The SoundDiego Record Club features some of the best new musical releases from around the county. Read on and listen in. As always, be sure to support our local artists and purchase their music when possible -- and if you can, go see them at a show.
OK, which one's Froman? Awesome jokes aside (high five!), the five-piece collective known as AJ Froman have already established themselves as one of the most wildly experimental bands on San Diego's music scene right now. Even if they didn't have a dude (local artist and unofficial sixth member, Jimmy Ovadia) literally painting on a large canvas emphatically to the band's music onstage during shows, you'd be hardpressed to tear your eyes off 'em when they're on it. Frontwoman Sarah Norwood hurls and twirls herself around the stage -- her dense mane of curls barely keeping up with her uninhibited, possessed movement -- propelled by a tremulous voice that frequently winds up howling operatically over the group's kaleidoscope-colored rock assaults. But those are shows, and "Phoenix Syndrome" is a record -- that is to say, the transfer of crazed onstage energy into the studio recording process has proven to be haphazard for countless bands. Thankfully, Froman's new album does a good job of capturing their raw, in-concert prowess. Channeling equal parts Mars Volta, King Crimson and Led Zeppelin, they deftly manuever through endless twists and turns in difficult time signatures and intricate song structures only they'd imagine. The eight-song "Phoenix Syndrome" LP sounds like the natural progession (and big brother) to 2014's "Nocturna" EP, which found the band charging through their four-part "Guarda Nocturno" rock concerto (with each movement affectionately notated with roman numerals, I might add -- prog-rock bonus points!). That particular song is revisited (for 13 minutes, no less) on the new album as well, putting their jam-band money where their jam-band mouths are. If untamed psychedelic experimentalism (think Yes, not Tame Impala) is your thing, AJ Froman's your guy, er, band. [Listen to/purchase the album here]
The Donkeys don't pull punches: What you see is what you get. And simply put, "Midnight Palms," the band's new five-song EP will undoubtedly delight their fans. After delivering a beautiful collection of meandering '60s-esque beach-breeze pop (with a little ol' fashioned rock & roll thrown in) on 2014's "Ride the Black Wave," the band stays the course on their new record -- with a little refinement to boot. The group (which includes vocalist/keyboardist Anthony Lukens, drummer/vocalist Sam Sprague, bassist/vocalist Tim Denardo) is joined on these songs by a new guitarist, Steve Selvidge (on loan from the Hold Steady), which might explain their newfound focus. Whereas "Ride the Black Wave" had hypnotic forays into Middle Eastern music ("The Manx" and "Imperial Beach") and tropical-flavored hammock-rockers ("Brown Eyed Lady" and "Bahamas"), the new EP is all killer, no filler. That is to say, it's straight-ahead, blue-eyed soul/pop with all the chill, retro vibes you could ask for. "Hurt Somebody" is the obvious single here, a lax singalong with the chorus refrain of "It'll be all right" that could've easily been in a hit in 1972 for Stealers Wheel. The Donkeys don't slow down after that, offering up a bluesy, toe-tapping tambourine jangler with "Down the Line" before Selvidge ups the energy and channels his inner Keith Richards on the Stones-ish "Hold On to You." The gem, and possible sleeper, of the bunch is the slow, organ-led R&B ballad "Day By Day," with its deliberate guitar stabs and soulful vocals that easily reassure those commitment-phobes out there: "Forever's a long time, girl / But we'll take it day by day / That's the best way." May not look like much on paper, but it's a glorious slab of melodica to the ears -- just like the rest of "Midnight Palms." [Pre-order it here, and see them play it live on Feb. 11 at Soda Bar, with the Palace Ballroom and Oh, Spirit.]