California Sounds: Tips on new L.A. tracks from Kendrick Lamar, NIIA, Johnny Jewel and R. Stevie Moore & Jason Falkner

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Kendrick Lamar, “The Heart, Part 4” (Top Dawg Entertainment). The new single by the superstar Compton rapper arrived suddenly last week, and on it he sounds like he’s been storing this venom since birth.

Lamar lunges at anyone in his way on the fourth installment of a song series he started in 2010. In one set of couplets, he slams the president with rhymes about complicity and truth: “Donald Trump is a chump/ Know how we feel, punk/ Tell ‘em that God comin’/ And Russia need a replay button/ Y’all up to somethin’.” (Warning: The clip below contains cussing.)


In another, he tears into unnamed rappers (Drake? Big Sean?) and derides disgraced former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca — “tables turned, lesson learned” — who was recently convicted of obstructing a federal investigation and then lying about his actions.

Musically, “The Heart, Part 4” features contributions from producers the Alchemist, Axl Folie, Syk Sense and DJ Dahi, who collaborate on a track that rolls through a few different movements and tempos. Sampled female voices offer oohs and ahhs to open, snares and high-hats abruptly appear, only to vanish beneath a heavy bass line.

Near the end, Lamar issues a challenge: “You know what time it is, ante up, this is in forever/ Y’all got ‘til April the 7th to get ya’ll ... together.” What’s going to happen on April 7? That’s the likely date for Lamar’s follow-up to his 2015 album, “To Pimp a Butterfly.”

R. Stevie Moore & Jason Falkner, “Make It Be” (Lost Colony Music). The prolific underground rocker Moore has been issuing small-batch releases — mostly cassettes and CDRs — for more than four decades, and in that time has penned scream-along jams that are would-be classics in a parallel universe.

Moore lives in New Jersey, but teamed with longtime Los Angeles musician and producer Jason Falkner for “Make It Be.” Best known for his work with Beck, Falkner’s a musician’s musician who has played with or produced artists including Paul McCartney, Jon Brion, Aimee Mann, Air and Susanna Hoffs.


“Make It Be” is a match made in heaven. Moore understands the thrills of a good rock lyric, and Falkner’s ways with instrumentation and arranging flesh out songs until they’re bursting at the seams.

Album opener “I H8 Ppl” sets the tone: a misanthropic song about Moore’s distaste for anyone other than himself, it rolls along like an outtake from the Who’s early album “Sell Out.” There’s not a bum note on the gritty 17 songs that follow. That’s true even on album closer “Falkner’s Walk,” which isn’t so much a song as it is Moore explaining the idea for one.

NIIA, “Last Night in Los Feliz” (Atlantic). The Los Angeles-based singer and pianist invokes quiet-storm seduction on her ode to the L.A. neighborhood. Released at the end of 2016, “Last Night in Los Feliz” was the first issued track from NIIA’s forthcoming Atlantic Records debut (May 5), and has since earned a lot of spins on KCRW-FM.

That makes sense. It moves, like the rest of the record, with the delicacy of Nigerian soul singer Sade, courtesy of deep production from the Grammy-nominated Robin Hannibal (Rhye, Lamar, Quadron and more). The sonics are blunted, as though each note were wrapped in cashmere and bathed in candlelight

Though “… Los Feliz” is an early favorite, NIIA has issued a few newer tracks since, including “Hurt You First” on a stark video. On it and others, the artist’s breathy delivery and patient phrasing are as sensual as they are inviting.


Johnny Jewel, “The Hacker” (Paramount Pictures). The new track from the producer and Chromatics founder, who is based in Los Angeles, arrives via the sci-fi thriller “Ghost in the Shell.”

Though acclaimed film composer Clint Mansell is responsible for the score, Jewel and others, including Tricky, DJ Shadow and Gary Numan, were invited to contribute songs “inspired” by the film.

“The Hacker” throbs with modular synthesizer tones, a propellant rhythm and sheets of static. The video, embedded above, focuses on cosmic abstractions, as though Jewel’s song were speeding toward a mystery at the far end of the galaxy.

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