L.A. Music '06: Welcome to Indie Land

{mosimage}L.A.’s independent music scene is kinda like Disneyland, in a good way: It’s not a single scene, but a collection of vaguely overlapping, inherently interconnected worlds with their own attractions. The Magic Kingdom has Tomorrowland; we’ve got Spaceland. And so, in a highly unscientific, pretty tongue-in-cheek manner, we pay tribute this week to a couple of L.A.’s liveliest little worlds — the Eastside indie-rock scene and the Stones Throw Records family — as well as some of the artists just off Main Street who made news this year. We couldn’t fit everybody, but we’ll getcha soon enough. Meanwhile, keep digging your scene.

—Kate Sullivan

Honey Catacombs
Where you just might bump into Darker My Love, the Blood Arm, Gosling & Midnight Movies!

{mosimage}Midnight Movies. Even a quality product is subject to upgrades, and 2006 welcomed Midnight Movies, Version 2.0. Among its new features: Frontwoman Gena Olivier is now stationed at a keyboard instead of a drum kit, handing over the percussive torch to new member Sandra Vu (who occasionally ducks out from behind her drums to trill on a flute). Bassist Ryan Wood is also a fresh addition, and the foursome — rounded out by guitarist Larry Schemel — delivers a newly intensified, ever-intelligent brand of spacey psychedelic rock. Some things never change: This nocturnally romantic outfit will always be anchored by Olivier’s powerfully haunting vocals. Dec. 16 at the Troubadour, with the Silversun Pickups. (Alie Ward)

Darker My Love. After stewing in their juices for roughly seven years, psychedelic quartet Darker My Love emerged from the brine and into the light with a packed monthlong residency at Spaceland, a coveted opening slot for Wolfmother and a newly minted album. Their self-titled debut (Dangerbird) is a deliciously stoney blend of reverberating guitar, lazy vocals, and that blanket of distortion that’s become ubiquitous these days in Silver Lake/Echo Park. Live, the foursome is a sight to behold, with Tim Presley delivering some gnarly guitar solos and emitting ethereal vocals, while former Distillers drummer Andy Granelli pounds away with a mania that’s truly mesmerizing. (Alie Ward)

{mosimage}Gosling. There’s just something about a young man in a sports jacket screaming like an ape. Over thick retro guitar and piano, Gosling frontman Davey Ingersoll’s vocals range from low, hollow throwbacks of late-’60s pop to an enraged, throat-searing wail. The mix of control and manic abandon, coupled with genuinely hooky pop choruses, ensure that the foursome’s V2 release Here is... is worthy of compulsive listening. Live, Isaac Carpenter’s peppy drumming, Mark Watrous’ hopping between keys and guitar, and Shane Middleton’s stoic and insistent bass make for an act that’s deeper than just four lads with dapper haircuts. Which, yes, they are. (Alie Ward)

The Blood Arm.Yeah, Franz Ferdinand loves ’em. But why wouldn’t they? The Blood Arm’s no-frills-lotsa-thrills brand of catchy classic rawk shoots right between the eyes with sticky melodies and dramatic delivery. Live, they take audience participation to a whole other level, with singer Nathaniel Fregoso spending as much time climbing on the crowd’s heads as he does flinging himself spastically across the stage. Strokes comparisons are close but no cigar, evidenced by TBA’s recently released Lie Lover Lie (City Rockers), a grimy collection of inner-city blues that digs much deeper than that to reveal big, bleeding hearts that are pure Los Angeles. (Scott T. Sterling)

Great American Garageland
Where you’ll strut with Bloodcat Love, the Sharpease, the Ettes & the Holograms!

{mosimage}The Sharp Ease. Feted by freak-folk Arthur Magazine and fated for general overall success as punk wunderkinder, the Sharp Ease exit 2006 victoriously with their 180-gram virgin (!) vinyl (!) Remain Instant 12-inch EP/DVD (olFactory). Never mind that it took the Sharp Ease — diva Paloma Alexandra Parfrey, saxophonist Anika Stephen, bassist Dana Barenfeld, guitarist Aaron Friscia and drummer Christene Kings — more than four years to produce an album. Hey, Siouxsie and her Banshees took years to score a record deal too. You can almost palpably feel each of those 126,230,400 seconds radiating white heat from the pit of the groove itself. Jan. 16 at UCLA’s Bruin Plaza. (David Cotner)

The Ettes. With a name like the Ettes, you might expect a super-fluffy, cutesy band — and it’s true that Coco Hames has a sweetly melodic voice and a gift for exhilarating pop hooks. But guitarist Hames, bassist Jem Cohen and drummer Poni Silver amp up their tales of romantic desperation with a nonstop garage-rock frenzy on their debut CD, Shake the Dust (Sympathy for the Record Industry), produced by Liam Watson (White Stripes, the Kills). Let’s hope we don’t lose this ever-touring group to Detroit or Memphis — the Ettes fit in better with rootsy revisionists like the Detroit Cobras and the Oblivians than they do with most L.A. bands. (Falling James)

