Sea Level Records, the popular Echo Park indie music shop, was pronounced dead last Friday. It was 5½ years old. Following an investigation, the cause of death was infanticide. Co-owner Todd Clifford pulled the trigger after growing dissatisfied with running a business. He had written on the shop’s MySpace blog, “I want my life back. It’s hard to say it, but I’ve actually burnt out on what should have been the perfect job. I shouldn’t dread going to ‘work’ every day, and sadly, that’s what it has become for me.”
And so it was an Irish wake for Sea Level Records — booze, music and fits of revelry mixed with somber eulogies as the shop celebrated (yes, celebrated) its untimely demise at Safari Sam’s this past Friday. I asked a few mourners to share the purchases that “changed their lives” — to one couple that was Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible; to a few stylishly indie girls, it was the Broken West’s I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On. Melissa, a pale blond beauty who had the kind of heartbreaker smile that untold numbers of Eastside musicians must have written songs about, said she had spent a lot of time at Sea Level Records over the years while washing her clothes at a Laundromat down the street, and added that she’s now doomed to loiter at the pawn shop. Local bands the Switch and Division Day performed kinetic sets, and when they were done, Clifford manned the turntables, seamlessly mixing Michael Jackson with Steely Dan. “Sea Level Todd is dead,” Clifford said, “regular Todd has been born.” And what will he do now with the record shop walking in the valley of the shadow of death? “The idea of writing the great American novel keeps floating around my head,” he said with a smile and a shrug before changing the vinyl.
Sea Level Records is survived only by the memories of Echo Parksters who spent their starving-artist cash there. And of course, widower Sea Level Sylvia, manager, a.k.a. “head motherfucker in charge,” who I hear is looking for investors. Clifford is hoping to find a buyer to take the shop lock, stock and vinyl. The epitaph, according to Sea Level Todd: Without You We Were Nothing.Sea Level Records will be open until the end of June. 1716 W. Sunset Blvd., Echo Park, (213) 989-0146.