Music Picks: Smokeout Festival, Mike Miller Group, Zola Jesus, Saul Williams
Cloud Nothings, Mr. Dream
When Dylan Baldi got his start in a Cleveland basement three years ago, Cloud Nothings was just one man's experiment in sunshine-y garage rock. He wowed listeners with a pop sensibility and ear for hooks that lurked just beneath the surface of so much lo-fi fuzz. And when all eyes were trained on his third album, expecting him to deliver his most spit-shined, studio-polished, full-band set of sugar-spackled nuggets to date, Baldi blew minds by dropping January's Attack on Memory. The Steve Albini–produced LP is a vicious piece of work combining the hopeless black of Nirvana's In Utero with the unrequited yearning of the Get Up Kids' Something to Write Home About. Hooks are few and far between, but Cloud Nothings' complete 180 is the most satisfying thing to happen to rock & roll this decade. Expect to be crushed, thoroughly. —Chris Martins
Zola Jesus, EMA
NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
The Natural History Museum's First Fridays series places artists in such an appealing setting — which is to say, amid the lifelike dioramas of the North American Mammal Hall — that even the most genteel guitar-strummer can take on something of an untamed quality. So you can imagine how invigorated these two ladies should appear tonight, each playing tunes from celebrated 2011 albums at least in part about the porous border between instinct and civilization. (Too bad the museum folks couldn't snag PJ Harvey, whose Let England Shake explores similar ground.) L.A.-based Zola Jesus headlines, nearing the end of a U.S. tour in support of Conatus; EMA's up first with the smeared psych-blues that led Spin to name Past Life Martyred Saints last year's third-best record. —Mikael Wood
PEPPERDINE CENTER FOR THE ARTS
When your debut goes multiplatinum, the question becomes: What to do with the rest of your life? The Way It Is garnered Bruce Hornsby the Best New Artist Grammy in 1987, and since then he has enjoyed creative endeavors ranging from playing with the Grateful Dead to recording bluegrass with Ricky Skaggs and jazz with legends like Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette. His songwriting now has depth to match his irony, something like a wilder Randy Newman. Still, it's about the piano, and Hornsby has even gotten better at that, inflecting his signature Americana style with Ives, Schoenberg and plenty of Keith Jarrett–inspired, two-handed independence, all on display for this solo concert. Fame and fortune couldn't prevent this artist from doing what he's always wanted to do in his career. —Gary Fukushima
Mike Miller Group
Guitarist Mike Miller is one of L.A.'s under-the-radar gems — a player with great taste and ability widely acknowledged by other guitarists yet not as well known to the public at large. A stint in the '90s with the second edition of Chick Corea's Elektric Band is likely Miller's most notable gig, along with the superb, Frank Zappa–related Band From Utopia. Tonight Miller brings together three of Zappa's former bandmates in Walt Fowler (trumpet, flugelhorn), Albert Wing (sax) and Chad Wackerman (drums) with bassist Jerry Watts to explore new compositions, along with a few cherries from Miller's solo albums from the last 15 years. The combination is almost certain to produce some of the most interesting live music in L.A. this year. —Tom Meek
JOSH NELSON TRIO at Joe's Restaurant.
NOS EVENTS CENTER (San Bernardino)
OG ganja-toking rappers Cypress Hill return to host their annual celebration of all things music and Mary Jane. And per usual, they've brought along a blazer-friendly bill. As it should be, the hip-hop world is well represented: Proud stoner pals Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y are set to perform, as are breakout blunt-rolling badasses Danny Brown, Schoolboy Q and local spitter Nipsey Hussle. That's not to say many a joint won't be rolled to riotous riffs — Korn and Sublime With Rome are also in the house. And in 2012, what would a festival be without a bevy of acts providing scuzzed-out electro mayhem? As such, EDM favorites the likes of Wolfgang Gartner, Rusko, MSTRKRFT and others will chop records amidst the sure-to-be-billowing towers of smoke. —Dan Hyman
In theory, White Fence are simple: Make killer song, record killer album(s), obtain killer musicians to supercharge already killer songs with unprecedented levels of concentrated killerosity, then repeat through increasingly refined iterations until such an ultimate level of mind-bursting creative expression is attained that every guitar on planet Earth joins together in one spontaneous, triumphant open chord and propels humanity into an age of harmony and enlightenment. So far, White Fence are just past step three. Live, bandleader Tim Presley (formerly of Darker My Love) transforms home-taped bedroom songs into ferocious and fascinating punk-y/art-y rock like the Adverts, the Homosexuals and the Voidoids — bands that burned holes through the back wall of the bar without even opening their eyes all the way. If it doesn't change your life, it'll definitely change the fuck out of your Saturday night. —Chris Ziegler
Mari Iijima coos the sugariest songs imaginable, but she's more than just a fluffy pop singer. She came to widespread attention in her native Japan in the early '80s after voicing anime character Lynn Minmay in the popular television series The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, but she gained more critical respect in her solo pop career when she collaborated with the estimable pop wizard Van Dyke Parks and worked with Yellow Magic Orchestra mastermind Ryuichi Sakamoto. Iijima has been living in Los Angeles for the past 20 years, and her most recent album, Echo, is an often-affecting update of Ovid's tragically romantic tale of Echo and Narcissus. The title track is especially moving, as Iijima's airy, lost-little-girl voice wends its way yearningly through a thicket of somber violins and cellos. —Falling James
TRIO MEDIAEVAL at Bradbury Building; FREE MORAL AGENTS at Origami Vinyl; DIEGO GARCIA at McCabe's.
