The Ventura hip-hop scene, until recently a stagnant pool of Lil Cuete copycats and YOLO enthusiasts, has been yearning for a good old-fashioned boat-rocking. Flash’s most recent release, Dig, is a refreshing departure from the incessant reiteration of mid-’90s West Coast hip-hop that has long plagued the scene here. Flash’s combination of raspy vocal delivery — not unlike that of MCs Nas and Prodigy, with lyrical content equally ill and immeasurably more hopeful than either — gives the album a classic feel, while still keeping it fresh and original. “Get Back,” a skillfully orchestrated address to swag rappers, is just one track off the album with almost anthemic qualities, and it stays in tune with the matured view of gang life and subtle Christian undertones that are present throughout the album.
— Bennett Cornell
Available at soundcloud.com/flashtheonly.
The Naïve EP
For a young man on soul-searching voyages into the desert — this was West Texas, not varied California — a contemplative soundtrack was the key to a successful inner monologue. Had Pretty Wife existed in that time long ago, it would have received regular rotation. Pretty Wife — the collaboration of ever band-hopping veterans Ian Fitzgerald, Zeke Berkley and Austin Knecht — has in the works Naïve, an EP ripe with dream material. “Shame, Shame” dredges up the spirit of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes,” channeling a restless sleep. Pretty Wife’s instrumentals paint a colorful world around critical lyrics. On “In a Word” Knecht’s vocals play along with a message from another world as sci-fi-esque twangs accentuate his sing-song questions. The familiar “Educated Girl” rounds out a powerful debut. Let’s call it a wake-up call to brilliant slumber.
— Chris O’Neal
Available at soundcloud.com/prettywife.
Seth Pettersen and the Undertow
If you ask Seth Pettersen what word describes the recording process of his newest release, Natural Machine, he’ll say, “candyland.” Natural Machine reflects the California pop shimmer of latter Beach Boys, a tradition that saw a major resurgence about a decade ago with bands like Beachwood Sparks and, more recently, Best Coast. Standouts are the single “Breaking Points” and “Soul Arcade,” a psychedelic pop number with a catchy hook reminiscent of The Standells. It’s got a beat and you can dance to it. “Big Rip” is a straightforward surf jam, replete with analog keyboards and a melody that could serve as perfect end-credit music for Ventura’s apocalypse. “Get Rad” shakes the album to the core as both a spacey pop dance song and a call to action for those embracing “candyland.” Ventura is a place to get rad, regardless of its breaking point.
— Essie Lustig
In the early days of punk rock, ineptitude on your musical instrument was not only acceptable, it was encouraged — though there were always polished bands. As the form evolved into something faster and more aggressive it became increasingly necessary for musicians to get intimate with their machines in order to be distinguished from the multitudes. For this listener, there are three things that great punk rock must have besides proficient musicians: prominent bass lines, irresistible rhythm and anger — or at least, abject aggravation. (The sound of a siren somewhere in the mix also never hurts.) NO//Sé — former Glass and Ashes members Mike Carter (Youth Brigade) and Josh Hayes on guitars and vocals, Brian Villa on bass/vocals and Eric Ruvalcaba on drums — combines the better elements of the So Cal punk sound with a non-lethal dose of glassy surf and enough delicious hooks to make this a thoroughly satisfying collection of perfect punk songs that thematically, according to Hayes, amount to “shameless emotional outbursts.” I don’t know, but I feel better now.
— Michel Miller
Available at noxse.bandcamp.com. Get it on vinyl for some swag.