I originally came to LA looking for beautiful doom metal and noodly math-rock, which is in abundance, but I also found freaky garage experiments, sun-stained psych-rock, and costumed glam. The local labels form real communities around their artists - if you love Burger Records, you're a part of the Burger Records Family, and you'll find that family at Burger Boogaloo or events where Sean and Lee are DJing. When I interned at Hydra Head in 2012 I felt a part of an entire world separate from the rest of LA, but inclusive of the appropriate pillars like The Echo/Echoplex, Vacation Vinyl, and Power of the Riff. I returned in 2017 looking for that feeling, and to acquaint myself with the new vehicles for bands like The Growlers or Ty Segall in the form of Desert Daze and Beach Goth.
I first saw Ty with The Muggers, an era during which he was performing in a giant nightmare-inspiring baby head while King Tuff dressed like an inmate (or what my friend dubbed the "hot racist mechanic" look). It was downright freaky and I loved it (Stephen Colbert's audience didn't). He's an ever-changing chameleon constantly reinventing himself - apart from the Muggers there's also the Ty Segall Band, The Freedom Band, GØGGS, Fuzz - I can't keep up, but it's not necessary to. Whether he's going acoustic(ish), electric, adult human, or alien baby, it's all unmistakably Ty Segall and it's all worth our time. Just put that shit on shuffle and go along for a ride.
Thee Oh Sees
I pity my young self for the years I slept on this band. What a dick move. They're perfect: enthusiastic, schizophrenic, a little dangerous, and a little confusing. They'll go from asking "Ah pardon me, do you have a cigarette?" in what I imagine to be a sweat- and tar-soaked back alley (maybe with the "night flakes, speed freaks" from "Nite Expo") to spinning some kind of Lord of the Rings/wizard/ogre tale, like "'Open up the monster', crowd demands, and from the belly, steaming, came a hand"; "Floating in the vile moat, yeah, crack their skulls upon the cobbles". That duality is mirrored in the musicianship, equally effective in moments of skilled, wild shreddage as in droney interludes, propulsive chugging, or melodic threadwork. They can sound grimy and reverb-drenched while clear as a bell in the exact same moment (and that moment is somehow...relaxing).There is a lot of yelping, a lot of adrenaline, but never any anger, and despite the cracked skulls you know everybody is having a great time.
Note: "Peel back your face and make haste for the underground crawl spaccccccce". Why do I love that?
Note: John Dwyer is a wild animal of a frontman but also a stalwart of the California music scene.
Brooks Nielsen has an indescribable voice. It's gravely, and he always sounds unphased, relaxed, a bit subdued. Too cool for school, maybe. Juxtaposed over dance-ready jigs or sunny road trip songs, his lounge-singer demeanor always brings you back to earth. We're having fun, but our responsibilities keep forcing their way back into our minds. Bouncy songs with a bit of realism. Perhaps why they coined the term (and festival) Beach Goth. That doesn't mean they don't reach great heights. This band knows how to write a melody that'll take you wherever they want you to go. Sometimes that's a party, and other times I'm crying in my car alone even though my parents aren't even divorced.
A supergroup of sorts - Will Ivy (Dream Boys, The Fresh & Onlys, Hunx and his Punx), Tim Hellman (Thee Oh Sees, Sic Alps) and Justin Sullivan (Kevin Morby, The Babies) blew me so far away at Non Plus Ultra that I braved a crowded primetime Zebulon for their next show. I bought the CD (s/t, on John Dwyer's Castle Face). This is a snapshot of modern-day punk, an edict chanted bold and direct. I got a brand new pearl, indeed.
At first glance they're quintessential Southern California bohemians: breezy, nostalgic, casting off the daily grind in favor of the surf. But there's a hint of something more worldly and spiritual through their use of exotic tones and their stories of leaving and arriving, being isolated and reuniting. If you can't put your finger on it, take a dive into their curated playlists on Reverberation Radio and imagine yourself in India, Mexico, or France.
