Featuring artists who brought out singles, albums, and performances that truly deserve to be recognized. Listed in no particular order because these are all great artists.
É. Arenas Nariz
Eduardo Arena’s 6 years of hard work and passion led to a successful 12 track album that not only differentiated him from his successful Latin band, Chicano Batman, but gave the bassist a voice. Flying from different influences, such as bossa-samba to psychedelic-gazing, Nariz neatly extracted these elements into a fluid rhythm. The album continued to be a literal work of art as each track translated into visual imagery, provided by Arena’s wife and photographer, Lorena Endara, who created a 32 page storybook. Arenas’ heartfelt and humble appeal led to imaginative worldly sounds which bounced from language to language. – JMA
Kadhja Bonet The Visitor
Ethereal and other worldly, Kadhja Bonet crafted her own sound in Los Angeles with a truly gripping album. The Visitor became an album that wasn’t only beautiful musically, which hailed to jazz-fusion and smooth R&B melodies, but became a work of art for Bonet that this was unapologetically her dream. Ironically, The Visitor’s production sounded ahead of its time, despite pulling its elegance from classical music. Intertwined with Bonet’s low, yet angelic tone, The Visitor became componets which creates Kadhja Bonet. –NAS
Laura Jean Anderson Righteous Girl
Los Angeles transplant, Laura Jean Anderson, shined on her 4-track EP, Righteous Girl, and brought back moody blues with grunge aesthetics from her hometown of Washington. It wasn’t only an EP that proved that Anderson had a distinct quiver and heart to her voice, but an honest time stamp of where the Righteous Girl came from. The synergism of each track pushed Anderson’s tone to a place that became memorable, timeless, and exclusive to 2016. – JMA / NAS
Psychic Love The Hive Mind
Echo Park locals, Psychic Love, continued their hazy, yet progressive rock direction with a polished neo-psychedelic influence. Allowing for an exploration of different modern productions, the care and instant delicate appeal of distortion, allowed for a genuine composition and refreshing sound. -JMA
Mind Monogram AM in the PM
Even though 2015 was a prominent year for the Los Angeles locals, instinctively I knew their was a passion that needed to bleed out in due time; almost watching the tortoise sprint across the first finish line. Not only musically did the chamber-pop band become more in-tuned in what they had to offer, but collectively the confidence in their sound became apparent. AM in the PM became a gradual development of life, pain, and romance that only time could write, all while etching their name firmly in Los Angeles. –JMA
Phora With Love
Anaheim rapper Marco Archer, better known as Phora, created an established sound in 2011. Despite this, With Love acted as a staple for new listeners, past fans, and hip-hop lovers alike. Phora’s niche of story telling quality in the indie-rap world became sophisticated on this album. Although there is still anger being unearthed through Phora’s tone, the developed state of mind from the young rapper allowed for his inspiration, hurt, and overall message become clear. -NAS
Lost Frontiers Buried in the Sound
Not enough recognition went into the evolution of sound for Inland Empire’s folk-rock band, Lost Frontiers, and their album Buried in the Sound. Straying away from traditional folk-esque qualities previously heard, Buried in the Sound took an ambient and shoe-gazed approach. Led by prominent drums, memorable guitar riffs, and the gritt-folk vocals of front-man Patrick Durkee, the successful change of pace for the IE band allowed for more freedom within their development. Buried in the Sound merged the barrier between two musical scenes while upholding the original intent of Lost Frontiers. -JMA
Noname did something unexplainable on her Telefone album. The Chicago-rapper tackled Black Lives Matter issues, identity, and relationships in an immortal collection of tracks. Noname’s upbeat demeanor and sultry production created a foundation of pure genius to unfold. With unique collaborations and an effortless flow, Noname’s textured album became beautiful and inspiring. – JMA / NAS
James Supercave Better Strange
