The Best L.A. Albums of 2015

How good of a year did L.A. have for new music? So good that this list of the 20 best albums and EPs to emerge from our city in 2015 could easily have been twice as long.

It's a list dominated by hip-hop, thanks to some keepers of the gangsta-rap flame and a trio of rule-breaking young guns (Kendrick, Earl, Vince). But there are other storylines to be found here, as well: a huge resurgence in jazz, led by game-changer Kamasi Washington; R&B and funk releases both sacred and profane — or, in the case of Miguel, a little of both; enough good rock albums to make me admit I was wrong about the health (no pun intended) of L.A.'s rock scene; transplants (specifically, Grimes and Deafheaven) continuing to infuse our city with new energy and sounds; and yet another year of creative dominance by Brainfeeder, with three of their releases making the cut. 

See also: Jeff Weiss' Best L.A. Albums of 2015, in Haiku Form

Truly, 2015 brought us an embarrassment of riches, of which the below list (and accompanying Spotify playlist) only scratches the surface. We hope you're as excited as we are to see what 2016 has in store. — Andy Hermann, music editor

20. Kneebody & Daedelus, Kneedelus (Brainfeeder)
Saxophonist Ben Wendel and DJ Alfred Darlington, friends since high school, have each cultivated tremendous success making music on the outer limits of imagination and innovation, Wendel with the Grammy-nominated progressive-jazz group Kneebody and Darlington as a pioneering DJ and electronic artist under his moniker Daedelus. Kneebody and Daedelus have collaborated on live shows since 2009, and their off-and-on flirtations have finally produced this mutant love-child of an album, which retains special powers from both parents. There are surprising amounts of elongated space; vast, bleak landscapes evoking Daedelus' pensive 2014 masterpiece, The Light Brigade. Those who like to get their groove on need not fear, for there are also moments of sheer rhythmic and sonic catalyst, a concoction of jazz, rock and electronica fast approaching its creators' stated goal of "technological singularity," where humans and computers meet and meld in indistinguishable perfection. —Gary Fukushima

The Best L.A. Albums of 2015

19. J*Davey, Pomp (ILLAV8R)
Pomp serves up more of the timeless, undefinable, multigenre-influenced sound that has come to characterize J*Davey since the duo emerged nearly a decade ago. The eight-song EP features synth-heavy, midtempo dance tracks like “Strong Anticipation” and “High on Life,” the flirtatious, Pat Benatar–esque “For Love” and dark disco tune “Coulda Shoulda Woulda.” Pomp also showcases the rapping skills of lead singer Miss Jack Davey on the “Bit of Banter” intro and outro, as well as the dancehall-tinged “Libido.” —Jacqueline Michael Whatley

18. FIDLAR, Too (Mom + Pop)
It may be cliché for a hard-charging young garage-rock band to "mature" on their sophomore album, but FIDLAR managed to breathe new life into that narrative on Too. Singer-guitarist Zac Carper's addiction struggles and subsequent sobriety are themes throughout the record. But don't think the band has gone soft; if anything, the quartet has become even more defiant, retaining the brash sound that made them DIY favorites. Recorded in Nashville, Too reveals a FIDLAR at once bolder and more polished, proving that growing up sometimes isn't as bad as it's made out to be. —Daniel Kohn

17. Game, Documentary 2 (Blood Money)
In the year of To Pimp a Butterfly and Straight Outta Compton, the Hub City has been portrayed as a home of shattered dreams, broken promises and success stories turned sour. Who better to embody this than Compton’s last gangsta-rap star, who’s spent the last decade straddling the line between self-immolation and self-parody? Game may be a clown to some, but he’s probably the only man who can assemble Dre, Cube, Diddy, Snoop, Kendrick, Drake and Kanye on the same record. In the company of so many collaborators, Game almost becomes a cover artist, seamlessly adopting their flows and themes, weaving together a patchwork tribute to the little city that’s both his hometown and the birthplace of gangsta rap as we know it. Documentary 2 is classic Game in all his name-dropping, punchline-stretching glory, but he's also absorbed Kendrick’s cinematic tendencies, inserting snippets of dialogue to create a sense of place. The familiar samples enhance the nostalgia, and there’s a supplementary disc, Documentary 2.5, almost as good as the first. An event album in the truest sense, Documentary 2 isn’t Game’s best record, but it might be his most important. —Pete Tosiello

16. Best Coast, California Nights (Harvest)
Best Coast are a bit like a game of hopscotch. The strategy is simple: Take a few hops forward, sometimes inside the box, sometimes outside, and with enough practice at the reliable pattern comes enough skill to exercise a little style in your step. 2010’s Crazy for You laid the basics of Best Coast’s game — earnest lyrics about being stoned and in love, interspersed with a few ooh’s and ahh’s, and unbelievably catchy hooks drenched in honey, sunshine and surf. California Nights shows off the tricks Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno have mastered after many run-throughs of that formula since — opening track “Feeling OK” is incredibly polished, while the title track is a hazy, gliding departure from the crunchy pop we’ve come to depend on from the duo. In its familiar patterns, California Nights is as endearing as any Best Coast release to date. —Artemis Thomas-Hansard

