Lo Moon are officially LA’s newest buzz band after their sold-out show at the Troubadour

Lo MoonBy Josh Herwitt //

Lo Moon with Psychic Twin //
Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA
November 16th, 2017 //

If there’s one public radio station in Los Angeles that always seems to have its finger on the pulse of all things music, it’s KCRW.

The NPR member station broadcasting from Santa Monica College has long had a penchant for discovering some of today’s most buzzworthy bands, and since 1977, its signature music program “Morning Becomes Eclectic” has played an instrumental role in maintaining what has been a strong track record for years. In fact, quite a few up-and-coming acts have come out of KCRW’s own backyard, whether it has been indie-rock groups like Silverlake’s Local Natives or solo artists such as Inglewood-bred jazz virtuoso Kamasi Washington.

But the latest group from the City of Angels to catch the station’s eye has been Lo Moon, the atmospheric, yet soulful indie-electronic trio that has only officially released three songs to date. One of them is called “Thorns”, which opened their sold-out show last Thursday at the Troubadour. With KCRW sponsoring the event, Illinois native/now LA transplant Erin Fein’s dreamy, synth-pop project Psychic Twin paved the way for the evening’s headliner, as a half-empty room prior to 9 p.m. turned into a crowded one 30 minutes later.

Despite what they call home right now, Lo Moon don’t consider themselves an “LA band,” at least not yet. All three full-time members — Matt Lowell (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Crisanta Baker (bass, keyboards, vocals) and Sam Stewart (guitar, keyboards, vocals) — arrived in LA from different parts of the world and wrote most of their forthcoming debut LP that’s due out next year in Seattle, a city Lowell says helped shape the album’s overall sound.

Lo Moon

Lo Moon, sonically, can be somewhat difficult to pin down. With a range of influences, their music has drawn comparisons to many of the UK’s biggest bands: Talk Talk, Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead, Massive Attack and The xx, among others. That’s certainly some impressive company to be mentioned in when you get right down to it, especially for a band that took several months to unveil its second song. But Lo Moon have much more than just comparisons to hang their hat on at this point. The three-piece, for one, has inked a deal with Columbia Records and gotten the attention of former Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla, who has since signed on to produce its first full length.

Lately though, Lowell, Baker, Stewart and touring member Sterling Laws (drums) have been hitting the road with some pretty big names, including AIR (read our show review here) and Phoenix, with shows lined up next month as support for London Grammar, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and The War on Drugs. With those kind of opportunities this early in the band’s career, don’t be surprised if you find Lo Moon listed on the 2018 Coachella lineup in January.

Back at the Troubadour, Lo Moon ran through a number of tracks that we can expect to hear on their upcoming release, performing “The Right Thing” for the first time before closing the set on a high note with “This Is It”, their sophomore single that you could mistake for a Peter Gabriel song if you didn’t know any better. There’s no question Lowell and company have an affinity for synthesizers, and the limited studio material they’ve revealed so far suggests that. But what also makes them stand out is Lowell himself, who offered a poignant solo rendition on the piano titled “All In” to kick off the band’s brief encore.

Of course, as Lo Moon fans know or will come to know, the show couldn’t have ended without the song that started it all: “Loveless”. The sprawling, seven-minute anthem, which hooked a major record label, an A-list producer and listeners all over the world, is what initially put the threesome on the map, and with Laws’ drum rolls delivering one powerful crescendo after the next down the stretch, the crowd came visibly alive like it hadn’t all night. Sure, this may only be the beginning for these guys, but LA’s newest buzz band knows how to shoot for the moon.

The Right Thing (live debut)
Wonderful Life
Real Love
My Money
This Is It

All In (Matt Lowell solo on piano)

Supergroup or not, Gone Is Gone roar loud at their album release party in LA

Gone Is Gone
By Josh Herwitt //

Gone Is Gone //
Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA
January 6th, 2017 //

In music circles, the term “supergroup” often gets thrown around when various members of established bands come together to form their own side project. The 90’s were a particularly fertile time for supergroups, with the Seattle grunge movement paving the way for offshoots like Mad Season and Temple of the Dog, which a little more than three months ago, reunited and toured for the first time ever to celebrate the 25-year anniversary of their self-titled debut LP. But as the digital age has taken the industry by storm over the past decade, supergroups have become fewer and farther between.

