Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Nicole Vaughn has all of the elements that make for a great folk act: introspective lyrics that explore the trials of the heart and societal ills; songs that can be done acoustically, with catchy riffs or upbeat and rock-steady; and, of course, with her petite stature, tousled blond hair and infectious smile, she's just adorable. The recent addition of a backup band and a solid new album have breathed new life into her career; Say It is a totally relatable set of songs that speaks of heartbreak without being shallow or commonplace. In 2010, her songs were prominently featured in the documentary Finding Kind, which screened as part of this year's Newport Beach Film Festival, among others. And she's constantly playing all over Southern California, which is truly a treat for those in the crowd who enjoy her energetic and touching performances.
We heard that electronic experimentalists Do LaB started putting on Lightning In a Bottle because they didn't want to be twiddling their thumbs between Coachella and Burning Man every year. The three-night, four-day festival at Oak Canyon Ranch features DJs, bands, installation art, spiritual talks, yoga and organic food, ensuring a lot of Hula-Hooping, fire-dancing and brain-wobbling from attendees. Bringing a crunchy-granola vibe to antiseptic Orange County is a feat in itself (be prepared for poi spinning and worm-composting classes), but it's so family-friendly that circus performers and freaks on stilts commingle with 5-year-olds racing toy boats on the lake. The sun floats down in dazzling shades of orange, pink and blue over Irvine Lake every day, giving way to the festival's neon lights, four-on-the-floor house beats, and performances from such big-name acts as Booka Shade and the Album Leaf. Transcendent.
The Hootenanny serves as not only an annual rockabilly festival, but also a retro fashion show. Though respect must be paid to those talented gentlemen who pull off gravity-defying pompadours, the main attraction is the women. They need not bare all to turn heads, as they parade in lavish updos, vintage-cut dresses and stilettos. No hair is out of place, and their makeup is always flawless despite early-July temperatures that reach toward the triple digits. Some girls look to the likes of Bettie Page, Mae West and Dita Von Teese for inspiration. Others take Old Hollywood glamour or 1950s-housewife style and fuse it with punk and tattoo culture. The result is modern homage to midcentury styles at the largest local rockabilly event.
Good God, this album rocks. From beginning to end, listening to this 11-song set generates the same apoplectic anxiety and guilty fun you experienced as a 15-year-old sneaking out in the middle of the night to ride on the back of your boyfriend's motorcycle and drink beers in abandoned warehouses. Consider the anthemic swagger of "Jules' Story," or the exultant, heart-stopping breaks of "Always Afraid." Crystal Antler's sophomore release uses the requisite five-man-band instruments to display a sophisticated take on arrythmic beats, shrieking vocals and shredding, rollercoaster-y, feedbacking guitars. And somehow (especially on songs such as "Fortune Telling"), the overall set conveys a sinister, sexy mood that makes you greedy for song after song after song, until you've listened to the album 20 times on repeat without noticing.
"Rock band" may be a bit generic a descriptor for this quartet, whose sound righteously struts the battlements of metal, rock and indie. But the "best" part is apt. Winners of the award for Best New Artist at this year's Orange County Music Awards, Railroad to Alaska bring to the stage an invigorating blend of visceral energy and inventive artistry. While banging their heads behind sprawling waves of cascading hair, guitarists Justin Suitor and Jeff Lyman pluck out a nimble interplay of classic-rock-era riffage in the vein of AC/DC mixed with psychedelic, reverb-laden ambiance. While their songs sound great on an iPod, their live shows are the main event: Witness Suitor abandoning the stage to howl amongst the metal monkeys in the pit. Interesting side note: Suitor demonstrates his range of talent and lends his songwriting services to local pop band Honeypie.
The Cosmonauts are punk as fuck, just not in the sped-up-and-spit-out-lyrics-to-three-chord-guitar-songs way. No, they're punk as fuck in that careless, who-gives-a-shit, it's-all-about-honest-to-goodness-rock-&-roll way. Just don't equate that with sloppiness. Their songs have garbled vocals, spun-around choruses and distorted, spacey guitar drones, but they're deliciously hook-heavy and incredibly danceable. Watching the band live, prepare to sweat your socks off.