Quite possibly the most honest man in dubstep, Leeds-born, L.A.-dwelling producer Rusko has taken responsibility for the existence of the much-maligned “brostep” trend — which is to say, injecting the dark atmospherics and effects of the original genre with a distinct high-energy aggression that seems to appeal to the, ahem, frattier among us. His latest album is tellingly called Songs, and while it relies upon a few familiar tricks (wonky bass, mechanical skronk), the record also incorporates playful Basement Jaxx–like house, melismatic R&B-style vocals and actual dub music — the Jamaican kind. And no matter where you sit on the love-it-or-hate-it seesaw, Rusko throws a helluva show, barefoot and hopping wildly like a cartoon rabbit, wielding the power of the beat with a brilliant light display over his shoulders. Plus, dude just wrapped a collab with Cypress Hill, so a special guest could be in the cards. —Chris Martins
L.A. STATE HISTORIC PARK
The big news out of Gary Richards' HARD events this summer is the L.A. firm's acquisition by concert-promotions behemoth Live Nation. Will the corporate alliance boost EDM's profile in the United States? Kill it? Time will tell. Until then, Richards is doing what he does best, beginning with the annual HARD Summer festival, which this year boasts a typically impressive lineup likely to appeal to hard-core dance heads and reformed rockers alike. Our picks to click for Friday: mutant hip-hop producer AraabMuzik, Swedish-American electro-popsters Miike Snow, daffy Detroit MC Danny Brown, reformed post-punks Bloc Party and an after-midnight set by — oh yes — Bootsy Collins & the Funk Unity Band. Also Saturday with Skrillex, Squarepusher, James Murphy and more. —Mikael Wood
L.A.'s Beachwood Sparks are back together, and their new album, Tarnished Gold, is every bit the California sunset its title suggests — light turning to night and then dark turning to dawn again, and by the time you get to the last two songs, you'll probably be about to burst or collapse into that glorious train-wreck heartbroken hallelujah! feeling that haunts the final 30 seconds of certain Terry Allen or John Prine songs. Cosmic country? You can call this “cosmic” because they're thinking about the stars, and you can call it “country” because you hear the ghost of Clarence White click-clack across the horizon. But we're gonna call it “beautiful,” with the awe and reverence we could never put in the word if we said it out loud. Welcome back, and welcome home. —Chris Ziegler
REAL ESTATE, SUN ARAW at the Fonda; LIKNUTS (ALKAHOLICS + BEATNUTS) at Key Club; CINDERELLA, SEBASTIAN BACH at Pacific Amphitheatre; BELLE BRIGADE at California Plaza; THE HOOD INTERNET at Central Social Aid & Pleasure Club; SOUL AND SKA WEEKENDER at the Alexandria Hotel.
CENTRAL SOCIAL AID & PLEASURE CLUB
If you think you hear beguiling traces of Amadou & Mariam in the febrile rap-rock reveries of SMOD, it's not your imagination. The Malian group's name is an acronym of the first names of members Sam, Mouzy, Ousco and Donsky, and Sam is the son of the blind singing duo. The unusual way SMOD's songs blend traditional African rhythms, acoustic-guitar dreaminess and French-language rap lyrics also evokes the hazy fantasies of Manu Chao, who produced SMOD's self-titled 2010 album. But even apart from their celebrated mentors, Sam, Mouzy, Ousco and Donsky have conjured a distinctive and weirdly mesmerizing brew in songs of protest like “Les Dirigeants Africains” and “Ça Chante.” For all the power of SMOD's themes, the quartet's raps aren't strident and preachy. Instead, they unwind in a serpentine, hauntingly seductive manner. —Falling James
Pigmy Love Circus
The Pigmies were L.A. underground royalty in the early 1990s, when they shared stages with the likes of Jane's Addiction and L7, and are all too often dubbed a “could've/should've” band. Yet they utterly succeeded in their mission to mate belligerent truck-stop rock with primal punk wrath to spawn something of almost bestial power. Beneath the ominous, wrong-side-of-the-tracks rantings of eccentric frontman Michael Savage lurks a deceptively articulate musical unit, rich with guitarist Peter Fletcher's succulent '70s rock meanderings and sudden flamboyant flourishes from drummer Danny Carey. Pigmy Love Circus' famously chaotic live shows have become increasingly infrequent (mostly due to Carey's commitments with prog-lords Tool), but these remain meetings of confrontation and inclusion, humor and heft. —Paul Rogers
Not to be confused with the new-wave-of-British-heavy-metal band of the same name, this Lionheart is a back-to-basics Bay Area hardcore crew. Blissfully untainted by metalcore's Hot Topic trappings, they're a proudly straight-to-the-point slap in the face of accusatory lyrics, bleak riffs and machine-gun kick drums. While the quintet plays it pretty much straight from Hatebreed's hardcore handbook, with singer Rob Watson perpetually sounding just syllables away from a fistfight, there's subtlety to Lionheart's twin-guitar interplay and real guile in the stop-start songcraft. A flashback to a time when hardcore was not just an influence but a style (and mindset) unto itself, Lionheart are no revival — they just don't seem to know (or want to know) any different. —Paul Rogers
If the last name sounds familiar, congratulations, for you know something about jazz. Anything written about Ravi Coltrane (including this paragraph) usually includes a reference to his famous father, a perpetually awkward circumstance that the second-generation Blue Note saxophonist has managed to embrace with peaceful affection. Rather than trying to fill John Coltrane's giant shoes, his son simply removed them and took his own steps toward a distinct identity. Although his father wasn't alive to instruct him, the DNA of superior musicianship is evident in Ravi's beautifully even tenor sound and deftly controlled bursts of improvised brilliance. Take away the last name and what remains is an honest man and established jazz master. The band is an interesting departure from Coltrane's usual crew, featuring the innovative pianist David Virelles. Also Sat.-Sun. —Gary Fukushima
FEAR FACTORY, VOIVOD, CATTLE DECAPITATION at House of Blues; L.A. FOLK FEST (BEACHWOOD SPARKS, WHITE MAGIC, etc.) at Zorthian Ranch; COSMONAUTS, DIRT DRESS at the Smell.
