2016: Buzz Bands LA’s Favorite L.A. Albums of the Year

Photos, clockwise from top middle: Death Valley Girls (by Mitch Livingston); Gallant (by Kelly Elaine); James Supercave (by Kelly Bonsack); The Record Company (by Carl Pocket); and Weyes Blood (by Carl Pocket)

2016 was a year of epic mood swings.

In Los Angeles, we had a lot of great music to temper the foul moods. So here are Buzz Bands LA’s Favorite L.A. Albums of the Year — 20, plus a meritorious selection and a bunch of very honorable mentions. As always, your comments, endorsements, broadsides and notifications of omissions are always welcome. To support the artists, click on the album title to purchase it.

10sexstains20. SEX STAINS

“Sex Stains”

Who better to carry the riot grrrl banner into 2016 than an old-guard riot grrrl herself? Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile) is only part of the attraction in this ostensibly post-punk outfit; co-vocalist Mecca Vazie Andrews is her partner in spasticity, and backed by guitarist Sharif Dumani, bassist Pachy Garcia and drummer David Orlando, they’re good at lobbing lyrical projectiles. Some are explosive and deadly serious; some are water balloons. And that’s the fun of it. [Stream on Spotify]

20thedeadships19. THE DEAD SHIPS


Raise a bottle — and insert earplugs — for the band whose buzz-saw garage-rock took shape (but lost none of its edge) around Brendan Canning’s production. Singer-guitarist Devlin McCluskey’s raw caterwauling on the vexations of modern life and the loss (to suicide) of a friend gives all the window-rattling considerable substance. They even got to play Coachella. Clench thy fists. [Stream on Spotify]



The L.A. diva’s long-overdue debut sounds timeless, like something that should be played on a Victrola, her curling, tremulous, arching voice inhabiting the damaged protagonists (including herself) in her honky-tonk/Southern Gothic concoctions. In 2011, we wrote that Friedman wraps “more drama into a phrase than most singers do in their autobiographies.” We’ll stand by that. [Stream on Spotify]

18dorothy17. DOROTHY


If you look at most best-of-2016 lists, Dorothy’s album title rings true. Rocker-chic Dorothy Martin and gang thumb their noses at the notion and perform CPR, with Martin’s full-throated assault making nice with all hard rock’s hard-livin’ clichés. If it weren’t so perfectly done, it’d be easy to dismiss. As it is, bang your heads, or at least get off the couch when you catch Dorothy in your favorite TV commercial. [Stream on Spotify]

17steadyholiday16. STEADY HOLIDAY

“Under the Influence”

A longtime side player, violinist and backup vocalist, Dre Babinski stepped to the fore with a delicate flower of an album that blooms with self-realization. Made with producer Gus Seyffert, the album is all in the nuances, with Babinski’s ’60s-chanteuse voice, sometimes doubled, negotiating with that version of herself who was stuck “living in a toxic dream,” as she sings in “Superstar.” [Stream on Spotify]

16ellebelle15. ELLE BELLE

“Wako Gumbo”

Recorded almost entirely in his Los Feliz apartment, singer-songwriter Christopher Pappas’ 20-song opus touches merrily on psych-rock, New Wave, classic rock and even glam without lingering too long on the teat of any of them. Its sonic stream-of-consciousness is matched by Pappas’ Ziggy Stardust-like persona — eccentric, neurotic, mystical and more than a little bit tortured by the chasm between possibility and reality. Whoever he truly is, he’s unlocked himself here. [Stream on Spotify]

15mariataylor14. MARIA TAYLOR

“In the Next Life”

File under: Life inventory. On her sixth solo album, the Alabama-bred singer has plenty of things to count — husband, kids, homes old and new, career.  She does so — and projects into the future — in the serenely beautiful voice most fans first heard in Azure Ray, framed here by echoing guitar and keys and simple, tasteful production. Even without cameos from some friends (Conor Oberst and Joshua Radin included), “In the Next Life” would be special. See the lilting “Pretty Scars.” [Stream via Bandcamp]

14sego13. SEGO

“Once Was Lost Now Just Hanging Around”

Biting commentary mingles with self-deprecating comedy on the full-length from the Utah-bred art-punk duo of Spencer Petersen and Tom Carroll. It’s the best of their 2014 and ’15 EPs, along with new songs the DFA camp might love (and some outliers like “Stars” and “Fool Around”). Highlights like “Obscene Dream,” “Micky Macali” and “20 Years Tall” motor along on scratchy guitars and frenetic beats while Petersen speak-sings his clever verses en route to memorable choruses. So much fun. [Stream on Spotify

localnatives12. LOCAL NATIVES

“Sunlit Youth”

