Category: Local music

Converse opens free recording studio project in New York


Watching a shoe company such as Converse step up and help the cause of broke musicians seems rather fitting. The Boston-based company on Tuesday announced the opening of Converse Rubber Tracks, a state-of-the-art recording studio based in Brooklyn, N.Y. Its purpose: to provide recording time and a professional engineering staff to musicians of all pedigrees for free. Furthermore, after being accepted through an online application process that's open to bands nationwide (hear that, Los Angeles?), artists who record there will retain the rights to all of the music recorded at the sessions. 

As traditional record labels become less and less relevant for emerging artists, big brands such as Converse have seized more opportunities to ingrain themselves into the music world, and look to affiliate themselves with up-and-coming buzz bands. “One of our goals as a brand is to give back and help inspire a new generation of musicians,” said Geoff Cottrill, chief marketing officer of Converse, in a statement.

In return, bands who enter the studio will be the subjects of plenty of short Web documentaries recording clips and behind-the-scenes footage that capture their sessions and provide content for the studio to promote its efforts via its website, Facebook and Twitter.

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Jackson Browne, Dawes and Jonathan Wilson to perform at the Satellite on Wednesday

Jax300 The wispy L.A. folk-rock band Dawes must have really enjoyed its stint playing behind Robbie Robertson. On Wednesday at the Satellite, the band will take another crack at '70s-icon-supporting when it backs up nouveau-hipster-hero Jackson Browne as a warmup for its own U.S. tour and Browne's short European solo kick. 

Dawes will also pull triple-duty backing up local singer-songwriter-producer Jonathan Wilson and playing a set of its own material, featuring tracks from its recent record, "Nothing Is Wrong." 

The sets start at 9 p.m. and tickets go on sale Wednesday at 10 a.m. for $25 through Ticketfly. Move fast unless somebody's baby can get you in later.


Jackson Browne -- Still running and hardly on empty

Members of Deer Tick, Dawes and Delta Spirit join forces as Little Brother

Jennifer Tefft tells what's ahead for the Satellite

-- August Brown

Photo: Jackson Browne by Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Saturday: Obsolete collective's monthly chiptune showcase in downtown L.A.

In today's world of hi-gloss electro, you'd be hard-pressed to find gritty laser zaps and the sounds of Zelda poking their way into the L.A. club scene. But as they unpack their arsenal of glitchy Game Boy beats on a sweaty, warehouse dance floor surrounded by blinking lights and acid-trip wall projections, the local practitioners in the chiptune scene don't seem to mind much. Especially now that they have a slice of underground nightlife of to call their own.

In recent months, a pool of innovative L.A.-based artists who create music in an electronic subgenre called chiptune have formed the Obsolete collective, and have commenced throwing shows to celebrate their lo-bit love affair.

This weekend, the consortium offers the second installment of a monthly, downtown party at their designated warehouse space, dubbed Pixel Frequency. Held on the first Saturday of every month, Obsolete’s flagship event is forging a meeting ground for an open-ended chiptune genre with roots that stem back to the '70s (though it was rarely performed live until the 2000s).

Despite being a worldwide sonic medium, chiptune rarely pokes its head above ground in L.A.’s saturated club scene. The idea, as the name implies, is to highlight artists whose musical ingenuity embraces out-of-date NES cartridges, Commodore 64 computers and any gaming or electronic technology built before the Clinton administration -- a niche pedigree to say the least. Cristina Fuentes, an artist performing under the moniker Wet Mango, has helped wrangle some of the scene's most active artists within L.A.'s micro-sized chiptune community.

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Highland Park's Bodies of Water make a sudden return to the surface with a fuller sound


Bodies of Water
aren't the most prolific lot. Yet the act, essentially a revolving contingent of players built around the husband/wife tandem of David and Meredith Metcalf, has made the most of its limited output. The pair just has a tendency to take the phrase "under the radar" as an operating directive. 

To wit, their third album, "Twist Again," was self-released this June. It's a work that sees Bodies of Water fully exploring an orchestral pop lushness, and it's also one that just sort of appeared. No album release show, no tour, no record store appearance -- nothing. 

"I think we’ll get around to playing in the summer, but we’re making ourselves scarce right now," David said. "There’s nothing in the works. And yes, it's a curious business strategy. I realize that."

