Various Artists, “Oscillations” (Strange Neighbor/Fat Beats). This seven-track collection from a Highland Park beat-music imprint mixes and matches a crack team of underground producers, rappers and singers to create a cohesive sound that the label describes as a “cosmic light of Los Angeles-based artists.”
Those include outre-R&B singers Georgia Anne Muldrow, Jimetta Rose and Nia Andrews; rappers Blu and MED; and woozy, psychedelic production from Teebs, Swarvy, Mndsgn and Dizz1.
Australian beat maker Dizz1 works the three opening tracks, providing quirky, jumpy, choir-sampling beats in support of recent Brainfeeder signee Muldrow and the San Pedro-raised lyricist-rapper Blu. , Another, “Hard to Breathe,” is a tambourine-dotted bed upon which the Madlib-connected Oxnard rapper MED rhymes and L.A.-born singer Rose offers a memorable hook. The closing track, by the singular beat maker and visual artist Teebs, is a treble-heavy instrumental that sounds like rain beating down on hollow bamboo.
I See Hawks in L.A., “Live and Never Learn” (Western Seeds Record Company). Within the first two verses of this longtime twang band’s fifth studio album, singer-guitarist Rob Waller has asked some big questions about contemporary America, and has done so through a genre — guitar-driven country rock — that hasn’t changed much since the Nixon presidency.
After noting in opening song “Ballad for the Trees” that that “every age is without precedent,” Waller wonders whether “we’ve broken with how to be alone,” and asks, “Are we drowning in the sea/ Of facts that come too easily/ And friends we never see?”
Perhaps, but if so, Waller and band don’t dwell on it. Across the 14 songs on “Live and Never Learn,” I See Hawks in L.A. touch on less heady themes such as smoking weed in a basement while watching the Eddie Murphy movie “Trading Places” on a black-and-white TV; smoking weed after a breakup with someone who then becomes a born-again Christian; taking speed and listening to country music; and a titular “King of the Rosemead Boogie,” who “hocked himself a loogie” that he “spit in the air just like he didn’t care” — and then consumed a cocktail of “two Jacks and one toke, some shatter and some coke” and “a capacity of dope.”
Trouble? Waller, co-founding electric guitarist Paul Lacques and the rhythm section of Paul Marshall (bass) and and Victoria Jacobs (drums) seem to know its contours. Even when Waller tries to convey sunshine, it comes at a price. The final song, “Stop Me,” finds his narrator staring at the sun because it’s so beautiful, unable to look away and begging for help.
He runs a parallel idea on songwriting in the next verse. “Stop me, I’ve been singing on this street for too long/ Trying to find my way to a beautiful song.” As if he’s helpless, the artist seems to rail against a muse that produces regardless of outcome — “staring into the sun/ This used to be fun/ I’m starting to believe/ there’s no prize to be won.”
Kamasi Washington, “Street Fighter Mas” (Young Turks). The most recent video from Los Angeles composer and saxophonist Washington’s new album “Heaven and Earth” is set against the backdrop of the seminal video game “Street Fighter.” It moves like an action thriller, with the high-energy Washington track “Street Fighter Mas” scoring a narrative involving Washington as a kung-fu style protagonist who vanquishes a competitor.
In the video, Washington rolls to his fight as if he’s an African ruler, wearing a black and blue dashiki and carrying a carved wooden cane. Structured like a silent film with brief caption cards conveying a storyline — “Kamasi wonders if a worthy opponent exists,” for example — the six-minute clip is scored by a snare-rolling, percussion-heavy jazz-funk workout.