With song titles like "Wake Skate Bake" and "Stoked and Broke," it's pretty clear what Fidlar are all about. But in case the L.A. scuzz-punks' M.O. is still vague, singer Zac Carper spells it out in "Max Can't Surf" when he growls, "Eating Del Taco and sleeping in, playing video games." The quartet's name is an acronym for "Fuck It Dog, Life's a Risk," and they fit in with new-school noisemakers like Ty Segall and Black Lips just as easily as they could open for a resurrected Black Flag. Of course, their lifestyle is distinctly informed by this city's historical relationship with slackerdom under the sun, so don't expect political screeds or art-school ideologies. Instead, any who attend this gig are liable to wind up drenched in sweat, booze and, with any luck, a little blood. [See Music feature.] —Chris Martins
Open Gate 15th Anniversary With Alex Cline, Will Salmon, Vinny Golia, Brad Dutz, Kaoru, G.E. Stinson, Steuart Liebig
CENTER FOR THE ARTS, EAGLE ROCK
We need to thank our lucky stars we've got this valuable source of relevant new sounds right here in Los Angeles, a city that sometimes is referred to as the center of the "music industry." One of our last strongholds of advance-guard contemporary music, the venerable Open Gate presents artists who tread that gratifyingly uneasy line between jazz, avant-rock, improvisational, new-world and contemporary classical. Tonight's big bash features sets by founder Will Salmon and his co-curator, drum visionary Alex Cline, in combined spontaneous excursions with a heavyweight gang of new-thing vets, including sax/flute ace Vinny Golia, tuba king William Roper, percussion/drums innovators Brad Dutz and Joe Berardi, guitarists Steuart Liebig and G.E. Stinson, pipa piper Jie Ma, vocalist Kaoru and pianist Wayne Peet. Free food and beverages promised, so what have you got to lose? Nothing! —John Payne
Jolie Holland, Emily Jane White
"I've got three cities stuck in my heart / And a broken arrow shows me the way to go," Jolie Holland declares on her most recent album, Pint of Blood. The pop-folk record reads like a stash of confessional love letters, moving from dazed confusion ("I can't believe you're treating me like all those girls") and sadness ("If disappointment was like a drug / I overdosed again") to a kind of redemptive nostalgia ("I got drunk on an old photograph of you"). The Texas native, who counts Tom Waits among her earliest supporters, should give these lovely love songs an especially intimate feel tonight with backing by a stripped-down trio. The mysterious Fort Bragg singer Emily Jane White conjures delicately shimmering pop soundscapes like "Black Silk," a haunting series of sighs that's tinged with melancholy and anointed with ethereal vocals. Look for her poetically titled new album, Ode to Sentience, in May. —Falling James
Drake, A$AP Rocky, Kendrick Lamar
Galen Center, USC
Expect USC's student body to be on the verge of sheer mayhem when Drake, A$AP Rocky and Kendrick Lamar, three of the hottest young voices in hip-hop, tear down the Galen Center. However, in an age where a diploma guarantees nothing but mountains of debt, excuse the performers if they can't relate to this audience: The first two dudes were signed to seven-digit record deals before ever dropping an official release. Nonetheless, this is undoubtedly a can't-miss megarap spectacle. The Weekly crowned king Lamar's Section.80 the best L.A. album of 2011; Drake's Take Care, one of the finest hip-hop offerings of 2011, should be fully developed in the live setting by showtime; and Rocky, fresh off the release of last fall's mind-melting mixtape LIVELOVEA$AP — not to mention a $3 million deal for him and his "A$AP" cronies — is only at the start of something truly special. —Dan Hyman
RACHAEL YAMAGATA, DAN WILSON at Hotel Café; BEN GOLDBERG ENSEMBLE at Blue Whale; NO at the Echo.
