Think of a Black Flag version of Local H and maybe you can start to imagine It's Casual.
The first time I heard this power duo, they were playing at the DIY-esque Relax Bar in one of the least glamorous parts of Hollywood. These guys give off the intensity and charisma of a thrash band twice their size; my attention was equally split between the singer/guitarist Edward Solis and the drummer, who goes by the name W.C.E., as their technical skills belied the grungy setting and simple-seeming lyrics.
It's Casual's brand of song is even more apparent on their CDs. Forgoing the more esoteric subject matter of socio-political issues--or "life sucks" commentary--often favored by bands of their ilk, It's Casual instead focuses on genuine moments. They're short tales of what it's like to be a struggling DIY band, or the fair-weather-friendship of L.A. business contacts, or--in the case of the band's latest album, The New Los Angeles--snippets of the lives of everyday Angelenos. Real Los Angeles folk--not Hollywood stars, phoney transplants, or wannabe gangstas. Songs include an ode to the 24-hour convenience store ("The Pantry," which for me actually evoked the time I lived the night-owl lifestyle in Japan); the fact that the wrong people are procreating ("Too Many Kids," which is also included on the recent Basement Records compilation); and the joys of public transportation and the agony of highway driving ("EZ Pass" and "The Red Line," respectively). Which, I guess, could also apply to anyone living in a major urban area other than L.A.
Minimal lyrics give a basic outline; it's the music, rather, that evoke the plot and the narrator's true feelings. Some might dismiss such word thrift this as repetition. I view it as a sort of gritty haiku, allowing hard-hitting riffs and drumbeats to do the talking. Syncopation and unusual time signatures--not for the usual three-chord pony!
"I'm so glad you get it!" says Solis when we meet for iced tea a few days after the Relax gig. He's a pleasant guy, a regular working joe and native who seems to be on a mission--redefining the term "L.A. band" to mean an act that's really from there, and thus can really express all the changes, nuances, and issues going on in the city. "Once we really 'found ourselves' as a band, we started writing these records...they springboard off social commentary one."
It's Casual began in 2001, and the following year the duo played Warped Tour dates in California, Nevada, and Arizona. While their songs have always celebrated the mundane, The New Los Angeles takes things to a new level; I'd call it a concept album. "I said, I'll see how people behave, how they judge one another," Solis describes the inspiration for the CD. Indeed, "EZ Pass" doesn't just extol the virtues of saving money and one's energy by taking the subway; it also astutely observes the subtleties of how people act when forced to share cramped quarters with others not of their ilk.
But It's Casual's music is best listened to as a whole, rather than dissected. While one could categorize them as hardcore, there's defintely some tunes that are more "rock" than punk. "Navigator" is my favorite example; it's a dichtomy, with lyrics actually criticizing the rock-n-roll-like (OK, chemical substance) lifestyle. But you might have so much fun listening to the album that you miss these lessons.
That's OK. Despite some of the themes I've mentioned, Solis is rather optimistic about his city. When we talk about downtown, he heartily agrees with civic boosters that revitalization will happen. On a less economics-driven note, he proudly declares that Los Angeles' "underground heavy music scene is the 'new punk'"--one in which musicians, artists, and other creative folk support each other.
His optimism is understandable. It's Casual's take on underground heavy music gets them supporting slots on tours with legends like Fu Manchu. But even if the band should somewhow catapult to fame or fortune, I doubt Solis would stop riding the subway.
(It's Casual plays Thursday at the Viper Room in Los Angeles, and Friday at the Relax Bar. Check out their MySpace page to listen to their tunes and learn about upcoming shows.)