The 10 Best L.A. Albums of the ’00s 

From Beck and Dilla to Fiona, Jenny and Quasimoto, a mishmash decade of Southern California sounds

Wednesday, Dec 30 2009


In 2006, Silver Lake was a fixture in L.A.’s local rock scene, home to interesting musical venues, and a musical community burgeoning in bungalows crouched in the shadows of freeways and hills. But nationally, Silver Lake’s music scene was being labeled by culture blogs as “a neighborhood to watch” and relegated to sidebars in national music magazines. Brooklyn was where the real indies lived. Elliott Smith and Beck were always name-dropped, but when the fuzzed-out, effervescent rockers Silversun Pickups released their phenomenal first full-length, Carnavas, Silver Lake had found a sound. Or so it seemed, as Carnavas appeared on the charts, was licensed to MTV shows, and became the figurehead for myriad bands on local labels searching for crossover appeal. With Carnavas’ success, record companies took Silver Lake seriously as a creative enclave that could also be a financially lucrative one. SSPU’s sound was much like Silver Lake itself, where noise and quiet could be shored upon each other, juxtaposing Brian Aubert’s psychedelic guitar, intertwined with his raspy, wafting voice. “Well Thought Out Twinkles” wrestles with harsh rock-outs, while “Lazy Eye” grows from straightforward jangle pop into a guitar-howling anthem. SSPU’s follow-up, Swoon, shattered expectations by landing in the commercial sphere, but Carnavas was where it all started. (Drew Tewksbury)


click to flip through (4) RICHARD BURBRIDGE - Fiona Apple turned raw heartbreak into grand art on Extraordinary Machine.
  • Richard Burbridge
  • Fiona Apple turned raw heartbreak into grand art on Extraordinary Machine.

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When this deceptively low-key album came out on the late, great Emperor Norton label in 2001, it quickly proved to be a valuable document of a blossoming Los Angeles sound. L.A.’s brave, idiosyncratic Dublab Web radio station, which curated the collection, had by then already made a major contribution to the city’s cultural scene by establishing a platform for varied strands of hip-hop-informed sonic incursions and experimental electronic music. The Freeways collection featured early works by several standouts in the backpack-unto-IDM-and-beyond realm, including fresh approaches by Daedelus, Dntel, Madlib’s crucial Yesterdays New Quintet and John Tejada. And not to overlook one of the most primo moments in any kind of music anywhere/anytime, Divine Styler’s classic “Shen,” as well as a heavily digitalized variant of folk enchantress Mia Doi Todd and world-jazz percussionist/composer Adam Rudolph. Somehow, and suddenly, it all made a perfect kind of sense. In the eight years since, most of these artists have gone on to prominence in the world at large, and have inspired a huge number of musicians in L.A.’s now-thriving experimental/electronic/hip-hop/nongenre scene, and Freeways remains an important record of a critical moment, and a prescient guide. (John Payne)



When Fiona Apple decided to wash that man right out of her hair, on her 2005 album Extraordinary Machine, the local singer-songwriter turned the raw material of her real-life romantic obsession and heartbreak into the stuff of grand art. In lesser hands, such lovelorn moping usually comes off as narcissistic and banal, but she managed to make it dramatically engrossing and universal. By the time Apple was done, it didn’t really matter who that real-life heartbreaker might have been or that there had been rumors of strains with her label, Sony/Epic — remember her fans’ “Free Fiona!” campaign? — and controversy when an earlier, leaked-to-the-Internet incarnation of the album produced by Largo fixture Jon Brion was ditched in favor of the version that was ultimately released, produced by Mike Elizondo with Brian Kehew (along with two of Brion’s key tracks). It all sounded wonderfully, cathartically sumptuous, from Elizondo and Kehew’s sleekly funky, trippy touches on “Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)” and the dreamily insane, spiraling coda of “Get Him Back” to Brion’s delightful, old-timey clock unwinding on the title track. Even as Apple trilled the airiest and most delicate of melodies, she ruthlessly pumped her piano with uncommon power and the trademark rhythmic propulsion that drives her songs with a sleepwalker’s restless feverishness. Rummaging through mixed feelings on the affecting solo piano ballad “Parting Gift,” she avoided bitterness and ultimately found herself again, sending her former lover one last metaphoric kiss: “You were always good for a rhyme.” (Falling James)



Picking the best Madlib album is like searching for love at the Jersey Shore: It involves imbibing inordinate amounts of illicit substances, and any choice you make will probably get you burned. Since our worst Y2K fears were allayed, Oxnard’s Otis Jackson Jr., a.k.a. Madlib, a.k.a. Quasimoto, has released albums at a quick clip, most likely corresponding with spliffs smoked. He’s treated genres with a dilettante’s disregard but a maestro’s versatility. If you like your beats unalloyed, then you may favor the instrumentals of his Beat Konducta alias, with their cinematic forays into Blaxploitation, Bollywood and elegiac J Dilla tributes. If you only move in 4/4, his Blunts From the Bomb Shelter mix distills decades of Trojan Records dub into one addled hour. If you dig cool jazz, his Shades of Blue deconstruction of the Blue Note catalogue and his Yesterday’s New Quintet work satisfy the impossible demands of both beret-wearing snobs and backward cap–wearing heads. Champion Sound, his collaboration with J Dilla, established a sonic template for the next generation, and his Madvillain work with MF Doom is the consensus pick for underground rap album of the decade. So why The Unseen? Because under the Quasimoto mask, Madlib amalgamates everything that makes him great, the goofball helium-voiced humor, the psychedelic genius and the impeccable eclecticism, sampling everything from Scooby Doo and Melvin Van Peebles to David Axelrod and Diamond D to Augustus Pablo and Ahmad Jamal, reimagined in colors as bright as Orange Crush. The only thing that will burn will be the blunt you’ll be holding. (Jeff Weiss)

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