While placing the limited-edition green vinyl record onto my turntable I noticed a prompt: “Play Super Loud.” So I did. And with sleeve in hand I spent the next 45 minutes on my sofa fully immersed in Wooden Nomad’s stunning first record, easily one of the top five local releases this year. Heavy hard rock with metal moments, Wooden Nomad’s greatest strength is its versatility. From head-banging thunder to incinerating thrash or lush, melodic grunge, Wooden Nomad remains taut as a bowstring. Singer Tym’s enigmatic, emotional singing (and stage presence, if you get a chance to see the band live) is quite captivating, as is his vocal agility (make no mistake, he can tear it up), but it’s guitarist Angelo’s technically proficient and deeply soulful guitar playing that ultimately won over this listener. It’s rare to find someone able to strike a perfect balance between feel and chops and he has mastered it, as is evident throughout the record, but especially on “Resonance,” a transcendent, Satriani-esque instrumental. Goosebumps for days. — Michel Miller
Available at soundcloud.com/wooden-nomad.
We Had It First the Right Time
It’s a fitting title for the first and probably last record by this schizophrenic cross-bred Ventura group that never managed to really take flight. Blame it on medical marijuana. Blame it on Obama. Blame it on serial gigging at Sans Souci (the harbinger of death for many a local band), but it’s nevertheless unfortunate (or heroic, depending who you ask) that Shoddy Cons split up pretty much in tandem with its first and long-awaited full-length. Hard rock riffs with jazz flourishes and hypnotic psychobilly undertones provide a textured canvas for rapper Graco Hernandez’s clever vocal repartee. (“Got me focused like Lee Harvey on his target.”) There were moments while listening to the 10-tracks that I felt compelled to engage in embarrassing behavior. Other times I contemplated the pre-apocalyptic lyrical content while chair dancing. Note to the band: If you do find yourselves in a studio once again, please resist the urge to go bat-shit crazy with the scratching and overdub effects. Less is more, and this is a formidable effort, more or less.
— Michel Miller
Available at soundcloud.com/shoddy-cons.
Three things stood out the most when listening to Galvanized Souls’ self-titled debut EP. First, this band is consistent. Every song is unique, but fits beautifully into the album. Second, these guys have a knack for infectious vocal melodies that force you to sing along. And third, the way they play together is outstanding. The chemistry is so great and tangible, it’s as though they were born to play together. The record definitely reflects the band’s grunge and pop-punk influences (the song “Behind Green Eyes” sounds like Social Distortion, Blink-182 and Foo Fighters had a three-headed child), yet still retains originality, something that’s quite uncommon in the modern rock arena. It’s definitely one of the better records to come out of this area as of late. And if you get a chance to catch GS live, make sure you get your copy signed. It’s only a matter of time before we’ll be watching them on the Grammy Awards. — Bennett Cornell
Available on iTunes and at galvanizedsouls.com.
Fans of The Swell Season, Mazzy Star and even Trinity Sessions-era Cowboy Junkies now have a local band to get behind in Sea Stars. The duo of Katie Gray and Kurt Baumann has gathered all the ethereal ambience it can muster into a new, nine-song release, The Unknown. To put it simply: If Ojai could be compressed into sound, it would probably sound like Sea Stars — one part mystic, one part hipster, one part nature lover. And while the musical landscapes crafted by Sea Stars are thoroughly mesmerizing, the songs themselves never suffer from a lack of attention to detail either. Sure, The Unknown makes for great background music, but a close listen also won’t disappoint as the combination of Gray and Baumann, both solo artists in their own right, is something magical to behold . . . not unlike the Ojai Pink Moment. — Kelly McCartney
Available at seastarsmusic.com.