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If you like to root for underdogs, then stretch your rooting muscles for Sound Trolley Records. This little shop of aural/audio/literary/artistic/couture curiosities sprouted into existence April 20 ("420, dude," etc.) on Costa Mesa's strip-mall-heavy East 17th Street. It's tucked in the back of a nondescript building near the Little Knight Bar. There Sound Trolley sits, a tiny, unassuming oasis of underground-psychedelic culture amid a desert of typical OC commerce (although health-food mainstays Avanti Café and Mother's Market & Kitchen are nearby; if you concentrate hard enough, you can feel the synergy).
Sound Trolley may be one-ten thousandth the size of Amoeba Records, but it still contains many items that stumped me, a collector who's been frequenting music stores for about 30 years. While its stock may not be huge, the shop is diverse and deep within Sound Trolley's necessarily limited parameters. "[W]e don't have room for any junk," co-owner Joshua Madrid, 26, cogently observes. He runs Sound Trolley with his 24-year-old philosophy-student brother Joseph, 22-year-old photography student Mara Woodward and 26-year-old painter/vocalist Nolan Bibb.
Currently occupying shelf/bin space are recent indie rock (Belle & Sebastian, Sebadoh, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, Elf Power), psychedelia (Acid Mothers Temple, Bardo Pond, Jackie-O Motherfucker), krautrock (Walter Wegmüller, Agitation Free, Can), old funk (Meters, Funkadelic), avant-garde jazz (Sun Ra, Mahavishnu Orchestra), prog rock (Matching Mole, Ame Son, Gong), Brazilian (Milton Nascimento), African (King Sunny Ade), folk (Pentangle) and stuff I've never heard or heard of (Azteca, Agamenon, Kamijo). Oh, and some AC/DC vinyl.
Sound Trolley's book selection is equally varied, inspirational and of exceptional quality (Bhagavad Gita, MENSA Brain Bafflers, The Iliad; titles by Bukowski, Palahniuk, Achebe, etc.). You can also buy paintings and vintage clothes that will mark you as a person of distinction and esoteric culture.
Nevertheless, one wonders what inspired the Madrid brothers to open Sound Trolley in this dire music-retail climate (as Rolling Stonerecently reported, "About 2,700 record stores have closed across the country since 2003, according to the research group Almighty Institute of Music Retail.")
"I've always wanted to open a record store," Joshua says, "and when I finally got the opportunity, I couldn't pass it up, despite the rise of the iPod. It's been hard growing up and watching all the cool stores that you used to go to as a kid being slowly replaced by corporate mini malls. We want to do what we can to keep the city honest."
Madrid asserts that Sound Trolley is a specialty store. "We have some stuff that is hard to find and music that stimulates the mind."
Sound Trolley seems to be admitting that diversifying is the best way for record shops to survive now, but Madrid says the plan wasn't that calculated. "All we wanted to do was open a store that we would want to go to. A shop that caters to our great passions in life: music, art, fashion, literature."
Sound Trolley serves a niche that dwells deep in the underground and rejects mainstream cultural aesthetics. Its owners' risk-taking bravura and refined taste deserve respect.
SOUND TROLLEY, 440 E. 17TH ST., COSTA MESA, (949) 642-4846; WWW.MYSPACE.COM/SOUNDTROLLEY.