2017: Buzz Bands LA’s Favorite Albums of the Year

Photos, from left: Drab Majesty by Corinne Schiavone; Kendrick Lamar by Quinn Tucker, courtesy of Coachella; Cherry Glazerr by Lexi Bonin; Mondo Cozmo by Samantha Saturday; Kelela via Facebook; Thundercat by Greg Noire, courtesy of Coachella
Photos, from left: Drab Majesty by Corinne Schiavone; Kendrick Lamar by Quinn Tucker, courtesy of Coachella; Cherry Glazerr by Lexi Bonin; Mondo Cozmo by Samantha Saturday; Kelela by Daniel Sannwald; Thundercat by Greg Noire, courtesy of Coachella

Talk trash about 2017 all you want — and we have — but it was a bountiful year for Los Angeles musicians.

Following is Buzz Bands LA’s “Popular With Us 2017: Our Favorite Albums of the Year,” our annual homegrown year-end list.

Contributing were Buzz Bands LA editor Kevin Bronson (K.B.) and contributors Daiana Feuer (D.F.), Andrew Veeder (A.V.), Cassandra Cronin (C.C.) and Roy Jurgens (R.J.).

Support the artists by clicking on the album covers to purchase their work. Also find links to the album streams on Spotify.

Enjoy, and on to 2018 …

Also see:

||| Buzz Bands LA’s Favorite 101 Songs of 2017
||| Buzz Bands LA’s Favorite Videos of the Year
||| Buzz Bands LA’s year in Photos


“Dale Tiempo”

The first album from the husband-and-wife duo of Matthew Beighley and Jacqueline Santillan since 2010’s highly regarded “Luces del Sur,” “Dale Tiempo” slips leisurely from English to Spanish, from dreamy folk to shimmering indie-rock, from expansive to intimate. Informed by the couple’s seismic life shifts (a death, a birth, a transcontinental move), the music has cinematic sweep yet remains deeply personal. A soundtrack to the best home movie ever. (—K.B.)

||| Recommended track: “Manhattan” • Stream on Spotify



Beset by dark emotional clouds surrounding her (and friends), songwriter Nika Roza Danilova retreated to her native Wisconsin to conjure up her fifth album. It’s a thunderous record — a sinister industrial and symphonic storm front — with the singer’s roof-rattling voice breaking through like a persistent beacon of sunlight. Zola Jesus sings like she’s in a staredown with the dark side, and winning. (—K.B.)

||| Recommended track: “Exhumed” • Stream on Spotify


“Take Me Apart”

On her first proper album, Kelela has constructed a fully realized, 14-track journey of one relationship dissolving before a new one begins, anchored by icy modern R&B production of frosty synths swirling in an emotional blizzard of percussion. Opener “Frontline” sets the tone, while the title track and standout “LMK” showcases sharp songwriting that is sensual yet vulnerable, as well as the strength of her soaring and soulful voice. (—A.V.)

||| Recommended track: “LMK” • Stream on Spotify



It turns out angel-voiced Moses Sumney does not believe in Cupid. Which makes “Aromanticism” — described by the UCLA product as seeking “to interrogate the idea that romance is normative and necessary” — one of the saddest beautiful records in the history of sad, beautiful records. His embrace (or is it rationalization?) of loneliness comes in minimalist electro-soul hymns that leave ample space for his gravity-defying falsetto and, especially, his weighty lyrics. It’s all very celestial yet cerebral, existentialism for the swipe-left generation. (—K.B.)

||| Recommended track: “Lonely World” • Stream on Spotify



The brother half of sibling duo the Belle Brigade offers up a deeply resonant solo debut heavy on songcraft and light on bells and whistles. He comes from good stock, as they say — he’s the son of TV and film composer Jay Gruska and the grandson of composer John Williams. In lieu of anything ornate, though, Gruska keeps his biographical vignettes simple, carried mostly by faint breezes of piano or guitar and Tony Berg’s restrained production. And where many songwriters would belabor the themes, his conciseness is welcome; only two of the album’s dozen tracks clock in at more than 3 minutes. As conversationalists go, brilliant. (—K.B.)

||| Recommended track: “Reoccurring Dream” • Stream on Spotify


“Ty Segall”

Ninth album …. not counting side projects … So prolific is Ty Segall that he could be on this list every year. Maintaining quality while providing quantity is no easy feat. On his second self-titled album (there was one in 2008), he unleashed 10 tracks of U.K.-inspired garage glitter glam grandiosities (and some tender foils for all that noise like “Orange Color Queen”), all of which are a great entry point for Segall’s material. Don’t blame us when you disappear down the rabbit hole of his substantially brilliant catalog. And, oh wait, Segall has another 19-track album coming in January. (—R.J.)

||| Recommended track: “Thank You Mr. K” • Stream on YouTube


“The Kid”

