This last month featured new releases by a number of San Diego acts -- join the SoundDiego Record Club and dive in to some of the best new music around.
Ilya: In Blood (released April 1) In Blood, the long-awaited third studio album from local post-rock titans Ilya, doesn't exactly kick off with a bang. You'd think after taking a years-long hiatus, the band would burst out of the gates at first chance. Instead, the album starts off with a mournful, fingerpicked acoustic lament -- and all at once, we're reminded that this band has made a name for itself by living on the somber side of indie rock. Every song on In Blood exists in a dark, shadowy realm where shoegaze, post-rock and chamber pop pile on top of one another. Ilya don't erupt, they build; The entire album is a gift for the album-loving listener, instead of the average pop consumer. Most songs here wind on, gathering steam as they go, like a decommissioned coal locomotive: They start off slowly, but once they gain speed and begin racing, they're a spectacle to behold. Cellos and violins occupy the same space as fuzz bass and crunchy guitar riffs, and mandolins and sleigh bells join in at the same time as pensive piano and pounding drums. Vocalist Blanca Fowler pours everything into these songs, her overwhelmingly rich voice more than just another instrument in their monumental, melancholy wall of sound. The seven-plus minute "Their Intent" is one of the strongest examples of what this band can do: Solemn electric piano and Fowler's haunting, melodic vocals guide the song through the first half, until an abrupt breakdown leads into a furious, thematic climax akin to thunderstorm clouds finally letting loose their havoc upon the earth. It may take Ilya a little while to get where they're going, but it's well worth the wait. Buy it here.
Little Hurricane: Gold Fever (released April 29) Fresh on the heels of 2013's covers album Stay Classy, it's hard to believe that Gold Fever is just Little Hurricane's second studio effort of original music. And for all the lazy comparisons to those other blues rock duos (the White Stripes, the Black Keys, etc.) they'll forever have to live with, this fearless San Diego twosome featuring Anthony "Tone" Catalano on guitar/vocals and drummer Celeste "C.C." Spina has little else in common with those acts besides the number of people in the band. Sure, the blues are slathered all over Gold Fever like thick, syrupy molasses, but from a technical standpoint, rock & roll music owes its entire existence to the genre, so none of this is particularly new. No, the key to this record is the delicate interplay between the duo themselves: C.C's sweet, angelic-sounding vocals serve as a startling juxtaposition to Catalano's passionate begging on the title track, and her playful tambourine hits undermine his smoldering guitar licks throughout the horn stabs of "Boiling Water." They've crafted a record that expands on the strengths of their 2011 debut, Homewrecker, even if it's in subtle ways: Her drumming is more confident and powerful overall (note the busy high-hat cymbal work on "Sorry Son" and the thunderous John Bonham-esque thump of "No Mans Land"), while they've added space to let certain songs breathe (most obviously in the breezy pop of "Bones"), orchestral flourishes ("Con Man") and some gorgeous vocal harmonies throughout, to boot. The standout track is the oddest song of the bunch, "Breathe": It's a winsome acoustic waltz with whispered harmonica and call-and-response vocals between the two; Tone's heart-wrenching pleading that's he's a changed man falling squarely between C.C.'s measured, curt replies. Despite lacking the dirty-blues stomp we're used to hearing from them, this song is the perfect example of how their specific talents and roles merge together in an infectious, brilliant alliance -- a Gold Fever, indeed. Buy it here.
Rebecca Jade & the Cold Fact: Self-titled (released April 1) It’s highly likely that every member of Rebecca Jade & the Cold Fact would bristle at the thought of being labeled a "supergroup" -- but it’s fitting. Not because they perform in locally successful bands like In Motion Collective, the Heavy Guilt and the Styletones, but because this soul rock project showcases only the best parts of what they can do individually and combines them collectively under one musical roof. It’s quite an aural treat hearing some of San Diego’s most talented musicians going toe-to-toe on the band’s self-titled album: Keyboardist Tim Felton’s hypnotic, gritty electric piano and organ lines dance around Sean Martin’s reverb-drenched, fuzz guitar stabs, while Jake Najor lays down majorly tight pockets, complete with funky breaks and frenetic high-hat work. The group hits several genres here: "Dark Out" is a mesmerizing, slow jam, "Further Again" is an addictive up-tempo strut, while "Coming Home" nails that rollicking, late-‘60s organ-and-horn-heavy Motown sound. Primary lyricist (and percussionist) Al Howard has crafted an album’s worth of words that deal in inner-city struggles and urban discontent – not entirely unfamiliar territory for funk/soul (Baby Huey’s The Baby Huey Story: The Living Legend, Stevie Wonders' Innervisions, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly soundtrack are classic reminders) – but instead of acting as a rallying cry for societal upheaval, they’re mainly observational comments. And similar to the Rodriguez album that they pulled the "Cold Fact" part of their name from, they’re mostly detailing the bleary, hopeless state of life facing the common, downtrodden man who simply has no way to rise above the din. Thankfully, Howard has found a powerful voice to deliver the message: Jade truly is the star here – her smooth, soulful voice commands these tracks with a fiery force they need. They may not want to be pegged as a supergoup, but if their solid debut album is any indication, we might just have one on our hands. Buy it here.