Better Strange became one of those albums where the quirky nature and duality of James Supercave just made sense. It dove further than The Afternoon (2015) and proved that timing was in fact everything, as 2016 allowed for better songwriting, and for the sounds of the Echo Park band to resonate. Their unique flare, upbeat sounds, and twisted honesty that murmured from front-man Joaquin Pastor’s voice allowed for natural storytelling, a memorable sense of appeal, and flexibility between heavy indie-pop to loving romance. –JMA
Moon Ensemble Self-titled EP
This is a band who thrives on live performances and have evolved from their psychedelic scene into their own brand of “desert-dance” funk. The Hacienda Heights-based band somehow translated their energy from the stage into their re-branded self-titled EP, focusing on cleaner productions and electronic grooves. Each track is strong enough to stand-alone, and simutenasouly works for a fuller impact towards Moon Ensemble’s distinct sound. – JMA
PAPA Kick At The Dust
Los Angeles-based band PAPA proved no imitations of fullness and creativity coming from a duo. Growing heavily within the DIY scene, Kick At The Dust acts as a recognizable sign of success and growth. Sticking to the sounds of concentrated indie-rock, PAPA bounced these elements to a cleaner-stripped down sound of new-wave, and offered a variety of different aspects for new listeners to discover. -NAS
Kai Straw Toothpick
San Francisco’s Kai Straw put himself on the map with his album Toothpick. Following up from his hit single, “Hurricane” the album allowed for a listener to immediately know what the Bay Area native was all about and inclined for more. Kai Straw’s aggressively gritty, and at times gentle way of crooning, separated him from the rest and resonated against equally well-produced tracks by James The Bear. Toothpick’s raw, clean, and centered direction became the affirmation of talent from Kai Straw. – JMA / NAS
Inland Empire’s trio, Zentonic, truly blew me away with their 8-track album Reset released last March. The sophomore album still contained their blues-rock sound with a heavier dose of passion, memorizing vocals, and drums to die for. Truly spending time to perfect their craft, Reset became an album in 2016 that set to redefine and push an artists’ abilities. Definitely a must hear album and a must-watch band. -JMA
Lianna La Havas Blood (Solo)
London artist Lianne La Havas captured listeners’ hearts and ears with her 2015 album Blood, and continued to prove her soulful talent reinevnting the album into a stripped-down collection, Blood (Solo). The acoustic versions allowed to prove how La Havas’ possesses a noteworthy sound by adding a hint of pain that may not have been as loud on the original album. Not only did the Blood (Solo) EP allow new listeners to fall in love with the original tracks, but for a chance to let La Havas be recognized as a natural born talent. -NAS
The mysterious U.K. artist who at first flew beneath the radar, blew me away with the single “People Say” in 2015 and yet again with the track “Waiting.” As 2016 continued, Seramic was relentless and continued to out do each single until the 4-track EP, Found, was released. The trending electronic-soul that swept 2016 in the U.K. and slowly trickled to the states in production pieces, was prominent on all tracks. The creative mesh of sounds and control by Seramic allowed him to break-in 2016 for bigger releases. -JMA
Kan Wakan “Molasses” – The Los Angeles-based composer and producer pours smooth and sensual textures that seems like an unexpected gift. Featuring friend Elle Olsun, who lends her angelic and climatic breathy vocals, “Molasses” becomes a head on sensory and addictive experience. Triple LP coming out spring 2017
Oyster Kids “Gum (Everybody’s My Friend)” – Los Angeles locals, Oyster Kids, continued their momentum in 2016 with multiple singles, one being an addictive and dark, indie-pop track “Gum (Everybody’s My Friend).” The track instantly became a beloved track during the hot peaks of Summer with its upbeat sense of melody.
Ramsey “See You Bleed” – Ramsey thrived in 2016 with her raw and dark electronic sounds, cultivating her unique flare in Los Angeles. Despite releasing a galore of tracks, the sensuality of “See You Bleed” captures the essence, precise production, and alluring Gothic-Romance of Ramsey. EP Release Feb 24th 2017
Twin Oaks “Eighteen Minutes” – The dream-pop ballad “Eighteen Minutes” by Twin Oaks became an instant favorite, heavily due to the obsessive build that engulfs a listener by the 3rd minute. Playing on time and the act of suspense, Twin Oaks’ placement and force was worth the wait.
