California Sounds: Kristin Kontrol echoes through her new song, Melvins tackle 'Carol of the Bells' and Miles Mosley rejoices on 'Young Lion'

Kristin Kontrol


(Sub Pop Records)

Kristin Welchez, the shapeshifting artist who records as Kristin Kontrol, traversed a cool path through the Los Angeles underground. After migrating north from San Diego, she formed Dum Dum Girls, dubbed herself Dee Dee and signed to indie powerhouse Sub Pop.

On her 2016 album as Kristin Kontrol, "X-Communicate," the artist has followed a similar evolution to many early 1980s art bands: she toned down the post-punk aggression in favor of synthesizer-driven melodies and arrangements. Also present: fake hand-claps, the occasional New Order-inspired guitar solo and a production sound that draws on "Hounds of Love"-era Kate Bush.

Her new single, “Baby Are You In?,” is a minimalist electronic song with a spare structure, a thumpy bottom-end bass and washes of synths. She uses so much echo on her vocals that they reverberate in the background as beats throb. Halfway through, the track turns frantic as snares speed and Welchez’s voice grows more urgent.

The song sounds less like a Southern Californian made it than her work with Dum Dum Girls, whose breezy harmonies defined their aesthetic. Maybe that’s because Welchez is currently living in New York City. If the result means more work like that on “X-Communicate,” more power to her. 

Miles Mosley, “Young Lion” (World Galaxy/Alpha Pup). During the epic few years in which Los Angeles jazz composer and saxophonist Kamasi Washington worked on his triple album, “The Epic,” the players that made it recorded a lot of other music, rotating different players’ projects while honing a certain precise energy.

Upright bassist Miles Mosley’s forthcoming album, “Uprising,” contains buoyant music from those workouts, known as the KSL Sessions. He and the longtime collective West Coast Get Down recently delivered the second teaser from that record (the first was called “Abraham”), and it bodes well.

Titled “Young Lion,” the boastful five-minute jam draws from funk, soul, rock, jazz and gospel. The energy is overwhelming. “Thank God for me — there ain’t been nothing funky since ’73,” he boasts at one point on the way to an affirmation-chorus. (Counterpoint: Prince was pretty funky in the 1980s.)

Mosley’s “Uprising” comes out on Jan. 27, and is the next in a line of projects that the new World Galaxy label will issue from the KSL Sessions.  

The Melvins, “Carol of the Bells” (Amazon Music). Hardened rock band the Melvins have been producing distorted glory for nearly 35 years. They did it first in Washington state, where co-founder Buzz Osborne served as a Mr. Miyagi-style mentor in the ways of punk and metal to a young Kurt Cobain. But for the last two decades Osborne and longtime drummer Dale Crover have made their wildly innovative, smart and restless records in Los Angeles.

What they do to “Carol of the Bells” typifies their approach. No bull and no fat — unless the song demands it. Written just over 100 years ago by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych and lyricist Peter J. Wilhousky, the song’s stutter-step meter and insistent lyrical loops connect with similar reflexes in heavy metal. 

The song does have one blemish in its past. The 1980s metal band Savatage’s version of “Carol of the Bells” gained so much popularity that a few members went full-time with the Christmas theme and formed the Trans Siberian Orchestra. With a savage sense of purpose — and despite the cheesy “Indie for the Holidays” conceit from Amazon Music — the Melvins reclaim the song from such pomposity. 

There’s a lot of terrible music out there. For tips on the stuff that’s not, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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