15. Talk in Tongues, Alone With a Friend (Fairfax)
Shoegaze is in good hands with these incredibly talented (and incredibly young — when we profiled them in April, no one in the band was over 22) L.A. natives, who cranked up the flanger pedals and vocal harmonies on their shimmering debut. "Mas Doper (Love Me Probably)" reimagines Toro y Moi's lava-lamp chillwave for the Eastside psych-rock crowd; lead single "Still Don't Seem to Care" oozes out of the speakers like a lost Slowdive B-side. McCoy Kirgo and Garrett Zeile's gauzy guitar effects are what first grab you, but repeat listens reveal a muscular rhythm section in bassist Waylon Rector and drummer Bryan De Leon, especially on the casually funky "While Everyone Was Waiting" and the hard-charging "She Lives in My House," a highlight of their live set. Perhaps because of their youth, Talk in Tongues' undeniably retro sound never feels like mere pastiche or rehash — instead, it brims with inspiration and precocious raw talent. —Andy Hermann

The Best L.A. Albums of 2015

14. Dr. Dre, Compton (Aftermath)
Let’s be honest. The fact that Dr. Dre made an album at all, after 16 years of hemming and hawing about Detox — not to mention teasing a concept album he claimed was his “interpretation of what each planet sounds like” (?!) — is cause for celebration. The fact that it was actually good, and not an overstuffed hot mess à la Chinese Democracy, is astounding. But even if we’re not grading on a curve here, there’s a lot to love about Compton. Much of the album is grounded in the youthful vigor of Dre’s newest protégé, Kendrick Lamar, as well as the relative newcomer Anderson .Paak, who came out of left field to steal the album’s spotlight with his soulful and sticky hooks. Meanwhile, Dre turns to old cohorts such as Game, Eminem, Ice Cube, Xzibit and Cold 187um — not to mention samples of Eazy-E and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony — to provide a peek into Dre’s past as well as the history of Los Angeles itself. And as the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton showed, Dre's history and L.A.'s have often been one and the same. —Drew Millard

The Best L.A. Albums of 2015

13. Health, Death Magic (Loma Vista)
After six years with only a remix album and a soundtrack to the Max Payne 3 video game to occupy fans’ attention, DIY heroes Health finally returned, now on the same label as Marilyn Manson and St. Vincent. The band’s blistering, experimental noise is still present on Death Magic; “Men Today” appears early in the collection to calm longtime followers with pulverizing percussion and blown-speaker textures. But what makes the album captivating is the turn to radio-ready structures, with tracks such as “Stonefist” and “Life” delivering the kind of darkwave industrial that KROQ might play if it were a little more adventurous. Death Magic is 2015’s update on the aesthetic of Trent Reznor and the midnight melodies of Depeche Mode, a sound achieved without sacrificing the identity that Health has been honing for a decade, since the band emerged out of the Smell as one of L.A.'s most promising acts. —Philip Cosores

The Best L.A. Albums of 2015

12. Freddie Gibbs, Shadow of a Doubt (ESGN)
Freddie Gibbs is the most believable gangsta rapper working today. It’s the conviction in the Gary, Indiana, native’s voice as much as it is the repetition of the macabre details. Anyone who raps about split keys, emptied clips and closed caskets with such fervency and frequency isn’t lying. Shadow of a Doubt is another hand-to-brick testament. Over suites that temper the unforgiving percussion of trap rap with the swirling atmospherics of cloud rap, Gibbs glides. He relays the felonious with a markedly Midwestern delivery, his fluid double-time direct from Twista, and his melodic half-sung lines borrowed from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. It’s reverent reinterpretation, not paint-by-numbers pastiche. Shadow of a Doubt doesn’t tread any new territory, but it’s a cohesive, meticulously sequenced album that expands the sonic template of contemporary gangsta rap. Given L.A.’s history with the subgenre, it’s only right that the album was made here. —Max Bell

11. Deafheaven, New Bermuda (Anti-)
Deafheaven's floral artillery sounds black metal–ish, but also manages to create something beautiful amid the onslaught of rage. On their third album, New Bermuda, Deafheaven continue to augment metal with their juxtaposition of blinding light and blackness. Singer George Clarke's endless growl blends each song together into one monolithic slab of major-minor chord progressions that quickly go from hazy to pyrotechnic — as if controls are set for the heart of the sun, on a journey from frozen space into fiery doom. Without the need for bridge piercings and faux-Satanist gimmickry, the quintet has managed to gain the respect of black-metal snobs since 2013's critically acclaimed Sunbather. New Bermuda is 47 minutes of painkilling in the key of brutal holiness — like watching a California wildfire soundtracked by medieval opera overtures in an opioid haze. — Art Tavana

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