Pretty Sister “Come to LA” – Master of Z-Funk, Pretty Sister, truly cultivated his own brand with the single “Come to LA.” The “NSFW open letter to long distant lust” was bold and paired perfectly against a sensual R&B backing and a high falsetto to melt your ears.
Alyeska “Lose My Place” – Los Angeles-based band Alyeska fueled their alternative track “Lose My Place” with front-woman’s Alaska Reid move from Montana to LA. The track’s indie-core, and retro approach blends mindlessly with Reid’s smoky, and consistent vocals.
Castle Pines “Hollow Cause” – Hailing from Inland Empire, Castle Pines took the best of alternative-rock, soft-layers, and exploratory melodies on their track “Hollow Cause.” The band’s break and build, alongside a distinguishable chorus, are the makings of a binge-worthy track.
Ramonda Hammer “Zombie Sweater” – Grunge, grunge, and alternative-rock. Ramonda Hammer’s “Zombie Sweater” became an addicting quirk of rumbustious sounds that hailed to the 90’s scene while still allowing room for fresh sounds. Following-up perfectly from their EP, Whatever That Means, “Zombie Sweater” continued to ooze with perfection, led by Devin Davis’ grit.
B00TY “Holy” – Soulfully driven, inventive, fresh, and appealing in various ways, Los Angeles duo B00TY created the ultimate ballad. Cinematic from start to finish, “Holy” is a track that standstill like no other.
Phinisey “Something New” – Back in May, producer and DJ Phinisey stepped away from the back-end and showed us what he had to offer with his track “Something New.” The light and slowly-developed track pays homage to the love of another, while Phinisey’s simplistic beats and smooth R&B vocals wrap up the entirety of the track.
Best Stage Production: Flume
It’s no secret Flume (Harley Streten) has experienced a huge amount of success this past year, with the release of his sophomore album “Skin” and chart-topping singles with Tove Lo and Kai. Moreover, the best way to experience this body of work is in his live show. Attending his concert in the summer of 2016 I was absolutely blown away by the stage production. From the LED cubes to the visuals that corresponded timely to each beat and synth line was truly amazing. It’s evident that Flume along with his production team wanted to create a parallel world where each song represents a different aspect of the show. Missed out last year? Be sure to catch him at Air + Style in LA this February. –MM
Best Live Performance: JMSN
Although James Blake made my life when I finally got to see him this year, it’s JMSN who comes to mind when I think of the best live performance I saw in 2016. Heading over to Austin, Texas this past summer I made my way into the Parish on a rainy night for JMSN’s headlining tour in support of his album “It Is.” Along with his band, JMSN performed with eagerness and an energetic stage presence. His band was particularly articulate, making it one of the rare occasions where the live version has an unparalleled quality that you can only experience in that moment. The most thoughtful aspect of JMSN’s performance is that he did not hesitate to be at the same level as the crowd. With brief conversations with the audience, sharing a smile with someone in the front row, it felt more like a community brought together by music rather than a show where you just watch the individual perform. As he wrapped up his set with “Bout It” the crowd echoed the beginning vocals, the band finished off the song with impromptu jamming making it a lively experience. Also, major bonus of this performance was getting to meet JMSN and the band, having a nice chat after the show. –MM
2016 Label Spotlight: Of Leisure Records
Home to Tyler Touché, MUTO, Young Franco, and other emerging talents, Of Leisure Records is defining the sound of electronic Australian music. The label accompanied with a laid-back attitude and a refined ear for “electronic music that takes your inhibitions and buries them deep in the sand” has already received endorsements from big talents like Flume and Hayden James. Their 2016 successes include nation-wide tours for acts such as Young Franco, strong EP releases from MUTO and Tyler Touché, as well as a number of leisurely release parties. Definitely ones to watch in 2017. – MM
Notable Mention: Bodegas
The SGV band have continued to thrive and play a heavy set of shows in 2016. Not changing their sound, attitude, or rough edges, Bodegas continues to perform and chase what they love. With their last album, 9 to 5 (2015), which played on the mundane everyday life, 2016 was a year that the band took to rekindle their love of live shows that became apparent onstage. Within any art, the art of continuing is worth the respect.