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Monday, February 10
Originally formed as a small orchestral ensemble, L.A.-based Kan Wakan morphed into a "modern pop" band, albeit a pop band with unusually ambitious dimensions. Led by Bulgarian-born composer/producer/multi-instrumentalist Gueorgui Linev, the group's widescreen, atmospheric-to-the-10th-power pop is given considerable soul-punch by vocalist Kristianne Bautista. Her sultry grit on last year's self-titled debut EP helped bridge the pop songcraft and orchestral splendor on tracks like "Midnight Moon," an extended suite of movements disguised as a mere little pop tune. Striking for the depth and scope of their lush arrangements and for the noirish mystery of the entire enterprise (the glorious, sweeping string clouds are redolent of the early-'70s Moody Blues), Kan Wakan is a mesmerizing act whose potential will be further revealed on a full-length called Moving On dropping in April. (Also at the Echo Feb. 17 and Feb. 24.) - John Payne
Tuesday, February 11
EL REY THEATRE
St. Lucia is the creation of South Africa's Jean-Philip Grobler, who takes the music of his youth very literally on his debut LP, When the Night. Embracing without apology the synthesizer-driven, light beat sounds of the '80s, Grobler calls on the most overt of pop tones from that era. The jangly Miami Sound Machine - esque "Elevate," the salutary Big Country soundscapes on "Closer Than This" and the cheery peals of "We Got It Wrong" all make it seem like Grobler and his co-vocalist (and wife), Patricia Beranek, are super happy about the revival. The crafted layers of melody on When the Night, however, stop it from becoming an entirely throwback retread. Instead, the nostalgia sounds like crisp, fresh and danceable ideas to the modern ear. Also on Wednesday, Feb. 12. - Lily Moayeri
Husky singer-guitarist Billy McCarthy brings a hard-won gravitas to his band Augustines, but then so does the rest of this Seattle-by-way-of - New York trio, which includes multi-instrumentalist Eric Sanderson and drummer Rob Allen. The band's self-titled new album is full of McCarthy's tales of reflection, regret and redemption, peppered with a few fist-pumping anthemic rockers. In sum, the LP evokes an enjoyably melancholy sense of time and place, which stands in stark contrast with Augustines' 2011 debut, Rise Ye Sunken Ships
, which dealt with topics including depression and suicide. In a way, this new album is nothing fancy, not really, but it has a supremely well-crafted grace, style and intelligence. And while it positions Augustines as a thoughtful and serious band, it proves them to be an open-minded one, too. - John Payne