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California Sounds: New music from Steve Lacy, Jackie Mendoza and Tyler, the Creator

California Sounds: New music from Steve Lacy, Jackie Mendoza and Tyler, the Creator
A screenshot from Tyler, the Creator's new video for "Igor's Theme." (Tyler, the Creator)

Jackie Mendoza, “LuvHz” EP (Luminelle). The bilingual singer maneuvers across stylistic borders with an adeptness no doubt learned from her youth spent in Chula Vista and her self-described “motherland,” Tijuana. A striking amalgam of cumbia, contemporary beat music and experimental pop, the artist’s work moves with a psychedelic wooziness across the seven songs.

On the Spanish-language opening track, Mendoza and collaborator Rusty Santos surround her voice with echoed synth dots and cavernous quakes of bottom-end thump. “Mucho más allá,” Mendoza chants, lyrically pushing herself to explore. “Loco Flow” uses so much reverb and delay that at first it seems like a mistake with the mix. When, after a full minute of confusion, Mendoza’s voice enters, it organizes the noise into a logical, if unsteady, structure.

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Steve Lacy, “Apollo XXI” (3QTR). One of the most anticipated debut albums of the year is also one of the best. Lacy, best known as the guitarist for R&B band the Internet, has been creeping into the spotlight since he first started making beats on his iPhone a half-decade ago. His approach might have seemed basic, but a killer song’s a killer song, and Lacy knows how to write them.

The evidence lies in his production work for artists including Solange, Kendrick Lamar and Mac Miller, and his 2017 self-released EP, “Steve Lacy’s Demo.” (Warning: The below video contains cussing.)

He graduated from his iPhone for “Apollo XXI,” recording it with pro gear to make the sitar samples shimmer and the snare drums smack. On “Lay Me Down,” Lacy employs a few clean guitar riffs, a stuttering rhythm and some eerie, high-pitched frequency modulations to make his case.

Lacy doesn’t have the most convincing falsetto, but in an era built on pitch correction and feigned perfection, its rawness is an asset. Also an asset: his courage to front-load the album with a nine-minute jam that runs and jumps structures to become a three- or four-act play, like some funky “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Lacy’s video for the record’s closing track, “Outro Freestyle,” is as erotic as it is surprising, featuring a close-up make-out session and a coyly delivered conclusion.

Tyler, the Creator, “Igor” (Columbia). Few Los Angeles artists of the past decade have delivered on their early promise as has Tyler, the Creator. Preternaturally talented, he was described during a 2008 Times story on a charter school “where failing students get a second chance” as a kid who “operates at a significantly higher voltage than the average teen and had trouble fitting into traditional schools.”

Little did they know. The rapper, producer, fashion designer, video director and all-around creative force born Tyler Okanwa is now a Grammy-nominated millionaire who seems to get off on weirding us out. (Warning: The below video contains cussing.)

His sixth album is a left turn away from his menacing, comic-book-villain rap persona and toward his indie-curious, experimental, Stereolab-citing self. He mixes noodly, ’80s-sounding synth beats (“What’s Good”) with funky boom-bap (“Running Out of Time”), and draws on quiet-storm R&B (“Puppet”) and hallucinatory beat music (“Gone Gone/Thank You”).

Crucially, Tyler’s aesthetic connects the work across disciplines. The clip for “Earfquake” finds the artist donning a blond bowl haircut to perform the song on a fictional talk show — only to set the room on fire. His clip for “Igor’s Theme” stacks 18 talking-head-sized Tylers in the frame, all but one staring away from the camera with dim expressions. It’s disconcerting and funny, a combination that permeates Tyler’s work.

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