The Best L.A. Musicians, 2014
Photo: MELANIE BELLOMO
We're big boosters of the L.A. music scene, but even considering our undying love for the locals, this has been a banner year.
Los Angeles musicians not only continue to be heralded around the world, they're setting the agenda. And L.A. is not some one trick genre pony, either; across the spectrum, from rock to electronic to hip-hop to Latin to metal to punk, L.A. musicians continues to inspire. Culled from this year's Best Of L.A. issue, here are Los Angeles' best musicians.
PHOTO: ALISSA EVERETT
In an age of six-figure-a-night DJs who play the same 12 songs every time (usually their own), it can be hard to find art and finesse in contemporary electronic dance music. But sets by L.A.house king Marques Wyatt will bring you back to earth, with his nods to New York royalty such as Frankie Knuckles, David Morales and Masters at Work. But he doesn’t neglect the West Coast: Wyatt proved that house still stirs the Angeleno soul when he hosted a summer Made in L.A. party at the Hammer Museum featuring fellow diehards Doc Martin and Raul Campos.The turnout was phenomenal. Give the man credit for bringing house to Santa Monica in the1980s, hosting Knuckles at his legendary Does Your Mama Know weekly party in Hollywoodin 1997, and continuing to prove that EDM can still have soul, via his contemporary partiesknown as Deep L.A. He told us this year that house pioneer Knuckles “allowed this music to be taken seriously,” and the same goes for Wyatt, especially here in Southern California. —Dennis Romero
Open Mike Eagle
Courtesy of the artist
It’s a brilliant, rare thing in hip-hop (or any art form, for that matter) when an artist abandonspretense entirely and settles into himself. Such is the case on Dark Comedy, the latest album from Los Angeles rapper Open Mike Eagle. Though the Project Blowed veteran is still farfrom a household name, over the last year and a half his profile has jumped considerably; he appeared on Marc Maron’s uber-popular podcast and made a hilarious song with comedic it-dude Hannibal Buress, and Dark Comedy is being called one of the year’s best hip-hop albums. (Let’s not even talk about the idiots at Harvard & Stone who wouldn’t let Mike perform there.) It’s not that he wasn’t great before, but he now seems completely at ease with who he is — a struggling, conflicted artist and dad who somehow thrives in an industry that doesn’t know quite what to make of him. You could call his songs indie, or emo, or artsy, but what they really are is mature. That, and joyful to hear. —Ben Westhoff
Photo: Nicholas Pell
Best Punk Band
For those who want punk to be dangerous again ... have you seen Nomads? Nomads area “punk band” in the same way that an intercontinental ballistic missile is a “bomb.” Mix the confrontational aggression of Black Flag with the stripped-down simplicity of English act Discharge with the glorious cacophony of Sweden’s more recent crop of d-beat noisemeisters such as Disfear and Martyrdöd, and you’ve got Nomads, who might just be L.A.’s next big thing. Listening to one of their records is akin to having your eardrums punctured with ananvil. Hearing them live is even more intense. Things get rowdy real fast. Their front man, who just goes by Michael, sings like a man who fully believes each breath might be his last. They play pretty much every weekend (check their site), but you’d best get there early: Their sets frequently clock in at less than 10 minutes. Consider bringing a helmet. —Nicholas Pell
Photo: MELANIE BELLOMO
With a vocal rasp that makes her sound like someone from the ’60s, Jenny O. seems wiser than her 30 years. Then again, her lyrics contain slang such as “I’m never gonna be a proskater ’cause I can’t do tricks and I’m not that sick,” so let’s just call it a wash. What’s clear is that the Silver Lake songstress blends a vintage Laurel Canyon aesthetic with a compellingly modern folk-rock sound, with plenty of witty vocal asides to boot. Plenty of people are taking notice: She’s had songs featured in ad campaigns with Toyota and Target, and has toured with everyone from Ben Harper and Father John Misty to Sixto Rodriguez. A native of New York, she came to L.A. six years ago and started singing with the L.A. Ladies Choir. She still maintains abit of shyness onstage but these days, armed with an acoustic guitar, she has only her twangy, gentle strumming to hide behind. It’s this raw, candid nature that makes her music so refreshing. —Artemis Thomas-Hansard
Best Latin Alternative Musician
At least when it comes to Los Angeles artists, the genre tag “Latin Alternative” usually refers to some sort of cumbia/rock/electronic hybrid. Which is why it has been exciting to see Irene Diaz develop on the scene here, since she’s not easily pigeonholed, melding influences that include blues and soul. At her core, however, Diaz offers quality songwriting, which can be heard on her debut EP, I Love You Madly, which was released after a successful Kickstarter campaign. She emerged as a singer-songwriter only a few years ago and has been featured in national media, including NPR. Her voice has been compared to none other than Ella Fitzgerald, and feels similarly timeless. Her songs are in English, which is just one reason we suspect her music will break out of the Latin scene and be recognized by everyone. —Eddie Cota
