Kelsey Bulkin – ‘Hotline Bling (I Can Never Tell)’
Kelsey Bulkin is one of LA’s most creative vocalists and her take on Drake’s 2015 burner is brilliant. The cover shows off her vocal range and lyrical ability; with Ms. Bulkin augmenting the sparse lyrics, twisting gender roles, and making the song more melancholic and vibrant all at the same time.
Daniel.T. – ‘Planetesimal’
Daniel.T, of the iconic LA duo Cosmic Kids, is venturing into solo production, and this 2015 release shines a light on what he can do. The winding melody, bouncy beat, and sparseness shows off his fantastic songwriting ability. Plus it’s just the perfect song to get lost in – so LA.
Classixx – ‘wiw-16tp’
LA darlings Classixx put out one of the best albums of 2013 (Hanging Gardens), and after a long silence, they quietly dropped this hauntingly melodic beast with a cryptic name. Delicious melodies, sparse vocal snippets, and a driving beat make this an absolute favorite of 2015. If you want to play up the party vibes, check out the full release from later in the year featuring T-Pain.
Børns – ‘10,000 Emerald Pools’
This infectious tune, from Børns (LA via Michigan), has been showing up everywhere. A song about longing and love set in a watery landscape with a driving beat, anthemic chorus, and windy melody. It’s like riding a bike by the beach drenched in the sun – but in a song, and underwater, like a mermaid.
Queen Magic – ‘Said That You Wanted’
Yet another transplant on the list, Queen Magic comes to LA via Melbourne with an insanely relaxed and smooth sound. Teaming up with the ever funky Taylor Graves (an incredible LA producer) on ‘Said That You Wanted,’ the Australian creates a perfect blend of sex, dance, and chill.
Kamasi Washington – ‘Cherokee’
If we’re talking LA music in 2015, no list would be complete without Kamasi Washington, who exploded this year. Everyone with ears in LA has heard at least one Kamasi Washington song this year. There isn’t much more to be said, but make sure to pick up the whole album as well. It’s all absolute jazz bliss. God Bless you, Mr. Washington.
Kneebody & Daedelus – ‘Drum Battle’
Another epic Brainfeeder release this year: Kneedelus. It’s the fantastic, frenetic, fearless result of collaboration between jazz quintet Kneebody and LA electronic innovator Daedelus. The whole album is beautiful, singular, wild, exotic, and so much more, but above all, it exemplifies the intricacies possible when man & machine team up to make music.
Thundercat – ‘Them Changes’
Thundercat was another dominant LA sound this year. His entire album, the beyond / where the giants roam, is brilliant, but the song ‘Them Changes’ has that extra special bounce. It features Flying Lotus & Kamasi Washington; what more do you need? Besides – the video is terrific.
Superhumanoids – ‘Someday Now’ (De Lux Cover)
Covering label/city mates & 2015 KCRW sweethearts, De Lux, the elusive group Superhumanoids rework the original into a powerful blend of power and delicacy. The original sounds like a California-themed medley of the Talking Heads discography, but this version takes us from the West Side to the East Side with biting female vocals and a six-to-midnight attitude towards instrumentation. It’s an all around infectious take on the original.
Talk In Tongues – ‘While Everyone Was Waiting’
A new incarnation of four LA music vets, Talk In Tongues exploded with their blissed out psychedelic track, ‘Still Don’t Seem to Care.’ They’re like Washed Out meets Interpol, drenched in a California haze. This new track has a bit more drive and power behind it, but it maintains that ‘I almost know what he’s singing’ quality.
Hanni El Khatib – ‘Moonlight’
An LA fixture, Hanni El Khatib is a powerhouse of sultry, driving psychedelic rock, and his 2015 album, Moonlight, only cemented his place as a treasured LA artist. The titular track is infectious with its repetitive and drawn out pattern. Yet, every iteration returns with delicate changes, making it an illusory repetition. Hanni’s lyrics are visceral and poignant – an anthem to staying out late, being young, and moving forward (in a fast car, through the city).
