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Sunset Salutation

Ask a dozen music fans about the Sunset Junction festival and you’ll get some polarizing responses. Some will say it used to be better. Others will say last year was a blast. No, it’s a clusterfuck. No, the cluster breeds house parties that sprout throughout Silver Lake and are as grand as the fest. The food could be better. No, the vittles feed the hunger that demands the drink that fuels the dancing. Regardless, the music’s the draw, and some fantastic sounds will be bouncing off Sunset this weekend. So many that Falling James recommends a few of the bigger Junction acts a few pages ahead in the Music Picks section. But I’d like to augment his fine list with a couple don’t-miss L.A. bands.

A great rock & roll song hits like a water balloon: an initial jolt of shock and confusion, followed by a feeling of drenched relief and maybe a little bit of anger that you didn’t think of lobbing it yourself. The Airborne Toxic Event’s Mikel Jollett has so many balloons at his disposal he’s like a clown. Or, at least for now, three fat wet ones that comprise their buzz-heavy first single called “Does This Mean You’re Moving On.” Jollett, a former music scribe, has the voice of a less droll Stephin Merritt, the bourbon-on-his-breath tone of the National’s Matt Berninger and the sophisticated, insistent Britpop sound of the Wedding Present. The single, an urgent, bitter love song that’s earned spins on L.A. radio, was released in the U.K. by Square Records, a label founded by Franz Ferdinand manager Cerne Canning. Jollett claims to have dozens more songs ready to go.

Proud, sturdy and excited, the Airborne seem perfect for an outdoor festival. Their songs demand your attention and won’t get lost in the open air.

Sea Wolf’s songs are much more delicate, if no less compelling. Where Airborne pours slabs of concrete, Sea Wolf singer-songwriter Alex Brown Church, who is Sea Wolf (and formerly played bass in Irving), weaves songs from soft fabric. The band released their debut EP, Get to the River Before It Runs Too Low, in May, and then hit the road with labelmates and friends the Silversun Pickups.

Sea Wolf’s forthcoming CD, Leaves in the River, arrives September 25, and is aptly named. Church has a knack for conjuring pastoral melodies that wander to strange and unforeseen places. He has a Stephen Malkmus quiver in his voice, and delivers perfectly cinematic opening lines that recall the Kinks’ more mysterious moments: “I met a girl on Halloween when she was lost and I was drunk and it was dark and cold out and we left.” (Hopefully, for Church’s sake, the girl’s name wasn’t Lola.)

Admittedly, this is a mere two tips from a menu with dozens of choice entrées. But the glory of Sunset Junction is its generosity.

Sea Wolf play the Bates Stage (4200 Sunset Blvd.) on Sat., Aug. 18, at 5:05 p.m.

The Airborne Toxic Event play the Bates Stage on Sun., Aug. 19, at 2:20 p.m.

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