No matter where you go, you’re going to meet a whole lot of people who talk smack about Los Angeles. The fact that most of those people have never even set foot in the city is irksome in and of itself. I’m not usually one to defend L.A., having lived there for six years and having seen its darker sides, but at least I follow the unwritten code of city slagging. Everyone knows that you aren’t allowed to disparage a place without having actually resided there. I was told this upon moving to Newark, Delaware, its residents finding little decent to say about the place, but equally adamant about curbing my own remarks until I had given it a fair chance. And truth be told, Los Angeles is not without its charms. Barney’s Beanery, the new Getty Museum and Dodger Stadium remain to me one of L.A.’s holy trinities, sometimes outweighing the smog, attitudes and sprawling urban decay. Just as the city is itself paradoxical, so is its music scene. Long rooted in all different types of glamorous rock and roll, the city has produced bands that have both knocked my socks off and made me retch in equal measure. Not a big fan of the Doors, but I love Love. X is possibly one of the best bands out of the city, but it has also produced a bevy of bad hair metal. You see my point.
One recent band has renewed my faith in Los Angeles’ ability to spawn major musical talent, that being the Slow Signal Fade. This band made up of Angelenos and a striking Sri Lankan singer has just released their debut album, Steady, after a pair of well received EP releases. Whereas it seems that most bands in L.A. these days model themselves after either Jane’s Addiction, Guns n’ Roses or Duran Duran, the SSF (as their fans have dubbed them) have followed in the dreamy and gauzy footsteps of My Bloody Valentine, the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Ron Ulicny’s guitars drone with harmonic echoes throughout each track, buoyed along by the incredibly rich and resonant bass of Chris Walters and the absolutely sick drumming of Aaron Vishria. With the addition of singer Marguerite Olivelle, whose vocals sound like a diaphanous blend of Sonya Madan (Echobelly), Sinead O’Connor and Alanis Morissette, Steady becomes an album essentially drawn and quartered by four distinct sounds, all vying for attention due to their own capabilities, yet forming a fully textured whole.
Steady is a collection of tracks that defy the ordinary pop song structure. Like much of the Cure’s early albums, songs seem to float and meander, blending into the next track as if a segue within a larger piece. Never one to back straightforward pop, Steve Albini came on to produce, grounding the dreamy qualities in the solid theories of loud and aggressive rock. In his trusted hands, the drums are sharp, the bass crisp, and the guitars otherworldly. “Departmental,” the first song on the record is the perfect example of this phenomenon with each instrument finding airspace to breathe, while at different times each can stand alone such as the kickass drum marches about two minutes in. Two and a half minutes into “At Least We’re Dancing” is another huge highlight as the guitars waterfall and cascade into rolling melodrama. The melodic bass in “Relapse” reminds me of a Cure song more than almost anything else on the album, but as soon as the other elements join in, one can find easy references to the early 4AD shoegazer bands as well as Robert Smith’s pals in the Banshees. Olivelle’s vocals are gorgeous monotony, sprinkled with high yelps and flourishes. She gets her moment in the spotlight with the sparely instrumented “Counterpunch.”
The Slow Signal Fade find musical beauty in their home city, a paradoxical paradise where you’ll find not only sun and sand, but also fires and mudslides, making it far from the ideal place for the kind of murky and atmospheric music they create. Ah, but don’t be so quick to disparage! Everyone’s heard that every cloud has a silver lining, but the SSF have managed to find gold within smog! Just like you might know the unwritten rules of calling `shotgun’ (you have to be within eyesight of the vehicle, people!), you might not know the rules of city slagging. If you hear the Slow Signal Fade before you visit, you might have a different outlook! Hey, it worked for Manchester!
Siouxsie & the Banshees- Tinderbox
The Cure- Pornography