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Entertainment & Arts

Rock is dead? Airborne Toxic Event, Alice Bag and Wasted Shirt double down

Four photos of Alice Bag, two of her punching forward and two of her holding her fists up.
Alice Bag takes her shot.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Whither rock music? Though notably absent on the charts, it’s far from dead. Consider these new L.A. guitar-driven anthems from three very different perspectives.

The Airborne Toxic Event, “Come On Out” video (Rounder).

Last month, band founder and Twitter power-user Mikel Jollett posed a question to his 250,000 followers: “What is the best concept rock record of all time? Is it ‘The Wall’ by Pink Floyd or ‘Born to Run’ by Bruce Springsteen?” As the responses piled up (the correct answer is Husker Du’s, “Zen Arcade”), Jollett linked to a Spotify playlist called “Hollywood Park.” On it were classic rock tracks from concept albums by Springsteen, Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Lou Reed and other guitar-playing dudes.

With typical brashness, though, Jollett put his own new song, “Come On Out,” at the top of the playlist. Turns out it’s the first track from the Airborne Toxic Event’s forthcoming concept album, “Hollywood Park,” which is also the title of Jollett’s soon-to-be-published memoir. Ignoring that “Born to Run” has seldom been called a concept album, the move illustrated Jollett’s seeming ambition to be a first-ballot entrant in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Come On Out” is a sturdy, unimpeachable song about suburban ennui, a runaway kid and domestic violence that feels designed for arena-sized singalongs and big ticket headlining slots. “Runaway Train” meets “Jesus of Suburbia” meets “Darkness on the Edge of Town.” Like Bob Seger, Jollett is drawn to beautiful losers: With declarative guitar chords and a confident yowl, he seems to pound his chest as he rolls out the line: “This is my town, this is my night / heading off to the city tonight.” “Hollywood Park,” the album, comes out May 8. Jollett’s book, “Hollywood Park: A Memoir,” arrives May 5.

Alice Bag, “Breadcrumbs” (In the Red)

The founder of the Bags, one of L.A.'s first punk bands, continues her striking return to rock after a decades-long hibernation. The artist born Alicia Armendariz played a seminal role in the mid-1970s L.A. punk scene that spawned bands including the Germs, the Weirdos and the Dils, but had mostly dropped out of the scene by the early 1980s. During her hiatus, she became a respected East L.A. teacher and feminist activist, but didn’t release her debut solo album until 2015.

A trio of anthemic rock albums and a well-received autobiography later, Bag just issued the first video from her forthcoming album for the great Eagle Rock rock imprint In the Red. The video was shot at the Bob Baker Marionette Theater’s new location in Highland Park, and sees a troupe of puppets acting out themes from the song. Specifically, the guy marionette has been stepping out on his girlfriend, causing tear-stained strife. At the end of the performance, audience members turn the event into a dance party.

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Wasted Shirt, “All Is Lost” (Famous Class)

For the video to the new Wasted Shirt song “All Is Lost,” director Adam Davies harnessed an MRI machine to create an abstract mess that reflects the tone of the chaotic experimental punk song. The din is created by a duo of the newly canyon-dwelling Angeleno Ty Segall and the Rhode Island visual artist and Lightning Bolt drummer Brian Chippendale, who just released an album called “Fungus II.” If Airborne Toxic Event is gunning for rock universality, Wasted Shirt couldn’t give a broken snare about it. This is rock designed to alienate the comfortable, not to comfort the alienated.

How’d they make the video? Davies: “We boiled and mixed clay, sliced it up and photographed the slices in sequence to match the dudes’ energy. Then while the breakdown pummels you, we blast you in the face with MRIs of humans, animals and fruit to make you go inside-out to the beat.”

Rock on.


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