Best Of :: People & Places
Metal in 2014 has been hopelessly splintered into a million different subgenres. But we love Whittier quartet Exmortus because they play heavy metal — the pure, unadulterated kind. The group members are all in their mid 20s but planted their roots in the field plowed by such '80s thrash greats as Testament. Simultaneously, guitarist/frontman Jadran "Conan" Gonzalez layers in magnificent neoclassical solos that evoke memories of shred greats like Yngwie Malmsteen, while drummer Mario Moreno complements the sound with powerful riffs; he and Conan are cousins, and the familial bond is evident. The band's lyrics are quite metal as well — their latest album, Slave to the Sword, is full of fist-pumping odes to warriors engaged in battle. Meanwhile, onstage the quartet display an infectious energy that has countless jaded metalheads remembering why they fell in love with the genre in the first place. —Jason Roche
Last year local gloom rockers Jail Weddings released their second full-length, Meltdown — A Declaration of Unpopular Emotion, a perhaps too-optimistic assessment of the songs within. The eight-member collective journeyed to hell and back to make the work (in the process they lost members, went nuts, spent all their money, etc.) and you can hear it in the songs, which range from bleakly optimistic to bleakly bleak. But there's something true and earnest in frontman Gabriel Hart's vocals — and the molded, orchestral backing tracks. For this reason, the work is actually quite inspiring so long as you're in the right mood. In any case, on an indie landscape full of ugly snarkiness, it's downright refreshing to hear a group performing from the heart. Even if said heart happens to be broken. —Ben Westhoff
Charlie Cox has been busking at the La Brea Tar Pits park for so long that the city literally grew him a shade tree to stand under. The talented music man moved from North Florida to L.A. in 1975. "I had a job lined up, but it didn't work out," Cox explains. "Someone told me they had buskers over near the art museum, and I've been playing here ever since." Cox sings old folk songs, bluegrass and an occasional original, using a banjo, mandolin, guitar and pennywhistle. He doesn't take requests for contemporary hits (which he calls "mindless") but the museum still recognizes him as a valuable staple, even carrying his CD in the gift shop. "It's an all-around love fest over here," he says. You can find Cox busking under his tree from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., every day except Mondays and Wednesdays. For a special treat, ask him to play "The Original Tar Pit Waltz." —Isaac Simpson
5801 Wilshire Blvd., Miracle Mile, 90036.
It's a brilliant, rare thing in hip-hop (or any art form, for that matter) when an artist abandons pretense entirely and settles into himself. Such is the case on Dark Comedy, the latest album from Los Angeles rapper Open Mike Eagle. Though the Project Blowed veteran is still far from a household name, over the last year and a half his profile has jumped considerably; he appeared on Marc Maron's uber-popular podcast and made a hilarious song with comedic it-dude Hannibal Buress, and Dark Comedy is being called one of the year's best hip-hop albums. (Let's not even talk about the idiots at Harvard & Stone who wouldn't let Mike perform there.) It's not that he wasn't great before, but he now seems completely at ease with who he is — a struggling, conflicted artist and dad who somehow thrives in an industry that doesn't know quite what to make of him. You could call his songs indie, or emo, or artsy, but what they really are is mature. That, and joyful to hear. —Ben Westhoff
In an age of six-figure-a-night DJs who play the same 12 songs every time (usually their own), it can be hard to find art and finesse in contemporary electronic dance music. But sets by L.A. house king Marques Wyatt will bring you back to earth, with his nods to New York royalty such as Frankie Knuckles, David Morales and Masters at Work. But he doesn't neglect the West Coast: Wyatt proved that house still stirs the Angeleno soul when he hosted a summer Made in L.A. party at the Hammer Museum featuring fellow diehards Doc Martin and Raul Campos. The turnout was phenomenal. Give the man credit for bringing house to Santa Monica in the 1980s, hosting Knuckles at his legendary Does Your Mama Know weekly party in Hollywood in 1997, and continuing to prove that EDM can still have soul, via his contemporary parties known as Deep L.A. He told us this year that house pioneer Knuckles "allowed this music to be taken seriously," and the same goes for Wyatt, especially here in Southern California. —Dennis Romero
As surreal as a David Lynch film, 79-year-old Jimmy Angel says he was a former teen idol, a friend and high school classmate of Elvis Presley and the adopted son of infamous mob boss Joe Columbo. We don't know about all that, but with his coal-black pompadour and a voice that carries the smoothness of his Memphis upbringing, Angel performs rockabilly songs biweekly in a weird and wonderful lounge show at the midcentury SmokeHouse restaurant in Burbank. Backed by a tight trio, Angel's original songs and offbeat stage banter will leave you in awe. Catch his trippy act while you are knocking back a cocktail in the 1946-vintage Smoke House bar, and things will be even more intense. —Nikki Kreuzer
4420 Lakeside Drive, Burbank, 91505. (818) 845-3731, jimmyangel.net.