Diamond Rings aka John O'Regan started his set at Amoeba Hollywood Oct. 18 with "Runaway Love," the heaviest song on his new album, Free Dimensional. The song sounded especially full and rocking live, backed by a band of Beastie Boy lookalikes. He dropped the butch guitar for some adorably goofy dance moves and rapping and on "Hand Over My Heart," giving him the chance to indulge his inner Chaka Khan. O'Regan's voice got deep for defiant single "I'm Just Me," which splits the difference between Diamond Rings' rock and Eurodisco leanings, though it definitely was heavier live. "A to Z" was one of the best-sounding songs of the set, with O'Regan's guitar cutting through like an Edge solo, while his vocals came through loosely and clearly. He played his previous hit "All Yr Songs," from his previous album, Special Affections, introducing it as one of the first songs he ever wrote. This kid in the front headbanged to the entire song, it was very cute. O'Regan closed the set with the hip-hoppy "Day & Night," which was a lot more fun live than on record, as some of O'Regan's eccentricities — his rapping, for one — translate better live. The set had the effect of punching up the songs from Free Dimensional and making O'Regan seem like the kind of artist who will take chances and do what he wants, while his attention to detail, from his band's glammy hip-hop look to his songs' nuanced electronic effects, ensure he'll entertain any audience while following his muse. See more photos of the show here!
From the get-go, Bat for Lashes aka Natasha Khan is grabbing for the brass ring on The Haunted Man, declaring "thank God I'm alive" on opener "Lillies." Though she still incorporates the inward-looking, intimate goth-tinged singer-songwriter sound of her first album and part of her second, on this third album she engages in embracing pop in a way she never has, save for on her breakthrough single, “Daniel.” “All Your Gold” is the kind of shivery, evocative pop that Kate Bush pioneered in the ’80s and which has netted a bevy of recent followers (from Florence + The Machine to Beach House), but Khan does it better than most of the pack for her impeccable use of unforced detail. As on her first single, “What’s a Girl to Do,” she sings of lacking affection for someone, this time because of past injury — “today I was a dead girl walking,” she sings creepily amid stuttering guitar and a heavy dance beat that sweeps you off your feet. Similarly, the stunning “Laura” details a fading beauty or diva with beautiful tragicomedy — “you’ll be famous for longer than them, your name is tattooed on every boy’s skin.” The song’s subject remains ever elusive, yet you feel for her out of the burning intensity in Khan’s voice. Khan shows a knack for memorable choruses across The Haunted Man, even as she can sound distant and lost, creating an intriguing push-and-pull, from “Laura’s” “you’re more than a superstar” to “Marilyn’s” grand pop moment of “turnin’ into a Marilyn, leaning out of your big car” amid that song’s slow-motion synth-and-drum-machine fireworks. Because of the album’s immaculate pacing, where these high points are broken up by headier moments, like the warbling “Oh Yeah” and orchestral flourishes of “Winter Fields,” that you come back to once some of the glory of the album’s singles wears off. It's altogether one of the most rapturous and addictive listening experiences of recent memory, surely one of the year’s best.
Chelsea Wolfe released my favorite album of late with Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs. True to its name, it’s a spare set of darkly beautiful tunes with little more than Wolfe’s voice, acoustic guitar and strings, offering a sound that’s at once hollow and spilling over with emotion. Wolfe spoke with me a bit about her latest album before her performance at Amoeba Hollywood Sunday Oct. 21 at 5 p.m.
PST: Why give the album a subtitle like “A Collection of Acoustic Songs”? Did you want to be honest about what to expect from the album, and did you worry that that would set up assumption about what the album would sound like?
Wolfe: I added that because the songs span a period of years; some were written five years ago, and some I wrote very recently for the album. I had planned on releasing a collection of recordings from the past, orphaned songs that I never released on an album, but I found myself writing new acoustic songs, so I decided to do new recordings of the older songs as well and approached them in a new way. I chose the songs I felt would live well together in this home of an album.
PST: I should say I think it’s your best album yet! Was part of the reason in stripping down the music to allow the quality of the songwriting and performances to come through clearly?
Wolfe: Thank you. I don't think about things like that, to be honest. I wanted to get back to my roots a little bit maybe. I love rock ’n’ roll, but I also have this folk side to me, to my music, and it was really a good time getting back into it. I look forward to touring with these songs, it will be a very different energy than how I've been playing the past couple of years.
Local Natives – “Breakers”
L.A.-based Local Natives have unveiled a new track from their forthcoming second album, Hummingbirds. It’s a bigger, more textured sound for the band, while retaining the rambunctious energy that made their first album such a delight. The band played Amoeba a while back as well — check out photos from that performance here.
Kendrick Lamar – “Backseat Freestyle”
Kendrick Lamar, of West Coast supergroup Black Hippy (Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul) and from our city of Compton, has dropped the first track form his upcoming first official album, good kid, m.A.A.d city (preorder here). “Backseat Freestyle” really does sound like he’s f-ing the world for 72 hours, as he says in the song. It’s tough and laid back and self-assured as its title would imply.
Twin Shadow played a stripped-down set Oct. 16 at Sonos Studio in Los Angeles that highlighted his skills as a songwriter first and foremost rather than as a producer of ’80s-inspired indie pop. Appearing with just an electric guitar for the first few songs, Twin Shadow aka George Lewis Jr. ran through “The One” and “Run My Heart” from this year’s fine Confess album. On that album, Lewis Jr.’s dazzling production is a major draw, occasionally threatening to overshadow his honed pop songwriting and voice, which echoes ’80s pop stalwarts like Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins (but in a good way). Lewis Jr. only added minimal delay effects to the end of “The One,” and on “Run My Heart,” his voice grew truly transcendent for the song’s soaring choruses. He introduced keyboardist/singer Wynne Bennett as the “other” part of Twin Shadow, and she joined him for a slowed-down take on single “Five Seconds” which made it sound a bit like Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” than it already does, given its throbby synths and romantic vocal. She continued to play with him through “I Can’t Wait,” a highlight from his brilliant first album, Forget, before Lewis Jr. return to a solo venture for a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “The Highway Kind.” He took to the keys for the poptastic “Patient,” which sort of sounds like Prince covering Nelly Furtado (if that doesn’t sound like a great idea to you, we are just different people). He closed the show with the moody “I Don’t Care” before collaborating for a poetry performance with friend and artist Eric Green, who spoke verse while Lewis Jr. handled synth sounds. The two then engaged in a wonderfully oddball interview before screening the video for “Five Seconds,” which was based conceptually on a story written by Lewis Jr. and Green. Check out the interview below. Twin Shadow plays tonight at the Henry Fonda Theater with the lovely Haim. Amoeba Hollywood has tickets on sale for $22.50 plus $2 in service fees; inquire at the registers.