Cola Boyy, “Black Boogie Neon” (Record Makers)
When the roster for this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival was announced in early January via Twitter, the festival teased the lineup with a series of artist-focused tweets. One of the first linked to the video for “Penny Girl,” by the Oxnard artist who performs as Cola Boyy.
Not long after, the bedroom dance producer celebrated the news with his own tweet: “Disabled disco innovator in the building 2019!” Those who were smart enough to click on the video found themselves grooving to a musician forced to adapt to circumstances that would likely keep lesser souls away from the spotlight.
Accompanying the video for “Penny Girl” is a note welcoming viewers: "This is not just my world, but a part of me that's so vulnerable. All my differences are on the table, and my song plays in the background.” He concludes, “Oxnard has so many bright colors and faces, it shows in the video. Isn't it nice?"
Yes, but a nice story seldom makes for a catchy dance song, and “Penny Girl” earns its warm thrills not through the artist’s circumstance but because it’s powered by “Thriller”-era plucked guitar accents, layers of accomplished arrangements and a chorus that can infiltrate your internal radio until the song’s on endless ear-worm repeat.
The rest of “Black Boogie Neon” is just as assured. Granted, Cola Boyy’s voice at times struggles to stay on key, and he doesn’t have much vocal range, but his musical versatility and skill are ridiculously obvious across all five songs.
Mike Krol, “Power Chords” (Merge)
The Eagle Rock-based punk rocker hasn’t released a new album since 2015, due to what he describes as an “existential crisis” involving music. His three earlier albums received notices, but not a ton. He’d poured all of his creative energy into chasing the dream, but as explained in press notes, “he wasn’t sure the life wanted him back.”
The album cover for “Power Chords,” which comes out Jan. 25, manifests his battle: It shows him sitting on a bed, holding an electric guitar and staring at a wall. His eye’s blackened, his nose bloodied and his lip cut.
Maybe his songs assaulted him? “An Ambulance” rolls in with a siren-esque guitar line before locking into a groove that suggests anthemic bands the Strokes, Misfits, Ramones and No Age.
One of the teaser tracks, “I Wonder,” jumps in with monster distortion and punk energy, with Krol plowing through chords about doubt, jealousy, insecurity and all the jagged feelings that can accompany passion.
Chiming in for the chorus is musician Allison Crutchfield, with whom Krol shares an Eagle Rock home. The two will embark on a West Coast tour in February, which includes an L.A. gig at the Bootleg Theater on Feb. 16.
Sun Araw Trio XIII, “Activated Clown” (NNA Tapes)
The wash of music that artist Cameron Stallones pours forth on a regular basis can be overwhelming. The experimental electronics composer and improvisor, who performs as Sun Araw, is perhaps best known for his work alongside M. Geddes Gengras with the Jamaican roots reggae group the Congos. He is a tireless explorer of both internal and external realms.
His most recent missive is part of a series of improvised live sets Stallones has recorded during recent tours. He’s been dropping them on Bandcamp and sending links to others via his mailing list, and it’s easy to get lost just trying to figure out where to start.