Category: The Like

VIDEOS: The Like dodge a breakup and revamp their image with 'Release Me'

Two years ago the Like were heading nowhere, and a sophomore album looked unlikely. The band spent much of 2007 working with a noted producer, only to see the completed work never appear on the Interscope Geffen A&M release schedule. A breakup seemed a safer bet than a comeback.

Signed straight out of high school, the band's 2005 debut "Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?" arrived with a bevy of hype, but sales were tepid, and the media focused largely on the backgrounds of the band members. So let's get that out of the way: The father of singer Elizabeth "Z" Berg is well-known A&R man/producer Tony Berg, and drummer Tennessee Thomas hails from prime rhythmic lineage, as her father Pete has long been associated with Elvis Costello. 

It's not a topic the band is excited to discuss. "At this point, it’s wild that people are still talking about that," Berg said. "There’s lots to talk about."

She isn't kidding. The Like finally returned after a five-year absence this week with "Release Me," an album that marks a significant change in direction from the glossy pop-rock of the band's debut. Working with Amy Winehouse producer Mark Ronson, the Like have reemerged with a simpler, dirtier and tougher sound. The album is packed with 1960s-inspired girl group confidence, colorful organs and Berg's sweetly scuffed-up vocals. 

If you happen to be one of the 21,000 people that Nielsen SoundScan counts as buying the Like’s debut, forget it. You'll likely never hear those songs again.

“It’s not like there’s a demand for it,” Berg said. “People aren’t screaming out our old songs. And truly, this is such a different band. To think about singing my lyrics from that time is weird for me. We would have to totally rearrange those songs. I don’t know if I want to look back.”

The Like of "Release Me" is a more streamlined, direct band. "When we made this record, I think we figured out our sound," Berg is quoted as saying in the above video. "We created the concept of what this band is."

And it likely wouldn't have happened if it weren't for Ronson. As detailed in Thursday's Calendar, Ronson not only helped the band reshape its sound, but acted as the Like's savior. A meeting between Ronson and Thomas led to an ill-fated romance, but also gave the Like a second chance.  

"I ran into Tennessee in London in September of 2008," Ronson said. "I asked her what was up with her band. Her shoulders slumped, and she said, ‘We did this album and the label shelved it.’ I always thought that as a band they haven’t tapped their potential. They were girls who could play their instruments and write good songs, and their records didn’t reflect that."

With a new a sound and a new album, the Like, now a four-piece with keyboardist Annie Monroe and bassist Laena Geronimo, has also been busy reshaping its image (Monroe and Geronimo joined after "Release Me" was recorded). Though it didn't make it into Thursday's piece, founding member Charlotte Froom, who left days before the band recorded with Ronson, reflected on how the band had been perceived in the past.

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Album review: The Like's 'Release Me'

THE_LIKE_240 This Los Angeles group has a great gimmick (its original lineup featured the daughters of three music-biz veterans), a great look (“Quadrophenia” meets “The Virgin Suicides”) and in frontwoman Z Berg a singer with a great voice (and a great name). What the Like has never really had is great songs. Listening to the band's 2005 debut, “Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?,” you keep waiting for the music to reveal hooks worthy of its pretty, post-Pretenders vibe. They never come.

For help enlivening their sound on “Release Me,” Berg and her mates recruited Mark Ronson, another record-industry scion (his stepfather is Mick Jones of Foreigner) who's best known for producing Amy Winehouse's “Back to Black.” He recast the Like as a '60s-style girl group with spooky organ licks, sweet-and-sour vocal harmonies and sassy tough-chick lyrics about love; Ronson even brought in a couple of ringers from throwback-soul queen Sharon Jones' band, the Dap-Kings.

The result is infinitely more memorable than “Are You Thinking,” though it's no less mannered. “I'm all about chances, madness and mayhem,” Berg sings in “Catch Me If You Can,” and on an album of skillfully art-directed retro-pop gems, that couldn't be further from the sweet truth.

— Mikael Wood

The Like
 "Release Me"

(Downtown/Geffen)

Three stars (Out of four)


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Incoming: Caribou's math-whiz dance, Frightened Rabbit, the National and more

Caribou---O-600t

Even the math geeks have to cut loose now and again.

Over the course of the past decade, Daniel Snaith's body of work -- first under the name Manitoba and now Caribou -- has turned an electronic eye toward pop's past. His detailed songs, sometimes spazzy and often a little dreamy, put a modern gloss on '60s psychedelics. While always candy-colored and accessibly melodic, it was geek stuff -- seemingly loaded with layers and diversions for the vinyl set. 

