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Music We Like

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Putrifiers II Purifiers (CD)

OCS

S.F. psych-rockers Thee Oh Sees’ cult seemed to overflow with two great albums released last year, the scuzzy lo-fi pop of Castlemania and its more acid-tinged follow-up, Carrion Crawler/The Dream . Putrifiers II works off that momentum and delivers on its promise, scaling back the noise of their more rambunctious moments to offer hypnotic, low-key psych-pop. “Wax Face” features some of Thee Oh Sees main man John Dwyer’s idiosyncrasies, with wacked out harmonic guitarwork and echoing, screechy vocals, but with that familiarity out of the way, the album’s next two songs feel new for Dwyer, as “Hang a Picture” is nostalgic, even sweet jangly pop, and “So Nice” takes a Velvets-inspired trip through stately drone. “Flood’s New Light” sounds like a cleaned-up version of the off-kilter Turtles-style garage rock the band previously produced, and with its cleaner production, Dwyer’s pop songwriting smarts come through more clearly, as does his way of subverting his pop arrangements with slightly atonal melodies. As the album’s noise-and-space epic title track flows into the ethereal, strange ’60s pop of “We Will Be Scared,” it becomes clear this is Dwyer’s strongest material to date. For all his prolificacy, Putrifiers II is remarkably consistent and a fine statement of purpose moving forward for Dwyer.

Until The Quiet Comes (CD)

Al Franken

Flying Lotus albums take multiple listens to reveal themselves because they’re such densely layered opuses of electronic and organic sounds, voiceless, beat-driven pieces and guest vocal work that usually draws Flying Lotus into more accessible territory. So after many spins, I can say Until the Quiet Comes is yet another excellent entry into Fly Lo’s canon of work, which has included the murky Los Angeles and its excellent follow-up, Cosmogramma . Until the Quiet Comes , appropriately enough, is a more chilled out affair. The first vocal track we hear, “Getting There” with Niki Randa, doesn’t break the more atmospheric bent of the album’s first half, though Randa’s gentle vocals tug you into the density of subsequent tracks like “Heave(n),” which starts lush and laid-back before layering beat over beat until your mind spills over trying to keep track of the thing. It’s difficult not to talk about Flying Lotus albums in terms of vocal and more pop-oriented tracks, as the rest swirls together in a delectable stew, so you’ll probably track back to songs like “Sultan’s Request,” with its fat oscillator and dubsteppy beat taking center stage; the sparkling “The Nightcaller,” with its digitized handclaps and fizzy, funky synths; or the Erykah Badu-starring “See Thru to U,” in which Badu’s warbly pipes guide listeners through a kind of grimy afrobeat-jazz fusion that defies easy categorization. Speaking of Badu, Thom Yorke’s vocals on “Electric Candyman” sound more like her than anything he’s done with Radiohead — listen to this dusty bit of electronic jazz to hear Yorke in completely new environs. While Until the Quiet Comes ain’t exactly party jam material, it’s a brave journey into new ways of producing sound and song that takes time to sink its teeth in but offers lasting rewards.

Shields (CD)

Grizzly Bear

One of the year’s finest rock albums comes with Grizzly Bear’s  Shields , improbably an even more consistent album than 2009’s excellent  Veckatimest . Beginning with the soft explosion of “Sleeping Ute,” in which frontman Ed Droste sings of his “wanderings dreams” amid regal electric guitars, fluttering synths and acoustics, Chris Taylor’s grounding basslines and Chris Bear’s dynamic drumwork,  Shields  continues through a back-and-forth between the more immediate pop thrills of Veckatimest  and more ambient feel of their older material. “Speak in Rounds” has the same sort of glorious harmonies we heard on “While You Wait for the Others” but with more rock propulsion than the band usually employs. Meanwhile, tracks like the wordless “Adelama” and slowly shuffling “The Hunt” highlight their placid side. But  Shields  is also a progression of their sound in addition to a refinement of it. “Yet Again” scales back the grabbiness of an older song like “Two Weeks” for a lushly expansive take on the rock single, perhaps showing some influence from Radiohead, with whom they toured a few years back in a dream bill. Similarly extended and confident, “A Simple Answer” is one of Daniel Rossen’s finest showcases to date, building on his typically mysterious melodies to a gratifying, grandiose chorus. An addictive listen, it’s easy to lose yourself in the layers of  Shields  and find something newly impressive each time. 

