each week, Gubala breaks down a fresh new wax purchase, and writes about the record store as well, mapping it as part of L.A.’s history in the making.


Poo-Bah Record Store in Pasadena has a legacy of excellence that looms over the rest of L.A.’s record store population. Before I’d become a serious record collector, I’d heard tales of its greatness, its superiority to anything I was accustomed to in Los Angeles proper. I was naturally skeptical, as our city boasts some fine retail establishments for wax-hungry fools. But my first visit to the store (and each one subsequently) proved a lot of the legend true.

Saturday morning, while most Los Angeles denizens dared not brave the potential rain (read: potential traffic), I hit the 134 East and headed towards the famous shop on Colorado Blvd. After effortlessly securing a free parking spot in front of the store, I paused momentarily to admire their front window display. To the left, an epic display of Mojo and Uncut magazines gazed back at me with steely earnestness. To the right, records and other assorted music paraphernalia tantalized me, stimulating my curiosity before I’d even walked through the door.

As I entered, a few other patrons maneuvered around me, and I noticed immediately that no one in the shop was younger than 50. A silver-templed gentleman was rifling through the bin marked “Not Not Fun” as an older woman with long white hair perused the overstock country music bin. The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” blared and the man behind the counter welcomed me with a warm grin. I was quite charmed by the demographic shift of the patrons, as I’d traditionally encountered fellow 20-somethings during my previous Poo-Bah shopping trips, and it was in that moment that I realized what makes the place legendary–its a space where, equally, all are welcome and comfortable. Posters on the wall range from Yo La Tengo’s promotional warning “I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU AND I WILL BEAT YOUR ASS” to gig posters from larger-than-life ’60s bills including Hendrix and Dylan. Slick Rick and Flying Lotus, James Blake, Cat Power, Kraftwerk, all found equal validity on the wall of the store. This attitude was amplified in the bins–and how.

One of the most charming aspects of Poo-Bahs is that the very first bin upon entry is labeled “NEW WORLD,” both an optimistic idea and a genre packed full of mouthwatering reissues and comps from around the globe. Behind New World, used world records sit broken out by their geography, and reggae follows shortly thereafter. Their sections are well thought out and stocked, with records from generations past and present arranged in perfect harmony alongside one another, divided only as “new” or “used.” After the world and reggae sections, Poo-Bah kicks their community-active radness into overdrive: labels like Numero Group, Not Not Fun, and PPM have their own sections rich with random samples of the labels’ discographies. I was delighted to find the NNF-released Rangers record Pan Am Stories, a record I had never seen in person (which is criminal considering the gorgeous album art), and Eccentric Soul comps so titillating I had to actively ignore them for fear of spending too much!

The individual label sections are followed by rock, hip-hop, dubstep, and electronic sections all equally jam-packed with quality releases, and Post-it notes from the knowledgeable and opinionated staff adorned any of the records, championing the merits of the albums and celebrating their presence in the store. I found the new Prince Rama release, Trust Now, with a psychedelic custom tag of its own, and quickly snatched it up as my own. I’d come in with the intention to pick it up, but had absentmindedly failed to factor in the difficulty of getting out of Poo-Bah with only one purchase. Slick Rick and Queen Latifah 12-inches beckoned to me from the section labeled “90s/Golden Era” and a Rick James cassette featuring the single “Mary Jane” might as well have had my name written on it. Wandering through to relatively small space was like traveling through a Fibonacci sequence of endless good music. Wherever I looked, there was another tempting slab of wax, elegantly designed store t-shirt, $.99 new age cassette, or bargain horror movie DVD I was dying to investigate. Poo-Bah is, like Amoeba, ripe with ways to spend an entire paycheck, and I recommend proceeding with caution if you’re as susceptible to temptation as I.

After a will-power exertion for the ages, I got out of there with Trust Now in tow and a song in my heart. After seeing Prince Rama live a few weeks ago at El Cid, I’d been hungry for their latest release and was eager to see how the ferocity of their live performance translated to recorded form. The New York-based, Hari-Krishna raised sister act have a spiritual reckless abandon that evokes Hindu rituals and Kate Bush all at once, with urgent tribal drumming and vocal work that recalls classical Punjabi music. R&B samples open “Rest In Peace,” the album’s first track, while grunge guitar finds its way into the mix on “Portaling”, the first track on the b-side.

Don’t be fooled by this genre-heavy description, however. From start to finish, this record feels strong, certain, ferocious even, a wholly honest expression by two vibrant people exploring emotions physically through their music. The sweetest spot on the record comes during the first moment of the closing track, “Golden Silence.” Lead singer Taraka Larson’s merciful vocals slice through a fog of sound with the exclamation, “Gooooooooold, golden silence,” and I feel as though I’m toppling from a precipice, following the sound of her voice over the edge into the abyss. I recommend this album quite highly to anyone with a sense of melodic adventure and a thirst for some throbbing, honest-to-god drumming.

Poo-Bah Records in Pasadena is well worthy of their stellar reputation, and are active supporters of the local arts. The Leaving Records cassette display behind the register seemed to wink at me as I checked out–this is a place for all of us, old and new, simultaneously, much like this era in the music industry itself, and I’m thankful every time I make the trip.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011