Dialing back some of the rhythmic complexities, moving gently in a pop direction and even forgoing guitar on the album opener “Villainy,” the L.A. quintet forged a mostly optimistic album informed in part by their Southern California upbringing. Their uplifting harmonies remain, and the stadium-sized rallying cry “Fountain of Youth” feels even more relevant in light of what transpired Nov. 8. Even if it doesn’t feel like a Local Natives song. [Stream on Spotify]     

13king11. KING

“We are KING”

The long-in-the-works debut from the trio of Paris and Amber Strother and Anita Bias sounds as if it were made in mid-air — gliding harmonies over ambient synths and sometimes-barely-there percussion. The winds that carried the trio’s neo-R&B dreams began blowing five years ago when they released “The Story” EP. An album was supposed to follow in 2013. Whatever travails ensued, “We are KING” has now earned a Grammy nomination. Come for their homage to The Heavyweight, “The Greatest (Ali),” stay for the trippy “Red Eye.” [Stream on Spotify]

11turquoiseoise10. TURQUOISE NOISE

“Turquoise Noise”

The Scott Weiland-mentored quintet has labored off the radar of L.A.’s gaggle of psych-rock favorite sons, but with songs like theirs they shouldn’t be on the outside looking in for long. Frontman Evan Snyder, along with guitarists Brandon Villa and Bryce Darrow, bassist Brendan Snyder and drummer Destin Rogers, arrive liquid-light-show-ready, only with crisp guitar leads, propulsive grooves and surprising shifts. Mystical enough to leave you in a desert daze. [Stream on Spotify]

12youthcode9. YOUTH CODE

“Commitment to Complications”

Even to a merely casual industrial music fan, the take-no-prisoners sophomore album from the duo of Sara Taylor and Ryan George is a marvel. It’s a labyrinth of piercing synths, harsh rhythms, the occasional sample or guitar and gates-of-hell vocals. And you can dance to a lot of it. But “The Dust of Fallen Rome,” thy name is catharsis: “I’m crawling my way back to you, my love / From the depths of this bottomless pit,” Taylor rasps over a pretty, string-laden melody, but one example of the album’s broad dynamic. [Stream on Spotify]

9mirandaleerichards8. MIRANDA LEE RICHARDS

“Echoes of the Dreamtime”

The first album in seven years from the San Francisco-bred singer-songwriter would make the harshest cynic believe in all that hooey about music leading to spiritual enlightenment. It’s a strikingly pastoral, not to mention poetic, album of psychedelic folk, produced with TLC by Rick Parker, its lyrical depth drawing substantial power from Richards’ honeyed narration. “Colours So Fine” could very well be a 12-string trip through a portal to another dimension. [Stream on Spotify]

7therecordcompany7. THE RECORD COMPANY

“Give It Back to You”

Imagine a rootsy guitar-bass-drums trio capturing the fancy of jaded Angelenos. Chris Vos, Alex Stiff and Marc Cazorla did that, working themselves to the bone (and crowds into a sweat) over a four-year climb, capturing the attention of Concord Music Group, releasing “Give It Back to You,” and earning a Grammy nomination for it to boot. The album hits hard — there’s a punk ferocity to their John Lee Hooker/Muddy Waters-inspired jams — and the band plays hard (some 175 shows this year). You can almost smell their sweat on this record. [Stream on Spotify]

6rayandremora6. RAY & REMORA

“Startle It Up”

Guitar-and-synth duo Ray (Dan Crane) & Remora (Amanda Walker) make indie-pop for sophisticated palates. Artists like Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura are reference points, and their debut album is a textured wonder. Imagine Fleetwood Mac doing MS MR with better songs. Walker’s lustrous vocals can be dreamy (popgazing gem “Hearts Do Change”) or pleading (the title track) or soaring (“Don’t Shoot Me Down”). This album’s far too good to have received only meager attention. [Stream on Spotify]

5gallant5. GALLANT


Propelled by the stratospheric single “Weight in Gold,” Chris Gallant’s debut succeeds in keeping the soul in nu-R&B. His divine falsetto marries the new and old schools, at its most tortured on “Chandra,” abiding contemporary production fashions on “Bourbon” and timeless on “Skipping Stones,” which features Jhené Aiko. At 14 songs plus an instrumental intro and outro, it’s almost too much of a good thing. [Stream on Spotify]

4deathvalleygirls4. DEATH VALLEY GIRLS

“Glow in the Dark”

