“LA is more confusing now than any place I’ve ever been” – Lee Ranaldo, Sonic Youth
This week on the Daily Download our MP3 giveaways all come from the City Of Angels, as we try to make sense of the sprawling West Coast mess that is Los Angeles.
(Click this player to preview the first EP; tracks can be downloaded at the end)
LA is a strange place. Baking in the sun but choking in exhaust fumes, represented by palm trees but jacking water off neighbouring states, it’s a place of extreme contrasts – not least culturally.
On the one hand it’s given us The Beach Boys and The Byrds, NWA and G ‘n’ R, glam, hair, and thrash metal, Beck, Rage, Dre and Snoop but at the same time it suffers a bad rep, often slammed as shallow and vacuous, a town full of dreamers, hustlers and posers whose artistic merit is made mostly in plastic surgery rooms. East coast America can seem particularly sniffy at their western counterparts, with Woody Allen epitomising the attitude in Annie Hall (“I don’t want to live in a city where the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light”).
After bringing decades of mainstream music to the table, it might seem on first glance that LA dried up after the millennium, but scratch a little deeper and there’s an abundance of music to fall in love with. This five-part feature is a (by no means exhaustive) attempt to lasso some of the city’s key sounds and see how the place shapes the music made there.
Broadly speaking, you can divide the dominant music of LA into five segments (or we have anyway, feel free to chip in with your two cents below): the subversives, the tribal poppers, the psych rock contingent, the worldy folk types, and the ever-present Smell scenesters. More on the rest over the course of the week, but for today we’re concerned with the subversives – the avant garde, progressive, often art-rock or dance types that shun LA’s mainstream music and movie culture to pursue endless tangents.
Electronic noisemongers Health might be one of the better known (download ‘USA Boys’), but Aeriel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti are also worth investigating. They’ve morphed from one man into a full band and are poised to release a new LP of pop subversion, ‘Before Today’, on 4AD on next week after more than a decade of underground activity. It’s pop music, in a Beefheart kind of way. Or as their biog says “a jet shot of beautiful glowing puke on something recently mopped”. Download ‘Round And Round’ and make your own mind up. A MySpace rummage round these bands offers up more oddball treats – the squishy demented sound of Softboiled Eggies and Holy Shit (download ‘Rough & Tumble') for starters – while you can pick up MP3s from more of LA’s avant garde (including a band whose music is described as “the Earth’s period”) on the WFMU radio website.
Lest we disappear into the long tail forever though, here’s two big names from the world of the subversives and their thoughts on Los Angeles.
Liars began life in LA, and after making albums in New York, Berlin and New Jersey returned there to get back into surfing. Well, of course that’s a lie; they’re less into hanging ten than The Drums (Aaron aside), but LA has an irresistible pull for them, even if they loathe the place so much they invented an alternative reality to escape the city on their recent album ‘Sisterworld’. I went to speak to them about the dangers of the city, the rampant homelessness, how LA they are, and how to grow cacti in the desert.
(Incidentally, The Quietus and Pitchfork have both spoken to the band recently about LA and ran interviews worth reading)
We Are The World
While Liars define themselves by opposing the grain of the city, roaming its underbelly and shining a light on its hidden corners and dark secrets, We Are The World embrace LA’s flamboyant showiness.
Lady Gaga’s favourite new band named themselves after America’s version of Band Aid, the Lionel Richie / Michael Jackson charity tune that was recently resurrected for Haiti. It’s a move that would need some serious goods to back up, which WATW have in demented spades.
We asked the band their feelings on Los Angeles.
What is LA to you?
“Bruises on a tranny hookers leg, contemporary dance, nice waves, Flying
Lotus, tons of opportunity and a city on the long path to redefining
What does LA sound like?
“In order for sound to propagate through a gas medium, the molecules must collide. That is how the energy is transferred. In a rarified medium, the chances of collision can be vanishingly small, and so much of the energy of a sound wave will be dissipated as random motion rather than transverse waves. In this case, it's a lovely sound.”
What are the top 5 LA bands and their best tracks?
VoicesVoices – ‘Flulyk Visions’
Hecuba – ‘Even So’
Flying Lotus – ‘Melt!’
Tearist – ‘Headless’
Snoop Dogg – ‘Drop It Like It's Hot’
What, if anything, makes you distinctly LA?
“Nothing makes us LA, which makes us completely LA!”
We Are The World are signed to LA label Iamsound and feature in their collection of LA-themed 7” releases – more on that later in the week as we look at the rest of the city's sounds.
Daily Download LA Special #1
Liars - 'Scissor'
Liars - 'The Overachievers'
We Are The World - 'Fight Song'
We Are The World - 'Clay Stones (Delivery remix)'
We Are The World - 'Fight Song (Voices Voices remix)'
Download the EP
WIN: We've got a pair of tickets to Liars' London gig at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire on Thursday (27th May) to give away, alongside a deluxe edition of the album (LP or CD, your choice). Just comment below with your favourite LA band right now and I'll pick someone on Wednesday morning.
Daily Download LA Special #2 - The Worldy Folk Types
Daily Download LA Special #3 - The Smell
Daily Download LA Special #4 - The Psych-rockers
Daily Download LA Special #5 - The Otherworldly Oddballs
Read Mary Ann Hobbs' excursion into LA's bass music and visual artists on the Radar blog