PHOTO COURTESY OF PROSTHETIC RECORDS
Best Metal Band
Metal in 2014 has been hopelessly splintered into a million different subgenres. But we love Whittier quartet Exmortus because they play heavy metal — the pure, unadulterated kind. The group members are all in their mid 20s but planted their roots in the field plowed by such ’80s thrash greats as Testament. Simultaneously, guitarist/frontman Jadran “Conan” Gonzalez layers in magnificent neoclassical solos that evoke memories of shred greats like Yngwie Malmsteen, while drummer Mario Moreno complements the sound with powerful riffs; he and Conan are cousins, and the familial bond is evident. The band’s lyrics are quite metal as well— their latest album, Slave to the Sword, is full of fist-pumping odes to warriors engaged in battle. Meanwhile, onstage the quartet display an infectious energy that has countless jaded metalheads remembering why they fell in love with the genre in the first place. —Jason Roche
Best Blues Singer
So many contestants on television talent shows think they can sing the blues — with all that huffing and puffing and twisting of faces into grotesque grimaces, you’d think they were lifting mountains instead of making music. Of course, real blues of any style involves a deep communication between performer and listener, not just theatrics, and that’s where Lawrence Lebo excels. After attending the Grove School of Music and earning her B.A. in music at UCLA — where she studied under jazz legend Kenny Barron — she now teaches blues-vocal workshops at McCabe’s. Her singing displays her talent for the blues. Yes, she can wail up as fierce and fiery a storm as any gospel diva (even after returning to action just weeks after heart surgery last year), but Lebo also purrs and puts a jazzy touch on occasional Western swing rambles. Most impressively, she’s that rare blues musician who writes persuasively authentic original songs, such as “Lawrence’s Working Girl Blues,” her smartly sarcastic answer to Three 6 Mafia’s “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.” —Falling James
Mars and the Massacre
Courtesy of the artist
Best Live Band
The unanimous winners of L.A. Weekly’s best live band contest, Mars and the Massacre throw everything but the kitchen sink into their live performances (and we’re not discounting the possibility of a kitchen sink at a future show). They play psychedelic garage rock, but if you can’t picture that, just know that they really shred. That is, when they’re not drifting off into another stratosphere entirely. Still, their shows feature neither masturbatory noodling nor overblown theatrics; all three members play multiple instruments and they all know what they’re doing, even throwing looping machines and other technical equipment into the mix. Of course, all of this musical mastery would be useless if their shows weren’t entertaining. But, trust us, that is not the case. If there is ever a dull moment, they simply pour blood on themselves. —Ben Westhoff
Best Powerviolence Band
Powerviolence is the ultra-fast, ultra-brutal form of hardcore punk, and it was born right here in California. It’s cool and all, but it’s got one problem: A lot of it can sound the same. The best bands working in the genre, however, get that powerviolence is just another form of hardcore, however extreme, and take diverse cues from acts ranging from SSD and Judge to Capitalist Casualties and Despise You. Deadbeat, hailing from La Mirada and West Covina, are just the type of group we’re talking about. Nurtured in Coachella Valley’s Cathedral of Hardcore scene, they feature catchy riffs, next-level intensity and youthful energy, and they express compelling levels of frustration and rage. It all makes for a heady brew, and the act is sure to be part ofthe next chapter in L.A.’s storied hardcore punk history. Deadbeat offers no gimmicks and no bullshit — just ugly, brutal hardcore for ugly, brutal people to do ugly, brutal things to. —Nicholas Pell
Courtesy of the label
Last year local gloom rockers Jail Weddings released their second full-length, Meltdown — A Declaration of Unpopular Emotion, a perhaps too-optimistic assessment of the songs within. The eight-member collective journeyed to hell and back to make the work (in the process they lost members, went nuts, spent all their money, etc.) and you can hear it in the songs, which range from bleakly optimistic to bleakly bleak. But there’s something true and earnest in frontman Gabriel Hart’s vocals — and the molded, orchestral backing tracks. For this reason, the work is actually quite inspiring so long as you’re in the right mood. In any case, on an indie landscape full of ugly snarkiness, it’s downright refreshing to hear a group performing from the heart. Even if said heart happens to be broken. —Ben Westhoff
See what other incredible things our city has to offer in this year's Best of L.A. issue.
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