California Sounds: New music from Georgia Anne Muldrow, Free the Robots, Dean Wareham, Sam Wilkes and Moon Honey
Georgia Anne Muldrow, “Overload” (Brainfeeder).
The soul singer Muldrow has been a simmering underground L.A. presence since the early ’00s, when she teamed with producer Madlib to issue a stunning debut.
Her first album for Brainfeeder finds her working with an executive production team of Grammy-nominated producer Flying Lotus (who founded the imprint), platinum soul singer Aloe Blacc and Muldrow’s longtime collaborator Dudley Perkins, as well as beat-makers including the Grammy-nominated team of Mike & Keys.
That’s a lot of manpower, but Muldrow produced the majority of the tracks on “Overload,” and her singular vision guides listeners into the mystic from the first beat. That rhythm arrives in a Muldrow-produced track called “I.O.T.A. (Instrument of the Ancestors),” a celebration of percussion that serves as a trampoline into her muse.
As with similarly spirited artists such as Erykah Badu, Nina Simone, Sun Ra and J Dilla, Muldrow is less interested in a narrow path into the mainstream as she is roaming in the meadows surrounding it. Her songs shift in structurally inventive ways, straying from standard song craft when the spirit takes her elsewhere.
Sam Wilkes, “Wilkes” (Leaving).
The volume of cosmic jazz coming out of the Los Angeles area continues to astound, and skeptics need only cue up any of the six tracks on multi-instrumentalist Wilkes’ solo debut for evidence.
Earlier in the year the artist, whose primary instrument is bass, teamed with L.A. saxophonist Sam Gendel for the inspired duet album “Music for Saxofone and Bass Guitar,” and for “Wilkes” he recruits Gendel, multi-instrumentalist Louis Cole, drummer Christian Euman and others to accent his endeavor.
Drawing from the hip hop-inspired L.A. beat scene, the song “Tonight” taps into a bass-driven, ambient-suggestive groove over which Gendel solos. Best is the album’s closer, “Descending,” which sways with lovely affection, perfect for your morning meditation mantra or an evening slow-dance.
Dean Wareham vs. Cheval Sombre, “Dean Wareham vs. Cheval Sombre” (Double Feature).
Known to many for his East Coast outfits Galaxie 500 and Luna, the singer and guitarist Wareham relocated to Los Angeles — Echo Park — a few years ago with his wife and musical collaborator, Britta Phillips. For “V2,” Wareham and Chris Porpora, who performs as Cheval Sombre, teamed to cover 10 great songs.
Given the “Vs.” title, perhaps it was a competition. The two swap vocal duties on work by Marty Robbins, Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan and Lerner & Loewe, and do so with elegantly arranged guitar, drum, layered vocals and pillowy echo. One highlight is their album-closing take on the Magnetic Fields’ “Grand Canyon.” Sung by Porpora, it places songwriter Stephen Merritt’s work on a deserved pedestal.
Free the Robots, “Tempo Dreams, Vol. 5” (Bastard Jazz).
The L.A. beat producer Chris Alfaro, who performs as Free the Robots, came up in the shadow of the influential club the Low End Theory, where his stuff stood out for his melody-enhanced rhythms. For this new curated collection, the producer and DJ reveals his affection for sublime, trip-hop inspired stoner music.
Singling out tracks by artists including Chubby Boss, Mophono and Caliph 8, Alfaro is drawn to heavy, slow-tempoed beats that seem steeped in cough syrup. In the middle of the mix, Alfaro drops his most recent track, “Nasi Goreng,” a thrilling, tribal percussion breakdown that wobbles with pent-up energy.
Moon Honey, “Mixed Media on Woman” (Moon Honey).
The curious art-pop that self-described “musical soulmates” Jess Joy and Andrew Martin create as Moon Honey will likely confuse your conservative cousins, drawn as the musicians are to flights of dramatic fancy and defiantly expressive bursts of emotion.
Formed, according to release notes, “in a small horse stable” in Baton Rouge, La., they relocated to Los Angeles in 2016. Teaming with noted indie rock producer John Goodmanson (Built to Spill, Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill), singer Joy and guitarist Martin on their second album construct guitar-based songs with lots of parts; if a standard pop song is a three-act play, the songs on “Mixed Media on Woman” occur over at least five.
On “Life Has No Meaning,” Joy wonders on existence, distraction, capitalism, nature and love — all across five catchy minutes. The band will bemoan this meaninglessness on Oct. 31, when they host a Halloween show at Harvard & Stone in East Hollywood, which will feature as guests members of Deerhoof, the Buttertones, Draemings and more.
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