New music reviews: Julia Holter, Melvins, Unsane

Naomi Yang and Julia Holter in Los Angeles (March 17, 2012)

No, it isn’t necessary to make the pilgrimage/business trip to SXSW to dig new sounds or catch up with old faves. Here are some recent releases that I love–all with some sort of connection to Giant Robot. On Saturday, for example, I was exposed to the music of Julia Holter when she came over to my house for a video shoot by my longtime friend Naomi (of Damon & Naomi, Galaxie 500, and GR mag). The publication as I knew it is no longer, but the culture lives on and grows.

Julia Holter – Ekstasis
When Naomi Yang was shooting footage for “Our Sorrows” in my living room, I listened to Julia’s new album more than a few times. Over lunch, the Echo Park-based musical force of one mentioned some of her influences–from illuminated manuscripts to Greek philosophy–and it’s clear that she’ll never be labeled as a sad indietronica shut-in. Although she’s not much of a traveler (yet) her ideas are anything but inbred. Scholarship is a mere starting point to each of her musical directions, which become more like tangents and never feel like homework since she isn’t adverse to using handclaps, Casio beats, and other friendly sounds when a song demands it. Julia’s otherworldly voice doesn’t hurt, either. The wispy-but-never-wimpy delivery in “Our Sorrows” strangely reminds me of certain Hong Kong ghost movie soundtracks from the early ’90s. (No, she had no idea what I was talking about.) And from the Bollywood-meets-free-jazz “Four Gardens” to the less cinematic and nearly New Wave “In The Same Room,” every song is equally unique, sweet, and rewarding to serious listening. [RVNG]

Melvins – The Bulls & The Bees EP
Not only does King Buzzo have a name that could have come out of a Godzilla movie, but I’ve actually seen him shop at the Giant Robot store on Sawtelle. Even though I was too chickenshit to introduce myself, it was meaningful to see one of my musical heroes support GR just like I have paid to see so many of his band’s shows from ye olden days at Jabberjaw to last year’s residency at Spaceland. The Melvins’ latest EP is available for free download from Scion A/V but the songs don’t skimp in any manner. (Check out the high-concept video for “The War on Wisdom.”) Heavy, droning, and powerful are some of the adjectives that usually get tossed around when describing the Melvins, and all of those elements are present in spades, as is the playfulness. They are supremely confident enough to title otherwise arty and string-filled ambient noise, “A Really Long Wait,” and its ass-shaking payoff, “National Hamster.” And you could knock yourself out head-banging to the 7-minute “We Are Doomed,” which repeats classic rock riffs and two-fold drumming to the point of droning much as a pointillist might use dots to make the impression of a landscape, but you will also find bliss. [Scion A/V]

Unsane – Wreck
Before Giant Robot had shops on Sawtelle, the nearby garage office, or even the short-lived loft in Downtown L.A., there was Eric’s bedroom in his parents’ house where the first stapled-and-folded zines were collated. On one wall was a huge poster for Unsane’s Total Destruction album, which depicted the shiny, bloody grill of a sedan. That was nearly 20 years ago and the New York band’s new songs are just as pummeling and awesome as they were back then. While it must be exhausting to remain bitter and brutal for decades, the group has plenty of spite, spit, and blood left to drive the heaviest of riffs topped with guttural lyrics to mostly one-syllable song titles: “Rat,” “Decay,” “Roach.” Outlasting grunge and predating doom rock, the band has practically carved out its own hateful and raw (yet fully realized) genre of noisy sludge, kind of like a meaner version of Sabbath without the cartoon elves or atheist antecedent to mid-era Slayer without the solos. You might think that the band has no sense of humor, but how could it survive so long without one? The band’s faithfully bleak cover of Flipper’s “Ha Ha Ha” is all the evidence one needs. [Alternative Tentacles]

Julia is playing an in-store at Amoeba Hollywood today (Tuesday, March 20), making an appearance at Origami in Echo Park after that (Saturday, April 7), and then playing all over Europe. Meanwhile, Melvins and Unsane will tour together in April. Get out there and support them!