It's Casual: The REAL Los Angeles It's Casual: The REAL Los Angeles

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!

Continued after the jump...

RIYL:Black Flag, Melvins, power duos, skating Rating:
Four stars/5 Stars

Free tickets to Capitol Hill Blockparty this weekend (7/25-26) Free tickets to Capitol Hill Blockparty this weekend (7/25-26)

Full lineup includes Girl Talk, Les Savy Fav, Vampire Weekend, Natalie Portman’s Shaved Head, The Dodos, Kimya Dawson, The Hold Steady and more!

Just email contests AT@ by Wednesday the 23rd. Photo by Ryan Muir

Bo Knows... What's Beyond Bo Knows... What's Beyond

A long time ago, I stayed three hours past quitting time so I could interview Bo Diddley for the newspaper where I worked. I was kind of irritated, since the chat got postponed a couple of times during the evening. But what happened next was hilarious:

"You know what's wrong with the world? The hippies!" Mr. Diddley told me, with very little provocation on my part. It was one of those interviews in which the interviewer need not speak. The guitar legend, who must've had some kind of run-in with unwashed Birkenstock-wearers just prior to the call, let loose with his theory that lack of discipline--enacted by hippies and passsed on to their children--was destroying the world.

I kind of got it, though. After all, the party lifestyle that most people assume goes with being in rock-n-roll is more style than substance. Sure, you can live irresponsibly--but such musicians usually end up dead in a gutter before their time. No, most musicians--whether they admit to it or not--have to work like dogs to get their shot, again and again and again. I've no doubt the blues rocker had his share of hard times, which would have made free-wheeling folks most annoying to him.

Now, wherever he goes, Bo can play strictly for the enjoyement of it. RIP.

Breadpig: A Rock Band Breadpig: A Rock Band

Breadpig is a Rock Band (in every sense of the word) composed of Brian Femiano, Jon Swyers, and Alexis Ohanian. Their full album is available on their site but I picked out my two favorite tracks here.

Breadpig's First Show: Live in D.C.:

On a more serious note, all proceeds raised by touring + t-shirts are donated to charity/good causes!

Music: RIYL:Rock Band, Guitar Hero, Avant Garde music Rating:
Five stars/5 Stars

Oscar Kindles Faith In "The System" Oscar Kindles Faith In "The System"

My doubts about Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova winning the Academy Award for Best Song last night had nothing to do with the veracity of "Falling Slowly." I simply had a lot more faith in their talents than in the Academy.

I guess I was painting with a broad brush. The Frames frontman and Czech chanteuse were up for Best Sountrack and Best Song Written For A Motion Picture Grammy Awards, and music and film critics alike adored Once. Yet the critcally acclaimed dynamic duo weren't invited to perform (not even sure if they attended)--though that druggie bouffant singer chick we're all tired of hearing about got to participate remotely, to much mindless ado. Of course, ever since the mid-1980s I'd despised and ignored the Grammys without felling the same towards the Oscars--but the taint of "industry" had permeated my perception of the Academy Awards, nonetheless.

I watched the Oscars almost solely because of Glen and Mara's scheduled performance. As they sang the first chorus, I actually started to cry--overwhelmed, I guess, that indie underdogs I'd met and seen in small venues could actually have a shot at something this big. But then hearing the crowd reaction--much more enthusiastic than when the Enchanted singers romped about an elaborate stage--made me think, "You know, they really could win this!"

After the big moment, I was further heartened to see A-listers talk about the greatness of Once. Anne Hathaway--who I will no longer dismiss as a mere Disney/romantic comedy staple--even mentioned that she'd listened to "Falling Slowly" for months and "bawled" every time. Just like me (and maybe you)!

Host Jon Stewart giving up extra funnyman time to let Mara give her acceptance speech was the icing. While surprising regarding Oscar history, the gesture underlined a greater context. Don't know if anyone remembers, but Stewart had a late-night talk show in the mid-1990s, around the same time I had a weekly underground music column. His program--rather than Dave's or Conan's--was the one that every band I interviewed said was their favorite on which to appear. All these punk/alt rockers said Stewart seemed genuinely interested in the music. He even took some of them to parties.

So it's heartening that an industry often accused of being shallow could have such appreciation for Glen and Mara's art--more so than The Guy And Girl's own industry. It's almost ironic as the time I wrote for a Florida magazine that was "desperate" for reviewers who weren't old dudes stuck on one genre--and then it rewrote my review of The Frames' Burn The Maps to be mostly negative and ignore the highlights of the freakin' album. Guess that magazine, and the Recording Academy, will be whistling a different tune.

Perhaps that of "Falling Slowly."

RIYL:Anything that's not a rehashed version of Little Mermaid/Beauty And The Beast songs Rating:
Five stars/5 Stars

Crazy Christmas Mixes Crazy Christmas Mixes

Remember last years awesome 5-a-day Christmas mixes? Well I'm reposting them over at my personal blog:

Grab 'em while the grabbin's good.

21st Century Digital Boy (and girls, and labels, and...) 21st Century Digital Boy (and girls, and labels, and...)


Earlier this month I went to Digital Music Forum West. Didn't get to attend the whole conference, but the second day was quite interesting.

Met some cool people from LA startup label Orphan Rercords, singer/songwriter/entrepreneur Evonne Rivera (who's playing at Holly Street Bar & Grill in Old Pasadena tomorrow, BTW) and even Gail Zappa, wife of Frank, mother of Dweezil and Moon--and, more importantly, the perfect blend of businesswoman and passionate art appreciator.

