2015: Buzz Bands LA’s Favorite L.A. Albums of the Year


Buzz Bands LA’s year-end list of Los Angeles albums is a solo project this year. So enjoy the scribblings of your friendly neighborhood rock-centric uncle, and free free to yell at me for what I missed:


Winter - Supreme Blue Dream20. WINTER

“Supreme Blue Dream”

L.A.-via-Boston-via-Brazil singer-guitarist Samira Winter delivers a swoon-worthy debut of dream-pop and shoegaze, sounding every bit the bright-eyed cherub. Amid swirling keys and guitar reverb, Winter sings as if she floated here on some supreme C86 dream; while “Crazy” sounds like it should have been on Best Coast’s new album, Winter will melt your heart like ice cream on an August day with “Waiting for the Summer” and “Some Kind of Surprise.” Favorite color: blue. [Stream on Spotify]



Remember “Fuck It Dog, Life’s a Risk?” The rakishness of FIDLAR’s 2013 debut gives way to a wizened outlook on the second full-length from Zac Carper, Brandon Schwartzel and brothers Elvis and Max Kuehn. Not that it’s tepid, or any less catchy, by any means — it’s one of the best pop-punk albums since “Dookie,” Carper might lament “Bad Habits” and “Stupid Decisions,” and blame all those “40oz. On Repeat,” but “Why Generation” and “West Coast” are sure signs he’s no basket case. [Stream on Spotify]

Northern American - Modern Phenomena18. NORTHERN AMERICAN

“Modern Phenomena”

The introspective sounds of Britpop’s past meet the languid psychedelia of Southern California on this quartet’s debut, an uncommonly elegant collections that’s one of those “grower” albums. A slow ride on warm bass lines, chiming keys and strummed guitar, the album subtly suggests, as the opening track says, that you can “Feel Like Whatever” or feel like forever. Come for the romantic sweep of “So Natural,” stay for the steel-tinged shimmer of “Elysian.” But don’t be in a hurry. [Stream on Spotify]

Father John Misty - I Love you, Honeybear17. FATHER JOHN MISTY

“I Love You, Honeybear”

Ostensibly an album-length love letter to his wife, Josh Tillman’s second album as FJM is more deeply a commentary on, or outright rejection of, post-modern cynicism. Which is a tough thing to dismiss when you’re a smart enough guy to know all the outcomes. It’s kind of too bad he got involved in the Ryan Adams/Taylor Swift/”1989” fray, for we could have been caught up in the genre-spanning “Honeybear’s” lyrical web all year. [Stream on Spotify]

Babes - Untitled (Five Tears)16. BABES

“Untitled (Five Tears)”

Love hurts. Love heals. And both the bitter and sweet come through in the poignant ’60/’70s confections of siblings Zach, Aaron and Sarah Leigh and fellow bleeding hearts Bryan Harris and Jeff Baird. Rarely have mood swings sounded so beautiful — “How Do you Make Love Stop?” when “There Nothing Left in My Heart” and I’m resigned to being “Lonely Forever” even though “I Want Love” and “I Need Love” and the mere notion means “I’ve Got a Reason to Keep on Living.” Add a sixth tear from here, please. [Stream on Spotify]

the Lonely Wild - Chasing White Light15. THE LONELY WILD

“Chasing White Light”

The quintet spins in the cinematic Western folk musical orbit as fellow L.A. luminaries Lord Huron, but if the latter’s “Strange Trails” (also a sophomore album, also released this year) is an epic, mystical romance flick, the Lonely Wild’s second album is an action movie. Sound the horns for “Snow,” dream along with the boy/girl vocals and strings in “Running,” bust a vein during the chorus to “Hunted.” Then gallop, don’t lope, into the sunset. [Stream on Spotify]

Talk in Tongues - Alone With a Friend14. TALK IN TONGUES

“Alone With a Friend”

The avalanche of psych-pop and psych-rock bands around L.A. almost made you think that hallucinogenics only recently became available. The quartet of McCoy Kirgo, Garrett Zeile, Waylon Rector and Bryan DeLeon made an album that feels crafted in comparison to many — there’s a merciful absence of the overbearing effects some use as kind of a sonic time-stamp. Oh, there’s fuzzed-out reverb and friendly jangle, but also welcome changes of pace (“Still Don’t Seem to Care” and “Mas Doper”) and even a little funk (“While Everyone Was Waiting”). It’s a fizzy little gem. [Stream on Spotify]

Eastern Conference Champions - Love in Wartime13. EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS

“Love in Wartime”