Gone Is Gone are one of those rare supergroups that have emerged in the post-millennium era, even if the quartet doesn’t boast the same sort of star power that Audioslave and Velvet Revolver had in the early 2000’s. Instead, it’s a collection of musicians who all complement each other’s playing quite well, fusing Mastodon vocalist/bassist Troy Sanders’ deep bellow with Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen’s atmospheric riffs, At the Drive-In drummer Tony Hajjar’s thunderous rhythms and composer Mike Zarin’s background scoring Hollywood films.

Sanders, Van Leeuwen, Hajjar and Zarin made their official live debut as Gone Is Gone less than 12 months ago. At the time, they had yet to release a single or any studio material, but that didn’t matter to the sold-out crowd at LA’s Dragonfly, the 400-person club along Santa Monica Blvd. that primarily books up-and-coming acts.

Gone Is Gone

Since then, Gone Is Gone have unveiled their eponymous EP and most recently a full-length record by the name of Echolocation, which they dropped last Friday — the same day as their album release show at the diminutive Troubadour. And considering it was only the group’s second live performance, there was plenty of anticipation in the air. Gone Is Gone, after all, received their fair share of media attention in 2016, enough for fans of Mastodon, Queens of the Stone Age and At the Drive-In to certainly take notice.

But no one, not even the band members themselves, know what the future holds for Gone Is Gone. With Mastodon, Queens and ATDI all expected to release new albums this year, finding the time to tour could prove to be difficult. And from what Sanders told us at the Troubadour, who knows if they’ll actually play another gig in 2017. The project, which was conceived out of the writing sessions that Zarin and Hajjar usually hold to compose video-game and movie-trailer themes for Zarin’s music production company, takes on a more cinematic feel than one might initially think based on the names involved. For Sanders, who is used to sharing vocal duties in Mastodon with Brann Dailor and Brent Hinds, it represented a “cool challenge” and “blind experiment” as he explained to Rolling Stone days before taking the stage in LA.

With floor space at the Troubadour tightening as the clock approached 10 p.m., Sanders, Van Leeuwen, Hajjar and Zarin stepped up to the plate and delivered a 14-song set of hard-hitting tunes over the next hour. There was the sludge-metal doom that often emanates from Sanders on Echolocation, Zarin’s versatility as a multi-instrumentalist, and of course, Hajjar’s kinetic drumming. But what was particularly cool to see was the space Van Leeuwen had to let loose, whether it was on his custom Fender Telecaster or a badass 12-string that he strapped on after a few songs. The LA native, who plays alongside Josh Homme in Queens of the Stone Age and assumed a similar role as the second guitarist in A Perfect Circle, showed that he is more than capable of shredding like a lead axeman should, putting his unique style and flair — Homme calls him “the best-dressed man in rock ‘n’ roll” and he’s probably right — on display without having to share the spotlight with anyone. It’s what makes Gone Is Gone different from what we usually see out of Sanders, Van Leeuwen and Hajjar in their respective bands, even if you can hear a little bit of Mastodon, Queens and ATDI shine through in the finished product. So, on this night, the foursome fittingly chose to close with the title track on its new LP, providing one last rush of blood to the head before it was time to leave. And then, just like that, Gone Is Gone were nowhere to be found.

Praying From the Danger
Slow Awakening
This Chapter
Stolen From Me
One Divided

Back on the road, The Naked and Famous debut new songs at the Troubadour

The Naked and FamousBy Josh Herwitt //

The Naked and Famous with The Rubens //
Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA
March 25th, 2016 //

Since forming in New Zealand nearly a decade ago, The Naked and Famous have called Los Angeles home for close to four years. In that time, the indie-electronic band has recorded its sophomore full-length album In Rolling Waves at Sunset Sound, the world-famous studio in Hollywood, and played on the main stage at Coachella. So, in many ways, the quintet led by Alisa Xayalith (vocals, keyboards) and Thom Powers (vocals, guitars) have already become well-acquainted with their Southern California surroundings.

But after touring extensively in 2014, The Naked and Famous took off much of last year to work on their forthcoming third LP. And while there’s been no scheduled release date for it yet, they have recently returned to the stage, performing in their homeland earlier this month.

Just days after their set at Auckland City Limits, the band was back stateside for a string of small club shows, three of which were in California. Starting their two-night, sold-out run in LA at the 600-person Teragram Ballroom last Wednesday, The Naked and Famous arrived at an even smaller venue less than 48 hours later, filling the historic Troubadour for a Friday night gig with Australian alt-rock outfit The Rubens.