On her double-LP “The Kid,” experimental electronic composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith puts the listener in a state of mind often reserved for communing with nature or alien encounters. Using rare synthesizers, such as the Buchla Music Easel and the EMS Synthi 100, Smith layers textures and melodies that serve as meditations on life, death and love, and offer a feeling of being beamed up to a pretty alternate dimension. (—D.F.)

||| Recommended track: “Until I Remember” • Stream on Spotify


“Warbly Jets”

That I.V. in the arm of good ol’ rock ’n’ roll might well be carrying a dose of Warbly Jets’ swagger and snarl. The L.A. quartet’s self-titled debut proved a vein to the Anglophile hearts of those who love bands like Primal Scream, Oasis and the Verve. That they injected the album with a little bit of soul sets it apart from being a mere period piece — the outsized guitars and trippy synths were already a good start. All hail skinny jeans. (—K.B.)

||| Recommended track: “Alive” • Stream on Spotify


“Big Fish Theory”

The neurotic “Norf Norf” legend did us in with pummeling production and the cynic-chic stylings of “Big Fish Theory,” a sonic rain dance for those who prefer brazen beats and subversive sociology to blue skies and romantic interludes. With outstanding contributions from guests like Kilo Kish, Kendrick Lamar and Damon Albarn, Staples’ sixth release cements the 24-year-old as one of the greats, going further and further out on the experimental limb with each passing year. In a telling summation of the record, Staples quips: “If I wrote your ass a love song, could I make it bang?” (—C.C.)

||| Recommended track: “Big Fish” • Stream on Spotify


“Existential Beast”

Something of a conceptual companion to 2016’s “Echoes of Dreamtime,” Miranda Lee Richards’ fourth album offers lustrous Laurel Canyon-inspired psychedelic folk to accompany her poetic meditations on the current shape of things. In these lush, ’60s-styled reveries (given a warm glow by producer Rick Parker) are Richards’ admonitions on topics such as the environment, politics and racial and gender equality, all delivered in a voice pure as spring rain. And lest you suspect “Existential Beast” dawdles in one-note hippiedom, check out “Golden Gate” and the 12-minute closer “Another World.” (—K.B.)

||| Recommended track: “Lucid I Would Dream” • Stream on Spotify


“Stop Talking”

Chris Price’s second solo album was three-plus years in the making, owing in part to the time he spent producing and collaborating on “comeback” albums by Emitt Rhodes and Linda Perhacs. Widely respected wherever the appellation “power-pop” is sold, Price this time out shows off his improved production acumen while displaying the songwriting and playing chops that have consistently (including with the band Bebopalula) pushed him beyond the predictable. At its heart, “Stop Talking” reveals somebody we all know: a kid with a guitar and something to say. That you want to hear him rock for 14 tracks puts Price in rarefied air. (—K.B.)

||| Recommended track: “Stop Talking” • Stream on Spotify


“Brick Body Kids Still Daydream”

The prolific L.A.-via-Chicago rapper cemented his place as an underground hero with his fifth full-length since 2010, a 12-track homage to the Robert Taylor Homes, the now-demolished federal housing project where he spent time as a child. Over a patchwork of production styles, Eagle plays fast and furious with details, giving his yarns the feeling of an erudite memoir, complete with wry humor and pathos. He’s a writer’s rapper. (—K.B.)

||| Recommended track: “(How Could Anybody) Feel at Home” • Stream on Spotify



Frontwoman Clementine Creevy exits her teens with a bang, leading the young indie-rockers through an album of yowling, yelping punk rock with the DNA of the riot grrrl movement. They’ve come a long way since 2014’s ramshackle “Haxel Princess.” Beyond the stabbing guitars in the female solidarity cry “Told You I’d Be With the Guys,” Cherry Glazerr’s more-produced but still-rough-round-the-edges sound proves the proper agitant for Creevy’s biting, sneering broadsides. Stay thirsty, friends. (—K.B.)

||| Recommended track: “Trash People” • Stream on Spotify


“The Demonstration”

In a world where ’80s synth-pop gets plundered on an hourly basis, the sophomore album from Drab Majesty takes the sound interplanetary. The brainchild of gender neutral being Deb DeMure, aka Andrew Clinco of Marriages, “The Demonstration” comes from distant planets, all of them cold. Beyond creating delicious darkwave textures, DeMure croons foreboding, cult-obsessed narratives that give one pause to worry about our own orb. That dystopian galaxy far, far away might be closer than we think. (—K.B.)

||| Recommended track: “Too Soon to Tell” • Stream on Spotify



Thundercat’s third full-length album, “Drunk” is a fun, at times dark, 23-track cosmic exploration of drinking, love, his cat, death, going down the rabbit hole and the places and the people he’s experienced. Full of special guests like Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell, Wiz Khalifa, Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus, the album reflects those musical relationships as much as it reveals the thoughts swirling around Bruner’s head, filtered through his six-string bass. (—D.F.)

||| Recommended track: “Show You the Way” • Stream on Spotify


“Slow All Over”

