California Sounds: New music from Ry Cooder, Deafheaven, the Flytraps and Ras G & the Afrikan Space Program
Ry Cooder, “The Prodigal Son” (Fantasy/Concord Music Group). Since busting out of Santa Monica as a teen guitar wiz more than 50 years ago, guitarist, songwriter and musical explorer Cooder has traveled the world in search of wild frequencies.
Whether playing mid-’60s folk rock with Taj Mahal in the Rising Sons, wailing on “Safe As Milk” as a member of an early iteration of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, recording with Malian icon Ali Farka Toure, working with Irish band the Chieftains or gathering unsung Cuban musicians to celebrate the island’s music as the Buena Vista Social Club, Cooder has treated his finely tuned eardrums to exquisite musical vibrations.
His first solo album in six years comes out May 11 and finds Cooder returning to a place of comfort: blues, gospel and country music driven by his electric guitar and a traditional band featuring his son Joachim on drums.
The elder Cooder covers songs by Blind Willie Johnson, Roosevelt Graves and Carter Stanley, and weaves in original material written with his son. The result is a confident, and comforting, celebration of American roots music.
Deafheaven, “Hopscotch” (Anti-Records). Buckle up and keep both hands on the steering wheel, because the new 11-minute work by this Silver Lake-based metal band wends through structural avenues with both speed and torque.
Taken from its forthcoming fourth studio album, “Ordinary Corrupt Human Love,” “Hopscotch” maneuvers through a number of what might be considered symphonic movements across its length, whipping through shifts in tempo and time signature to create a kind of distorted majesty.
The video is set in the band’s former San Francisco home, with occasional glimpses of the Los Angeles skyline, skateboarding, recording studio sessions and a requisite edit of a musician smoking a cigarette. It’s presented with a tint that suggests it was shot on 16-millimeter film.
To the uninitiated, Deafheaven’s sound on “Hopscotch” may arrive as harsh aggression. At the microphone, George Clarke might be expressing vocal beauty — or he might be getting flayed.
But within the snowy washes of noise and percussion is a shimmering beauty. “Hopscotch” references a novel by Argentine writer Julio Cortazar, one with chapters that were designed to be read in two different sequences. The forthcoming album, which comes out July 13, is equally kaleidoscopic.
The Flytraps, “Sunset Strip R.I.P.” (Burger/Power Plant Records). The untethered new punk song by the Orange County band could have been written in any of the past three decades. An urgent upbraiding of the West Hollywood entertainment district, it sprints with the energy of grim punk bands like the Cramps, the Bags and the Misfits.
Issued by Fullerton punk imprint Burger in conjunction with Oakland’s Power Plant Recordings, “Sunset Strip R.I.P.” finds lead singer and bassist Kristin Cooper channeling Iggy Pop’s Stooges-era bark, and doing so in what sounds like a cavern.
Boundary-busting? Hardly; this is straight-ahead Southern California punk rock, and raging against the death of the Strip is like bemoaning the absence of surf rock on contemporary Venice Beach. But like the enduring surf itself, “Sunset Strip R.I.P.” serves as a reminder that SoCal punk isn’t going anywhere.
Ras G and the Afrikan Space Program, “Stargate Music” (Ghetto Sci-Fi Music). “From the Primordial Water Formation we flow thru the Stargate,” reads an opening note by producer Ras G, who goes on to describe this thematically-linked work about an individual’s “great journey reconnecting and returning” to this portal.
“The womb is the Stargate of humanity,” he writes, explaining the concept behind his new album, which finds the experimental Afro-futurist beat producer combining bass, rhythm, spaceship sounds and various chirps and bleeps to create interlocking psychedelic transmissions.
Whether the quick-tempoed “Water Broken (The Opening Of The Stargate),” the more pensive “Intimate Reconnections 1st Invite” or the album-closing meditation, “Primordial Water Formations 2,” the producer cares less for standard structures than he does for more free-floating compositions. Most engaging is “The Arrival,” a three-minute thumper featuring sampled breathing, a hand-clap rhythm and Ras G scat-singing and sampling his voice.
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