What makes for a quintessentially L.A. band? History tells us the answer is always in flux, from the pristine sun-and-surf pop of the Beach Boys to the hairspray and whiskey-fueled sleaziness of Guns n’ Roses and the G-funk-laced bangers of Dr. Dre and Snoop.
Most touring chamber-music ensembles stick closely to the tried (or is that tired?) and true 19th- and early 20th-century Central European repertoire. Not the Dalí Quartet. Starting out in Venezuela’s famous El Sistema music training program, which also produced L.A. Philharmonic music director Gustavo “The Dude” Dudamel, the members of Dalí Quartet went on to study at major American conservatories.
On the first track of his latest record Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, singer Sturgill Simpson name-checks alien lizards, psychedelic drug DMT, Buddha and cosmic turtles, all of which are crooned about over a classic country shuffle.
The songs of Brooklyn-based quintet Lucius range from alt-country ballads and ’60s psychedelic to percussive pop with beguiling melodies and dance rhythms. But it’s the powerful harmonizing vocals of lead singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig that really separate their sound from the mainstream.
Mac Miller’s latest release, GO:OD AM, reminds us we can trust the 23-year-old rapper to rise after a period of adversity. The dark undertones from his last self-released album Faces, focusing on drug addiction, give us a peek into the culture that often comes with money and fame at such a young age.
Jonny Lang made his name as a 16-year-old blues guitar prodigy. Since then, he’s dabbled in rock, blues, gospel and pop — all the while remaining one of the most respected guitar slingers in the business.
In their 15-year career, the five members of Blitzen Trapper have traversed wide musical landscapes, from the layered, progressive rock of small dive bars to the rustic alt country of Appalachia. Even within individual albums, Trapper is known for a range of sound that varies dramatically from song to song.
“I remember hearing when I was a lot younger that the universe was infinite,” says Mike Rummans, bassist from ’60s garage rock band The Sloths. “If you kept traveling in space, you’d just go on forever and ever.”
After a day or so of fighting our way through dropped calls and shitty cell reception, I get hold of Moon Hooch saxophonist Mike Wilbur somewhere in the middle of Idaho. He and his bandmates — saxophonist Wenzl McGowen and drummer James Muschler — are in the homestretch of their West Coast tour, which eventually will take them through Eugene. Wilbur is also audibly sick, which doesn’t seem to be getting him down in the slightest.
Music unscrews the cranium, peers inside, pokes and prods, finding all the nooks and crannies contained within: excitement, fear, disappointment, nostalgia and, as singer-songwriter Erin McKeown says, empathy.
After 10 years of indie Americana marked by the slow-burning sound of violin, cello, guitar and melancholic vocals, Justin Ringle, frontman for Horse Feathers, thought he was finished with sad songs, and therefore done with his career. He didn’t pick up his guitar for months.
Silaluk, the debut full-length album from Richmond, Virginia post-punk revivalists Shadow Age, is out now on 6131 Records. The album is garnering critical acclaim among a movement of new bands revisiting the classic post-punk sound.
Formed in the UO dorms in 1990, the Sugar Beets ought to hold the all-time record for Band Fortitude:
“A quarter-century of sustaining anything in this crazy world is a rarity,” says Marty Chilla, acoustic rhythm guitarist and Beets founding member. “It feels like destiny sometimes, and just plain persistence and work at other times. The Sugar Beets have just kept going step by step, song by song, show by show, and have grown up in front of each other and our audience.”
If you had to pick a perfect opera for Halloween, Benjamin Britten’s 1954 The Turn of the Screw might be it. There’s definitely a haunted house, but in librettist Myfanwy Piper’s adaptation, as in Henry James’s 1898 novella, mastery lies in mystery. What really happened at scary Bly House? Ghosts? A more mundane human-perpetrated evil? Mere insanity?
If it wasn’t self-described, machinery would seem too rough or inorganic a metaphor for the harmony, improvisation and trust that comprises the Dave Rawlings Machine, but the synergy among members —especially between Rawlings and Gillian Welch — makes for an undeniably powerful engine of sound.
Chicago-based Sidewalk Chalk is a hive of ingenuity and aspiration. From keys, drums, horns and bass to an emcee, powerful female vocals and a tap dancer, this eight-member crew thrums with talent. Despite the layers and complexities, the members of Chalk share a common passion — to transcend the norm, the expected, the known — resulting in a fluid sound that is equal parts jazz, soul, hip hop and funk.
As a long-time Eugenean, I grow weary of Eugene jokes. On balance we’re bigger, hipper and more happening that our patchouli and tie-dye reputation. But since there’s often some truth in stereotypes, every so often I hear a tall-tale of the EUG and can’t help but think: “Only in Eugene.”