SWIMMING WITH THE FISHTANK
In the whole Starbucks/NPR/Pottery Barn axis of music, there's a subsection of "gypsy"-derived music, probably stemming from the unlikely '80s success of the Gypsy Kings. Yes, while Enya, Enigma and Pure Moods remained relics of a certain sound, the gypsy revival got a big push in the '90s with the yuppie crowd through the art-house success of filmmaker Emir Kusturica. Sometimes it's hard to keep track of your Gogol Bordellos, your DeVotchKas and your opportunistic unemployed Eastern Europeans putting the free musical training they received from the Soviet educational system to profitable use. And that's why the L.A.-based Fishtank Ensemble is so special: They operate within that slightly clichéd genre, yet they're truly different. Everyone in the quartet is a virtuoso of sympatico different musical forms, from flamenco to Eastern European grooves to extremely credible tangos (the token Argentine-American member of the Page Two team certifies their tanguero bona fides). And singer Ursula Knudsen is that rare thing: a vocalist who delivers consistent showstoppers without overshadowing her bandmates. Knudsen also was involved in Knomi, a Klaus Nomi tribute band that desperately needs to come back. Fishtank Ensemble just released the wonderful collection Woman in Sin. Within what might very well be one of the best recent CD covers by a small local band, you get the perfect antidote for gypsy-sploitation: great originals, traditional tunes and a smoldering cover of (what else?) Peggy Lee's "Fever." Their live show should be a real firecracker of a party.
The Fishtank Ensemble performs Sat., March 12, 7:30 p.m., at the Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. All ages.
L.A. SOUL STYLISTS: SUEDEHEAD
The term Suedehead may mean many things: It's a Morrissey song, a close-shorn haircut associated with certain varieties of Mods and, now, a young soul rebel group whose upbeat, stylish sound blends 1960s Motor City with London pub rock and California beach culture. Influenced by Elvis Costello, Dexy's Midnight Runners and northern soul, their look is Fred Perry magazine ad meets Oasis meets skate rat. Look a little closer, though, and their punk rock roots are plain to see — Suedehead's songwriting may embrace classic Motown, but the music simmers with teen rebellion and is performed "more abrasively, with a nod to early '80s punk and new wave," explains singer-songwriter Davey Warsop. Originally from Birmingham, England, Warsop has lived in L.A. for two years. He produced and recorded Suedehead's debut EP, In Motion, at Hurley Studios, where he works as an engineer. Mike Ness happened to hear the band while he was hanging out there and invited Suedehead to play their first run of shows opening for Social Distortion — a strong start for a band barely 3 months old. Suedehead just debuted their infectious soul hit single "Can't Stop," and you can catch the video (produced by Edd Flynn) at Hurley.com. (Fun fact: The Page Two team's own Caroline Ryder is the lady gracing the cover of In Motion. She swears she'll quit smoking soon.)
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COUNTRY REVELATION: CAITLIN ROSE
Though she was born in Texas and reared in Tennessee, Caitlin Rose is no demure Southern belle. "Sometimes I wish a breakup came with a good punch to distract from that dull ache left in your heart," she told us when we asked her about the worst heartbreak she's ever had. Like any good, feisty country singer, she knows all about being lovelorn. Her debut album, Own Side Now, is full of love songs, but instead of the desperate tears of the average young 20-something's diary, hers is full of the world-weariness of an old-timer. In "For the Rabbits," she sings, "So fall back into my absent arms, fall back into routine disaster/Habit's the only place that you call home." Or consider her spin on the last-call-for-alcohol plea in "Own Side": "Who's gonna want me when I'm just somewhere you've been?" Rose's voice sounds like a dusty pair of cowboy boots walking into a gauzy, pink-hued 1970s movie sunset, making Own Side Now country music that will please those folks still pining for Patsy Cline. She gets our full endorsement: Get her album before everyone else tells you about it.
ACE DESIGNERS: SOHALE KEVIN DAROUIAN
The Portland, Ore., indie-dance outfit Starfucker has just released a new album, called Reptilian. The songs are smart and accessible (Portland advertising trendsetters Wieden+ Kennedy already used Starfucker's music for a hip Target ad), but what struck us the most was the neo-prog cover design by their compatriot Sohale Kevin Darouian. The designer has amassed a solid portfolio of fliers from the Portland scene, and his work is a worthy continuation of the grand tradition of rock graphics. Very much worth checking out at his blog, blahblogblah.tumblr.com.