ECC’s final album — it was released as the trio announced it was dissolving — is tough ’n’ tender classic rock indebted to Springsteen, Petty, the Who, and Neil Young as filtered through the noisy alt-rockers of the 1990s. Abrasive guitars, thundering rhythms and frontman Josh Ostrander’s flannel-shirted poetry make “Love in Wartime” too good to be relegated to some dusty archives. Be your own Boss with “The Fire,” rock out to “In Search of Fuller Moons,” shed a tear for the songwriter’s fallen friend in “The Kingfishers.” We miss ECC already. [Stream on Spotify]

Chelsea Wolfe - Abyss12. CHELSEA WOLFE


After four albums that established her as one of the most compelling voices in gothic folk/doom pop, the 32-year-old singer-songwriter goes virtually full-on industrial on “Abyss.” Dark, yes, but hardly one-note. Inspired, she said, by her bouts with sleep paralysis, the album’s dreamlike metal see-saws from fragile beauty to brawny menace. It’s a fascinating articulation of Wolfe’s fears — of losing her mind, losing herself, losing control. “They believe if they drink you / they’ll be like you,” Wolfe sings over swathes of distortion on “Dragged Out.” We’ll have another glass. [Stream on Spotify]

Dead Sara - Pleasure to Meet You11. DEAD SARA

“Pleasure to Meet You”

Three years and some music-biz misadventures after their debut, the quartet of Emily Armstrong, Siouxsie Medley, Sean Friday and Chris Null returned as muscular as ever, pouring gasoline on the fires of classic blues-rock and barely containing the conflagration. They can do straight-ahead (“Something Good” and “Mona Lisa” are good in any era), and owing to Armstrong’s shreddy vocals, the dirtier and more pissed-off Dead Sara gets the better. “You’ve got to be someone / To be something these days,” she sings in “Radio One Two.” Maybe not. [Stream on Spotify]

Colleen Green - I Want to Grow Up10. COLLEEN GREEN

“I Want to Grow Up”

Thank the stars that somebody doing garage-pop in this town wants to grow up. Green marks the big Three-Oh by vowing to shed “toxicity” in all its forms — lousy habits, bad boyfriends, personal stasis. She sounds catchy as hell (and, as been pointed out, a lot like Juliana Hatfield) doing it, even when she is addressing her deep-seated fears of inadequacy and intimacy in “Deeper Than Love.” Made with Jake Orrall (Jeff the Brotherhood) and Casey Weissbuch (Diarrhea Planet), the songs are properly rough round the edges, with plenty of space for her playful acid tongue. May she keep wagging it. [Stream on Spotify]

Meg Myers - Sorry9. MEG MYERS


Reminiscent of the most visceral of 1990s bloodletters, Myers confronts her inner conflicts fearlessly, exposing frayed nerves, deep regrets, deeper longing and a steely resolve. The multiple personas seemingly playing tug-of-war with her heart also reveal themselves in the music, co-written by producer Doctor Rosen Rosen: “Sorry” is at once a rock album backdropped by synths and a cello, and a pop album with shredding guitars. That scream on the title track sounds like a purge. Such is the first step toward empowerment. [Stream on Spotify]

Dengue Fever - The Deepest Lake8. DENGUE FEVER

“The Deepest Lake”

Five albums (plus a soundtrack and some EPs) in, this most distinctive of Los Angeles ensembles is still barging through sonic barriers. Less adherent to their origins as a Cambodian pop-meets-psychedelic rock band, “The Deepest Lake” incorporates rap, Afro-pop and Latin music into its mix, all held together by the siren vocals of newly naturalized U.S. citizen Chhom Nimol, singing in both English and her native Khmer. “Rom Say Sok” is discotheque-ready; the heart-rending “Tokay” begs for translation; and the album finds its je ne sais quoi whenever horns man David Ralicke takes over. “We live / oceans apart,” Nimol sings on “Cardboard Castles.” Not on this album, we don’t. [Stream on Spotify]

The Black Watch - Highs & Lows7. THE BLACK WATCH

“Highs & Lows”

Leave it to a fiftysomething to make an indie-rocker’s indie-rock album. The 13th full-length from Echo Park underdog John Andrew Fredrick recalls the best parts of Guided By Voices, the Wedding Present and New Zealand pop luminaries like David Kilgour and Chris Knox. There’s biting commentary, heart-on-sleeve melancholy and some epic shoegazing, especially in “There’s No Fucking Way,” all adroitly packaged by producer Rob Campanella of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Brilliant. Really. [Stream on Spotify]

Julia Holter - Have You in My Wilderness6. JULIA HOLTER

“Have You in My Wilderness”

