Elsewhere are found-sound experiments (“Three Ralphs” mixing some cut-up film dialogue and, well, shadowy sci-fi/horror sounds), elasticized beat play and sonic chop-shop reassemblies intersect hip-hop, EDM and sound manipulation. Some is coherent and engaging, some not so much, perhaps pointedly. “Ashes to Oceans,” for example, alternates between shapeless blips and a melancholy elegy with a somber trumpet line, fading away to the sound of waves lapping a shore behind a tinkling piano.
If there’s a dominant mood, it’s captured in the title, and the title song, a sense of a world closing in, of unsure footing, of precariousness. Yet there’s a majesty to it all, the perilous process of not climbing a mountain, but building one, knowing that inevitably it will crumble.
The Dead Ships, “Citycide”
So many young band coming out of L.A. these days seem so self-consciously, shoegazingly hip and/or so falsely humble that you wonder if they really even want to have any impact on anyone. So somehow it’s refreshing now and then to hear a band that seems to want to reach people, to write some anthems. Even better when they have not just the moxie, but the skills to do it.
Meet the Dead Ships.
Rock energy, sing-along chorus hooks, a desire to both engage and entertain. Think the Foo Fighters with more bite. That’s a compliment. Listen to “Spun Yarns.” You hear that, right?
The yarns spun here are, as the album title implies, of and from the city, home to singer-guitarist Devlin McClusky and drummer Chris Spindelilus, founders and core of the band. And, as the title also implies, it’s a relationship of mixed feelings, like being stuck in a 101 traffic jam while enjoying an undeniably beautiful day. Perversely, perhaps, the cover picture is a shot of that very thoroughfare with traffic flowing freely. Sure, the album title, and arguably much of the mood, reference a statistical preponderance of people committing suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge do so facing the city of San Francisco. Sure, McClusky is a transplant from another complex metropolis, Chicago. But this is an L.A. album.
We roam from “Los Feliz” in the shadows of Griffith Park to the twisty turns of the “Canyon” (Laurel? Coldwater? Topanga?), the band prowling and howling like a pack of coyotes dodging the encroaching gentry. The tensions of those transitions thread through the sounds, the restless, messy uncertainty of vying to stake a claim to a city in which it’s increasingly hard to stake a claim.
Produced with crisp intensity by Brendan Canning (of Canada’s Broken Social Scene), “Citycide” justifies the buzz the band’s got from strong support of radio giant KROQ and a Coachella slot this year. It’s not a statement on the level of X’s “Los Angeles” debut a few rock generations ago, or even Guns ’N Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction” a little later. But it’s a statement. That’s noteworthy in itself.
Bonus track: Jay Som, “I Think You’re Alright”
“I’ll wipe your blood off the concrete, take you to the party, we’ll drink until our brains black-out….” Well, someone’s not alright. Young Bay Area singer Jay Som (real name: Melina Duterte) previews her upcoming debut album with a single that neatly captures how rose-colored glasses make it hard to see red flags. Her calm demeanor is perfect, though the music gradually shows some cracks in the mirror, and fuzzy, ‘70s-ish guitar solo at the end morphs into a, what’s the term? Hot mess? Perfect. Som/Duterte has thus far only released music on Bandcamp, including some un- or semi-finished songs from over the last few years. Even that is strong and worth exploring, and it's gotten her enough attention that she's now on tour with hot artists Mitski and Japanese Breakfast, having put together a band to expand her music on stage. Eager to hear whatever is next from her.