California Sounds: Petra Haden tackles ‘Maniac,’ the Steoples toss ‘Six Rocks’ and D33J steps to the forefront

Petra Haden, “Maniac” (YouTube). Musician Petra Haden is perhaps best known as co-founder of beloved ‘90s L.A. band That Dog, but for the last dozen years she’s been making infectious a cappella cover versions of unlikely songs.

Her best known project is a song for song cover of the Who’s early concept album “The Who Sell Out,” but about once a month in 2017 she’s been uploading new ones — and she’s been on fire.

Haden’s tackled Led Zeppelin’s “Going to California,” Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows in April” and “I Burn for You” by the Police. She’s issued wild takes from prog-rock band King Crimson’s oeuvre, as well as a few choice new age pieces from Tangerine Dream and Michael Hedges.

Haden, whose father is the late jazz composer and bassist Charlie Haden (she covers his Liberation Music Orchestra work “Silence”), has also focused on film and TV scores ranging from the “Law & Order,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Taxi” opening songs to the main themes from “The Conversation,” “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Flashdance.”

That “Flashdance” song, “Maniac,” typifies Haden’s approach: breaking down the instrumentation, recording her takes into the Apple’s music production software Garageband and then manipulating them. In puzzling the various tones into a whole, a grand sonic envelope of interlocking patterns emerge.

Yes, that’s music defined, but Haden revels in the magic.

The Steoples, “Six Rocks” (Stones Throw). The first half of the video for the new song “Roles” plays out like a stereotype of the form: as percussion-heavy experimental R&B overwhelms the speakers, a leather-clad dude wearing a motorcycle helmet leaves a Dear Jane note on his girlfriend’s New York kitchen table, jumps on his Triumph and heads into the great wide open.

Where’s he headed? Los Angeles? His boyfriend’s house? To jump off a cliff? Is he actually a she? As we wait to find the surprise, the musicians behind the Los Angeles-based Steoples — Gifted & Blessed (Gabe Reyes-Whittaker) and vocalist Yeofi Andoh of A Race of Angels — expand their groove. A string arrangement adds depth. A liquid bass line bubbles below.

Such adventure permeates “Six Rocks,” the duo’s debut album. Drawing on the Flying Lotus school of beat abstraction, Gifted & Blessed prefers his rhythms a little wobbly, as though on the verge of spinning out of control. For his part, Andoh’s voice works as a kind of lasso, drawing the rhythms into a packed unit through an allegiance to meter.

D33J, “Death Valley Oasis” (Anticon). The artist born Djavan Santos is part of the Wedidit collective of beat-makers whose best known member is the rhythmic stylist Shlohmo.

On his debut album as D33J, Santos further defines his aesthetic. Reveling in echoed depth, he uses both the notes and the space between them to define his landscapes. Bass tones travel as low as low can go. Sampled voices whisper as if secretly creeping through songs.

Santos invited his former high school classmate Will Weisenfeld, a.k.a. the singer-producer Baths, to contribute, and drew on the vocal prowess of former Dirty Projectors singer Angel Deradoorian for help on another song.

The latter is a highlight: For “Spark,” Santos runs Deradoorian’s voice through filters, creating semi-human tones that accelerate and decelerate as the song evolves. The whole thing has a certain luxuriousness to it, as though draped in black velvet.

For tips, records, snapshots and stories on Los Angeles music culture, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter and Instagram: @liledit. Email:

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