Female-fronted rock bands got a lot of ink in L.A. this year, and there’s a festival or two full of good ones — punk, metal, blues, grunge, shoegaze, garage, you name it. Death Valley Girls’ body blows of proto-punk, damaged disco and space metal left some memorable bruises. They hurt the best, if you will. The quartet (Bonnie Bloomgarden, Laura Kelsey, Nikki Pickle and Larry Schemel) spent 2016 opening for the likes of Primal Scream and the Coathangers, crushing it as headliners and making a music video with Rodney Bingenheimer. And to remember them by, they made an album that makes you feel as you’re glowing in the dark. [Stream on Spotify]

3weyesblood3. WEYES BLOOD

“Front Row Seat to Earth”

Natalie Mering’s third album of folk hymns recalls the cautionary tales of the great ’70s singer-songwriters (afterthought: if we had only heeded). “It’s not the past that scares me,” she sings on “Generation Why,” posing the big question in the haunting chorus: “Y-O-L-O, why?” Made in a garage studio in Lincoln Heights with co-producer Chris Cohen, “Front Row Seat to Earth” turns Mering’s sweeping vocals into grand-scale melancholia, whether the topic is a damaged relationship or damaging the planet. [Stream on Spotify]

2toucheamore2. TOUCHE AMORE

“Stage Four”

The fourth album from melodic heavy-hitters Touché Amoré is their most gut-wrenching — it’s about (and mostly to) frontman Jeremy Bolm’s mother, who died in 2014 after a long battle with cancer. As he has with every topic he’s tackled, Bolm addresses it head-on, his throttled roar recounting anecdotes from his sometimes-strained relationship. “Eight Seconds” recalls the night he got the phone call with the news, while the band was gigging in Florida, and Julien Baker guests on the heart-rending “Skyscraper.” [Stream on Spotify]

1jamessupercave1. JAMES SUPERCAVE

“Better Strange”

James Supercave’s long-awaited debut is a psych-pop album of spectacularly odd angles, shifting time signatures, prickly guitars, bright synths, dream-sequence lyrics and post-modern malaise. It’s dark but inviting. It’s precise but elusive. It took forever to get here, and it’ll take some time yet to unravel. With the elastic vocals of Joaquin Pastor presiding, the album wonders if “The Right Thing” is worth doing if nobody’s around to notice; it ponders being consumed by our fake digital identities in “Virtually a Girl;” it dances the pain away on “Burn;” and in the title track, amid spacey, tooting synths, Pastor urges a girl to just be herself: “You’re so much better strange / You’re so much better when you make mistakes with me.” The band themselves described “Better Strange” as being “like ’90s cartoons did the same drugs that our music is hooked on,” but we like to think of it as blissfully anxiety-stricken. Color us neurotic about the possibility of a follow-up. [Stream on Spotify]

Meritorious Mention

EMITT RHODES, “Rainbow Ends”

rhodes_emitt_rainbow_ends_ov-163It made for the year’s most remarkable comeback story: After 43 years between albums, the 66-year-old once called “The One Man Beatles” released a new collection. Spurred on by singer-songwriter-producer Chris Price, the reclusive Rhodes made “Rainbow Ends” in the same home studio he crafted 1973’s equally melancholy “Farewell to Paradise,” and they sound almost like companion albums. It made for a true L.A. story, too; contributors include Jason Falkner, Roger Joseph Manning Jr. , Joe Seiders, Taylor Locke, Fernando Perdomo, Aimee Mann, Nels Cline, Susanna Hoffs, Jon Brion and Pat Sansone. [Stream Rhodes’ retrospective and then “Rainbow Ends” on Spotify]

Honorable Mention (alphabetically)

Antoine Diligent, “Futurisms”
Autolux, “Pussy’s Dead”
Cate Le Bon, “Crab Day”
Dawes, “We’re All Gonna Die”
Deap Vally, “Femejism”
Draemings, “The Eternal Lonesome”
Feels, “Feels”
Joyce Manor, “Cody”
Anderson .Paak, “Malibu”
PAPA, “Kick at the Dust”
Plague Vendor, “Bloodsweat”
Prism Tats, “Prism Tats”
Psychic Love, “The Hive Mind”
Ramonda Hammer, “Whatever That Means”
Springtime Carnivore, “Midnight Room”
The Sweet Hurt, “LP2”
The Moth & the Flame, “Young & Unafraid”
The Shelters, “The Shelters”
Warpaint, “Heads Up”
Brian Whelan, “Sugarland”
Vinyl Williams, “Brunei”