I hardly need to remind anyone that the Internet has demolished old career-building models in the music business. These days it's easier than ever for artists to come out of nowhere and attract a flood of attention (though of course getting attention isn't the same as developing an audience). Two acts playing in town tonight, both in support of recent debut albums, are already well-positioned thanks to a combination of label affiliations and friends in the biz. But if they really want to go somewhere, they're going to have make some things happen themselves now.
Jessica Lea Mayfield (pictured) from Kent, Ohio, who performs tonight at the Abbey Pub, released With Blasphemy, So Heartfelt (Polymer) last month; she's only 19. The record was produced by Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys (on whose latest, Attack & Release, Mayfield appears as a guest vocalist), and his approach is minimal--in fact, almost everything about the album is minimal. Mayfield sings with a fragile beauty, but her range is narrow, both in terms of pitch and approach. She's been compared to Hope Sandoval, and the narcotic quality of the music does remind me a bit of Mazzy Star, but after a while the sameness of the songs--the uniformly slow tempos and lethargic guitar strumming, Mayfield's apparent inability to break from a wobbly, hypnotic chant--makes clear that she still needs to figure out what to do with her talent. I have to wonder how she'll go over in a midsize room like the Abbey--if she plays with the same numbing constancy onstage that she does on disc, I'm guessing half the audience will be asleep or gone within 20 minutes.
Japanese Motors, a quartet from Costa Mesa, California, play tonight at the Empty Bottle. Their publicity materials call them "the most exciting band to emerge from Orange Country since the heyday of Social Distortion and TSOL" (damning with faint praise if I've ever heard it) and make a big deal about singer Alex Knost being a professional surfer and the band's music supposedly reflecting their SoCal environment. To my ears, though, the Strokes are the most obvious point of reference on the band's self-titled debut for Vice--if it weren't for the slight Ventures vibe in the brief "Pseudo Elitist Vagueness" and the record's rash of stupid song titles (along with that one, there's "Single Fins & Safety Pins" and "Coors Lite") I wouldn't be convinced that a surfer was involved at all. The music is amiable enough, but Japanese Motors are only semicompetent as musicians and even less convincing as songwriters. It still sounds like they need to figure out if they started a band for anything more than free beer.
Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs, Dirt Don't Hurt (Transdreamer)
Madonna, Hard Candy (Warner Brothers)
Lionel Loueke, Karibu (Blue Note)
Michael Bates, Clockwise (Greenleaf Music)
Gilberto Gil, Banda Larga Cordel (Warner Music Latina)