The Rubens

The Rubens

Though the crowd proved to be rather small and reserved during The Rubens’ opening set, you could feel the energy inside the room starting to build as The Naked and Famous’ 9:30 p.m. stage time approached. With a buzz in the air, Xayalith, Powers, keyboardist Aaron Short, bassist David Beadle and drummer Jesse Wood walked out one by one and received a warm applause from their “hometown” fans before jumping into singles “A Stillness” and “Punching in a Dream”.

Yet, The Naked and Famous hadn’t set out on a seven-date mini tour across North America just to doll out a bunch of older hits. Instead, they made sure to also debut a couple of new offerings (one titled “Higher” and another named “Runners”), giving a sense of what’s to come on their next LP. While both songs didn’t deviate all that much from their previous material, it was clear that Xayalith’s beautiful voice still remains the band’s focal point.

To close out their hour-long performance, Xayalith and her sidekicks went back to 2010’s Passive Me, Aggressive You — the album that ultimately put them on the map — much like they had in SF and LA a few days prior. And although the one-two punch of “No Way” and “Young Blood” left us on a high as we parted ways for the evening, it was the band’s newest material that has us anxious to hear more in the coming months.

A Stillness
Punching in a Dream
Girls Like You
Rolling Waves
The Sun
All of This
I Kill Giants
What We Want
Hearts Like Ours
No Way
Young Blood

Are Built to Spill indie rock’s most important band?

Built to SpillBy Josh Herwitt //

Built to Spill //
Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA
July 15th, 2015 //

Long before the word “indie” became a trendy term for casual music fans to throw around here and there, an independent music scene was on the rise in the U.S. At the time, record companies still maintained a tight grip on the industry, making it all the more difficult for lesser-known bands to climb the ranks without the backing of a major label.

But those days have come and gone since the DIY age, with record labels no longer holding the overwhelming power they once had due to the accessibility and convenience that the Internet has come to offer up-and-coming artists. That doesn’t mean the word “indie” has reached near-extinction levels yet, though. With the talent across today’s music business spanning far and wide, it’s being used even more now, except as a descriptor for a band’s sound rather than strictly for its label status. These days, there are a number of artists on independent record labels who have gained all sorts of commercial success while others who are signed to much larger labels have soared thanks to their “indie” sound. In many ways, the lines have become increasingly blurred, and attempting to define what “indie” actually means when describing a band has become an arduous feat.

Built to Spill

Yet, if there is one “indie” band that revolutionized the gritty, lo-fi sound before most even had a chance, it’s Built to Spill. For more than 20 years, the Boise-based outfit has served as one of the most important indie-rock acts to this day. With no Grammys or gold hardware to flaunt, lead singer/guitarist Doug Martsch and company have flown largely under the radar despite serving as a major influence for indie heavyweights like Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie and The Strokes — all bands that have gone on to garner a lot more commercial success than the Pacific Northwest five-piece. That’s not to say that Built to Spill never got the respect they deserved, but you won’t find them selling out arenas or headlining 1,000-person venues. Rather, despite signing with Warner Bros. Records more than 15 years ago, they’ve continued to maintain a relatively small, yet loyal following, understanding their audience and where they stand in the marketplace. So, it was no shock to see them book three straight nights last week at the diminutive Troubadour — a place that they’ve become quite familiar with over the years — while touring North America this summer in support of their eighth and latest full-length record Untethered Moon.

Selling out their third and final show in LA, Built to Spill still know how to keep their fans guessing. Their carefully crafted setlist showcased the breath and depth of a catalog that has stood the test of time, as they kicked things off with “The Wait”, the final track off their seminal 2006 album You in Reverse, before turning to their newest single “Living Zoo”. In a matter of 90 minutes, Built to Spill performed cuts from almost every one of their studio albums, from 1997’s Perfect from Now On to 1999’s Keep It Like a Secret to 2001’s Ancient Melodies of the Future to 2009’s There Is No Enemy to 2015’s Untethered Moon, of course. They even closed out their set with the title track from their 1999 EP Carry the Zero. But the biggest surprise just might have been seeing them honor some of LA’s musical past with a cover of The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High”, a song that was written nearly 50 years ago.

For their two-song encore, Built to Spill went way back in time to tap into another album of theirs, reminding us of their 1994 LP There’s Nothing Wrong with Love with “Stab” — a piece of music that’s more than two decades old at this point. And in watching Built to Spill play recently, including this past spring at Coachella, it’s become more and more apparent that Martsch, for all intents and purposes, is the brains behind the band. In fact, when he first formed Built to Spill in 1992, his plan was to change the group’s lineup for every album, using a rotating cast of musicians to record and tour while keeping himself as its only permanent member. Some fresh faces have entered the fold in more recent times, with bassist Jason Albertini and drummer Steve Gere replacing Brett Nelson and Scott Plouf, respectively, but even after Martsch signed the band to Warner Bros. Records back in 1995, the deal he inked allowed Built to Spill to maintain much of their creative control. At the time, many could have seen that development as the end of Built to Spill’s “indie” days. Instead, it’s only proved to be of no consequence for one of indie rock’s pioneering bands.

