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L.A. SOUND

Ten Years After--The Rise of a New Generation : * * * * Great Balls of Fire * * * Good Vibrations * * Maybe Baby * Running on Empty :

November 08, 1987|RICHARD CROMELIN

Can this really be the Circle Jerks' sixth album? Have the Droogs actually been at it for 15 years?

As independent recording activity on the L.A. rock scene approaches its second decade, we're starting to get cross-breeding not just of styles, but of generations--a phenomenon evident in the city's latest crop of records.

When local bands starting releasing their own records back in the late-'70s dawn of the grass-roots scene, all the bands were new. Now, the old guard--the Jerks, Droogs, Fibonaccis--are assuming the role of veterans, and while they benefit from the well-established followings that come with that status, they also face the veterans' struggle to keep things fresh.

Bands like Blood on the Saddle, Divine Horsemen and Leaving Trains are a step younger and in the prime of life. On their new LPs, they exhibit a bracing sense of consolidating their strengths and coming into their own.

And a whole new generation is popping up--both entirely new entries like To Damascus and Waldo the Dog Faced Boy, and fresh formats for familiar faces (Opal).

The albums and EPs issued in the past couple of months reflect the diversity that results of this blend. If one sound seems to be making a move, it's the inventive neo-psychedelia of Opal, To Damascus and Waldo.

Here's a look at the latest L.A. sounds.

Haunted Haze

OPAL. "Happy Nightmare Baby." SST. TO DAMASCUS. "Come to Your Senses." Ringent. "She's a vampire so am I," sings David Roback in "Magick Power," one of the tone-setters on the debut album from Opal, a new crew fronted by L.A. luminaries David Roback (Rain Parade) and Kendra Smith (Dream Syndicate). The feedback hangs like a haze above their churning, acid-spiked brew of psychedelic, mystical folk-rock, and the spirits of T. Rex, Donovan and the Velvet Underground hover in the intensely dark, haunted sound. But the reason the title track stands out so sharply from the others is that it's more developed as a song. Roback and Smith have an intriguing chemistry, but they need to buckle down and write more rigorously. * * *

The same applies to To Damascus. Sylvia Juncosa lives up to her rep as L.A.'s top female guitarist, but she needs more context. She and her rhythm team (bassist Tyran Von Pagenhard, drummer David Winogrond) thrash and crash furiously, and they grind out the slow ones with tortured soulfulness. In their more accessible moments the trio recalls Concrete Blonde, but playing that comes on this strong deserves better songs. * * 1/2

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