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California Sounds: New music from Lawrence Rothman, Kelela and Peter Case

Lawrence Rothman, “The Book of Law” (Downtown). The gender-fluid artist’s debut album introduces not only one new voice, but eight others.

As presented in a video by noted director and photographer Floria Sigismondi, Rothman inhabits what are described in pre-release notes as “nine physical and emotional alters of Lawrence,” each of which comprises one aspect of Rothman’s personality. Their names include Orion, Truman, Hooky, Elizabeth and Christopher. (Rothman’s representative requested that the pronouns they/their/them “if at all possible” be used when discussing the artist.)

Originally from St. Louis, Rothman relocated to Los Angeles after performing and touring with bands as a teen, and has since drawn a host of admirers, some with whom the artist collaborated on “The Book of Law.”

Rothman draws on 1980s synth pop to drive tracks, and sings in a distinctive voice that suggests crooners including Scott Walker, Nick Cave and Gavin Friday.

In the video for “Wolves Still Cry,” Rothman harnesses an uptempo beat and that rich baritone to convey the aforementioned “emotional alters.” For “California Paranoia,” singer Angel Olsen joins in, and the album-ending ballad “I Ain’t Afraid of Dying” features backing vocals by gothic folk singer Marissa Nadler. Combined, it’s a striking work, one that their nine physical and emotional alters should be proud of.

Kelela, “Take Me Apart” (Warp). For her debut album, the Los Angeles-based artist teamed with British avant-electronic label Warp (Flying Lotus, Aphex Twin, Danny Brown) to explore the outer fringes of R&B.

She did so through collaborations with producers including Arca (Kanye West, Bjork), U.K. bass producer Jam City and L.A. hit-maker Rechtshaid (Haim, Adele, Vampire Weekend).

An album that demands full volume and attention to appreciate its wild flourishes, “Take Me Apart” moves from minimalist romancers (“Better,” “S.O.S.”) to freaky, electronic experiments in deconstruction (“Enough,” “On and On,” “Truth or Dare”). Like kindred spirit Dawn Richard, Kelela veers from the requirements of mainstream R&B to explore her own course, and the result is a portent on the genre’s future.

Peter Case, “On the Way Downtown” (Omnivore Recordings). Nearly two decades ago, the longtime L.A. singer, songwriter and former member of the Nerves and the Plimsouls stopped by influential KPFK-FM radio show “FolkScene” for the pair of performances captured on this new collection.

The show, which ran for over 40 years, was produced by the late Roz and Howard Larman, a folk-obsessed couple considered to be “simply the heart and soul of West Coast folk, the music, the scene, its very presence,” as Dan Navarro, board member and former president of the Folk Alliance International organization, put it to The Times’ Randy Lewis in 2016.

Among those who gigged on the air across the decades were Tom Waits, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Tom Paxton, Jackson Browne, Lucinda Williams and hundreds of others.

Expertly documented by the show’s engineer, Peter Cutler, the recordings captured in 1998 find Case joining a sextet that included guitarist Greg Leisz and dueling percussionists Sandy Chila and Don Heffington. Two years later he returned with sparse accompaniment from violinist David Perales, recordings also presented here.

The 18 songs draw mostly from two Case releases of the time, “Full Service, No Waiting” and “Flying Saucer Blues.” Mixed in are covers of songs by “Mississippi” John Hurt and Charlie Poole. Case wrestles with homelessness on “Green Blanket (Part 1),” with everlasting love on “”Blue Distance” and the life of a busker and his songs on “Still Playing.”

For tips, records, snapshots and stories on Los Angeles music culture, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter and Instagram: @liledit. Email: randall.roberts@latimes.com.

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