I'm going to be posting a series of blogs over the next few days, recapping stuff that was said and done. If you can't wait, check out what I wrote for my work blog about DMF.

Pretty exciting to be an independent musician these days.

A force in all genres A force in all genres

In college I minored in music and history, and dug the two so much that I took a class titled "Sociology of Popular Music." We weren't afraid to send conventional thoughts pear-shaped. For example, the theme of my big class presentation was, "Protest songs are affected by sociopolitical events, NOT vice-versa" (like, "Four Dead In Ohio" was affected by national outrage at the Kent State student shootingts--it didn't incur the outrage). One day, somehow, we were all talking about rap and its sociological implications for the future, and a fellow student noted, "Well, there's the thought that rap is the new jazz." My teacher agreed, we talked a little more, and the bell rang.

The proponent of this thought, of course, was reknowned drummer Max Roach, one of the forefathers of bebop, who died today. The Los Angeles Times reported in 1991, the same year as that sociology class and quite unbeknownst to me, Mr. Roach as saying:

"Hip-hop is complete theater... These kids don't have rhetoric courses, so they've created their own script in rhyme--it's verbal improvisation. They don't have formal musical training, so they make music from the tones and rhythms of human speech--they'll sample Malcolm X saying, 'Too black, too strong.' They've even created their own instrument--the turntable. They have nothing but the inclination to be involved. And like Louis Armstrong, out of nothing they create something."

The drummer went on to say, "For centuries, Mozart and Charlie Parker and Ellington and Bach and Beethoven stood for the proposition of harmony, melody and rhythm equally balanced. Now here come these rap kids, dealing with a world of sound that makes the palette much broader. There's no melody, no harmony, just this very repetitive rhythmic thing. Rap completely obliterates Western concepts of music. It's revolutionary."

Now, this is just a small instance in Mr. Roach's impressive and accomplished life (check out the New York Times obit). But his beliefs affected me years after that class. While I was a writer at a Florida newspaper, I was assigned to to interview a member of a local jazz combo that was reknowned in the area maybe because it was a small retirement town; this group of elderly guys were good enough to please crowds at various food- and manatee-celebrating festivals, but they weren't great. As I tried to steer the conversation into the social implications of music, I blurted, "Well, rap is the new jazz, what do you think?" The guy stuttered for a second and said, "Um, well, I've never heard that--no, I don't really know about that."

Come to think of it, that band's piano was its sole percussion instrument. Those guys probably weren't that familiar with Mr. Roach--or his revolutionary ways.

Chime.TV Chime.TV

Chime.TV aggregates millions of videos from across the web (from sources like YouTube, Myspace and Veoh) to create a tv-like experience within your browser (with nothing to install). With over 20 premium channels to choose from you can get started right away or do a search to find what you are looking for. You can save favorites, create your own channels to share and even send video-mail to friends. With a fullscreen, non-stop playing experience that is always on-demand, Chime.TV is truly lean back internet TV.

Oh yeah, Chirag and I just launched it after 6 months in the making :)

For "Once," an amazing Memorial-weekend film For "Once," an amazing Memorial-weekend film

The best thing about the little Irish film that could, Once, isn't Glen Hansard (singer of The Frames) and his delicately beat-up guitar with a voice to match. (That wouldn't be surprising, as anyone who read this earlier post could tell you.) It isn't the endearing handheld camera methods--all but dictated by a miniscule budget-- that helped make the movie this year's Sundance sleeper hit.

It's Marketa Irglova, a Czech 19-year-old whose haunting voice and old-world lyrical style are a tangible link to Ireland's past and future. The film is set early this decade, before the new economic boom that has folks there either excited or despondent.

I saw Once when the movie's sneak-preview tour bus (courtesy of North American distributors Fox Searchlight) stopped at the Roxy Theater in the Mission. Many folks were obviously there because the screening was free; such Philistines left after the film ended and Glen and Marketa began performing with just their voices and the aforementioned acoustic guitar. You know how, when a movie has really good music, those tunes stay in your head hours after the closing credits? Well, pair the already-mesmerizing songs penned by Glen and Marketa with an immediate live rendition, and that music will become part of your soul.

Even almost two weeks later, I can't stop humming the refrain for "Falling Slowly," and find myself going on Once's page on Fox Searchlight's website to listen to Marketa's star turn in "If You Want Me." She's got an old-world quality to her voice that I can't pin down; or maybe it's the old-fashioned elements in the songs she sings that brings out her haunting yet guileless tone.

And guileless she is. I was sorely disappointed to find out that she doesn't have her own albums out--just the Once soundtrack and the Swell Season CD she recorded with Glen. I talked with her briefly after the screening/concert, and she reiterated that after recording twice with Glen, sharing a Sundance audience win, and touring around the U.S. in a fancy bus provided by a Big Hollywood Studio, she really wants to... work in a cafe. She hasn't done so before, she explained.

And maybe that mix of humbleness, naivete, and earnestness is what really comes out when she sings.

(Note: Once, which had a broader opening over the Memorial Day weekend, continues to debut at various theaters nationwide.)

RIYL:The Frames, The Commitments, neither music nor film that's close to mainstream Rating:
Five stars/5 Stars

Rodrigo y Gabriela Rodrigo y Gabriela

I have been playing Rodrigo y Gabriela's self-titled album compulsively over the past 4 days. Like atleast, literally, over a dozen times. IT IS SO GOOD. Reminds me a bit of Kaki King (acoustic, neck-hitting percussion), but different (latin flavor).

Check out the video and be convinced:


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