By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
It's good to see OC's long history of cartoon character bands finally crack. The old-timey punker bands get in museums as smiley faces under Mohican cuts and the interim years of one influence/one idea/one haircut/one eyeliner pencil rock are best left to archives not available online. But as they say, there is a little light: the new young polites, listening close and staying independent and running around the country to quality reviews without anybody really wise to where they come from.
Cold War Kids, for instance, have repeatedly been residented to Silverlake—they were on the streets there sometimes, though they were rehearsing in Fullerton and La Mirada then—but this is not an LA sound. It's like the downtown islands in OC: weird and old and stuck between the freeways.
Cold War Kids you read about that last time; Fullerton's Richard Swift is a show mate and an Emitt Rhodes/Paul McCartney songwriter with discipline to match his talent. Matt Costa is that cheerful guy with the acoustic guitar who covered Big Star. Dusty Rhodes and the River Band are the Anaheim shit-kickers who had a swap meet rock vibe before just about anyone, and LD & Ariano are the HB hip-hop duo doing Showbiz & AG off Skylab Drive.
There's more to this, too—on the top side of this same wave, Rocco DeLuca's dobro Burden are a set of boots to root for—but together it's a set of bands mostly from the core of the county kicking off usual local tradition (no Marshall stacks?) and finding some out-of-town recognition for it, too. Generally you just get one or the other—now there's a lot of people getting both at once, and maybe pulling some hopeful juniors behind them as they get going.
Part of it is a new class of strong independents that wasn't as strong a decade ago—labels able to find and push where yesterday they could maybe only find and then leave their acts waving for rescue. Swift's Secretly Canadian has award-winning Antony and the Johnsons and re-issues from Brit blueprint band the Swell Maps; LD & Ariano's label, Up Above, is one of the top independent hip-hop imprints on the West Coast; Cold War Kids got in early to new indie Downtown alongside Gnarls Barkley and Eagles of Death Metal; Matt Costa has a little spot on Jack Johnson's mellow ex-soundtrack label; Dusty Rhodes isn't signed yet but has toured to bars in Kansas and back and it shook the looseness off them—and when Mars Volta's keyboardist/all-round renaissance engenderer Ikey Owens finishes production on their first full-length, their delayed due will come. Some of these bands receive distribution from major labels—that's part of the reason they can get out and tour—but there is none of the slack-mouth cluelessness that's marked attempts to make OC music a mascot for some surf 'n' sport lifestyle market.
And the time is right. Things have changed since 1995 (which in OC was basically 1975) and the audiences are larger, younger, all computered-up and pasty and wimpy—but also able to process a little subtlety: you don't got to pound the point into them like you might have. Funny how the sound gets softer as the world gets worse but the extent of my sociological knowledge is limited to the correct spelling of sociological, and anyway you can tell that there's more room for comparatively sophisticated bands in the normal person world now. That reflects on the small level here: it's the first time OC bands don't have to have big amps.
And it's also the people. Modern OC music basically kicked with the Posh Boy et al. scene 25 years ago with local labels that could pop a lot of releases into an audience that would buy them, and so a sound and a scene gets imprinted into the geography. For years every person had some kind of memory. Now that's aging out, for better or whatever. These new bands either came from somewhere else or were dragging around in their daddies' vas deferens and missed the whole thing, or something—point being they never had that big boot print on their perspective. They don't seem to have much of an outline around them at all; they don't care about whatever MTV-able stuff came from here in the '90s, or whatever eBay-able stuff came before. They came to their sounds from different places—which is good. Talk Brazilian funk/talk British folk/talk Cleveland power pop/talk hippie wah-wah jams/talk Brian Wilson with the musicians you wouldn't expect, which means the bands give their listeners more. Matt Costa covering Alex Chilton in the Verizon Wireless on an acoustic guitar—that's interesting, and an underage kid in Huntington Beach getting serious comparisons to DITC producers? And Biolans trying to make Pop Group sound like Dock Boggs?
It's sad to see past establishment fade the same way it's sad to stretch your first gray hairs in front of your eyes but it has to happen and should keep happening—perfection isn't coming but progression will. New young polite and independent: let them take that as far as they can get.
PLUS: Other locals to keep in mind. Anyone who was in Part The Clouds will always do good; watch for Matt McCluer and catch Matt Adams when he comes back from SF (where he gets to be in their Best of). Technicali's Lost Art (and longtime comrade Hochii) is going to get notice soon, same for Abstract Workshop. Sendaero I always think of, and thee Makeout Party (who I got fired from because I'm awful) is the last suburban rock & roll band in America. Jah Fellowship's new full length is coming with Scientist at the controls and more, I'm sure. (If I could call roll I'd be a teacher. Sorry if I fucked your marketing.)
FINALLY:I'll tell you, I hate ranking like this. It maybe helps the one or two bands to get their names in and it gets the other thousand bottom feeders all flapping their flippers, which is a shame because that's motivation and energy they don't have reserve enough to waste. Musicians compete enough with jobs/relationships/softening teeth/weakening muscle/thinning hair and they don't need principals dipping in with prize ribbons to make the mood worse. Plus, I am discouraged from including the many good bands maintaining residency in Long Beach—the Weekly is easy on immigration from Mexico but hell down on you if you try and cross east over the 605—but expect good things from upcoming Greater California and Grand Elegance full lengths; plus Soft Hands should get a real release and we should all help to get Brett Cutts' album out in a more fitting format than CDR.