The new year couldn't come at a better time. Forget Superstorm Sandy, school shootings, Snooki's baby, Rihanna and Chris Brown's reconcilliations. Let's start fresh, and let's do it with some new music.
Here are eight fantastic local bands, all of whom are set to break big in 2013. The best part? You can catch most of them performing in town for less than the cost of a gourmet burrito.
Haim: As young girls, the long-haired sisters of Haim started playing together in a family band called Rockinhaim with their parents, performing oldies covers at local street fairs in the Valley. It's only been in the last couple of years that 25-year-old Este (bass), 23-year-old Danielle (lead guitar), and 21-year-old Alana Haim (rhythm guitar/keyboards) started writing songs of their own.
Now based in Venice, with the addition of Dash Hutton on the drums, this year they released their first EP, Forever, to critical acclaim and now a deal with Columbia Records. The sisters all share vocal duties, and they've found the right balance of sharp lyrics and joyful pop. On stage they don't shy away from embarrassing the hell out of each other with the sort of loving jabs that can only be thrown by blood relations.
Lord Huron: With a folk-rock sound heavily influenced by spaghetti Westerns, tropical locales and long-forgotten ghosts, Lord Huron is set to break out in 2013. Founder Ben Schneider named the group for the body of water in his native Michigan, brainstorming the project while working as an art teacher; it served to fill the musical void in the 29-year-old's heart, who missed playing in bands as he did in high school.
On a whim, he and his sister, Kiko (who later became their manager), handed out his self-recorded demos at the Woodsist Festival in Big Sur, leading to attention from local bloggers. After that warm reception, Schneider quickly put together a lineup of his childhood friends from Michigan and they signed last year to Iamsound records. Their stunning debut, Lonesome Dreams, is full of stories about immortality, relationships past and the brilliant sparks of a fledgling romance.
Rhye: Last year a mysterious band called Rhye appeared on the Internet without offering their backstory. The provocative video for their seductive first single, "Open," showed two lovers in bed constantly morphing into new people, like an R-rated version of Michael Jackson's "Black or White." Soft horns, snapping fingers, dramatic strings and a warm, velvety voice reminiscent of Sade created the feeling of doomed romance. Listeners were enthralled and everyone wanted to know: Who was the lady who sang so beautifully?
Turns out it's not a lady at all but the very high tenor of singer-producer Mike Milosh, who has recorded three solo albums as Milosh and, for Rhye, teamed up with Robin Hannibal of Quadron. Their debut release on Polydor-Innovative Leisure is due this spring. It will contain second single "The Fall," a heartbreakingly honest track about a crumbling relationship.
Cayucas: Cayucas' summery indie pop makes you feel like grabbing an umbrella drink, a bikini and a plot of beach. Formerly known as Oregon Bike Trails, Cayucas is the project of Santa Monica native Zach Yudin, who wrote the songs in his bedroom. His
latest recent 7-inch, "High School Lover," was put out by Father/Daughter Records, and caught the ears of label Secretly Canadian this year. His debut, Like Wildfire the new title in the works, is produced by Shins member Richard Swift and is due out in early 2013. Expect something that sounds not unlike an army of Paul Simons harmonizing while urging you to shake your ass.
Kan Wakan: Kan Wakan's single "Forever Found" was playing on KCRW before they even stepped on the El Rey stage in October for their first show. The track features a lush swath of strings, and vocalist Kristianne Bautista's low, soulful voice over the sexy bass line. Kan Wakan is the brainchild of composer Gueorgui Linev, who, after playing in bands around L.A. for many years, was looking for a classical, minimalist project. After gathering musicians from all over town, Linev finally put together his dream lineup, and Peter Potyondy, Bautista, Randy Wagner, Ian Anderson and Dannon Rampton began recording last July.
Originally known as Oren Lyons, the group was named for the Native American activist, but changed monikers when Mr. Lyons took exception. (Kan Wakan is Lakota for "sundance.") After only two shows and two small West Coast tours, the Silver Lake group has managed to stir up enough excitement to win management, a booking agent and a publishing deal. They're now working on their debut album, out in the spring, and have an Echo residency in February.
Pangea: There are so many young garage bands in Southern California, and most of them are not particularly good. But every now and then one stands out in the crowd of greasy haircuts and stained, vintage T-shirts. Enter Lincoln Heights-based Pangea, who have offered up cheeky garage rock on their latest EP, Killer Dreams. The work ranges from straight-up punk ("Plasma") to folk-tinged ("Love and Alcohol") to upbeat pop ("River") and, finally, the sludgy, grungy "Killer Dreams."
The group is the brainchild of William Keegan, 27, who began making music as a teenager on a four-track tape machine. In 2008 the band took shape and began playing house parties in the Santa Clarita Valley. The band has been showing up all over town since then, releasing Jelly Jam on Lost Tapes and Living Dummy on Burger Records. 2013 could be when things get really interesting for the band, however: After he caught their show in March, Ryan Adams signed on to produce their upcoming EP, Badillac. It will be released on his label, PAXAM, and it will be interesting to hear what the band sounds like with a little polish.
Jenny O.: Not to be confused with the turkey, Venice-based singer Jenny O. possesses a honeyed sweet voice, and is backed by a country-fried rock band who have a country twang but, strangely, no name. With her unguarded smile and tomboy appearance, Jenny O. is easy to like, but her songwriting contains a brutal honesty that will snap your head back. She confronts would-be elder suiters -- "Ooh sugar, I'm too young for you. ... I am a child. You have a child" -- and the theme of personal ambition being derailed by amor -- "I can't lose sight of what I'm here for to do, love." Jenny's debut album, Automechanic, will be out on Thirty Tigers in February.
Francisco the Man: Since forming in 2007, Silver Lake's Francisco the Man have put out one ambitious EP after another, each more expansive and interesting than the last. Named for the character in One Hundred Years of Solitude who wanders from town to town spreading the news through music, the group's three EPs serve this purpose as well.
Their latest and best 7-inch, "Broken Arrows," is a rampage of good-hearted rock, like you might hear on a teenage TV drama as the leads bond during a paintball fight. After putting on ferocious shows during their Satellite residency this year, Francisco the Man are back in the studio. Hopefully someone will pony up soon so they can complete their debut.