DIIV, Part Time
DIIV's Zachary Cole Smith is obsessed with the deep rhythms of Krautrock and the downcast guitar anti-theatrics of Nirvana, but somehow his music comes out as a light thing — airy but substantial, loose but effective. His Brooklyn band's debut album, Oshin, came out in June and it's already making waves for its uniquely aqueous vibes. Instead of relying upon synthesized grooves à la chillwave acts like Washed Out, DIIV keep the emphasis on the ax, strumming up cool layers of enveloping atmosphere, which Smith sings over in a lilting, echo-affected coo. Meanwhile, Part Time keep the focus on the keys, crafting a sort of lo-fi answer to '80s soundtracks and New Romantics. It may help to imagine Ariel Pink as Boy George, fuzzing up all that pure pop with the awkward aplomb of a true bedroom savant. —Chris Martins
HOUSE OF BLUES
It's hard out here for an aging emcee. Let's face it, rap is a young man's game — after a certain point, growling aggressive lyrics, slurring your way through shows clouded with kush smoke and banging groupies on a tour bus just become pathetic. Kudos, then, to Juicy J of the legendary Memphis group Three 6 Mafia. Seven years after they won an Academy Award for the song “It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” Juicy J's still sipping syrup and making mixtapes where he shouts his signature “Trippy, mayne” alongside many of hip-hop's coolest new characters. Late last year, he joined Wiz Khalifa's Taylor Gang Records and released the Blue Dream & Lean mixtape, which featured Lex Luger beats and young rappers like SpaceGhostPurrp and Casey Veggies. But the main reason to catch this is the crazy energy Juicy J brings to his shows: Three 6 Mafia's performance at Paid Dues this spring transformed the arena into the kind of rowdy scene usually only experienced in hole-in-the-wall clubs back in his hometown. —Rebecca Haithcoat
Aerosmith, Cheap Trick
Now that Steven Tyler won't be leering creepily at the next crop of nubile young hopefuls auditioning on the upcoming season of American Idol, perhaps the raspy-voiced singer can turn his attention to making Aerosmith great again. The irony is that, although the Boston quintet hasn't released a consistently strong album since Jimmy Carter was president, the band is still a lot better in concert than it should be, thanks in no small part to the less celebrated ministrations and tangled interplay of ax-wielders Joe Perry and Brad Whitford, sweetly emotive bassist Tom Hamilton and relentless drummer Joey Kramer on such surprisingly engaging live albums as 2005's Rockin' the Joint. Cheap Trick were still mixing up the set-list medicine and releasing brilliant, underrated new CDs like Rockford and (especially) Special One as recently as 2006, but, puzzlingly, they've curled up into the fetal position since, sticking mainly to the obvious hits live. They get away with it, though — even on the ghastly, Frankenstein-cobbled monstrosity “The Flame” — because Robin Zander still sings like a mother. —Falling James
WILDCAT! WILDCAT!, AAN, INCAN ABRAHAM at the Echo; TRIBES at Bootleg Bar.