Lightning (CD)

Matt & Kim

Adorable indie boy-girl duo Matt Johnson (keys) and Kim Schifino (drums) are back with their hotly anticipated fourth album, and yes indeed it's a Lightning strike! The blowout success of 2010's Sidewalks has set the stage for some serious koo koo time. Fist-pumping psych-you-up fun, hot jams like "Let's Go," are the specialty of Matt & Kim, and they serve it up on a flaming silver platter. Though recorded in their unpretentious Brooklyn apartment, this will no doubt spawn more headline tours and singles you will hear in TV commercials and movie trailers, because who else can bring the silly/sassy hipster energy this hard? Kind of like a low-budget version of the best big expensive club jam ever, with xxxtreme attitude.

Other Worlds (CD)

Taken by Trees

After leaving Swedish indie pop group The Concretes, Victoria Bergsman has straddled the line between conventional pop wisdom (her duet with Peter Bjorn & John, “Young Folks,” and covers of Animal Collective and Guns ‘N’ Roses) and more worldly aspirations. Other Worlds continues that tradition for Bergsman. Inspired by her travels to Hawaii, Other Worlds similarly concerns itself with one place, or one feel, rather than taking a pan-global approach (similarly to her last album, the Pakistan-influenced East of Eden ), though Other Worlds doesn’t sound terribly Hawaiian as it does have a swaying, oceanic feel, like a dive captured in slow motion. “Dreams” beautifully floats into the ether on the strength of Bergsman’s nocturnal voice and chorus-heavy guitars. “In Other Words’” most notable feature is actually its country-inspired steel guitar, but the song’s slow jaunt and vaguely singsongy quality makes it feel like a codeine-fueled cover of a sea shanty. Thankfully Bergsman doesn’t allow her muse to overly rule or define her songs, and Other Worlds is quite distinct and varied, despite its understated island vibe. You forgive some of the seemingly cheesy elements of its theme, like the cutesy vibraphone and steel drums on “Pacific Blue,” because Bergsman weaves them into something unique and seamlessly ties them together with unrelated sounds. The album’s opening songs, for instance, build airy ballads over airy bedroom electronics and found sounds, which come back to the fore with the clanging “Not Like Any Other” and dubby beatwork of “Large,” both of which sound a bit like a chilled out Grimes. Like most of Bergsman’s work, Other Worlds is a feat of subtlety, but is nonetheless memorable, tuneful and easy to submerge yourself in.

Black Love [Black Friday Expanded Edition] Black Love [Black Friday Expanded Edition] (LP) Black Love [Black Friday Expanded Edition]

The Afghan Whigs

Like Wilco, Thrill Jockey's Califone are rooted in countrified Americana (from their earlier incarnation as Red Red Meat) but have taken that basic sound and grown it into something new -- a warm phantasmagoria of treated instruments, drop-in drop-out song structures and broken-hearted lyrical surrealism.  Unlike Wilco, they are not a household word, but their latest opus, Roots & Crowns, will hopefully help to remedy that. After a spate of acclaim for several early albums, including some all-instrumental records, Califone reached a dark apex with 2004's Heron King Blues and then stepped out of the spotlight for a while.  Their van full of vintage gear was burglarized on their last tour, and Tim Rutil moved to California to focus on soundtrack work.  The various tragedies, breakups and time away seem to have been fruitful -- on Roots & Crowns, they sound lighter and more creative than ever.  The songs flow along with an experimental but organic shuffle, and the lyrics have been crystallized into strange but simple prose poem flashes.  Treated horns, harmonicas, slide guitars and pianos float in and out of the room.  The songs are suffused with both pain and joy, and the reverb-y sound palette embodies that same druggy equivocation. A cover of Psychic TV's "Orchids" fits naturally into their oeuvre and is claimed to be this album's inspiration: "In the morning after the night / I fall in love with the light" sings Rutil, and their new direction seems to show it.  Roots & Crowns is a lovely, masterful union of blues & country roots with the crowns of dreamy experimentation.