Now with "Swim," the mathematician-turned-musician just wants the world to dance. Released last month via Merge Records, "Swim" puts the emphasis squarely on the groove. Opener "Odessa" is a sugar-high of rhythms, with synths that mimic whistles and vintage keyboard-sounds moving in a rave-like fury. 

And then things get weird. "Kali" is hypnotic mix of manipulated and vibrating electronic noises, "Lalibela" is minimalist charm, "Sun" is bachelor-pad space jazz and "Bowls" is a heady trip around the globe, with hand claps, harp-like sounds and rural beats. If one can't quite place the instruments that comprise the beat, Snaith said that was the intention.

"Those are samples from actual Tibetan bowls, but then they were played on a keyboard," Snaith said. "The fact that I’m playing those parts affects the timing, the sound and the harmonics. There’s a lot of that on the album -- a sample of one instrument that’s played on the keyboard to give it a different character. It’s all about making a weird hybrid."

Living in London, the Canadian said "Swim" was inspired by adventurous British dance producer James Holden and features a sound he first wanted to capture on 2007 pop album "Andorra." Of course, being asked to spin records in clubs also played an impact in Snaith's dance-heavy makeover. The artist was turned on by the instant feedback of dance culture.

"You get an intuitive response and a really honest read," said Snaith, who tested the tracks that ultimately constituted "Swim" in clubs. "People didn't know it was my stuff, so a lot of what I DJ'd, even if it was just a rhythmic snipped, ended up on the album." 

It will be created live Wednesday at the El Rey. Touring with a full band, Snaith will translate the electronics to the stage with a pair of drum kits, guitar, keyboard and bass. Though "Swim" is Snaith's most overtly electronic effort, he wanted to leave room for live improvisation and is striving for a fluid, heavily connected stage setup.

"The technology in the last couple years has leapt forward," Snaith said. "Four or five years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible to do all the technological things that we would have wanted to do. For example, there’s video projections that go along with the music, but they’re integrated. They’re being played live by someone on stage. Also, one step of a pedal triggers something else to happen. Or one press of a key on a keyboard can change the effect on another instrument. Everything is inter-connected." 

It sounds like the kind of complex live show that only a math-whiz could pull off. Yet Snaith, who has a PhD to his name, said the academic and artist worlds rarely meet. 

"The mathematics I was doing was so esoteric," he said. "It didn’t have any direct input on the music I was creating. Music was always intuitive and emotional. There are probably parts of both things that appeal to the same part of my personality, but I think I’d be making the exact same music if I had never done a mathematic equation."

Caribou at the El Rey, 5515 Wilshire Blvd., with Toro y Moi and Dublab DJs. Tickets are $20, not including Ticketmaster surcharges. 

Some other notable shows this week: 

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Is it time to care about the Like again?

So let's get the skepticism out of the way. Well connected and well financed, the Like were the can't-miss Los Angeles band that missed. The band's 2005 Geffen release "Are You Thinking What I'm Thinking?" came and went without impacting the U.S. pop chart, its power-pop gloss and teenaged romanticism leaving a burned-out trail of hype in its wake. 

Doomed, the band seemed, to forever live on the periphery of the L.A. music landscape, performing the occasional gig to an audience heavy on industry scenesters. If they were even that lucky. 

Though the Like's debut packed plenty of wistful melodies and jangly guitars -- even the act's harder songs, such as "What I Say and What I Mean," were more pretty than edgy -- the band's story was one that inspired dubious looks. After all, the father of lead singer Elizabeth Berg is well-known industry A&R man/producer Tony Berg, and it was no secret that pops had been an exec with Geffen.

The_like_image But all of that? Forget it. The Like disappeared, got a makeover and toughened up. 

Now hurtling toward her mid-20s, Berg's once potentially cloying vocals today come with a side of scruff, and a new song like "Fair Game" is two-and-a-half minutes of whip-lash bliss. It's here that a shout-out must be given to newcomer Annie Monroe, whose vintage organ brings the cut's garage rock strut to the dance floor. 

So yes, Berg is still using the letter "Z" as her stage name, but I'm not holding that against her, and neither should you. Not as long as she's cracking out tunes as sharp as "He's Not a Boy." She's cool and matter-of-fact, but her band is ready for a pep-rally, albeit one from another era. Drummer Tennessee Thomas and bassist Laena Geronimo craft a rhythm built for handclaps, and a shout-along bridge should have audiences resurrecting retro dances like the Watusi

How to explain the new sound? Perhaps producer Mark Ronson had something to do with it. 

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