{mosimage}The Holograms. The perpetually carefree cheerleaders. The dye-drenched punkettes who do naughty things behind the bleachers. The good-grade-gettin’ girlie girls who somehow find the time to exchange countless Hello Kitty–imprinted notes... The Holograms are all of these. Though they sing about drunk dialing, scene whores and weekend benders, these bubbly nymphs never come off too tough or trashy; their sugar definitely trumps their spice. Their cartoonishly cute outfits, sassy stage banter and übercatchy, bubblegum-buoyant choruses (as heard on their Teenacide Records debut Night of 1000 Ex Boyfriends) helped the Holograms win our hearts this year... and that of Little Steven Van Zandt, with whom they’re in talks to collaborate. (Lina Lecaro)

Bloodcat Love. Renowned-about-town DJ and career scenester Myles Hendrik knows what gets booties on the dancefloor. The fashionable frontman for Bloodcat Love has isolated those very elements — catchy guitar lines, baritone pop vocals and adhesive retro-soaked melodies — and distilled them into tracks so danceable, they immediately feel like a guilty pleasure. The newly formed quartet has already toured with Australian buzz band Jet, and managed to upstage several local headliners in a recent string of L.A. appearances. Their debut album won’t be out until next year, but it’s highly likely to be a radio-ready release. Dec. 10 at Spaceland; every Wed. in Jan. at Club Moscow at Boardner’s. (Alie Ward)

Pleasant Princess Castle
Home to Lavender Diamond, The Bird and The Bee, Great Northern & the Watson Twins!

Lavender Diamond. Lavender Diamond began as a fictitious character in singer Becky Stark’s fertile mind. What’s developed around her sunny alter ego is a group of seasoned musicians who create a folky but sophisticated backdrop for Stark’s delicately gorgeous voice. Live, the angelically featured Stark takes the stage in frothy vintage evening gowns, flashing an otherworldly smile as she delivers vocals about peace, love, heaven and sorrow. With Steve Gregoropoulos manning piano, Jeff Rosenberg on guitar and drummer (and respected visual artist) Ron Rege Jr. pounding his modest kit with soft mallets, they compose a melange nearly too beautiful to bear. (Alie Ward)

{mosimage}The Watson Twins. The dulcet tones of two striking 6-foot twins twine ’round your ears, and you sort of levitate toward your nearest download source (or even record shop) for their EP called Southern Manners, an elegantly dark and exquisitely melodic set of neotrad country tunes the sisters Watson have issued via their site (www.thewatsontwins.com) and at their MySpace page. The critical acclaim for the EP has taken the Kentucky-born Chandra and Leigh by surprise; the ex-Slydell backup singers have been quite happy as support vocalists for ex–Rilo Kiley Jenny Lewis and others, but now they really ought to be preparing for the spotlight. (John Payne)

The Bird and The Bee. This duo — songbird Inara George and producer/instrumentalist Greg Kurstin — make delicious music. Greg (an ace session dude for Beck, Flaming Lips, Chili Peppers) lays down crisp, jazzy arrangements with the lilt of ’60s pop — think Bacharach and Beach Boys, warm brass and sleigh bells. Inara lends a teasingly poker-faced chirp to her skippin’ melodies and bittersweet lyrics (“Are you prepared for the atom bomb?/Are you prepared for my aching arms?/Are you prepared for serenity?/Are you prepared to disagree?/Are you prepared for me?”). Blue Note EP is out now; LP out next month. CD release party Jan. 23 at the Troubadour. (Greg Burk)

Great Northern. This young group of experienced hands (Rachel Stolte on vocals/keys, Ashley Dzerigian on bass, ex-Earlimart Solon Bixler on guitar/vocals/keys and Davey Latter of Stanford Prison Experiment on drums) come strolling out the gate equipped with extraordinarily mood-laden and memorable songs distinctively wrapped in a warm and fuzzy grandeur. In advance of their forthcoming gorgeous-power disc Trading Twilight for Daylight (Eenie Meenie), do yourself a favor and grok their MySpace page, where you can get a feel for their slow-burning allure. These are simple songs that pack a very direct emotional wallop, yet are fleshed out in superbly orchestrated electric and acoustic guitars, glorious vocal harmonies and dusky Mellotron-like keyboards. (John Payne)

Scruffy Boys' Treehouse
{mosimage} Pop songwriting seems so easy for Irving, Simon Dawes & Benji Hughes!