Julia Holter – ‘Feel You’
One of the brightest LA artists is Julia Holter. She’s got that quintessentially LA, minimal-rock-meets-folk sound, with a hint of sassy Valley girl, and it all works so well. On ‘Feel You,’ Julia’s sultry voice and beautiful lyrics perfectly complement the instrumentation – a mix of staccato’d drums and winding violins. Plus, the music video will be a treat for anyone who enjoys nature on LA’s East Side.
Made In Heights – ‘Ghosts’
Made in Heights is a collaboration between Sabzi (Seattle/LA-based producer, and one half of the amazing Blue Scholars) and Kelsey Bulkin. Sabzi creates beats & soundscapes with hip-hop-meets-melodic-electronica vibes, and Kelsey’s crooning adds the perfect touch of sensuality to the whole mix. It’s like an updated take on The Postal Service with a female lead.
Hundred Waters – ‘Show Me Love (Big Wild remix)’
The man from Venice, Big Wild, puts his touch on this fantastic track by city-mates Hundred Waters (known for their song ‘Murmurs’). Big Wild has been tearing it up on the remix game all of 2015 and this one is no different. He adds a ton of depth and wandering to an almost acapella original, offering something hauntingly sexy.
James Ferraro – ‘White Bronco’
After his dark, grimy interpretation of New York in 2013, James Ferraro came out to LA to do something similar, basing much of his inspiration on an early ‘90s sound. He strips all the glitz and glamour of funk tracks, and focuses on the darkness. ‘White Bronco’ is a track about the infamous chase, in which Mr. Ferraro hints at funk and sunshine, but distorts it into something dark and sinister. It’s a unique take on what LA is about in 2015, and it hits hard.
Nosaj Thing – ‘Let You’
Coming in hot (again) is the ever-talented Nosaj Thing. His third studio album, Fated, dropped this year and is full of incredible gems, but ‘Let You’ is a breakout. It’s dark and brooding, but there’s a sense of fun to it all — with a bunch of breaks and hip-hop inspired drum work. This man can do no wrong.
Kodak To Graph – ‘Los Angeles’
Another transplant, Florida’s Kodak to Graph has been putting out consistently powerful tracks. ‘Los Angeles’ is one of those tracks that feels like it has a narrative. In the vein of Bonobo, it’s continually building up and winding down. The sounds Kodak uses fit so well together it makes the song feel like it’s always evolving, yet constantly still – a rare feat.
Goldroom – ‘California Rain’
A fixture in LA’s dance scene, Goldroom has been blowing up the last few years. After his days at Binary Records as NightWaves, Josh Legg found his musical voice creating songs that are so LA, it’s made him one of the most popular DJ’s around — and not only for beach festivals and cruises (which provide the fodder for his insane instagram feed). This twinkling burner perfectly sums up his sound: washed out but crisp, slippery yet pounding.
Zhu – ‘Faded (SNBRN & Klatch Remix)’
SNBRN & Klatch (both LA boys) give us their take on the massive hit of last year: ‘Faded’ by Zhu. The boys give the original a Hulk-style make over, adding a deep house bounce, and heavy wobbles that make this a dance floor essential for any club night.
Nadastrom – ‘Gettin’ Thanked’
DJ Dave Nada and partner Matt Nordstrom (originally from D.C.) have put out a few collaborations as Nadastrom, but their full length from earlier in the year was absolute gold. After moving to LA in 2010, their sound has gained that infamous West Coast vibe while keeping the bounce we’ve come to expect from them. The whole album feels more mature, but ‘Gettin’ Thanked,’ in particular, has a perfect mix of psychedelia, funk and D.C. bounce — just enough to get you moving, but not too much that it feels forced. Delightful.
2015 has been full of great LA-based music, and this list definitely does not cover everything. Honorable mentions go to:
Kendrick Lamar, the Odd Future crew (Earl Sweatshirt in particular), INGA, Delroy Edwards (L.A. Club Resource), the WeDidIt collective, Cherry Glazerr, and many other artists who represent Los Angeles and make it one of the most musically rich cities in the world.
By Daniel Lucas
Daniel Lucas is an avid musical explorer, and curates weekly playlists for his musical project, Hill House Radio. He is also a co-founder of the design & development studio Hair and lives in Downtown Los Angeles.