In all the end of 2012/the world list-making, smaller releases tend to get ignored in favor of the ones everyone knows about. So I decided to do a list, in no particular order, of my favorite albums by L.A. artists this year that were released on small labels or were self-released — and which didn’t get as much press as others. That means no Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, Best CoastorAriel Pink, even though the releases by those people are great and you should listen to them, too. (Read my top 50 albums of 2012 here, with more L.A.-based artists like Miguel and Julia Holter.) All of these are great up-and-coming artists, seek them out!
Kim Free’s minimalist bass playing, ethereal voice and starkly beautiful violin playing come together to cast an entrancing spell on Angel Shadow. See her live to witness her virtuosic looping at work. Check out photos from her Amoeba Hollywood performance here!
L.A. band White Arrows released their awaited debut album Dry Land Is Not a Myth earlier this summer. Songs like “Roll Forever” and “Coming or Going” hit hard and take off before floating through a summer cloud on the band’s throbbing beats, spacey vocals and swirling electronics. For a party rock record you won’t hate yourself for liking, look no further.
I spoke with frontman Mickey Church a bit before the band’s performance at FYF Fest, taking place at L.A. State Historic Park Sept. 1-2 — that’s this weekend, people. They’re playing at 12:30 p.m. on the main stage on Saturday, so get there early to check them out. You can see the full schedule, announced this week, at the show’s official site. And tickets are still available at Amoeba. Buy them here so you’re only charged at $4 service fee; check here for a full list of available concert tickets at Amoeba, although you can always ask and we may just have what you’re looking for. Enough plugs, onto the White Arrows interview:
PST: You guys have played live now for years all over the place and just now settled down to make your first album. Was it the kind of thing where stuff just started taking off and you got wrapped up in all the touring and festival shows and whatnot, or did you just want to give it time to develop your sound and figure out how and what to record for your first album?
Church: We've been a band for about two years now, and we did an EP, a 7-inch, a couple of covers and some remixes for people. Then it just got busy with touring ... we’ve been out now a number of times. Our first tour was with Cults, then we did a West Coast run with Those Darlins, a full U.S. tour with The Naked and Famous, Northern Europe with White Denim. These were all amazing tours that we couldn't turn down, so we’ve been very fortunate to have had those opportunities to tour the world, and now finally after two years of work, we’ve put out our debut full-length. In hindsight, we definitely didn’t have any idea of what direction we were headed, so it was good that we took that time to grow as a band.
PST: How did the band form? Mickey, you were writing songs all along, how did that change when the rest of the band came into play?
Church: Now it’s more collaborative. Andy (Naeve, keys) and I wrote all the songs on the record, but my brother, Henry (Church, drums), and JP (Caballero, guitar) played on the record. These are the first recordings with live drums, and all sorts of the other stuff that weren’t accessible to me when I first started writing.
PST: Having seen the band play live and hearing old recordings, it’s been a pretty intense evolution to the sound of the album. Can you talk a little bit about how the sound developed?
Church: Ah man, those old, old recordings were never meant to be heard ... ha. They were just demos that I gave away for free before I had any intention of being in a band, or trying music for a full time gig. Our first official release I consider it the 7-inch with “Get Gone” and “Save Me a Place on it.”
PST: In particular I remember hearing “Coming or Going” and thinking, this sounds a lot different! A lot more electronic, and a much more fun feel. The songs are pretty densely layered too. How did you decide what to edit and change as you went along?
Church: I don't know if it was conscious of specifics as to what to change, as much as just wanting it to go in that general direction. We worked with Remix Artist Collective (RAC) on that song as a precursor to see if it would be a good fit for him to produce the record, or at least some song son the record, and it was a perfect fit, I think.
PST: It’s very tempting to compare your upbringing, in which you were visually impaired and experienced things in an “impressionistic smear,” to the sound of the album, where things cut through sharply and then get more impressionistic. Like how “Roll Forever” starts so balls-out and has those penetrating riffs throughout, but also these lush verses. Is that something you try to do with your music?
Church: No, it’s not intentional. You just start with one rough idea and keep smoothing it out, and adding and subtracting things until hopefully you have something you're satisfied with.
PST: And speaking of your background, can you talk a bit about your degree in Ritualistic Shamanism and if/how your studies affected the music you were writing?
Church: When I went to school I was assigned an advisor, and it just so happened that he taught a course called Shamanistic Ritual. He encouraged me to take his class to get to him, and so I did. He showed up 30 minutes late to the first class, and was covered in dust with a flashlight on his head, and doctors mask around his mouth; and said, “True story, true story, I just got back from burning man. Janis Joplin was in eagle form flying over the RV the entire way.” Naturally, my mind was blown. Coming from a high school where I had no choice in electives, and got suspended for my hair being to unruly, or my shirt not being tucked in, it drew me to such left of center studies.
PST: One of my favorites on the album is “I Can Go.” I love the riffs and melodies but also those flutes at the chorus are just killer. It sort of transforms this more straightforward rocker on the album to have this otherworldly, nostalgic quality. With something like that song, or say the loping piano riff on “Golden,” do you usually start with a guitar-based song and then add those details, or do you get those ideas at the same time?
Church: Every song almost starts with something different. A piano line, guitar line, drum beat, synth sound, or bass line ... since we don't write in a live setting you kind of just lay something down and build off of that. “I Can Go” started with that guitar line you hear in the verses, and “Golden” started with that tinkering little piano melody and a drum bit
PST: Are you guys playing in LA again around FYF?
Church: I don’t think so, but we never really turn down house parties, so something usually comes up.
This trio of sisters spins out serious pop (not pop-inflected goth or whatever) with the kind of easy, a capella style harmonies that come easy to siblings. I like to picture Este, Danielle, and Alana Haim, all in their early 20s, singing along to Hanson in their parents’ car together as kids. Then, like, they grew up and moved to L.A. and started making music that references ’80s pop curios like Kate Bush and Stevie Nicks. I don’t actually know their real story — I’ll have to investigate this further. For now, I can’t stop listening to their three-song EP, particularly the dancey “Forever.” Get it free here.
White Arrows – “Fireworks of the Sea”
White Arrows have been making it happen for a while now with superb live shows and a handful of released recordings hinting at the cool things they’d be doing down the line — I once called them “Paul Simon in space,” and I can’t really think of anything better than that at the moment to describe their sound, so we’ll just go with that. Their new song, “Fireworks of the Sea,” certainly fits that mold, with swirling synths intimating some digital acid trip over Mickey Schiff’s snaking vocal. Their debut EP hits April 3 from Votiv Music. They’ll be at the Roxy March 27. Listen over at Spin.