Though it's been three years since the band's "A Certain Feeling," the Metcalfs haven't exactly been absent from the local music landscape. In 2009 the couple fronted Music Go Music, whose '70s-inspired songs were packed with spooky synths, brash guitars and colossal, ABBA-inspired choruses. Although David and Meredith didn't make it easy for fans to make the Bodies of Water connection, issuing only vague press releases with "Star Trek"-like aliases (TORG, Gala Bell).

"We kind of kept it on the down-low because, initially, we thought it would be more fun to just sort of send it out there without any context," David said. "We didn’t want another frame of reference to look at it."

Perhaps that's for the best. Those familiar with "A Certain Feeling" will recall that the album was laced with a haunted house organ and church-like choirs. The often gothic arrangements went after a mood rather than a hook, and Bodies of Water seemed to be building toward an operatic rock 'n' roll sound.

"When we recorded 'A Certain Feeling' we had all been listening to heavier music, or at least our version of it," David said. "We were kind of figuring out the arrangements, and most of the songs were written on piano and an acoustic upright bass. That has a different vibe from a guitar and an electric bass, so the feeling of that record evolved from there, and it asked for different songs."

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Rickie Lee Jones drops by School Night at Bardot in Hollywood

Rickie Lee Jones-Stockholm by Ian McCrudden 
This post has been corrected. See the note below for details.

It didn't look as though anyone in the tightly packed space that is the Bardot club in Hollywood was the least bit thrown by the nominally surreal aspect of Rickie Lee Jones’ appearance there Monday night.

The veteran singer-songwriter dropped in for a brief live performance arranged, in part, to highlight her new DVD documenting ... a live performance.

The DVD, "Live in Stockholm," due July 5, is the first of her 30-plus year career, and after her quick solo set she said backstage that it was the culmination of a long-brewing desire to collaborate with filmmaker Ian McCrudden, director of the Grammy-nominated 2009 documentary “Anita O’Day -- The Life of a Jazz Singer.” Jones said she'd been wanting to work with McCrudden, who also has been a neighbor during her many years in Los Angeles, since she saw the O'Day film.

The often self-critical musician, celebrated both for her relentless sense of adventure in concert and perfectionism in the recording studio, said: "It’s got some pretty good parts. I don’t do much that later I don’t go, ‘Blecch, I suck.’ But on this, it’s got some good things on it." She did the 2010 show in a trio setting for which she was accompanied by bassist Joey Maramba and percussionist Lionel Cole.

The 2 1/2-hour video encompasses 19 songs spanning her career, and the audience at Bardot got a sampling before Jones took the stage armed with just an acoustic guitar. Monday's show was part of the 14-month-old School Night series at Bardot, curated by KCRW-FM deejay Chris Douridas, that's also hosted the likes of Chrissie Hynde, Neil Finn and Ron Sexsmith, as well as rising local and touring musicians the station is championing.  Jones played just three songs: “Altar Boy,” a left-field cover of Jefferson Airplane's "Comin’ Back to Me" and one of her concert standards, “Satellites,”  for which she recruited the house to provide choral backup.

Elsewhere on her current tour, she's decided to join the growing number of heritage artists who are performing entire albums in concert by playing her first two,  1979’s "Rickie Lee Jones" and 1981's "Pirates," from beginning to end.

 “I’ve done so much of ‘Pirates’ and so much of  the first record -- they’re never far from me -- I thought I’d like to do them in their entirety -- maybe even doing them in sequence as they are on the record; we’re still working that part out,” she said. Seeing Van Morrison play his 1968 album “Astral Weeks” on his 2009-2010 tour inspired her to try it with her own material. If one of rock’s most notoriously willful iconoclasts could do it, she reasoned, why shouldn’t she?

“Artists like that, their refusal to do what people want them to do for decades, then when they finally come and do that, maybe it’s fresh for them,” she said before stepping out of Bardot’s green room for a cigarette. “But the record has to be of a piece to make it worth doing in its entirety.”

For the record, 1:05 p.m. June 28: An earlier version of this post said the "School Night" series is sponsored by KCRW-FM. It is curated by KCRW deejay Chris Douridas.


Rickie Lee Jones is unpredictably good

Album review: Rickie Lee Jones' 'Balm in Gilead'

Showcasing an album in concert

-- Randy Lewis

Photo: Rickie Lee Jones performing during the 2010 concert at the Berns Salonger theater in Stockholm. Credit: Ian McCrudden.