Brian Harding, formerly of NYC’s Ex Cops, starts over in L.A., making an agile, whip-smart and little-bit-wistful album that outstrips most in the image-conscious, predictable world of indie-pop. With a moniker that nods to Madonna, Blond Ambition toys with the funky-fun disco of the ’70s, commingling modern production but not overcooking anything. The highlights are the sweet, shuffling “Shasta” and “Stupid Boy / Girl” (a song empathetic to trans people), which head-bobs into forever on a peripatetic bass line and sleek chorus that tests our own falsetto. (—K.B.)

||| Recommended track: “Stupid Boy / Girl” • Stream on Spotify


“Stranger in the Alps”

Phoebe Bridgers will win your heart or break it, or both. Her debut album is a clinic in plainspoken storytelling and melancholy, the latter quality perhaps demonstrating the perils of being wise beyond one’s years. The 23-year-old’s oeuvre — aching tales told in a clarion voice that cuts through subtle, dreamlike production — captivates on “Stranger’s” first three songs alone: “Smoke Signals,” a poignant road trip tale; “Motion Sickness,” a churning rocker directed at Ryan Adams; and “Funeral,” a ballad that feels death’s breath. Bridgers is not pushing buttons, though; it’s all in the nuances. Tony Berg and Ethan Gruska co-produce, Conor Oberst guests and many lesser-known luminaries (notably co-writer/drummer Marshall Vore) add their touches to what, overall, is a riveting opening statement. (—K.B.)

||| Recommended track: “Motion Sickness” • Stream on Spotify


“Freedom Is Free”

The long-running heroes of L.A.’s Latin music scene have finally broken the mold with “Freedom Is Free,” a winning fusion of Pan-American influences ranging from wildly creative tropicalia to soulful R&B. These days, it seems the entirety of L.A. comes out to witness their headlining shows, lyrics memorized, dancing feet at the ready. The album, in both its studio and live iterations, is a truly unified and unique experience, with a deeply in-the-pocket rhythm section, colorful and virtuosic guitar work, and mesmerizing melodies that ebb and flow with the band’s telepathic dynamics. Already classic. (—C.C.)

||| Recommended track: “Freedom Is Free” • Stream on Spotify


“Plastic Soul”

Like comfort food, sometimes you need a big platter of the familiar to boost your calorie count, and give you energy to hope. Veteran songwriter Joshua Ostrander’s debut under the persona Mondo Cozmo is that dish, buoyant guitar anthems that meld the sounds of denim-clad American troubadours with Brit-rock arena acts. Beyond the single “Shine” and the soulful title track (a makeover of Erma Franklin’s version of “Piece of My Heart”), there are party rave-ups like “Higher,” “Come With Me” and “Automatic,” not to mention the vein-busting sing-along “Hold On to Me.” It’s got heart and soul and, thankfully, precious little in the way of pretension. (—K.B.)

||| Recommended track: “Shine” • Stream on Spotify



Nearly universally applauded, and with good reason, Kendrick Lamar’s fourth album is a dense and dizzying virtuosic onion of wordplay that keeps rewarding you as the layers are peeled back. Over the course of 14 songs, Kung Fu Kenny gets introspective as he grapples with faith, morality and mortality, and attempts to answer the question posed at the onset: “Is it wickedness? It is weakness? You decide.” The storytelling on “DUCKWORTH.” and “FEAR.” rank among the best of the year, if not the decade, while the thunderous “DNA.” and “XXX.” drop wisdom wrapped in trap beats. It’s an album that can be played front to back, or back to front, with each version shifting the narrative into a different meaning, yet each version powerful in their own way. With “DAMN.,” King Kendrick has assumed the throne. All hail, but also hol’ up, sit down, be humble. (—A.V.)

||| Recommended track: “Humble” • Stream on Spotify

Special Mentions (listed alphabetically)

Bedouine, “Bedouine”
The Bronx, “V”
The Buttertones, “Gravedigging”
Cold War Kids, “LA Divine”
Facial, “Facade”
Father John Misty, “Pure Comedy”
Dent May, “Across the Multiverse”
Robert Francis, “Indian Summer”
Gothic Tropic, “Fast or Feast”
Haim, “Something To Tell You”
Haunted Summer, “Spirit Guides”
Aimee Mann, “Mental Illness”
Mapache, “Mapache”
The Mynabirds, “Be Here Now”
L.A. Takedown, “II”
L.A. Witch, “L.A. Witch”
Lawrence Rothman, “The Book of Law”
Los Angeles Police Department, “Los Angeles Police Department”
The Luxembourg Signal, “Blue Field”
Louis Schefano, “Opposite Side of the World”
Tashaki Miyaki, “The Dream”
Thee Commons, “Paleta Sonora”
Together Pangea, “Bulls and Roosters”
TOKiMONSTA, “Lune Rouge”
Imaad Wasif, “Dzi”