In a perfect world, a track such as the horn-heavy "Don't Need a Dance" might already be blaring over the airwaves, even with its veiled lyrical reference to radio programming: "Change the channel and clear the air / Time to get ... up off that chair." Now that'd be something.
On the Web: www.ubiquityrecords.com
\o7File under: Rock of all ages
\f7How much is too much? Don't ask Richie James Follin. The singer-guitarist and his bandmates in the Willowz crammed 20 songs onto "Talk in Circles," the Orange County quartet's album on the Sympathy for the Record Industry label.
"We took advantage of the fact we were on an independent," says Follin, 22. "We could have narrowed it down to the songs that sounded the same, but we didn't know what [kind of sound] we were going for."
So echoes of '60s pop, '70s R&B, vintage punk and classic rock can all be detected in the youthful clamor that emerged from Follin's Anaheim garage, where producer Paul Kostabi, Follin's stepfather, wisely ignored the rough edges. The Willowz's workhorse bent --did we mention they're making videos for all 20 songs? -- seems to be unanimous. "I like to work a lot," says bassist Jessica Reynoza, 22. "That's my mentality."
The band, which includes guitarist-keyboardist Dan Lowe, 23, and drummer Alex Nowicki, 19, also hungers to learn. Follin has been mainlining the Sun box set, the Band and bootleg Bob Dylan, and on a recent tour he visited Stax Records. "It made me want to cry," he says.
Label scouts should line up to sign such prospects. But perhaps the Willowz's manager (Follin's mother, Heidi, who was Dee Dee Ramone's art dealer and once dated Henry Rollins), has infused her charges with a DIY attitude. "A&R people are good for buying you dinner and B.S.-ing you," Follin says. "We're not worried about any of that crap -- it's not like we're inventing a new way of doing things."
Right now, the Willowz brim with the bravado that their music might reach the public's ears without a major label's backing. "Young minds can be molded," drummer Nowicki says, slowly, so that you connect the comment and the source. "And that's what I look to do."
Recommended: Stream "Unveil" and "Cons & Tricks" at www.myspace.com/thewillowz.
\o7File under: Under the rainbow
\f7Like many of its brethren on the burgeoning indie hip-hop scene, Giant Panda is a throwback to when rap was more about poetic expression than bluster and the crass commercialism that crowds the gangsta scene.
With its b-boy beats and straightforward production, the L.A. trio's debut full-length, "Fly School Reunion," is at least offering the group -- a rainbow coalition of black, white and Japanese members all in their late 20s -- an education. It was released on Tres Records, the indie launched by a member of Giant Panda, a friend and Chris Portugal (aka Thes One) of the L.A. outfit People Under the Stairs.
If the track "90's" gives you an idea of where they're coming from, songs such as "Fly School" and "One Time" (with its raps segueing from English to Chikara Kurahashi's native Japanese) attest that there are messages behind Giant Panda's madness. "There's always plenty to say -- how to make it swallowable, that's the navigation," says Jamaan McLaren.
Adds Alex Newman: "How do you say it in a way that's not utterly cliche?
"Sometimes making a good song is not that complicated, once you realize you don't have to solve the problems of the world in one verse."
The trio, who met as students at Pitzer College, have hopes "Fly School Reunion" will make an impact when it is picked up by Koch Distribution for wider release in November.
Recommended: Stream "With It" at www.myspace.com/giantpanda.
\o7File under: A punker shade of reggae
\f7This is not your ganja's reggae. No, the Aggrolites' take on the genre is all funked up and all punked up, forming its blueprint from Lee "Scratch" Perry and the Upsetters and juicing it with soul and R&B to make it mosh-pit-friendly. No wonder the L.A. five-piece calls its debut album "Dirty Reggae."
Formed from the shards of other reggae acts, the Aggrolites were launched as a cover band. "But what started out as fun turned out to be serious," singer-guitarist Jesse Wagner says. "We pretty much had an album ready about the time we started doing live shows."
And what shows those are. Clad in jumpsuits -- the back of Wagner's says "Roots Rock Rebel," a nod to the Clash -- the group leads sweaty sing-alongs, whether it's to the Aggrolites' own ditty "Pop the Trunk" or their tight-as-a-fist cover of "Don't Let Me Down."
"My dream is to bring the punk-rock scene back to reggae," bassist J Bonner says. "About every 10 years a band comes along and re-introduces Jamaican music to the masses. I want this band to be the shoehorn for people to get into that old stuff."