The Twilight Sad
It would be cranky to dismiss the Twilight Sad as merely a shinier, slicker Joy Division rip-off. The Scottish ex-shoegazers now plumb the industrial depths on their just-out No One Can Ever Know, an invigoratingly gloomy little affair whose broody muse departs from the band's previous My Bloody Valentine fixation to a much harsher, grimier Manchester milieu. Sparse and exceedingly hooky, the songs boast a grubby, rather ill-tempered air whose shreds of distorted guitar shrieks, coiling vintage analog synths and drum machines worm around lead singer/doomsayer James Graham, who intones with such forlorn foreboding that you'll find yourself quiverin' in your boots — even if ye canae oonerstan wa wee laddie's sayin'. So, yes, it's bleak, depressing stuff, and the question is, why does it make us happy? —John Payne
Like a next-gen follow-up to Wilco and Billy Bragg's Mermaid Avenue collections, the just-released album New Multitudes finds four monsters of folk setting a clutch of previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie lyrics to fresh music. Those monsters, in descending order of interest to people who don't own either Mermaid Avenue: Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket, Jay Farrar of Son Volt, Will Johnson of Centro-matic and Anders Parker of Varnaline. (Sorry, bro.) FYI, the record's pretty dull, with little of the crispness Bragg and Wilco brought to their thing. But between them these dudes have written plenty of great tunes, including Yames' "Dear God," which even the Roots had to sample, so with any luck they'll veer off-message tonight. With Texas-based singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe. —Mikael Wood
Alpha & Omega
When Alpha & Omega vocalist Luis Hernandez greeted the crowd at last summer's Sound and Fury fest with "I have nothing fucking positive to say today. I don't give a fuck!" he neatly encapsulated his band's attitude to date. These Angelenos apparently don't give a fuck if anyone cares about their metal-edged, mid-'90s East Coast–y hardcore; don't give a fuck if they draw constant comparisons to Cro-Mags (whose third album was titled Alpha Omega); and don't give a fuck if people (including themselves) get hurt in the flailing pits provoked by their spiteful sets. But bored, disillusioned kids will always gravitate to aggressive, negative music, so Alpha & Omega's belligerence serves them well in a genre where the music may have become harder, but the core message has grown increasingly demure. —Paul Rogers
KRISTIN KORB TRIO at Vitello's.
EL REY THEATRE
"The truth is changing lanes as I'm crossing the street," Saul Williams announces on "Explain My Heart," from his 2011 album, Volcanic Sunlight. The poet-actor-singer has always divined the truth and explained his heart with a series of provocative slogans, raps and truly free verse. Whether he's taking on the gods of war in "Not in My Name" and the minions of injustice in "List of Demands (Reparations)" or examining this nation's history of oppression through Bowie-tinted glasses on the 2007 opus The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust!, Williams casts his words out like a caustic laser. But on his new album, the Paris-based performer expands his focus and lets in a little light (literally, on "Look to the Sun") while he examines the puzzling laws of attraction (via the funky electronic jam "Girls on Saturn"). —Falling James
Local band Cool Moms are fronted by Allison Wolfe, who formerly starred in the Olympia, Wash., riot-grrl iconoclasts Bratmobile. If anything, her new songs with Cool Moms are even brattier, as she rants and chants crude garage-punk bursts like "Fuck You, Dude" and the sarcastic "You're So Pretty." Guitarist Grace Hall's and bassist Mary Jane's spidery riffs crawl atop the wreckage of drummer Shelina Louise's beats with a primitive lo-fi charm. Even better, their songs are so short, they rarely exceed a minute and a half in length. Nonetheless, the charismatic Wolfe is able to cram plenty of sassy and arty attitude into these curt blasts. —Falling James
Crystal Antlers, Feeding People
Crystal Antlers are less a band than a geological process. Bassist and bandleader Jonny Bell's disciplined crew of hard-charging psychonauts can take any old thing you might spot on the wall at the record store — Hawkwind, Beefheart, Les Rallizes Denudes, Funkadelic, the Mothers of Invention, Roky Erickson — and crush it into a chunk of rock so dense it'll grow its own gravitational field. Starting with a 7-inch financed by a bank robber, this Long Beach band has DIY-ed its way into last year's full-length–plus-bonus–10-inch Two Way Mirror, the most focused and powerful expression yet of a sound demanding complete commitment to both the joys of noise and the art of melody. With Feeding People, an equally potent psych band that would have fit nicely between Blue Cheer and Fifty Foot Hose. —Chris Ziegler
MOBB DEEP at Key Club; MAMAK KHADEM at the Skirball; HENRY WOLFE, RACHEL GOODRICH, HAROULA ROSE at Bootleg Bar; CEREMONY at Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock; ANDREW W.K. at Avalon; JORDAN KNIGHT at House of Blues; KORALLREVEN at the Echoplex; HOWLIN RAIN at Fingerprints; LA SERA and COLD SHOWERS at the Satellite.
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