Los Angeles is a city of immigrants, so it's hard to get a bead on a contemporary "West Coast sound." The region has long been known for a breezy, laid-back vibe that connects cool jazz, the Beach Boys, the women and men of Laurel Canyon and Dr. Dre-style G-funk.
But that narrative ignores the bounty of regional Mexican and Latin American music, to say nothing of sounds spilling from patchwork populations. Combined, the constant flow of transient populations adds fresh ideas as quickly as older ones calcify.
Amber Coffman, "All to Myself" (Columbia). The New Yorker moved to Los Angeles a few years ago and has been directing her creative impulses through work as a member of Dirty Projectors, singing hooks for dancehall-inspired beat group Major Lazer and dubstep producer Rusko, as well as standing up for female musicians and working on her debut solo album.
The first track and video from that album, the latter of which is scheduled to be released by Columbia this fall, has arrived, and it finds Coffman strolling the beach as she sings of loneliness and heartbreak. "Maybe if I step out, go get some sun," she sings as a filtered vocal sample adds texture, "maybe today I'll get something done."
Spoken like a native.
Ceci Bastida, "Un Sueño (featuring Aloe Blacc)" (Nacional). Before moving to Los Angeles, the singer and songwriter made music in Tijuana as a member of the ska-punk band Tijuana No!. She long ago ditched the ska and the punk, and she has built a body of work that employs polished, urgent contemporary pop structures as a Trojan horse to examine political and personal themes.
Her new track, "Un Sueño," builds on work she issued in 2014 that addressed gun violence and school shootings. Then, her song "Una Vez Más" (One More Time) focused on the Sandy Hook massacre. Here, "Un Sueño" memorializes the 43 Ayotzinapa students who went missing two years ago in Guerrero, Mexico.
The track, which features soul singer and rapper Aloe Blacc, is from Bastida's EP, "Sueño," which comes out Nov. 11 through the Los Angeles-based label Nacional. Bastida, who also performs as a member of the Smiths and Morrissey cover band Mexrrissey, has also been doing concerts as part of the touring #SchoolsNotPrisons initiative, which advocates for and invests in youth programs.
Leonard Cohen, "You Want It Darker" (Columbia). Although born in Canada, Cohen has long called Los Angeles home, and has cut a singular path through the city and popular music. Cohen issued the title track for his forthcoming album a few weeks ago on his 82nd birthday, and it finds the artist surrounding his gravelly baritone with haunting gospel choir.
"They're lining up the prisoners and the guards are taking aim," sings Cohen, whose ability to shock through a few scant syllables remains undiminished. "I struggled with some demons — they were middle class and tame/ I didn't know I had permission to murder and to maim."
Producer (and son) Adam Cohen understands that his father's voice is a force of nature and wisely opts for minimal accompaniment. As such, "You Want It Darker" is a simmering, understated tour de force. Bonus: The great techno producer Paul Kalkbrenner has crafted a sanctioned remix of the track in which he weaves Cohen's voice and words into a menacing, conga-driven track with harsh, distorted organ and a meditative repetition.
Mr. Oizo, "All Wet" album (Ed Banger). Artist, filmmaker and musician Quentin Dupieux first established himself as beat producer Mr. Oizo during the so-called electronica boom of the late '90s, when his breakout track, "Analog Worms Attack," injected a level of weirdness into the genre's Fatboy Slim-era peak.
The French expat moved to Los Angeles in 2010, and has since become an acclaimed experimental feature filmmaker and artist whose "mascot" is a puppet named Flat Eric.
Need evidence of his skills as a musician, director and cuddle-toy creator? Check out the four-minute teaser for his new album, "All Wet." Dupieux directed the clip, which stars Flat Eric and features cameos by producer Flying Lotus (in a wig, playing a beat-box) and a creepy Donald Trump puppet.
The album is a hoot, and it adds to the allure with guest spots from Canadian performance artist Peaches, L.A. beat producer Skrillex, avant-pop singer and songwriter Charli XCX and others.