Foster the People: Moving beyond 'Pumped Up Kicks'


For about a year, locals Foster the People have existed as little more than "Pumped Up Kicks," a sly little single that masks its venom with playful electronics, cheerleading hand-claps and an easy-going danceable groove that seems built for a skip down the Venice boardwalk. The single's success put the band on the map, and no doubt helped debut album "Torches" land in the top-10 on the U.S. pop charts. The full album shares the single's upbeat effects, but also takes a broader stylistically approach.

"If I was looking at it from a business perspective, I’d ask myself what kind of career do I want to have," said leader Mark Foster recently. "I could have pigeonholed us and wrote a whole record like 'Pumped Up Kicks,’ and we would have been this breezy, nostalgic West Coast Beach Boys recreation band. That’s not the type of writer I am. Once I try one style, I move on."

As described in the Times' examination of Foster the People's rise, "Torches" is not short on versatility. The hard-luck tail of "Life on the Nickel" sounds as if it were recorded in a futuristic pinball machine, while "Helena Beat" takes a more rock-driven approach and accessorizes it with Parisian pop accents and a techno-meets-South Africa breakdown. The band also has a weirder, MGMT-influenced side, as "Miss You" could be a modern R&B cut before its electronics get all schizophrenic.

The 27-year-old, Cleveland-bred Foster has actually been in L.A. trying to make it since he was 18. He came close, he said, when Dr. Dre's Aftermath Entertainment envisioned him as what he described as a "crossover soul artist," but Foster shied away from the opportunity. Peers and friends, however, told him he was making a mistake to do so.

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The Levitt Pavilions have an unexpectedly great 2011 summer concert series [UPDATED]

Ana In the hierarchy of L.A.'s  outdoor amphitheaters, the humble Levitt Pavilions in MacArthur Park and Pasadena are often overlooked in favor of glitzier cousins in Hollywood and Los Feliz. But maybe they shouldn't be.

The two theaters have announced their 2011 summer concert series, and they're a marked and welcome step up into contemporary Latin and experimental music. MacArthur Park's series kicks off Sunday with a cumbia festival headlined by locals Very Be Careful and Azucar L.A., followed up with notable sets by South L.A. rappers Akwid, avant-punks No Age, saucy L.A.-via-Tijuana singer Ceci Bastida, Chilean firebrand rapper Ana Tijoux, and two Dublab-hosted nights showcasing artists from Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label and a tribute to Lotus' relative, the harpist Alice Coltrane.   

Pasadena's season isn't quite as adventurous but does have solid turns from country-rock troubadour Maxim Ludwig, rising Mexican singer-songwriter Ximenia Sarinana, barn-burning soul survivor Bettye LaVette, Belle Brigade's winsome indie pop, and the close folk harmonies of Secret Sisters. All the shows are free, and hopefully will introduce the venues to a young and wide-ranging audience.

-- August Brown

UPDATE: This post orginally misspelled MacArthur Park in one instance.


Latina rappers make their voices heard

No Age Turns up the noise

Flying Lotus could get our of the underground with 'Cosmogramma'

Photo: Ana Tijoux. Credit: Nacional Records

Ford & Lopatin's synthesizer Games-manship

A few months ago, I had lunch with Kevin Moo, the founder of Low End Theory, to talk about some upcoming sets at his club night. He seemed especially excited about a few expermental and decidedly unbeat-heavy acts coming through; in summing up their sonic ethic, he admitted, "It's kind of been all about the high end lately." 

We stopped and laughed at the accidental oxymoron, but for one of the artists he was referring to, producer Daniel Lopatin, it kind of rings true. His solo project Oneohtrix Point Never is an exercise in putting ambient reins on vicious white noise, but his new Brooklyn-based duo Ford & Lopatin (with collaborator Joel Ford) does something arguably more difficult on its debut album, "Channel Pressure" -- a truly imaginative take on '80s synth nostalgia with a knowing wink to soft-rock fromage.

The duo used to record under the un-Google-able moniker Games, and the old name was apt -- this is music with a sense of humor about itself and its source material.  The supremely hokey animated video for "World of Regret" makes that clear, but they mangle and rebuild their reference points with so much skill that it all feels singular to them. "Emergency Room" riffs on Gary Numan's bass-heavy bleats, but pairs it with sweeter vocals and a restlessness with samples that proves they know exactly what they're up to; "Too Much MIDI (Please Forgive Me)" has, in fact, the correct amount of MIDI programming to hit the same sweet spot of sun-damaged computer funk as their fellow travellers Nite Jewel, and the joke of its title never overwhelms the vibe or the precision of the arrangements.

