In a parallel universe, the Ryman Auditorium was never nearly demolished, the word "pop" was never paired with "country," and Big & Rich never met. In that same universe, Ill Lit probably has a song on the Nashville charts.
Not to say that the local band fronted by the soft-spoken Daniel Ahern plays straight-ahead C&W or that its provocatively titled new record "Tom Cruise" (more on that later) belongs on CMT. But the mourning pedal steel found on album opener "Across Country" fits in perfectly with vintage country, while laptop-born washes of noise bubble over the surface. It's a genre-blending mix Ahern, a longtime fan of both traditional and electronic songwriting, finds natural.
"The experience people have in a dance club at 4 a.m. when they're all spaced out [is] the same sort of longing and loneliness people feel in a sawdust saloon," he says. "The human experience is very much the same."
About that title. Having conceived it as a statement on branding and celebrity, Ahern's been surprised by the sometimes vitriolic response he has received for associating the movie star with his album.
"It's been peculiar to see people hate the record based on that," he says. "But what I really like is the more time passes, the more interesting the dynamic between the record and the name becomes. It's too current for people to know if it's a joke or the real thing."
Ill Lit plays the Echo tonight with the Broken West (formerly the Brokedown).
On the road with the Hold Steady
Craig Finn's tales of starry-eyed and loose-zippered teenagers may get him compared to Pulp's Jarvis Cocker. But the Hold Steady singer and guitarist knows that the crowd for his ecstatic barroom rock usually has far more dads than dandies.
"It's exciting to me that many fans are older," Finn said. "It takes more to get them out of the house."
The Brooklyn-based five-piece band, which headlines the Troubadour on Monday, just released its third album, "Boys and Girls in America," to rapturous praise for its mix of Cheap Trick guitar stomp and Finn's witty punk poetics. Piano and acoustic guitar tastefully color the album, but Finn's rambling, barely sung lyrics are front and center. The pressure to see some long-awaited commercial success (Finn is in his mid-30s) was certainly on the band's mind while writing.
"There are two ways to look at that. You could be scared," Finn said. "But if I were a baseball player, I'd hope I'd be better with people on base."
For inspiration on "Boys and Girls," he turned to Jack Kerouac, whose line from "On the Road" — "Boys and girls in America, they have such a sad time together" — became the centerpiece of an album about dreamy teenage misanthropy.
"I read that sentence and I said, 'I think I can write a whole album about that,' " Finn said. "I don't think that love is something that you understand any better at 35 or 50 than you do at 15."
Sounds from family vacations
In the '70s, Dave Einmo's father shot Super 8 films of family vacations to New York and Paris. The films are "sound collages from all over the world," says Einmo, the Seattle-based musician who operates solo as Head Like a Kite. Describing a reel shot at New York's Rockefeller Center, Einmo says, "It sounds like something Boards of Canada would've spent a month recording but it just happens to be live."
Einmo, who also plays guitar in the indie outfit Sushirobo, heavily samples from his family's movies on the sonic tapestry of "Random Portraits of the Home Movie," Head Like a Kite's debut effort.
With guitar, synths and live drums, Einmo, who's created soundtracks for small films, keeps the mood playful and light. "I thought a lot about how these songs would play live.... I wanted people to be excited and dancing."
True to his word, Einmo will perform with a live drummer at Sea Level Records on Sunday, plus a live set on air at KXLU-FM (88.9) and Cinespace's DIM MAK party on Tuesday.
Touts: Marauding hordes of emo kids swarm the Cal Poly Pomona athletic field for Dashboard Confessional and other sad-skinny-dude combos at Bamboozle Left on Saturday and Sunday.... Smoldering neo-psychedelic rockers the Black Angels flip on their lava lamps at the Troubadour on Wednesday, and the Long Winters play melancholy pop at Spaceland on Thursday. Come early for the frothy indie rock of What Made Milwaukee Famous, or check out England's 10cc-revivalists the Feeling at Key Club.... Friday, the Glass House hosts local hip-hop brainiac and lyrical firebrand Subtle, and local rockers Circus Minor get trippy at the Echo.... The impossibly named Ferraby Lionheart brings his scruffy songwriting to Silverlake Lounge on Tuesday, while across town, Umbrellas plays adventurous indie-pop at the Roxy.
Download Ill Lit's "The Bridge in Tracy" at www.myspace.com/illlit
Download the Hold Steady's "Chips Ahoy!" at www.boysandgirlsinamerica.com/about
Download Head Like a Kite's "Tell Mommy You Want a Sip of Beer" at www.headlikeakite.com