Irving. The mostly hi-NRG pop effluvia of Irving’s recent Death in the Garden (Eenie Meenie) is toe-tapping excitement only a total churl would curl a lip at. Their determinedly superficial party rave-ups about gurls, luv and more gurls seem designed to cast off significance in pursuit of their perfectly reasonable goal of being the world’s most happy-go-lucky bar band. Leaning on ’60s pop roots, with sunny harmonies and wiggy Farfisa organ, they hybridize a lot of Honeycombs/Swingin’ Blue Jeans melodies and harmonies, such groovy blasts of jangly, wiry riff and thumping 4/4 coming off all the richer for their exceedingly irrelevant synth fluff. (John Payne)

Simon Dawes. Simon Dawes is a band, and in fact said L.A. combo has a thumpingly good recent EP called What No One Hears on the Record Collection label, and a debut full-length, Carnivore, on the same fine label. It’s very Kinks, as you might say, with singer-guitarist Taylor Goldsmith’s Ray Davies–like lazy, snarly-sweet delivery in the forefront as his bandmates riff about sloppily — but very, very musically — with their mid-’60s/early-’70s electric and acoustic guitars (in a Mersey Beat mode, decidedly nonmetallic), shakers and tambourines shimmering away, the boys adding a nice harmony vocal when the mood hits. Very off-the-cuff-sounding stuff, yet boasting an almost majestic force and heft. Tues., Dec. 12, at the Roxy. (John Payne)

Benji Hughes. Singer-songwriter Benji Hughes looks like a roadie for Lynyrd Skynyrd, writes gorgeously pithy urban poetry, sings in a breathy baritone, and is calling his forthcoming New West debut A Love Extreme (a play on Coltrane’s A Love Supreme). No, this Charlotte native doesn’t play bebop, but his indie-pop is heartfelt, funny and irreverent. “Why Do These Parties Always End the Same Way?” sounds like early Beck poking fun at the house-party scene; “Waiting For an Invitation” is a country-tinged ode to missing one’s chance at love, at rockin’ stadiums (“Maybe you’ve been waitin’ too long/For somebody to throw your kinda party…”). Hopefully, Hughes’ chance at recognition is around the corner. (Kate Sullivan)

Retro-Futuristic Postmodern  House Party
In a spin with Ima Robot, the Gray Kid, Pigeon John & Busdriver!

The Gray Kid. Just what them cool kids have been waiting for: the hipster Justin Timberlake you don’t have to feel guilty for loving. Like a prettier Mickey Avalon run through Girl Talk’s posteverything sonic blender, he’s already paid homage to Timberlake with his heavily YouTubed parody “Paxilback,” but this ain’t just fun and games. Kid can get all earnest with that falsetto, as evidenced on the Interpol-gone-pop strum of “Lonely Love,” found on his surprisingly solid debut 5, 6, 7, 8. Check his hip-hop heart on the free mixtape The Pilgrimage, which finds him graying up the Clipse and Jay-Z. Stardom’s inevitable. Jan. 13 at the Echo, with Girl Talk. (Scott T. Sterling)

{mosimage} Busdriver. Hip-hop doesn’t get much more indie than this. Project Blowed alum Busdriver is as likely to kick it with Pitchfork-approved acts like Islands and Coco Rosie as he is alongside fellow nonfigurative word manipulators such as Subtitle and Abstract Rude. But really it’s a jazz thing, as Busdriver jump-cuts across genres (and thesauri) with a quickness, making sure that even the kids way in the back understand that this is not your daddy’s boom-bap (in case the inside-out productions from folks like Thavius Beck and Daedelus didn’t make it clear enough). Oh, and naming his new album Roadkillovercoat. Party time! (Scott T. Sterling)

Pigeon John. Does anybody remember laughter? Exhibit A: Pigeon John. He makes hip-hop that’s fun (and funny) but full of substance, a gentle juxtaposition of tragedy and comedy that would make Wes Anderson proud. His 2006 album Pigeon John and the Summertime Pool Party was just that, a sunny amalgam of easy beats and everyman witticisms that cross-pollinated the Pixies with thoughtful raps without missing a step. He beat Jay-Z to the hip-hop–for-adults punch (“Growin’ Old”), proving that rocking the mike can be grown folks’ business too. More Beck than Lloyd Banks, Pigeon John is the Fresh Prince of L.A. Dec. 29 at the El Rey, with Blackalicious, Tre and Phatlip. (Scott T. Sterling)

Ima Robot. After years of madly pogo-partying all over the local circuit, L.A. hipster faves Ima Robot have connected with the rest of the world big time on their second L.P. (and first for Virgin Records), the archly titled Monument to the Masses. Led by the anthemic Devo-goes-emo thrash of single “Creeps Me Out,” the band’s Technicolor splatter of skittish synths and Casio box-beats has even landed them an opening slot for by-the-numbers “modern” rockers All-American Rejects. All the easier for them to poach a new legion of slavishly devoted fans, I suppose. MTV and your kid sister’s bedroom wall can’t be far behind. (Scott T. Sterling)


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