Indie = Local
You know when we write, we're not aiming to please. It's from the heart, and if it pisses people off, so be it. We also always hope to send our editors into conniptions at the same time; so in that spirit, here's the longest, most bitter, most hopeful thing that's ever been written on an *ist site. (It's a list of local LA bands we love, in case you wanna just click past the preamble.)
Our devotion to rock 'n roll is mean and true. And the musical gods in our storied pantheon and the genius of their thousands of songs may never fade. But having played in enough bands and hung out with enough hot new kids, we've developed sort of an attitude toward bands that make it big in the modern, cut-throat music industry. No matter how good their songs are, how ferocious their delivery, we can't help thinking of every new band on KROQ just how many dicks they sucked to get that little slice of faux-fame they can't wait to leverage by banging as many underage girls as they can cram into their tour bus before their fifteen minutes are up.
Maybe we're just getting older. But it's terrible, because the current climate of naked greed nearly turned us off completely from new music, and new music is what we love best. Gone are the days when a struggling new band could be the young braves we were rooting for, who promised to turn the dirty record industry upside-down. Now no matter how "indie" they are, they're just a rip-off of this, or a tribute to that, and you gotta think about all their enormous egos, and how long they argued about what their "look" should be, and how smarmy they sound once they finally figured it out. What's worse, the companies have taken to turning bands over so quickly that the kids have no time to mature anymore before they're boiled down into OC sludge and ladled out to fourteen-year-old girls -- the largest sector of the consumer pop market, who coincidentally know the absolute least about what good music actually consists of. So now you find yourself wading through a thousand giggling nymphettes with braces, just to hear a band who rightly should have struggled another couple years in front of smaller audiences, and the looks you see on the those rockers' faces are so plastic that you can't appreciate the music, you can't pick out anything but the dollar signs behind their beady eyes.
So it's all a major downer, but we can't turn ourselves off from new music, either. Instead, we've done what all aficionados do, when the major leagues become cluttered with high-priced asswipes. We've turned to the local arena for signs of intelligent life, and lo and behold, we've found it. LA has an incredible wealth of small, struggling bands whose integrity (until they get big) and honesty put those perfectly coifed MTV sycophants to shame. We don't intend to make a comprehensive list of it, but we'd like to share with you some of the hard-workin' local kids we've found who're still making top-notch music, untouched by the wrinkled hands of baby-boomer greed, kids whose music we can love without the shameful feeling of shopping for CDs at Wal-Mart.
We'll start with what might be our favorite underground band in LA, Irving. Their lyrics, conversational and sarcastic, and their simple, room-miked, snare-driven drums remind you they're the illegitimate children of the Fugazi + Pavement + Smog epoch of unbridled apathy. But what's so striking about this band, their lyrics, and the way the simplicity of their parts fit together, is the humor and the empathy they're capable of summoning in works of rock that aren't necessarily intended to be sensitive -- certainly none of the ugly Hellenistic pseudo-emotional orgy that comprises the bulk of current pop.
At first wrapping themselves in familiar, comfortably Beatles-esque patterns that only rarely -- though brilliantly -- stretch beyond the scope of '60s amp-distortion, the band then expresses the necessary second-layer, postmodern emotion by substituting the expected psychedelic trippiness for strange, dissonant dissemblings of predictable structures that suddenly shoot like cracks and faultlines through the hearts of their perfect pop confections. You can feel in their music not just the devotion to the simple hopefulness of the sixties, but really all the unraveling and disintegration that came after it. Oh, and they're a great band to listen to stoned.
Already making an enormous splash for a relatively untested band (thanks in no small part to their extremely photogenic boy/girl front duo, known to get hot and heavy on-stage), The Lovemakers have recently been plucked out of scenester obscurity by Interscope, and are set for a rocket ride to the stratosphere. Apparently, the masters of war have chosen danceable electronic rock c. 1986 for their 2006 flavor. 20 year cycle wha? But whether you harbor nostalgia for the Reagan years or, like us, are desperately trying to awake from this recurring political nightmare, it's impossible not to get caught up in the joyful sincerity of three-chord pop songs you're sure you made out to once in high school, or the gratuitously tongue-in-cheek electronic funk contraptions the band employs to poke fun at its idols. Like it or not, their faces are gonna be plastered solid from Doheny to Fairfax come the Spring; might as well get our fill of 'em before the mob does.