Perhaps it's no surprise that the movers and shakers of the music world are finally catching up to Jesca Hoop. Early on, her songwriting skills were praised by Tom Waits (who once employed the young singer as a nanny), and more recently she's toured and collaborated with Eels and Peter Gabriel. The California-raised, England-based singer-guitarist's third and latest full-length album, The House That Jack Built, marvelously encompasses several of her disparate personae — new and old — from freaky bubblegum-popping new waver (“Ode to Banksy”) and trippy electronic-pop diva (“Hospital”) to arty space case (“Dig This Record”) and languorous dream-pop chanteuse (“Deeper Devastation”). She recalls her early art-folk work most enchantingly on “When I'm Asleep,” juxtaposing Waits-style woodshed percussion with soaring, inventively arranged skeins of Kate Bush–like vocals. Um, she's really good. —Falling James
On their first new record in 15 years, Redd Kross bros Jeff and Steven McDonald bring their trademarked hash of hard-rocking trash to real, real heady heights. Researching the Blues spews choice tunesmith-ery on the title track and good ones like “Stay Away From Downtown,” “Meet Frankenstein” and “Winter Blues,” which all shows that you can play rock music any way you feel if you're writing great songs. Sounds E-Z, doesn't it? Well, it's not, so check out how RK prove their prowess all night in these Beatle-ish, Cheap Trick–esque songs that are delivered tight and tuff though not exactly mean. Even when Redd Kross play hard guys, they're doing it with a laugh, and, seriously, that makes it sound like they're just bashing out these tunes. But it's not true. —John Payne
Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang
The blues are supposed to hurt. They're bloody and messy, unpredictable and feral like a cornered animal. Tonight's co-headliner, Jonny Lang, is an impressively deft and nimble guitarist, but his solos don't sting like the legendary Buddy Guy's. That's not Lang's fault, not really, as no one can deliver the blues with the same supreme menace and caustic intensity as Guy. If anyone has a tale worth telling, it's Guy, who backed Muddy Waters in the '60s and tried unsuccessfully to restrain his notoriously explosive style while toiling at Chess Records before finding success as a solo guitar hero. He has a new book, When I Left Home: My Story, but Guy tells his story just as eloquently and concisely every time he bends the strings and makes his guitar cry. —Falling James
SEAL, MACY GRAY at Nokia Theatre; BEAR IN HEAVEN at the Echoplex.
Nicki Minaj has come so thoroughly to dominate pop culture over the last three years that it's hard to believe the singer-rapper's current headlining tour is her first. (Also curious — and revealing about today's imperiled music biz — is that she's playing the midsized Nokia as opposed to Staples Center.) What might benefit Minaj about that perceived delay is the time she's had to hone her act, not to mention the superstar temerity she exercised in June, when she bailed on Hot 97's Summer Jam after one of that New York radio giant's DJs criticized her hit “Starships.” Expect to hear that tune tonight, along with cuts from Minaj's mixtapes and her two studio albums. And expect a pleasant evening above all: Last month The New York Times called the tour's first show “outrageously joyful.” —Mikael Wood
Woods, Peaking Lights
It's hard to do new folk without sounding beholden to past masters, but Brooklyn's Woods have done just that, making lo-fi jangle-pop infused with an inimitable weirdness that rarely, if ever, puts off. The band's core is held down by singer-guitarist Jeremy Earl and tape manipulator G. Lucas Crane. While the former is responsible for Woods' bucolic, candied melodies and his own warm vocal warblings, Crane adds vital unpredictability and the odd effects that give the songs so much character. The group's most recent album is 2011's Sun and Shade, whose title rightly illustrates the feel of the project. Up first is Peaking Lights, a husband-and-wife duo combining all manner of trippy styles — tropical pop, Jamaican dub, acid folk, bizarre beats — in order to create a cosmic, psychedelic slop that's worth basking in for a good while. —Chris Martins
Meek Mill, Rockie Fresh
HOUSE OF BLUES
Hip-hop imprints are the music business's version of the Brady Bunch. And sitting atop the blinged-out clan is the father figure — aka the kingpin rapper looking to pimp out his offspring for a supporting (and ideally one day starring) role in the rap game's version of a variety show. These days, flexing the Brady muscle bigger than most is Rick Ross' Maybach Music Group. Two MCs — Meek Mill, the Philadelphia MC behind the acclaimed Dreamchasers mixtape series, whose debut album, Dreams & Nightmares, drops in late August, and Rockie Fresh, a Chi-town spitter and MMG's latest signee — are hitting the road in brotherly fashion to show what this Rozay-sippin', happy-go-lucky clan has to offer. —Dan Hyman
WINO, CONNY OCHAS at the Satellite; MIKE ANDREWS at Bootleg Bar; PITBULL at Gibson Amphitheatre.
Shovels and Rope
If the name Shovels and Rope conjures up hard-bitten roots music, you're on the right track, but this duo is much more. Now based in Charleston, S.C., Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst were both established artists when they met: Trent was in the Colorado-based indie rock band called the Films, and both have released solo albums. Together with a love of murder ballads, they created a sound that can veer off into the horn-driven menace of “Tickin' Bomb” and to the haunting waltz of “Carnival” from their brand-spanking-new sophomore album, O' Be Joyful. It's a doozy of a record. “Kembra” is a 2½- minute hootenanny that has something to do with chicken, fish and grits. Hearst's voice has a Janis-y, Wanda Jackson–y sandpapered wail to it, and Trent's is more dreamy. Onstage, they trade off on guitar, “junkyard” drum kit, harmonica, keys and other instruments, all adding up to a helluva beautiful racket. —Libby Molyneaux
TOTALLY ENORMOUS EXTINCT DINOSAURS at the Echoplex; IRON MAIDEN, COHEED AND CAMBRIA at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre; CHICANO BATMAN at Hammer Museum; THE ENTRANCE BAND at the Satellite; THE WESTERN CANON at Pershing Square; JEFFERTITTI'S NILE at the Virgil.
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