Holter’s audacious cinematic experimentations have always had the opaque countenance of a foreign film, but she peeks around the curtain on her fourth album, warmer and clearer but no less the sophisticate. Holter accomplishes so much in so many different styles it’s impossible to capsulize in under 100 words (authors of detailed reviews have plenty of fodder). Suffice to say there is much here texturally and contextually; start with “Feel You” and feel her. [Stream on Spotify]

Avid Dancer - 1st Bath5. AVID DANCER

“1st Bath”

Former Marine Drum Corps drummer Jacob Dillan Summers’ bouquet of guitar-pop gems, most originally recorded back in 2011, finally saw the light of day in 2015. It’s infectious, heart-on-the-sleeve stuff, plaintively sung paeans to love and its possibilities. Drawing from ’60s balladeers and classic rockers and ’90s indie- and psych-pop heroes, “1st Bath” shimmers and sighs, just retro enough to remind listeners with deep histories (ahem) of the magic of the tremeloed guitar (“Not Far to Run”), the merit of the right bass line (“Medication”) and the virtue of a crunchy riff (“I Want to See You Dance”). [Stream on Spotify]

Failure - The Heart Is a Monster4. FAILURE

“The Heart Is a Monster”

With apologies to Dr. Dre, who in 2015 released his first album in 16 years, Failure are L.A.’s Comeback Kids of the Year. Reuniting for their first album sine 1996, the trio of Ken Andrews, Greg Edwards and Kellii Scott returned bigger and better and to more acclaim than their ’90s “heyday” (if it could be called that; they were more of a cult thing). “Monster” is just that — astral metal that transcends in sound and scope the trio’s revered “Fantastic Planet.” It’s a mind trip too (nod to sufferers of “A.M. Amnesia”); does sonic dissonance beget cognitive dissonance, or vice versa? Do the beautiful parts make it all better? Lights out, headphones on, process. [Stream on Spotify]

Mini Mansions - The Great Pretenders3. MINI MANSIONS

“The Great Pretenders”

Sure, the contributions of Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner (blink-and-he’s-gone on “Vertigo”) and Brian Wilson (backing vocals on the dreamy “Any Emotion”) get your attention, but the trio of Michael Shuman, Tyler Parkford and Zachary Dawes could have made this sophisticated psych-pop gem without them. The sonic touchstones, ever fleeting, are ’60s guitar pop, ’70s art-rock and ’80s new wave, mixed and matched and modernized. There are love songs here, and even some stargazing, but all done with a wryness that’s almost dark. “The Great Pretenders” shimmers, convulses, thrums and ultimately seduces, and the only shame here is that, owing to Shuman’s “day job” as bassist in Queens of the Stone Age, it was five years between Mini Mansions albums. Hope it’s not five more. [Stream on Spotify]

BORNS - Dopamine2. BØRNS


On just about every track on his formidable debut album, Michigan native Garrett Borns makes a happy mess of brain chemistry. If Borns’ sky-high falsetto isn’t pushing the right buttons, then “Dopamine’s” deft shifts in styles do — he segues from electro-pop to rock to psychedelia almost seamlessly. His 2014 EP highlights “10,000 Emerald Pools” and “Electric Love” return here, joined by the meatier “American Money,” the well-titled “Clouds” and the funky title track. It’s almost as if the 23-year-old tried to trace the Bee Gees’ entire career arc on one album. An audacious notion, with auspicious results. [Stream on Spotify]

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly1. KENDRICK LAMAR

“To Pimp a Butterfly”

Who am I to run contrary to consensus — even to someone whose diet is light on rap, “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a masterpiece, a torrent of soul, jazz and funk carrying the Compton’s rapper flow on the State of Everything. If it’s an artist’s mission to cast an unflinching eye on his world (even if it’s one we can’t pretend to comprehend), then Lamar has succeeded on his 79-minute opus. A turbulent album for troubled times, it is one that’s likely to be referenced for years. If you never listen to rap (and I know you’re out there), make some time for this. [Stream on Spotify]

Special mention

HEALTH, “Death Magic”
Lord Huron, “Strange Trails”
Sara Love, “Some Kind of Champion”
D.A. Wallach, “Time Machine’
The Bird & the Bee, “Recreational Love”
Peter Case,”HWY 62″
De Lux, “Generation
Gardens & Villa, “Music For Dogs”
Shana Halligan, “Back To Me”
Letts, “Hold Fast”
The Icarus Line, “All Things Under Heaven”
Fool’s Gold, “Flying Lessons”
Alexa Melo, “Alexa Melo”
Silversun Pickups, “Better Nature”
Fever the Ghost, “Zirconium Meconium”
Vince Staples, “Summertime ’06”
Two Sheds, “Assembling”