The Wait
Living Zoo
The Plan
Planting Seeds
Never Be the Same
Wherever You Go
The Weather
Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss
Eight Miles High (The Byrds cover)
Stop the Show
On the Way
Carry the Zero

Randy Described Eternity

Death from Above 1979 start new chapter with LA warm-up gig

death-from-above-1979_optBy Josh Herwitt //

Death from Above 1979 //
Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA
August 14th, 2014 //

It hasn’t been an easy ride for fans of Death from Above 1979.

Just two years after the release of its highly acclaimed 2004 debut You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, the Toronto-based, dance-punk duo disbanded after Sebastien Grainger (drums, vocals) and Jesse F. Keeler (bass, synths, backing vocals) agreed that they could no longer work together.

With creative and stylistic differences pulling them apart, Grainger and Keeler went their separate ways. While Grainger would go on to start his own solo project — signing with the Omaha-based label Saddle Creek Records in the U.S. under the name Sebastien Grainger & The Mountains — before later forming the band Deserts (formerly Bad Tits) with Tangiers guitarist and singer Josh Reichmann, Keeler achieved plenty of commercial success and fanfare in teaming up with his close friend Alex Puodziukas (aka Al-P) to create the electronic duo MSTRKRFT.

It wasn’t until early 2011, though, that Grainger and Keeler decided to give things another try, speaking to each other for the first time in five years and reuniting for a scintillating performance on Coachella’s main stage that April. By September of the following year, DFA 1979 had written new material for the first time in almost eight years, but there was still no guarantee things would last.

Early last summer, the two-piece canceled its appearance at Governors Ball Music Festival in New York City because it had been struggling to write new music together. Merely a month later, Grainger and Keeler axed more shows, this time in Europe due to a “medical emergency,” but left their fans with an ounce of hope after revealing on Facebook not long after that a new album was indeed on its way.

Yet, it wasn’t until a year later that fans would actually hear new music from DFA 1979. Releasing its first single “Trainwreck 1979” early last month, the band disclosed more details about its second full-length The Physical World at the same time.

So, if last Thursday night’s warm-up show in LA for DFA 1979’s upcoming North American/European tour this fall was supposed to make up for lost time, well then, mission accomplished.

Despite the show’s announcement coming a little more than two weeks before the gig, the band sold out the Troubadour just minutes after tickets went on sale. And for those of us who were lucky enough to be in attendance, DFA 1979 treated its fans to a night they won’t forget for a long time.

Playing material from The Physical World for the first time in a live setting, Grainger and Keeler ripped through an epic 21-song performance, playing almost every track from both albums. They stepped on stage and immediately put the pedal to the metal, blasting off with the blistering “You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine” before turning to their newer cuts like “Right On, Frankenstein!,” “Virgins,” “Crystal Ball” and “Government Trash,” which they officially released to the masses yesterday.

For a band that incorporates just bass guitar, drums, vocals and occasionally keyboards, you’d think that DFA 1979’s sound could only stretch so far. But at the Troubadour, Grainger and Keeler proved that the tracks from The Physical World are every bit as good as they play out on the record. And having listened to the new album, which will drop September 9th, already numerous times, I can say that with the utmost confidence. Distorted? Yes. Heavy? Yes. But with this show also marking my third time seeing DFA 1979, it’s hard to find more raw energy coming from solely two musicians in a recording studio or on a stage.

When it came time for the encore, Grainger and Keeler took us back in time, playing all five songs from You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine — including the finale “Do It!,” which was originally released on their 2002 EP Heads Up — with the same ferocity that first took the music industry by storm nearly a decade ago when they joined 90’s alt-rock giants Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age on tour.

While certainly a lot has changed for DFA 1979 since then, they’ve never forgotten how to get the blood pumping fast through their fans’ veins.

You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine, Cheap Talk, Right On, Frankenstein!, Turn It Out, Blood on Our Hands, Cold War, Virgins, Crystal Ball, Government Trash, Going Steady, Gemini, Nothin’ Left, White Is Red, Trainwreck 1979, Always On, The Physical World

Little Girl, Black History Month, Romantic Rights, Pull Out, Do It!