Last week as we were sorting through our piles of CDs and accumulated MP3 files, we started to notice how big the stack of recent excellent LA music was. It became apparent that we're in the middle of a pretty great year for Los Angeles releases, and decided to give mid-year props to our faves. With the fall approaching, a whole new batch of notable LA sounds will arrive, so the good news is that our year-end list may look very different than this one.
Call it mumble disco. Nite Jewel's Ramona Gonzales is a detached presence, the kind that you want to dismiss because of her casual demeanor; if she doesn't seem to care about any of this, then why should we? Plus, she's pretty, and in her video for "Artificial Intelligence" she rides around in the back of a fancy limousine. She wears big round sunglasses, squirms and lounges and barely lip syncs to the camera. What's not to be annoyed by?
She eventually ends up at a photo shoot (of course). She and her two angel minions vogue for the camera. It all seems so ... silly, something you've seen 1000 times before. Behind her, the music offers synthetic hand claps hit on beats no. 2 and 4. A robo-bassline bumps along. Weird space sounds seep through here and there. She's no Billie Holiday. Not even a Donna Summer. Barely even a Paula Abdul.
Covering the deliberate beats, however, is a transformative layer of tape hiss, courtesy of the cheap analog recording technology that she records all of her music on. It's an interesting decision, doing this not the easy way (computer), but the deliberate way (analog building blocks, and weird rhythm guitars), and transforms the potential dumb cheese into something thick and rich: Is this a put-on? Is the fake disco, slow and syrupy, something she's making because she wants you to boogie, or because, well, it's so simple to do, and maybe she'll get famous or something. That hiss. Those robotics. Those bridges. What is she doing here? When, while mugging for the lens at a mansion, she starts puking up neon green goo and then rolls around in it, mussing her hair and clothes and face, the whole thing collapses. What?
Throughout Good Evening, released by the Human Ear collective, confusion reigns. There are beautiful songs on it that sound like Young Marble Giants tracks recorded on qualuudes in an echo chamber. There are noisy swaths of half-songs that illustrate some sort of search, a question asked. What is artificial? Can you build artifice piece by piece, like gluing reflective tiles onto a mirror ball? Is the end result fake because of your intent, or is real because of that same intent? Hard to tell. But it sure does groove, weirdly.
3. Tom Brosseau, Posthumous Success (Fat Cat)
It's a 40 minute rush-hour drive from West Coast Sound's Hollywood branch by the Hollywood Bowl to the Weekly's Culver City bunker, and one particularly scenic route is to take Sunset Boulevard all the way to Sepulveda, hang a louie and head south. Last month we listened to the entirety of Tom Brosseau's new album on that ride, and had a Dark Side of the Moon/Wizard of Oz moment. The first couplet is "It's hard for me to know where to begin/Everything is caving in," which arrives just as you pass Hollywood High. Head westward toward West Hollywood, and Brosseau's singing about his recurring dream of a chained up Dave Grohl drumming with Hole. Pass the Roxy, we're on "Big Time," in which the singer, whose soft, plaintive voice on the new album is backed by sturdy, wildly inventive rock and electronic flourishes (and mouth harp) courtesy of dueling producers Ethan Rose (Small Sails) and Adam Pierce (Mice Parade), is declaring, "I'm ready for the big time."
The thing is, he's right. Last year's Cavalier, also released on Fat Cat Records, was a gorgeous folky record that was smart, funny, honest, and mostly acoustic (and a little too sentimental at times). Posthumous Success is deeper, wittier and way more ambitious record. We've listened to it all day today, and can't wait to listen to when we jump into the car later tonight. It's very Californian: beautiful, melodic, with rich harmonies and a lot of electricity.
Oh, and "You Don't Know My Friends" is one of the best rock songs of the year, which begins with the sorrowful opening couplet, "Walking around with a hole in my heart/Thinking about how great thou art." The song moves around lyrically from there as thoughts rolling around in Brosseau's head pour out of his mouth and a chunka-chunka Ragged Glory-era Neil Young guitar guides it along as the singer tries another ploy in filling said hole with said Thou: "That sweater that you're wearing is starting to pill/I can scrape all off if you'd just sit still." On it goes, this beautiful album, through the pricey Beverly Hills as Brosseau moves into "Love to New Heights."
And so on until the end, and then it loops back again. It's a mystery why this record hasn't gotten more attention. It's going to be one of my stocking stuffers in a few months.
10. Audacity, Power Drowning (Burger Records)
9. Foreign Born, Person to Person (Secretly Canadian)
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8. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Up from Below (Fairfax/Community Recordings)
7. Frankel, Anonymity is the New Fame (Autumn Tone)
6. Mika Miko, We Be Xuxa (PPM)
5. The Long Lost, The Long Lost (Ninja Tune)