The first time I heard “Pulling Leaves Off Trees” by L.A.’s Wallows, I had to check the readout twice to make sure a new Strokes track didn’t slip into the playlist. I was impressed enough by the bold alt-rock anthem to work my way through their previous three singles — “Pleaser” (their first recording, released in April) “Uncomfortable,” and “Suntan” — and was pleasantly surprised to find so much sincerely played old-school flannel rock from such young musicians, all in their early 20s. Actor Dylan Minnette, of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why (as well as Don’t Breathe and Goosebumps), has already played guitar in two previous groups with bandmates Braeden Lemasters (guitar, vocals) and Cole Preston (drums), the Narwhals and the Feaver. Young Lemasters is also a moonlighting actor, probably best known as young Frankie in the dark cult series Six Feet Under, as well as appearing on Criminal Minds, Grey’s Anatomy, and elsewhere. The Wallows just played their first concert at the end of May at the Roxy in Hollywood, for which they seem to have scored almost universal huzzahs, and they’ve already notched a number-two slot on Spotify’s Global Viral 50 Chart, as well as topping KROQ’s Locals Only playlist a couple of times. Their February 1 appearance downtown at House of Blues is part of their first headlining tour.
Also on the road promoting a debut album is 23-year-old Pheobe Bridgers, who released Stranger in the Alps via Dead Oceans Records in September. Sporting vocal histrionics that range from Ann Wilson–style growls to Adele-like coos and Björkish hymnals, the album has been showcased everywhere from Pitchfork to Billboard, Stereogum, Consequence of Sound, and pretty much all the tastemaker ’zines and blogs. Rather than rely on browsing the raft of writeups, I sampled her sound first with the Tiny Desk Concert she recently performed on NPR, playing “Killer,” “Motion Sickness,” and “Demi Moore,” all three evincing a somewhat beachy Malibu vibe countered with the bittersweet musings of the local creepy girl, the one always muttering putdowns you can’t quite make out who just smiles knowingly and says, “Oh, nothing” when you ask her what she just said. In performance, this combination of froth and melancholy always seems accompanied by a wide smile that makes her lyrical revelations seem joyous on the surface but hiding some kind of deep sadness just beneath the façade, as if she’s thrilled to have so many ears but worried about what she must say to them. This nervous dichotomy may stem from Bridgers having grown up in a Pasadena suburb while attending an urban downtown L.A. school. The video she just released for “Would You Rather,” a duet with Bright Eyes singer Conor Oberst, mixes animation and live action footage, with people wearing flashing TV screens on their heads and Bridgers always seen wearing that knowing smile of inevitability, inviting listeners in even as she warns them away. It’s an interesting performance persona that she’ll still be breaking in when she appears at Soda Bar on February 5.
Based in Northern California, Brett Dennen is a skier, a painter, a mountain climber, outdoorsman, rosé wine entrepreneur, and an environmental activist dedicated to raising awareness about climate change. He also happens to be a folk singer, usually incorporating one or more of those aforementioned interests into songs like his soulful debut single from 2004, “Desert Sunrise.” If you believe the 38-year-old’s press, he’s always been somewhat of a social activist, growing up in the Sierra Nevada mountain range before going off to college and leading campaigns to ban smoking and ashtrays on campus and working with San Francisco’s Mosaic Project from its inception, teaching children about topics such as respect, ethnic awareness, and general peace, love, and understanding. Dennen can be heard on the Mosaic Project’s album Children’s Songs for Peace and a Better World, and the Survival International charity benefit album Songs for Survival features his duet with San Diegan Jason Mraz,“Long Road to Forgiveness.” In addition to scoring both seasons of NBC’s About a Boy and contributing to the soundtracks of TV shows such as Wizards of Waverly Place, Parenthood, and Grey’s Anatomy, his own Dylanesque discography includes multiple EPs, a live album, and six studio full-lengths, the newest released last year, Por Favor. The final date of his U.S. tour brings him to the Belly Up on March 24.
If even a fraction of all the yoga studios, office lobbies, and massage parlors who play Yanni CDs pay the required ASCAP and BMI fees, that’d go a long way toward explaining how a guy can earn so much cash making music that many people think sounds like Jabba the Hutt farting into a bagpipe. The new-age icon may have less hair than he did 25 years ago when his concert full-length, Live at the Acropolis, became the defining release of his career, but he’ll relive those mullet-filled days with an anniversary tour featuring the entire album in performance. Of course, there’s a reason for the trip through the wayback machine, with a newly spiffed-up version of the 1994 album about to drop, featuring an accompanying DVD of the PBS concert special that went on to become one of the best-selling retail music videos of all time. The keyboardist has sold over 25 million copies of his releases, earning over 40 gold and platinum albums, even as comedians and critics spent the entire quarter-century making endless “yawn-y” puns. His continued success and popularity is all the more impressive when one considers that the young demographic usually required to attain such sales probably thinks “Put on some Yanni” is just an unpleasant euphemism favored by their parents for some kind of deviant senior sex act. And, in truth, many young whippersnappers may well have been conceived to the dulcet strains of Yanni’s sensual, if somnambulist, muse, which he’ll share at downtown’s Civic Theatre on June 8.