Eagle Rockers The Silversun Pickups' inspiringly sustained explorations of lo-fi sonic territory encompass a stunning dynamic range. Their songs are constructed with tremendous build-ups and periods of foreboding calm that leave us shaken by the Modest Mouse-like fits of emotional explosion which inevitably follow. Their name says it all; a brilliant addition to the umpteenth high on glue generation of the white-trash-western tradition.
Take the Gram Parsons/Sweetheart of the Rodeo sound one step sweeter still, entering territory almost John Denver-esque, and you'll find I See Hawks in LA, a band that further defines a growing cleavage in mojave "country" between the darker, slide-driven bands still essentially rock in format (like the Idaho Falls, also well worth checking out) and the saccharine, multi-part harmonizers who derive more directly from the original country genre. If sweet and sappy's your thing, I See Hawks are smooth, skilled, older players, who bring a certain maturity to the sound that we've always found lacking in, say, Beachwood Sparks or northerners The Court & Spark (though both those bands, now that we think of it, have deeply affected us.)
When you find yourself in a light mood, check out the Ditty Bops, an anachronistic girl duo who sing pitch-perfect two part Simon & Garfunklesque harmonies to a kind of self-aware folk mixed with thirties era, whitewashed blues progressions, with a running puppet show beside them onstage. And as long as we're talking meta-folk, we'd be remiss not to mention Becky Stark and the Lavender Diamond, but then, we already did an interview with her.
For something completely different, wheel over to Mr. T's on the north side, where Artichoke's maintained a long-standing monthly residency. They're the kind of wiggy, Theremin-happy garage band that's unafraid to knock out two dozen manic songs about famous scientists, in alphabetical order. If you were ever into They Might Be Giants, you'll fall head over heels for these kids who aren't afraid to talk nerdy.
They're not technically a local band, but Santa Barbara's close enough, and by our reckoning The Coral Sea can't come shimmering into town often enough. Their new album, "Volcano & Heart," spins psych-pop guitars and electro-twisted strings into glorious 1-3-4-major-6 anthems of desperately soul-wringing insecurity. The orgasmic effect is that of stirring "Pablo Honey" and the "White Album" together with a head full of ecstasy, and is absolutely not to be missed.
For the more adventurous, we won't go so far as to recommend, but would simply suggest there's something unaccountably hard to look away from - terrifying, even - about Ninja Academy, two crazy masked weirdos who split off from Hidden to thrash out super-speedy Emo Violent spy music in all the trashiest parts of town. Check out the videos on their website before deciding whether this surreally invasive experience is right for you.
A band we've been following with great admiration for some time are The Red Onions, a crew from the badlands of Gardena. This band is capable of laying down thick, dirty, Stooges-style rock & roll with tons of sex drive, jabbing guitar lines and suspenseful hooks that could sweat the habit off a nun. Naysayers who claim the mean streets of our smoggy basin can't produce a band rivaling anything out of New York should be ready to have their heads imploded at one of these shows.
Equally intense, though far more abstract, are The Bubonic Plague (not the old punk band by the same name), a girl-fronted group of nihilistically screamo local kids that in some uncanny, perhaps unintended way, manage to tap viscerally straight into the filth and frustration of our times. This band draws an ultra-in-crowd that's often half the fun, and for very good reason.
We're always excited when strange seers Gram Rabbit pilgrimage from their desert hideout in Joshua Tree to lay doom on audiences at the LA clubs, luring us into their outlaw ways with eerie synth/country stylings that breed Stereolab with Townes Van Zandt. Although in a way they're mining the Rain Phoenix/Causey Way band-as-a-cult theme, they've definitely got their own thing going musically. Sometimes we even drive out to the desert to catch them at their local hang, Pappy and Harriet's in Pioneertown, which may just be the greatest place on earth to enjoy psychedelic drugs.
We caught Devics during their residency last month at Tangier, and were duly impressed. The band, from Los Angeles but based in Italy, are well-worth hearing for their moog-adapted take on the late Paisley Underground sound from San Francisco, which encompassed bands like the Rain Parade and eventually spawned Mazzy Star. But Devics' scope is broader and more eclectic than their cousins', and we can't help hearing a kind of world-weary sadness in Sara Lov's voice that speaks of where we've traveled since that last revival of optimism. This is music for a long night of driving up the coast; they're great live, too, but you might wind up depressed unless you go with your sweetie.
God. There are so many more. And so many we haven't even heard yet. These are just some of the current crop of little-known local bands who've stirred us, gotten us thinking, moving, given us hope. Name some others for us that we can add to our list. Thinking about it, we could never be sick of new music. On the contrary, really: We're just sick of being fed the same old shit.