A garage-rock prodigy and infinitely entertaining musician, Ty Segall is one of the L.A. music scene’s most playful characters that many have come to admire — and remained curious about — for the better part of the last decade. Segall released his self-titled debut album on lo-fi mastermind John Dwyer's Castle Face Records when he was a 20-year-old college kid. Now 28, he manages to walk the line between approachable local hero and one of the L.A.’s few bona fide rock stars, though he would be the last to admit it.
Segall churns out tracks like a factory, through an ever-expanding list of touring bands, one-off projects and unexpected collaborations — such as Broken Bat, a punk trio formed with Redd Kross' Steven McDonald and The Melvins' Dale Crover, and the Stooges-esque GØGGS, featuring Ex-Cult's Chris Shaw. He also adds constantly to his already impressive résumé as a producer, working with everyone from White Fence's Tim Presley to his own hard-rock trio Fuzz, usually in his famously cramped home studio, which currently occupies a tiny, converted laundry room. His newest backing band, The Muggers, is made up of his closest friends and collaborators and is touring behind his latest album, the recently released Emotional Mugger. ARTEMIS THOMAS-HANSARD
Ringo Deathstarr are fucking sick of the word "shoegaze." Even before they’ve played a single note at gigs, Elliott Frazier — singer, songwriter and guitarist for the Austin band – has been known to ask the audience to "look at my shoes, because that's what the paper said." Deathstarr seems hellbent on separating themselves from this suffocating shoegaze tag. While it would be easy (and overdone) to draw a line between the band and My Bloody Valentine — both bands feature effect-laden female vocals, droning tones and a fair share of tap dancing on pedalboards — Deathstarr taps into new angles on their two most recent albums, 2012’s Mauve and last year’s Pure Mood.
And their performances — which include Frazier alternating between monstrous guitar tones and playing pared-down chords while reverting to a more punk-based song format and then whiplashing back into a face-meltingly heavy guitar interlude loaded with effects — emphasize they aren't a one-trick pony. Such changes may seem chaotic, but the Ringo Deathstarr makes it sound seamless. This daunting progression serves as a clear indicator of a band that thirsts for diversity in its song style. And Deathstarr commands this ambition with vigor. MATT WOOD
It's tremendously cheering to see that people actually dance during Williamsburg Salsa Orchestra shows — unadulterated, mildly erotic, not at all ironic salsa dancing — even though the ensemble’s repertoire of Black Keys, Yeasayer, Japanther, TV on the Radio, and the like usually inspires nothing of the sort. (It's hard to picture what ironic salsa dancing would even look like.) While the notion of straight Latin big-band covers of indie-rock songs may seem funny, bandleader/arranger/timbales expert Gianni Mano insists this isn’t a joke. The WSO is decked out with a full percussion detail, a four-man horn section, upright bass, electric piano, and the bombastic lead vocals of Argentinian frontwoman Solange Prat, who makes this all sound incredibly natural whether the tune in question is "L.E.S. Artistes" or "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken." It's almost disturbing how well Yeasayer's "Ambling Alp" translates.
Mano, a "typical white suburban kid" who grew up riffing along to Rush, got the idea for this while listening to NPR and marveling at the songwriting chops of Animal Collective's "My Girls" — it takes him between a week and a month to pull off a full-song transformation. Arcade Fire's "Keep the Car Running," he explains, took a while because it initially came out too happy-sounding — he needed to darken it up. That tune, improbably, is the highlight, anthemic in a bizarre but somehow entirely believable way, Prat bellowing "When it's coming!" over and over and over as the horns rage on. If only everything that shouldn't really work worked this well. ROB HARVILLA
With so many bands using the musical equivalent of Mr. Peabody's WABAC Machine, San Diego-based quartet The Donkeys are hardly alone in terms of looking to the past for direct inspiration. Often enough, Americana and country are where punk rockers end up when their anger peters out. These four may not have gone that route directly, but their psychedelically tinged pop songs tend to recall the free-flowing aesthetic and mellow vibes of such country-rock heroes of yesteryear as the Flying Burrito Brothers while still forgoing the more washed-out sound of that band's immediate followers. With Radiation City and Deep Sea Diver. TOM MURPHY
MarchFourth! puts on one of the best live shows around. Think of it as Sgt. Pepper's meets Cirque du Soleil and Gogol Bordello playing at a New Orleans Mardi Gras party. "Our sound is really all over the map," says leader John Averill. "We started off playing with a lot of NOLA [New Orleans], samba, Afrobeat, jazz, and Eastern European Gypsy brass elements, but over the past [several] years, we added guitar, and now our music has a lot more funk and rock going on." But there's an element of ska and punk, compliments of trumpet player Katie Presley, the ska queen from Warsaw Poland Brothers. And the musical layers keep on building.
