Best Of :: People & Places
Metal in 2014 has been hopelessly splintered into a million different subgenres. But we love Whittier quartet Exmortus because they play heavy metal — the pure, unadulterated kind. The group members are all in their mid 20s but planted their roots in the field plowed by such '80s thrash greats as Testament. Simultaneously, guitarist/frontman Jadran "Conan" Gonzalez layers in magnificent neoclassical solos that evoke memories of shred greats like Yngwie Malmsteen, while drummer Mario Moreno complements the sound with powerful riffs; he and Conan are cousins, and the familial bond is evident. The band's lyrics are quite metal as well — their latest album, Slave to the Sword, is full of fist-pumping odes to warriors engaged in battle. Meanwhile, onstage the quartet display an infectious energy that has countless jaded metalheads remembering why they fell in love with the genre in the first place. —Jason Roche
Last year local gloom rockers Jail Weddings released their second full-length, Meltdown — A Declaration of Unpopular Emotion, a perhaps too-optimistic assessment of the songs within. The eight-member collective journeyed to hell and back to make the work (in the process they lost members, went nuts, spent all their money, etc.) and you can hear it in the songs, which range from bleakly optimistic to bleakly bleak. But there's something true and earnest in frontman Gabriel Hart's vocals — and the molded, orchestral backing tracks. For this reason, the work is actually quite inspiring so long as you're in the right mood. In any case, on an indie landscape full of ugly snarkiness, it's downright refreshing to hear a group performing from the heart. Even if said heart happens to be broken. —Ben Westhoff
Charlie Cox has been busking at the La Brea Tar Pits park for so long that the city literally grew him a shade tree to stand under. The talented music man moved from North Florida to L.A. in 1975. "I had a job lined up, but it didn't work out," Cox explains. "Someone told me they had buskers over near the art museum, and I've been playing here ever since." Cox sings old folk songs, bluegrass and an occasional original, using a banjo, mandolin, guitar and pennywhistle. He doesn't take requests for contemporary hits (which he calls "mindless") but the museum still recognizes him as a valuable staple, even carrying his CD in the gift shop. "It's an all-around love fest over here," he says. You can find Cox busking under his tree from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., every day except Mondays and Wednesdays. For a special treat, ask him to play "The Original Tar Pit Waltz." —Isaac Simpson
5801 Wilshire Blvd., Miracle Mile, 90036.
It's a brilliant, rare thing in hip-hop (or any art form, for that matter) when an artist abandons pretense entirely and settles into himself. Such is the case on Dark Comedy, the latest album from Los Angeles rapper Open Mike Eagle. Though the Project Blowed veteran is still far from a household name, over the last year and a half his profile has jumped considerably; he appeared on Marc Maron's uber-popular podcast and made a hilarious song with comedic it-dude Hannibal Buress, and Dark Comedy is being called one of the year's best hip-hop albums. (Let's not even talk about the idiots at Harvard & Stone who wouldn't let Mike perform there.) It's not that he wasn't great before, but he now seems completely at ease with who he is — a struggling, conflicted artist and dad who somehow thrives in an industry that doesn't know quite what to make of him. You could call his songs indie, or emo, or artsy, but what they really are is mature. That, and joyful to hear. —Ben Westhoff
In an age of six-figure-a-night DJs who play the same 12 songs every time (usually their own), it can be hard to find art and finesse in contemporary electronic dance music. But sets by L.A. house king Marques Wyatt will bring you back to earth, with his nods to New York royalty such as Frankie Knuckles, David Morales and Masters at Work. But he doesn't neglect the West Coast: Wyatt proved that house still stirs the Angeleno soul when he hosted a summer Made in L.A. party at the Hammer Museum featuring fellow diehards Doc Martin and Raul Campos. The turnout was phenomenal. Give the man credit for bringing house to Santa Monica in the 1980s, hosting Knuckles at his legendary Does Your Mama Know weekly party in Hollywood in 1997, and continuing to prove that EDM can still have soul, via his contemporary parties known as Deep L.A. He told us this year that house pioneer Knuckles "allowed this music to be taken seriously," and the same goes for Wyatt, especially here in Southern California. —Dennis Romero
As surreal as a David Lynch film, 79-year-old Jimmy Angel says he was a former teen idol, a friend and high school classmate of Elvis Presley and the adopted son of infamous mob boss Joe Columbo. We don't know about all that, but with his coal-black pompadour and a voice that carries the smoothness of his Memphis upbringing, Angel performs rockabilly songs biweekly in a weird and wonderful lounge show at the midcentury SmokeHouse restaurant in Burbank. Backed by a tight trio, Angel's original songs and offbeat stage banter will leave you in awe. Catch his trippy act while you are knocking back a cocktail in the 1946-vintage Smoke House bar, and things will be even more intense. —Nikki Kreuzer
