On their new album II, L.A. Takedown align the moody grandeur of a film score with the pure melodicism of pop. Led by Los Angeles-based composer/multi-instrumentalist Aaron M. Olson, the seven-piece band delivers a guitar-driven take on synth-pop that's inspired its own genre. "Bjorn Copeland of Black Dice once described L.A. Takedown to me as 'Baywatch Krautrock,'" Olson recalls. "I found myself saying, 'Well, you know...it's not not that-works for me!" Still, despite any association with oceanic hedonism, II ultimately leaves it to the listener to dream up their own imaginary movie for each beautifully sprawling track to live in.
At turns ethereal and frenzied, groove-heavy and narcotic, II is lush with harmonized guitar leads that reveal Olson's deep affection for progressive rock and metal, which gives guidance to an intricately textured sound laced with jagged beats and serene washes of synth. "Synthesizers are fun to try to pull emotion out of-I like trying to create moods from something completely synthetic," says Olson. Those moods shift and build all throughout II, moving gracefully from the dreamy wonder of "City of Glass" and triumph of "Blue Skies (on Mars)" to the stunned reflection of "Dose" and seductive gloom of "The Most Crucial Game."
Though L.A. Takedown began as a home recording project and experiment in film scoring, Olson eventually assembled a live band that soon took on a life of its own. The follow-up to L.A. Takedown's 2015 self-titled debut, II is the first release featuring the full band, which includes keyboardists Ryan Adlaf and Jonah Olson, guitarists Miles Wintner (Girlpool) and Stephen Heath (Paul Bergman), drummer Mose Wintner, and bassist Jessica Espeleta (Weird War, Love as Laughter). L.A. Takedown recorded the album at a home studio in Van Nuys with producer Shane Stoneback (Sleigh Bells, Cults, Vampire Weekend), a process that Olson describes as "seven goofballs eating snacks and watching Columbo and making music."
Originally from San Diego, Olson studied classical music history and theory at San Francisco State and later played in such bands as Cryptacize and Papercuts and with artists like Chris Cohen and Tara Jane O'Neil. He launched L.A. Takedown several years ago, after a friend asked him to compose music for a series of short films. "He'd asked me to make something similar to what you'd hear in a Michael Mann movie, so I gave it a shot and loved it and kept doing it," says Olson. "It really suited my songwriting style, which tends to have some kind of lethargic or bittersweet tone to it."
Along with his work in L.A. Takedown, Olson composes scores for museums and movies and web series, plays in L.A.'s premier Grateful Dead cover band, and heads up the Musical Tracing Ensemble: a project in which a group of musicians gather in a performance space, put on headphones and plug into a shared sound source, then attempt to play along with songs pre-selected by Olson. "The result is the audience only hears what the musicians are playing, so it comes out as some weird, mangled regurgitation of these very popular songs," he explains.
With past selections ranging from "Billy Jean" to "Stairway to Heaven," Olson sees the Musical Tracing Ensemble as akin to L.A. Takedown in spirit. "We live in a world where we're so inundated with all these pieces of pop culture that they just become part of us," he says. "I like try to find new ways to present things that are already familiar to everyone." Whether tapping into a Tangerine Dream score or a post-rock epic, L.A. Takedown ends up creating inventively arranged pop with a quietly transportive power. "My goal with the band is to take these tropes and styles from things I love from the past and then build something new from that," says Olson. "It's about putting them through some kind of filter so that they become a whole other thing, and forming a nice succinct pop song that actually takes you somewhere."
Courtesy of Olson, some instructions for experiencing II:
1) Turn down the lights, fire up a doobie, and get into this record.
2) Drive out on a desert road in the dead of night, roll down the windows, turn the heater on juuust enough, and blast this album.
3) Repeat option #2 but along a coastal highway instead.
4) Get some headphones on and suspiciously stake out a bank. (Please don't actually commit any crimes.)
5) Have a special somebody over, light some candles, pour a couple glasses of red, turn on this album and see where the evening goes.
6) Put this album on, mute your TV, and watch the Planet Earth series.
7) Put this album on and think of things to do while listening to this album.