Since its first show in 2003, the band's core aesthetic is DIY, and you can see it in the costumes the members design and sew, from the mismatched marching band uniforms to the vaudevillian dance outfits to the percussion corps harnesses made out of bicycle parts. There are also feathered conductor hats, bright spandex pants, hula hoops, and animal-print vests. After 13 years, it's amazing that the large act has survived for so long. Then again, the countless cultures that influence the band musically have also permeated that character: equal parts "live life to the fullest" and "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." LAUREN WISE
Say what you want about pop country, but there is plenty of good music that has been created under this banner. Glen Campbell and Conway Twitty probably wouldn't be such legends without their impressive crossover successes. In the 1990s and 2000s, though, the pendulum swung too far in one direction, and it seemed almost as if the music industry was trying to scrub away all the country in this music, shining it up and making it palatable for the masses. Lee Ann Womack is that era's glaring exception.
Even as she was persuaded by record execs to "tone down the country" on "I Hope You Dance," the song that made her an international star, she refused. Hailing from East Texas — Jacksonville, to be exact — Womack has always fiercely stayed true to her twangy timbre and authentic sound, both of which are beautifully showcased during her performances. AMY MCCARTHY
Gregory Porter was born into a black family with an absentee father, in a mostly white neighborhood in Bakersfield. As a boy, he endured a burning cross on his lawn and bottles of urine hurled through his windows. He sang only in church, until he honored his mother’s last wish for him on her deathbed and began his vocal career at age 40. In the ensuing years, Porter won a Grammy and international fame, including bringing the house down at London’s Royal Albert Hall. He’s a jazz singer but, as in the manner of Al Jarreau, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway, Lou Rawls and George Benson, his soul roots are gloriously self-evident. Blue Note Records has its new champion, one who sounds classic and current at the same time. GARY FUKUSHIMA
When Lake Street Dive comes to town later this month, they’ll transform the Crescent Ballroom into their own smoky roadhouse. The Boston band stirs up retro soul, with lead singer Rachael Price belting things out with R&B force and a jazzy grace. "I could have been a painter or president," Price declares on the title track of their second album, Bad Self Portraits. "I'm taking night classes … I'm painting bad self-portraits of a lonely woman." In reality, her "bad" self-portraits are supremely engaging, as the rest of the group pushes her through pop interludes such as "Rabid Animal" and the comparatively heavy rock-soul of "Bobby Tanqueray." Even when Price feels "Used Up," she dusts herself off and gets back up with fervent determination, her heart — and sweetly assured vocals — seemingly as pure as ever. FALLING JAMES
Is Carly Rae Jepsen pop’s best kept secret? Despite the astronomical success of her 2012 single, the inescapable “Call Me Maybe,” the Canadian singer is more of a cult figure than enormous pop star. Her third album, Emotion, released last year, was greeted with a storm of critical accolades but a comparatively less stellar Billboard chart performance. But what Jepsen lacks in a schtick for fans to rest their hat on, she makes up for with a catalogue of music that rings almost painfully true about love, whether she’s singing about its euphoric beginnings or its dismal finale.