Look To The Sky (CD)

James Iha

Anyone who’s been a big Smashing Pumpkins fan knows the pleasures the Pumpkins’ “George Harrison” could bring with his subtle guitarwork and gorgeous songs like “Go,” “Blew Away” and “Take Me Down.” Fourteen years after his first solo album released while still in the Pumpkins, Iha is back with a fuller sound that capitalizes both on his folky Neil Young-inspired leanings and his ability to create spectral space rock soundscapes. Both qualities are in full flair on the beautiful “To Who Knows Where,” which features a typically beautiful Iha chorus and an awesome space-folk breakdown in the middle. Classic Pumpkins fans can find plenty to sink their teeth into in songs like “Gemini,” which moves from eerie folk to swoony big-chord rock. Elsewhere, he breaks from his past more decisively, as on the ’60s by way of ’80s pop “Till Next Tuesday” and the addled blues of “Appetite,” moments that show Iha has more tricks up his sleep than at first appears. Some of his folkier tracks veer toward sappy, but Iha’s smart production, learned from the interim years of producing for acts like Cat Power and Isobel Campbell as well as various remixes, usually saves things with orchestral flourishes and surprises like the twinkling synths that pop up at the end of the Karen O duet “Waves.” It’s an assured work that speaks to the talents of Iha as a guitarist, producer and songwriter who knows how to paint wonders from a modest palette.

Profile Meat & Bone (CD)

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Bands like the Black Keys and the White Stripes clearly love classic blues and blues-rock, but they don't really let it rip with the wild, ugly, primal abandon of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, do they now. There's no mistaking who's the king on the first JSBE record in eight years, and definitely one of their best. Judah Bauer, Russell Simins and Mr. Spencer explode out of the speakers on the opener, "Black Mold," a cranked-up, sludged-out riff monster that sounds like a genetic hybrid of early Nirvana and Deep Purple. Recorded on Sly Stone's original Flickinger console at the Key Club studio in Benton Harbor, MI, this is 12 cuts of prime, scungy, real reckless rock & roll like the kids don't make so much of anymore. Which makes this album all the more necessary as a learning device for the young! Hear it done right by some guys who've lived it long enough to know.

Moms (CD)

Menomena

During the last decade, Menomena has become its own reference point. From hooks wrapped around plummeting baritone saxophone lines and nearly inhuman rhythms to serpentine lyrical frameworks and high-concept album art, Menomena has established a singular and unmistakable aesthetic. They embed magic and mystery within pop songs that have never sat still or taken the path of least pressure. Their new album, Moms , is tragic and intimate, comic and endearing, personal and motivated.

Circles (CD)

Echoes of Suicide, Silver Apples and Spacemen 3 emulate from Moon Duo’s big bad amplifiers, but the San Francisco band develops that into their own brand of psychedelia on Circles , their latest and finest release. The band, which consists of SF psych-rockers Wooden Shjips’ Erik “Ripley” Johnson on guitar as well as Sanae Yamada on keyboards, sounded great on previous releases when they let things fly into extended jam territory (as do Wooden Shjips), but they sound just as engaging in more bite-sized pieces, as on the darkly melodic “I Can See” and jangly title track, which lets just enough light in to help illuminate the rest of the album as a result. They still do motorized rock with Kraut beats like no other, as on songs like “I Been Gone,” but songs like the actually kind of dancey “Dance pt. 3” prove to be the perfect augment to their sound. Badass and no-nonsense, for sure, Circles captures Moon Duo at their best but allows them loosen up stylistically and have a little more fun at the same time.

Tiny Prayers (CD)

Aaron Embry

The debut album by former piano player for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero. Tiny Prayers is a 10-track collection that is anchored in the cardinal folk tradition of simplicity. Elemental song structures and spartan acoustic arrangements bring Embry up close and in focus as a songwriter, singer, and musician.

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Brendan Canning (The Cookie Duster / Broken Social Scene) shops for Ahmad Jamal, Guilty Simpson, Charles Bradley, Slayer & more.

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Now I See

Judy Cave

Vinyl Vaults is our boutique, curated collection of digitized vinyl and 78's, available for download exclusively here!