The Arts and Other Highfalutin' Stuff

Actors, troubadours, campfire singers, cowboy poets & purty pictures (Please don’t  shoot the piano player!)

Thick, thunderous and thwift, Hirax's music pummels and roils with apocalyptic intensity. Guitar solos scald and ululate like banshees, the bass is a perpetual blue-whale belch, the drums maniacally gallop and tattoo your ears like punch presses, and the vocals sound like the hoarse shouts of AC/DC's Bon Scott, if he'd eaten more raw meat during his tragically short, loud life. In this style of music, nearly every song strives to be a sonic facsimile of Armageddon. Hirax's versions of End Times just happen to be more convincing than most bands'. What's more, they record for Black Devil Records. Mercy!

Best Album of the Past 12 Months
The Willowz's Chautauqua
myspace.com/thewillowz
Anaheim quartet the Willowz—Richie James Follin (vocals/guitar), Loren Humphrey (drums), Jessica Reynoza (bass/vocals) and Aric Bohn (guitar/vocals)—formed in 2002 and shortly thereafter had a couple of their tunes on the soundtrack to director Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep. Rolling Stone and Spin are on their jock, too, but don't hold that against the Willowz. Heady accomplishments and kudos for such a young band, but the Willowz haven't let that inflate their egos or force them to bland out. Instead, they've rampaged back with Chautauqua (Dim Mak), a brash refinement of the slashing, tuneful garage rock of 2004's Are Coming and 2005's Talk in Circles. The Willowz understandably draw a lot of White Stripes comparisons: Both groups embrace rock's pre-Summer of Love innocence and bare-bones raucousness while showing respect for its blues and R&B progenitors. Follin's vocals resemble Jack White's, but the former's are even higher and more dynamic than the ex-Detroit star's; that could be down to the Willowz's habit of having Reynoza sing in unison with or slightly behind Follin's lines. Together, they cohere into that sexy snarl Neil Hagerty and Jennifer Herrema mastered so well in Royal Trux. Thankfully, Humphrey is a better drummer than Meg White.

In their earlier days, the Willowz busted a lot of familiar garage-rock moves, but did so with brash panache. The Willowz retain vestigial traces of that m.o., but they've clearly progressed, and in the process, they've positioned themselves as a unit destined to have a long, fruitful career—especially if Michel Gondry keeps making movies.

Readers' Choice: Robbers & Cowards, Cold War Kids

Best Record Collector
John Basil
John Basil has had more records pass through his hands than there are jobbed boobs in Southern California. Basil not only has owned several thousand of them (records, not boobs), but he has possessed thousands of the highest quality specimens, the likes of which have been envied by the wax-hoarding cognoscenti for decades. He currently owns about 3,000 vinyl recordings, but Basil figures that, at its peak, his collection topped 15,000. (He began accumulating records at age 12 in 1979.) His collection today is meticulously organized: library, sound effects/environmental/concept, soundtracks, rock (divided by country), American soul jazz/funk, 20th-century electronic, international, classical, spoken-word/incredibly strange. Other oddities include recordings about Buckminster Fuller, drugs, Walt Whitman's poetry, black American dialects—and ventriloquism. "Those are the most twisted," Basil says. "I like twisted."

Best Local Rock Band
Blank Blue
myspace.com/blankblue
Long Beach's Elvin Estela is moderately famous for being Nobody—the nom de musique under which he's released four albums (and a remix collection) of celestial soul-jazz-inflected hip-hop and honey-filtered psych pop. And now Estela has added yet another facet to his bejeweled musical output: Blank Blue. A collaboration between Estela and fellow Fingerprints Records employee and vocalist Niki Randa (along with a loose cast of friends including drummer Andres Renteria), Blank Blue expand Nobody's exploration of the underground '60s psychedelia of bands in which electronic experimentation factored as heavily as baroque melody. Blank Blue are still in their early developmental stages, but the songs they've finished so far possess a dreamy, baroque lushness—and a subtle funkiness. So, what's Blank Blue's debut going to sound like? "So far, every song is pretty distinct from one another," Estela says. "Some are really slow and murky, some are bright and beat-heavy. My friend Bill said it sounds like a sizzling sun. That made me happy. . . . It's the juxtaposition that keeps me going."

Readers' Choice: I Am Ghost

Best Cheap Concert Experience
The Parking Lot at Wild Rivers*
8770 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine
www.wildrivers.com
Seriously, who wants to get up at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, desperately log on to Ticketmaster in hopes of scoring a semi-decent seat for a concert at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, and even then, if you succeed, take the huge hit to your credit-card balance that shows cost nowadays? Forget all that jazz. For a mere 8 bucks—less than the "service charge" —you can park in the adjacent Wild Rivers parking lot and hear the bands loud and clear. One caveat is that this only works for day shows, as Wild Rivers closes at 8 p.m., but the opening acts are usually the most interesting bands anyway. And good news, cheapskates: Wild Rivers had its lease extended through next summer!

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