The 10 Best Albums By Los Angeles Artists Of 2015
You know it's a great year for music from Los Angeles when a native son is being hailed by the president. Los Angeles is so big of a city that we can lay claim to world-class artists in practically every genre—from hip-hop, indie rock, to folk, we even now have the biggest star in jazz. Here's 10 albums we loved from L.A. artists from the past year.
Father John Misty - I Love You, Honeybear
I know J. Tillman lives with his beautiful wife and beautiful beard in New Orleans, but if you're gonna start your album with a track featuring the line "Look out, Hollywood, here I come," take interviews from the Chateau Marmont and call out the goddamn Thirsty Crow by name, we're gonna claim you as our own. Tillman's onetime home of Los Angeles figures widely on his second solo album, a swirling folk-rock opus that nearly implodes on its own sardonic lyrics, yet makes it through thrillingly intact. In any case, it's undoubtedly one of the year's best albums.
Julia Holter - Have You in My Wilderness
Julia Holter's erudite pop songs breathe a little easier on her latest release. But songs like "Feel You" and "Sea Calls Me Home" are deceptively breezy, with surrealistically disjointed lyrics and complex compositional touches, like the latticework of vocal snippets housing "Silhouette" and the unexpected chord changes and dynamics of the galloping "Everytime Boots." Stripping away the grander concepts of similarly excellent releases like Loud City Song, Have You in My Wilderness needs no grounding principle other than its commitment to both experimentation and pop songcraft.
Tobias Jesso Jr. - Goon
Another album inspired in part by a transplant's experiences in our city, Canadian singer/songwriter/tall drink of water towering over Echo Park Tobias Jesso Jr. sings of trying and frying in Hollywood on the affecting first single of his debut album. Jesso Jr. was a struggling musician and songwriter in L.A., who ended up back in Vancouver licking his wounds after injuring his hand in a bicycle accident. A few emotionally direct piano ballads came out of this, a few demos got heard by the right people and, long story short, now this guy writes songs with Adele. But Goon is about that first part of the story, about shooting for the stars and missing, losing the little money you had and your relationship, then coming out of it alive. Jesso Jesso Jr.'s sadsack tales are so affectingly rendered through his Randy Newman and Elton John-influenced songcraft that, what do you know, he made it after all.
Kelela - Hallucinogen EP
L.A. soul songstress Kelela balances the frigid electronics of her collaborators with connective vocals that suggest bodily contact on this stunning EP. "A Message" cannily dreams of being the ex of her object of desire, turning the breathy come-ons of an Aaliyah or Janet on their head. Meanwhile, "Rewind" makes a UK garage beat come to life with erotic longing and mixed signals ("Every time we lock eyes, our lights fade out/I'm gettin' stage fright when you walk up to me"). Between this EP and last year's excellent CUT 4 ME mixtape, the world is ready for a Kelela takeover.
Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
This one goes without saying. Compton's own Kendrick Lamar had the most critically acclaimed album of 2015, and rightfully so, expanding upon his lyrically incisive debut with production that doesn't shy away from cerebral avant-jazz, collaborating with the likes of Thundercat and Kamasi Washington. Yet he still made way for his most all-embracing single yet, the uplifting self-confidence anthem "i," even as he delivered the year's most damning indictment of American racism, "The Blacker the Berry."
Jessica Pratt - On Your Own Love Again
For her second album, Jessica Pratt decamped from S.F. to L.A., another casualty of rising housing prices in the former artistic haven. "Sometimes, I pray for the rain," she sings in an elfin coo amid seaside acoustic guitar on album highlight "Back, Baby." There's a palpable sadness and fish-out-of-water feeling across On Your Own Love Again's gently psychedelic meanderings—"People's faces blend together like a watercolor you can't remember in time," she sings on "Game That I Play." Yet Pratt never sounds unsure of herself, inviting us into her quiet and strange little world for 10 songs that feel impossibly intimate yet hauntingly obscure. We're left feeling connected, even if half our lives are lived within our heads.
Vince Staples - Summertime ‘06
Vince Staples' striking double-album debut is a grim coming-of-age tale. The 22-year-old North Long Beach native's casually great flow is littered with gut-punching lines—"I ain';t never ran from nothin' but the police"; "They found another dead body in the alleyway"; "Fuck your dead homies." His nihilistic, fear-laden rhymes creep along No I.D.'s eerie production. Summertime ’06 makes no apologies nor judgments. It leaves you with the sinking feeling of having just seen an accident.
Earl Sweatshirt - I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside
Earl Sweatshirt's debut, Doris, wasn't exactly cheery, but I Don't Like Shit is a bleak representation of numbing despair and paranoia. "All I see is snakes in the eyes of these n*ggas," he mutters through a cloudy high on "Grief" before the track spins out into a dissociative haze. His production is dense, minimal and precise, but it never takes your ear away from Earl's diverse cadence and rhymes. He taps into that claustrophobic feeling of needing to looking over one's shoulder like no other.
Wand - 1000 Days
L.A. psych-rockers Wand released two great garage-rock albums in 2015. Golem steamrolls over you like a thresher, and 1000 Days takes things a step further by rounding out those fuzzed-out power chords with Kinks-ish tunefulness. If you're taking a breath between Ty Segall releases, check out Wand for your ear-exploding needs.
Kamasi Washington - The Epic
How many albums released in 2015 can you say are likely responsible for opening up an entire genre of music for young listeners? Thanks to his brilliant contributions to Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly, the L.A.-based saxophonist and composer's three-disc album The Epic is an underground hit, taking avant-garde jazz to the (indie) mainstream. None of that should diminish The Epic as a serious piece of music in its own right, as Washington never panders. His 12-plus-minute pieces are played with blinding proficiency, yet they're constructed in a way to hold our attention, its stirring strings and angelic choirs rising to meet the heights set by Washington's astral-travelling tenor sax.