The duo play a release party for "Channel Pressure" at the Echoplex tonight (bolstered by a solid undercard of Telepathe and Sun Araw). Those fearing a surplus of MIDI might want to steer clear, but for the rest of us, it might be a useful reminder that music can be funny and seriously capable at the same time.


Making noise in L.A.

A sonic rewind

Thom Yorke and Flying Lotus perform a surprise DJ set at Low End Theory

-- August Brown  

In rotation: Priscilla Ahn's 'When You Grow Up'

A series in Sunday Calendar about what Times writers & contributors are listening to right now...


With advance sales for the parody children’s book “Go the F— to Sleep” reaching frenzied levels, it’s clear that sleeping is on the minds of parents battling their babies for a little peace of mind. But what about adults and our own drifts into dreamland?

Enter local singer-songwriter Priscilla Ahn, with a lilting voice that can swaddle you against the cruel blows of the unwitting world, on her latest album, “When You Grow Up.” Produced by Ethan Johns, who knows a bit about smoothing the brows of the worried with Ray LaMontagne’s wooded constructions, the 12 songs on “When You Grow Up” are little rafts floating down a gentle river, built from light sprigs of guitar, brushed drums and witty keyboards that bring to mind the kind of wry storytelling at play in Aimee Mann’s best songs.

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EMA talks new record, emotional rollercoasters and giving the middle finger to California


Neurotic poetry, emotional scarring, slash-and-burn distortion and a raspy whisper with the weight of a roar — this is how EMA does pop music. Hidden behnd a curtain of blond bangs, the eyes of this 6-foot, South-Dakota-born songwriter — born Erika M. Anderson — have seen throttling ups and downs in her music career since the implosion of her highly touted experimental noise duo, Gowns, in early 2010.

After Gowns' demise, EMA frenetically toiled to maintain her music career after the band broke up, but it seemed to bury Anderson further into the emotional quicksand. Little response from labels over her early solo efforts and a frustrating, overly ambitious attempt at recording a 16-minute Robert Johnson cover of "Kind Hearted Woman Blues" (titled simply "Kind Heart") left her feeling pretty low.

But before Anderson decided to leave West Oakland, her second hometown, and return to live in her parents' basement in South Dakota, an opportunity knocked. The unexpected offer from Berlin-based indie label Souterrain Transmissions to release a solo album gave EMA an outlet for pent-up grief. Now on tour with her album "Past Life, Martyred Saints," EMA has distilled her noise-rock roots into a provocative record that opens up the pages of a tortured diary that gives a middle finger to pop convention.

Pop & Hiss: Between the 2010 release “Little Sketches on Tape” to your new album, “Past Life of Martyred Saints,” what are some key points of growth you’ve encountered in your song structures?

EMA: “Little Sketches on Tape” was pretty much a conceptual work. It was based on improvisation and using the tape player as an instrument. “Past Life of Martyred Saints” was more like a pop record, or my best attempt at a pop record. It’s the first time I’ve ever written anything with a conventional verse-chorus-verse type of thing. My songs tend to be “through-composed,” as in I write something and never repeat it. It’s so hard for me to come back into a chorus, I don’t know why. Even though I love pop music, I never do it.

In a way you’ve taken elements of what Gowns was and made it more accessible. What was your process in identifying a sound for this solo effort?

I feel like I’ve always had a really strong sense of what my sound palate is. With Gowns, I was just starting and just teaching myself how to use Pro Tools and just playing around. So some of those songs were really old. “Butterfly Knife” and “Marked” were the first time I was playing around with the computer and just putting things in random order. This time, I kind of just had more tools. I had a nicer studio and nicer stuff. But I’ve always had a sound signature that I’ve tried to mix my stuff into, so if anyone else tries to mix my songs I’m always like no, it’s not right, it doesn’t sound right.

Ezra Buchla [formerly of Gowns] has vocal and guitar parts on several songs on this EMA record. Is that what you mean by some of the songs were “older”?

Yeah, we were working on a Gowns record before we just kind of imploded and I was doing most of the work in West Oakland, but he definitely put down some stuff and some of the songs are older. And then we kind of imploded and didn’t talk for a while, but he wrote me an email saying: "You should use whatever you want from the record. You should put out these songs you’ve been working on. Please put them out.” So I took that as a blessing. And I think it would’ve seemed almost disrespectful if I had taken out his parts just because we weren’t in a band anymore.

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