My introduction was the acoustic album, Unknown Rooms. In fact I think it was this video in particular, shot in the Glassroom at the old Sargent House. God, that song is beautiful. Her voice is moving (as always), and coupled with the delicate string work this whole album has brought me to tears on multiple occasions. I worked back to Apokalypsis, which gave me a fuller understanding of who she is - metal as hell. She'd later try a more electronic approach on Pain is Beauty and then get extra heavy on Abyss (about sleep paralysis), before releasing her latest haunt Hiss Spun. What's consistent throughout all her experiments is the prehistoric eeriness, conjuring images of rolling hills, overcast skies/overhanging mist, sharp branches, cliff faces, remnants of past life, forgotten rituals. Trendy festivals can get down with CW and her song was used in Game of Thrones teasers, but metal dudes also welcome her with open arms.
No band sounds more unimpressed with your shit than Slothrust. No band sounds more sick their own shit than Slothrust. But if you think she doesn't care, you've got her wrong. Besides being a renowned shredder, Leah sings in a listless monotone that somehow portrays more than any run-of-the-mill belter. You'd also be mistaken to lump them in with any other garage band from band-riddled Brooklyn (their most recent base before LA, though they're originally from Massachusetts); they explore more genres and spit them back out with a harder edge than their peers. There's some jazziness in there, there's some metal - it's no surprise they covered Black Sabbath. They can be tender, they can be funny ("I like cats, do you like cats? Of course you do you sassy motherfucker"), but sometimes they get scary. Through it all and despite the warnings to keep your distance, they sound like they're reaching out a hand, and I feel a kinship.
Cherry Glazerr gets me. My room does smell like an ashtray. I also can't hold on to ten dollars. There's honesty here, but it doesn't feel "vulnerable", particularly; this is just who they are. These are factual statements, not admissions, describing an identity and a world view, sometimes describing failures and regrets, but never dwelling. This music is upfront, uncorrupted, and just a good hang. It's what kicking it with your friends feels like (omitting the more raucous songs, unless your friends like to bash your teeth in).
I discovered the Ruminaters in the most lame way possible, which is that I was trying to discover some new bands on purpose. Particularly bands from Australia, since so much good emerges from there consistently. It must have been some "Bands You Need to Know" list. I loved them immediately. Funnily enough, the stars aligned and maybe five months later, they announced they were moving to Los Angeles! We are a lucky town. "Boys Off Work" is about their decision to quit their jobs and make the move, and damn if it isn't a satisfying celebration. I look forward to delving into this new album; it seems like they've honed in on the psychedelic aspects of their sound, which were already present on tracks like the carnivalesque "Song For A Dandelion". But their range prevents them from being pegged simply as psych-rock, with straight romps like "I Wanna Fight", introspective ballads like "Bad Bad Things", and the feel-good vibes of "Mr. Bubbles". Please take America by storm.
Something about this band makes me want to be at a roller derby. Or like, at a dance party on the beach in the 50s. But it felt just as appropriate when I saw them from the pit at Non Plus Ultra. It turns out they're all in other bands too; if those are equally melodic, lo-fi, and lighthearted, I've got a lot of catching up to do. PS the drummer is a beast and I want to be her.
All my life I've been waiting for a frontwoman like Arrow to come along. There are countless incredible women throughout the music community who have a reckless and volatile performance style, but I've never been able to pinpoint one who commits to being psychotic quite as much as her. My favorite performers are unpredictable, the ones who get an insane look in their eye and you have no idea what they'll do next. They stalk the stage, have odd body language, confront the crowd with either aggression, neuroticism, or otherwise suggest a sense of wrongness via their palpable unbalanced energy. I like 'em deranged. The examples I would give of this have always been male (or the movie Bronson in general), until now. Oddly the music sounds nothing at all like the presentation, so don't judge a book by it's blood-soaked corset.
Listening to HEALTH takes you to another dimension; I completely understand why they’ve been doing all that gaming and soundtrack work recently. One time I listened to “Death+” high and I had visions of ascending and descending hills/structures made out of digital blocks, each one would build and then be destroyed, over and over. I thought it mirrored how societies rise and fall. Like the Animatrix. It was the stupidest day ever. That aside, it’s still a trippy listen. This is electronic math rock with tribal drums and ghostly vocals. Get Color was my starting point and I still put "Die Slow" on every playlist, but last year I was blown away by "HARD TO BE A GOD". Musically it reminds me of the JK Flesh/Prurient split Worship is the Cleansing of the Imagination, and the lyrical content is a thinker. I hope I'll see them play it, because I know they deliver live too. So much hair being swung around windmill-style.