Now that I no longer find myself in the company of music critics, I rely upon Santa Monica-based radio station KCRW (89.9 FM for those in Los Angeles County, kcrw.com for everyone else) to keep me abreast of new, cutting-edge pop. Recently a couple friends have scoffed at the notion that KCRW’s playlist could be deemed “cutting-edge.” One even went so far as to label their style “adult contemporary.” While that’s clearly a gross misrepresentation (the current adult contemporary Billboard chart includes singles by Hall & Oates, Goo Goo Dolls, and Kenny G), it’s true that KCRW playlists are consistently listenable. If your idea of cutting-edge is a three-hour lo-fi distorted feedback loop, you’re bound to be disappointed by Nic Harcourt and his cronies. If, on the other hand, you like your progressive tendencies tempered with tried-and-true singer/songwriter conventions, KCRW will sound like home.
Lately the station’s flagship program, “Morning Becomes Eclectic,” has been spinning tracks off Inara George’s debut, All Rise. And rightly so — it’s precisely the brand of mildly-eccentric, tastefully-arranged pop that’s carved out a niche in Los Angeles via stations like KCRW and singer/songwriter clubs like Largo and Hotel Cafe.
All Rise is a solid collection of songs heightened by thoughtful, dreamy production (courtesy of Michael Andrews, “Donnie Darko” composer and former Greyboy Allstar). While the second half of the album sinks into largely forgettable, if pleasant, melodies, the first few tracks achieve sublime moments of floaty melancholia (the standout is “Fool’s Work”). The sound and the arc of this album is reminiscent of Beth Orton’s Central Reservation. A comparison to Beck’s Sea Change is also in order, though it’s not quite as defined or unrelentingly elegiac.
How cutting-edge is it? Not very. Is it pop? Not really. So it may have debunked my classification of the KCRW ethos. But it’s good. And it ain’t no
Beth Orton – Central Reservation
Mia Doi Todd – Manzanita
Beck – Sea Change