4420 Lakeside Drive, Burbank, 91505. (818) 845-3731, jimmyangel.net.
The unanimous winners of L.A. Weekly's best live band contest, Mars and the Massacre throw everything but the kitchen sink into their live performances (and we're not discounting the possibility of a kitchen sink at a future show). They play psychedelic garage rock, but if you can't picture that, just know that they really shred. That is, when they're not drifting off into another stratosphere entirely. Still, their shows feature neither masturbatory noodling nor overblown theatrics; all three members play multiple instruments and they all know what they're doing, even throwing looping machines and other technical equipment into the mix. Of course, all of this musical mastery would be useless if their shows weren't entertaining. But, trust us, that is not the case. If there is ever a dull moment, they simply pour blood on themselves. —Ben Westhoff
For those who want punk to be dangerous again ... have you seen Nomads? Nomads are a "punk band" in the same way that an intercontinental ballistic missile is a "bomb." Mix the confrontational aggression of Black Flag with the stripped-down simplicity of English act Discharge with the glorious cacophony of Sweden's more recent crop of d-beat noisemeisters such as Disfear and Martyrdöd, and you've got Nomads, who might just be L.A.'s next big thing. Listening to one of their records is akin to having your eardrums punctured with an anvil. Hearing them live is even more intense. Things get rowdy real fast. Their front man, who just goes by Michael, sings like a man who fully believes each breath might be his last. They play pretty much every weekend (check their site), but you'd best get there early: Their sets frequently clock in at less than 10 minutes. Consider bringing a helmet. —Nicholas Pell
It's sometimes difficult for cover bands to transcend the cheesiness associated with their craft, but The Goodtime Boys make it look easy. That's particularly remarkable considering they're the house band for '70s-themed Hollywood bar Good Times at Davey Wayne's, which is dripping in kitsch. Every Friday and Saturday night at 11:30 p.m., the foursome of Dazed and Confused doppelgängers takes the tiny stage; from their first chord, they transport you back to a groovy basement listening session you're probably too young to have actually attended. In a nutshell, they play the hits from your parents' record collection: Nick Gilder's "Hot Child in the City," Bob Seger's "Hollywood Nights," KISS' "I Was Made for Loving You" and an unbearably sexy rendition of Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen." Moments into their set, you will find your hand in the air. You will feel it making devil horns. You will curse the fact that you didn't wear bellbottoms. You will be unabashedly loving it. —Ali Trachta
1611 N. El Centro Ave., Hlywd., 90028. (323) 962-3804, goodtimesatdaveywaynes.com.
With a vocal rasp that makes her sound like someone from the '60s, Jenny O. seems wiser than her 30 years. Then again, her lyrics contain slang such as "I'm never gonna be a pro skater 'cause I can't do tricks and I'm not that sick," so let's just call it a wash. What's clear is that the Silver Lake songstress blends a vintage Laurel Canyon aesthetic with a compellingly modern folk-rock sound, with plenty of witty vocal asides to boot. Plenty of people are taking notice: She's had songs featured in ad campaigns with Toyota and Target, and has toured with everyone from Ben Harper and Father John Misty to Sixto Rodriguez. A native of New York, she came to L.A. six years ago and started singing with the L.A. Ladies Choir. She still maintains a bit of shyness onstage but these days, armed with an acoustic guitar, she has only her twangy, gentle strumming to hide behind. It's this raw, candid nature that makes her music so refreshing. —Artemis Thomas-Hansard
At least when it comes to Los Angeles artists, the genre tag "Latin Alternative" usually refers to some sort of cumbia/rock/electronic hybrid. Which is why it has been exciting to see Irene Diaz develop on the scene here, since she's not easily pigeonholed, melding influences that include blues and soul. At her core, however, Diaz offers quality songwriting, which can be heard on her debut EP, I Love You Madly, which was released after a successful Kickstarter campaign. She emerged as a singer-songwriter only a few years ago and has been featured in national media, including NPR. Her voice has been compared to none other than Ella Fitzgerald, and feels similarly timeless. Her songs are in English, which is just one reason we suspect her music will break out of the Latin scene and be recognized by everyone. —Eddie Cota
So many contestants on television talent shows think they can sing the blues — with all that huffing and puffing and twisting of faces into grotesque grimaces, you'd think they were lifting mountains instead of making music. Of course, real blues of any style involves a deep communication between performer and listener, not just theatrics, and that's where Lawrence Lebo excels. After attending the Grove School of Music and earning her B.A. in music at UCLA — where she studied under jazz legend Kenny Barron — she now teaches blues-vocal workshops at McCabe's. Her singing displays her talent for the blues. Yes, she can wail up as fierce and fiery a storm as any gospel diva (even after returning to action just weeks after heart surgery last year), but Lebo also purrs and puts a jazzy touch on occasional Western swing rambles. Most impressively, she's that rare blues musician who writes persuasively authentic original songs, such as "Lawrence's Working Girl Blues," her smartly sarcastic answer to Three 6 Mafia's "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp." —Falling James