But what makes Jepsen so beloved by her fans is there’s no wall between her and her listeners. An artist like Taylor Swift fabricates a sense of closeness to her audience, pantomiming friendship and relatability when there is, in reality, no way to truly access her. When Jepsen speaks to the crowds at her concerts, she isn’t just spilling canned anecdotes for the sake of segue: She talks to them like her friends, lamenting how irritating you become when you’re constantly complaining about romantic foibles before performing “Boy Problems” or detailing her and her friends’ decade-ago attempts at “dressing older” to get into clubs to lead into “I Didn’t Just Come Here to Dance.” Her realness is both her most valuable form of currency and precisely why she can navigate pop music without needing that currency at all. CLAIRE LOBENFELD
Formed in 1988 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Anti-Flag has never minced words in its denouncement of war, generally, the imperial ambitions of its home country, specifically, and the usual social ills that are perpetually neglected by the power elite of the United States. But Anti-Flag delivers that message with an upbeat tunefulness that doesn't sugarcoat the message, so much as make it accessible. It could be claimed the band can get polemical and that that undermines its impact, but there's no doubt these guys, by the sheer momentum of their longevity and ability to write good songs to go along with the lyrics, have changed the thinking of at least one section of America's youth, and that has to count for something. TOM MURPHY
For girls of a certain age, Ani DiFranco is a feminist icon. Her angry feminist aesthetic has formed the backbone of many a rebellious teenage girl, and she hasn't slowed or mellowed almost 20 years later. DiFranco's anger, which is decidedly still well placed considering our current political climate, is perhaps her defining feature, one that is best displayed onstage. Those needing an outlet for their feminist rage will find comfort in DiFranco's angsty, folky tunes. Perhaps more notably, though, DiFranco's accomplishments as an instrumentalist and musician are woefully underappreciated. If you make it out to Mesa Arts Center on February 24, you'll see exactly what we're talking about. AMY MCCARTHY
Take two Swedish electronic music producers and pair them with an American singer-songwriter and you get Grizfolk, whose sound evokes dreamy notions of the epic West that sound as if they're coming from both the past and the future. Hailing from such varied backgrounds, the members of Grizfolk have formed a unique and rightly groovy sound of danceable beats that still manage to emote lyrically vivid stories. Singer-guitarist Adam Roth fronts the band, belting out his earnest vocals over the melodies. The sound becomes fully structured with the addition of a live drummer. Check their single "The Struggle" for evidence, or just come see for yourself when they swing through Valley Bar later this month. TONY DUSHANE
To fully understand Fetty Wap you have to fully understand how quickly he rose to fame. In 2004, he was just a guy named Willie Maxwell with one child and another on the way. Another artist looking for a niche in the increasingly competitive New York rap scene. His song “Trap Queen” had been out for a little less than a month. Nobody outside of small sects in Paterson and on the East Coast believed it would be a massive smash single. At best, it was Fetty Wap experimenting with singing on a song with a bit of a Haitian drawl.
About 12 months later, “Trap Queen” peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The video has been seen more than 80 million times on YouTube. It has come to a point where Fetty Wap is in demand. As in, Fetty Wap being at the MTV Movie Awards is a news story and he’s being compared to Future as one of the greatest love singers we’ve ever been blessed with. Now, we can't joke about what the hell a Fetty Wap is. He’s intriguing on a human level because he lost his eye via glaucoma, has the power to grow dreadlocks in mere months and has had his entire career transformed by the power of “Trap Queen." BRANDON CALDWELL
Over the past year or so, Tyga has made more headlines for his behavior off-stage than on it. The 26-year-old rapper has had what would best be described as a rocky relationship with Kylie Jenner and the gossip swirling around the couple has been quite thick. Despite all the hullabaloo in regards to his personal life, what can’t be denied is that the “Rack City” rapper has had one of the more colorful journeys in rap over the past few years. His fourth album, The Gold Album: 18th Dynasty, saw him leave label Cash Money to release it independently. The album was executive produced by pal Kanye West and is straightforward rap, at least compared to his earlier commercial material. With a career that’s as interesting as his personal life, don’t be surprised if Tyga is energized by the chance to put aside all the tabloids and focus on playing music. DANIEL KOHN
Leo Kottke is a legendary and beloved master of finger picking guitar and a gifted raconteur. He got his start with John Fahey's Takoma Records in the late '60s and has been releasing noteworthy albums of some of the most inventive and interesting acoustic music ever recorded. Whether playing intricate folk leads or jazz inflected blues, Kottke is ever the master craftsman with a creative imagination to match. A longtime regular guest on A Prairie Home Companion, Kottke, a resident of the Twin Cities, was also awarded an honorary PhD in Music Performance from the University of Wisconsin in 2008. Several years back, he overcame physically debilitating damage to his hearing and tendons that nearly ended his career by switching up his playing style, and he continues strong to this day. TOM MURPHY
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