Loving Laguna: A Local's Guide to Laguna Beach
Pretium Press; 116 pages
If Terrence Malick had set his experimental film "The Tree of Life" in Laguna Beach, Skip Hellewell might have provided part of the subject matter. Malick's opus juxtaposes the story of a 1950s Texas family with scenes that show the development of the universe up to that point — essentially, the line that connects the Big Bang and the Jurassic Period to the age of Sean Penn.
Hellewell's "Loving Laguna: A Local's Guide to Laguna Beach," which came out in July, operates mainly as a guidebook — tips on restaurants, historic walks and the like — but from time to time, it uses a similarly epic context. In the introduction, we learn that Laguna's coastal range was formed "over eons by wearing of waves," and that the resulting rocky terrain saved the area from being claimed as a ranch during California's formative years.
That terrain features symbolically throughout the book, which often illustrates chapters titled "The Homesteaders" or "Breakfast by the Beach" with unpeopled shots of the waves. Along the way, we learn that Laguna's oldest human skeleton may be 40,000 years old and that the modern town was founded largely by the faith community. Cue the whispery voice over narration, and there's your Malick film.
Any book that seeks to explain the essence of Laguna — or its "uniqueness," to quote a word Hellewell repeats — would have to go beyond simply listing hotels and beaches, and "Loving Laguna" is most engaging at its most ambitious. This slim, photo-packed volume clearly shows the work of an author who did his research, whether about ancestral remains or American economic history (turn to page 38 to learn how the popularity of player pianos indirectly changed Laguna's housing scene).
The portrait that emerges is of a city that prides itself on its ties to nature and its reverence for the past, a place where locals fought to preserve large swatches of unspoiled land and traditions like the Pageant of the Masters long outlive the century that birthed them. That Laguna is just over 100 years old but feels so timeless shows that uniqueness' true pull.
In the epilogue, Hellewell comes off as almost apologetic for trying to capture the city in 116 pages, even listing an email address for readers to send ideas for future editions. "Loving Laguna," in its present form, is very much a book for 2013 — the author mentions the current year's Pageant theme and notes that hockey star Teemu Selanne's restaurant hasn't opened yet — and it has a few rough spots. The chapter listing the city's art institutions curiously omits Art-A-Fair, and while "Summer Days" may be the partial title of a Beach Boys' album, it isn't a song, as Hellewell claims.
Still, for every gaffe, there are dozens of pleasant revelations (for instance, that Laguna's oldest remaining residence was built in 1883 from driftwood and ship scraps). If Hellewell makes his 2013 edition the first of many, the series may serve as a valuable record of how the city ages. Businesses come and go, but the city's allure remains — and it may be eons until the waves wipe it out.
Days Into Nights
Harbour Records, EP
Stacy Clark isn't new to the pop music scene. The Costa Mesa-based artist from Buffalo, N.Y., has a pair of OC Music Awards for Best Pop under her belt and has been featured on shows like "One Tree Hill."
But before she gears up to release her third full-length album, "Symmetry," with Harbour Records in December, she's gone ahead and put out a four-track EP, "Days Into Nights."
After listening to the almost 15-minute CD, however, I wouldn't consider Clark a pop artist. She's more indie-pop: not exactly what you would find on mainstream stations like KIIS-FM, but something more along the lines of KCRW.
Take the opening track, "Lose My Mind." It's a mellow song with a beat that'll make you bob your head. But its downbeat feel isn't aggressive like most of the pop music you hear nowadays. It's a simple song where Clark's vocals are soft and gentle, while the backing instruments give the tune a catchy kick.
"Days Into Nights" shows off more of her mainstream side, with deeper, more pungent bass notes. The track also has punchy electric guitar strums sprinkled throughout. It was hinted a little bit on the first track, but Clark's vocals during the chorus of the song remind me of those of Florence Welch, the front woman of indie band Florence and the Machine. While it's not as melodic as Welch's booming voice, Clark does a good job at emulating it while adding her own flair.
Next on the track list is a quick two-minute song called "Next Town." It's an amazingly simple song that starts with three elements: Clark's vocals, some tom drums and keyboards. As you progress through the song, more instruments are added to the mix, like a snare and guitar. But most importantly, Clark is able to lull you into a comforting state.
The closing track, "Everything's Changing," is more or less the same as the previous song. It's still simple and straight to the point. Sometimes artists forget how dynamic a guitar and piano can be, but that isn't the case for Clark. She's able to convey an emotional and heartfelt message just by using those two instruments and layers of vocals.
Clark's strengths lie in her ability to perform somber songs that hit you straight in the heart. The first two songs on the EP are the kind you record to get noticed by the masses, which is great, but they don't tell you who she really is.
Like I said, she's not exactly your typical pop artist, but I wouldn't be surprised if the indie community got behind her.