10 L.A. Artists to Watch in 2016

Recording engineer-turned-solo artist Nav/AttackEXPAND
Recording engineer-turned-solo artist Nav/Attack
Courtesy of the artist

L.A. music had a monster year in 2015, but 2016 could be even bigger, thanks to artists such as the 10 we list here, who represent just a few drops in an El Niño of up-and-coming talent. Some may be future superstars, or at least future cult figures. All have the kind of singular vision it takes in our city to stand out from the crowd.

Bones
We profiled Bones in 2014. His idiosyncratic goth raps (about brandishing blunts and blades in cemeteries), grave monotone and grainy, Harmony Korine–like VHS videos were intriguing and unsettling. His cultish following was big and getting bigger. All of the above remains true today, and therein lies the appeal. Despite a guest appearance on A$AP Rocky’s 2015 single “Canal St.” and increased blog coverage, Bones remains unaffected and staunchly independent. Moreover, he continues to release gratis projects at a prolific clip (seven in 2015 alone). On Jan. 30, he and his collective of like-minded rappers and producers, Seshollowaterboyz, will perform at Club Nokia. The show, like his House of Blues gig last March, likely will sell out. But Bones never will. —Max Bell

Death Valley Girls
Echo Park’s rawest boogie electrocutes old-school psychobilly into a punk frenzy, mixed with Black Sabbath–like elements of the occult. Their gang mentality keeps them insulated from the rest of the L.A. garage-rock scene. You’ll never see DVG leader “Paranormal” Bonnie Bloomgarden without Laura “The Kid” Kelsey, a keen drummer who got her nickname because she’s a flaxen-haired juvenile delinquent — the Sandy West to Bloomgarden’s Joan Jett. DVG also includes some real pipes in singer Jessie Jones and shredding solos by Larry Schemel, their Billy Zoom — the heart within DVG’s leather-corseted chest. This should be their year of domination, as they plan to release a ripping new album titled Glow in the Dark and then start a cult, the Cosmic Underground, in an effort to metastasize from a band into a religion. —Art Tavana

Ghost Noise
The first time I saw Ghost Noise play was at a Morrissey-themed burlesque show, which is fitting, given that the Mancunian crooner and the L.A. trio share a penchant for melancholy and flowers. The similarities end there, however. Ghost Noise’s sound owes more to that period when Joy Division re-emerged as New Order and post-punk evolved into new wave. Members John Casey Connolly, Gawby Weinstein and Josh Dean all play guitars and synths and adorn their stage with fake floral bou-quets. Dean provides the beats while Connolly and Weinstein trade off on dramatic, controlled vocals. Even at their danciest, on tracks like “Father and Fainter” and “A Shadow Without You,” they hit forlorn notes, matching the sadness of the stories that unfold in their songs. The three-year-old band released its second full-length, Our Heaven of Darkness, in December. —Liz Ohanesian

Harriet
Named after frontman Alex Casnoff’s grandmother, Harriet first caught our attention in 2012 with their debut EP, Tell the Right Story, and an audaciously hyper-emotive single called “I Slept With All Your Mothers,” which sounded like Cold War Kids’ entry in a Ben Gibbard songwriting contest. The quartet takes a giant leap forward with this month’s release of its debut full-length, American Appetite, a 12-track collection brimming over with vivid lyrics, clever guitar/synth collisions and Casnoff’s increasingly confident vocals, which veer between Thom Yorke’s enigmatic ethereality and the raw-nerve intensity of Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring. The clattering, dance-y “Irish Margaritas” is an upbeat highlight. —Andy Hermann

Justin JayEXPAND
Justin Jay
Courtesy of the Dark Room

Justin Jay
The youngest member of the Dirtybird crew may prove to be the most talented of them all. Justin Jay was still a freshman at USC when Claude VonStroke signed the precocious producer to his red-hot house label. Now 22, Jay had a breakout 2015, getting support from the likes of Disclosure, Annie Mac and Pete Tong and releasing a pair of widely acclaimed EPs, the aptly titled Momentum and Mom, I Graduated! Jay’s hard yet funky sound fits squarely within the Dirtybird universe but adds a big-room, anthemic quality his more underground-minded labelmates tend to shy away from. In less skilled hands, the marimba-like synths and “I’ll make it rain” chants of “Rain Dance” would be total cheese, but Jay orchestrates them to a gleefully sweaty climax worthy of Carl Cox or Green Velvet. —Andy Hermann

MRK
To understand MRK, you need to understand her career architect, Luka Fisher, who last year signed her to his label Records Ad Nauseam and who describes her as a “stripped-down Kate Bush.” Period blood is an important part of MRK’s aesthetic, which also has elements of digital pop (à la Grimes) and early U.K. glam. Last year, MRK (real name: Madison Knapp) released an EP titled Blood, which was inspired by two abortions she had. L.A. wasn’t ready for MRK, because Fisher hadn’t yet created his master plan, which includes casting her as an “L.A. creeper” in a sci-fi film directed by Anna Zlokovic. MRK is playing every Thursday in January at the Honeytrap in downtown L.A., in front of a giant vagina backdrop with a disco ball as a clitoris. —Art Tavana

Nav/Attack
Andrew Lynch has engineered records for the likes of Sia, John Cale and OFF!. Now, as Nav/Attack, Lynch is able to explore sonic landscapes on his own terms. On his first album under that moniker, released via Dangerbird in October, Lynch’s sparkly fusion of brass, keys and samplers creates a unique sound. With his array of accessible tunes and a penchant for creative visuals to accompany his music (plus endorsements from some of his famous friends, like Adam Goldberg, star of the "Newsbreak" video), it’s easy to foresee Nav/Attack capturing listeners’ attention in the year to come. —Daniel Kohn

Powers
Uber-sexy duo Powers’ appearance on The Knocks’ ubiquitous smash “Classic” made that song irresistible. No strangers to the pop world, Powers haven’t yet up-staged the artists for whom they have penned hits (Selena Gomez, Kylie Minogue, Skylar Grey), but they have plenty of fire left over. The dual vocals of Mike Del Rio and Crista Ru add multiple dimensions to the clever simplicity of their infectious songwriting. The pair’s recent release, Legendary, indicates where they are headed next — just try to look away from the slinky video for the aptly named “Hot.” —Lily Moayeri

SwarvyEXPAND
Swarvy
Photo by Martin Sweeney

Swarvy
Street Corner Music artist Swarvy’s appeal spans multiple genres. On his four-volume Stunts series, he creates a perfect balance between electronic beats reminiscent of nostalgic video games and old-school jazz while cleverly managing to tie in rap samples and R&B to show his love and appreciation for hip-hop culture. You might worry that with all the different styles Swarvy fuses into his music, something will be drowned out., but all the flavors mingle beautifully. —Layne Weiss

Toy Light
With his 2015 Alpha Pup debut, Sightless, Unless, 23-year-old Walker Ashby aka Toy Light released the most overlooked electronic record of the year. That’s perhaps because the album defies rote genre signifiers. Instead, each song finds a new niche. His Thom Yorke–like falsetto and moody guitar riffs temper a mélange of sub-woofer-fracturing, low end–heavy suites. There are hints of Burial, Trent Reznor and Flying Lotus, but inspiration trumps influence. Ashby’s forward-thinking produc-tions blur the lines between analog and digital music like few before him. If his next album improves upon his auspicious debut, he’ll be impossible to ignore. —Max Bell


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