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The Ten Best L.A. Albums of 2012

Julia Holter
Julia Holter

Los Angeles music was a big part of the national conversation this year, from Frank Ocean and Miguel's artisan R&B to Top Dawg Entertainment's hip-hop dominance to the electronic inspirations of Flying Lotus and Gaslamp Killer. Picking but ten albums from this crop as the West Coast Sound writers have was not easy, but we did it for you dear reader because, as Drake once said, you the fucking best. -Ben Westhoff

10. White Arrows

Dry Land Is Not a Myth

White Arrows' music does not sound much like "tropical crunk," despite how lead singer Mickey Schiff described it to us last year. Nope, it's pretty much standard issue white guy indie rock circa now, with guitars, bass, and some electronic flourishes. But

what melodies! Nearly every Dry Land Is Not a Myth track is an earworm, with Schiff's unusual, enchanting voice giving emphasis to odd vowels, creating intrigue by disguising words. Which is to say: Who knows what he's saying, but we love what he's saying. -Ben Westhoff

See also: White Arrows Singer Mickey Schiff Was Blind, But Now He Sees (Literally)

9. Julia Holter

Ekstasis

The best way to stay sane amidst the smog and suffocating traffic of Los Angeles is to keep a record ready in case you want to escape into the nearest canyon. The further out the better: Temescal, Rustic, Topanga, Mandeville. Any place where you can spot the occasional hitchhiker and entertain your delusion of jettisoning your cramped apartment for a mountain hermitage. This is where Julia Holter's Ekstasis comes in. The sophomore album from the pallid pretty CalArts grad sounds like the soundtrack to an Alain Resnais adaptation of "The Faerie Queen." Allusions to French New Wave co-exist with lyrical fragments borrowed from Euripides, Virgina Woolf and Frank O' Hara. Robotic vocoders mesh with seraphic human vocals. It feels like a vacation to a festival in a primeval forest where an ancestral chorus of Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell chant on. It's a reminder that you can disappear any time you want to, provided you turn off onto the right road. -Jeff Weiss

8. Miguel

Kaleidoscope Dream

Though rising R&B star Miguel honed his craft with the Art Dealer Chic series, he mastered it on Kaleidoscope Dream with intoxicated love jams oozing self-assurance. His falsetto is sharp, and at its best ("Do You...," "The Thrill," "Candles in the Sun") the work is a brilliant fusion of modern soul and psychedelic rock. Even at its worst, it's a pretty good reminder that, between him and Frank Ocean, introspective R&B is in pretty good hands. -Marcus Arman

See also: Miguel Finds His Place: A rare R&B bird, he falls in somewhere between the hipsters and the mainstream

7. Gypsyhawk

Revelry & Resilience

Pasadena's Gypsyhawk takes the rock guitar riffage of '70s greats like Thin Lizzy and injects it with a little bit of speed, making it a powerful beast. The guitar harmonies of Andrew Packer and Erik Kluiber may make asses shake, but don't mistake this for dumbass butt rock. The whisky-soaked rasps of bassist-vocalist Eric Harris provide an edge to lyrics inspired by science and fantasy novels, taking the listener on what can only be described as a fantastic rock and roll voyage. -Jason Roche

6. Nick Waterhouse

Time's All Gone

Time's All Gone is all about the way the groove hits you: The slink in your hips when you walk through the door at the bar and they're playing your song, and your eyebrow arch when the bass wriggles up your spine. The lyrics, meanwhile, have just enough sass to slap you around a little -- but you'll enjoy the sting. Nick Waterhouse has built a vintage sound that might have scared parents had it seen release in the early 1960s. Songs like "Is That Clear" and "Some Place" might qualify as old fashioned rock n' roll, but what ain't broke ain't worth fixing. -Molly Bergen

See also: Nick Waterhouse: The Young Man Who Makes Old R&B

5. Fidlar

Fidlar

If you squeezed Fidlar's self-titled, full-length debut hard enough it would dispense a bounty of six-packs, cigarettes, small bags of blow, and some tacos. The work is full of snarky punk anthems that ring particularly true in these weak economic times. Standout tracks like "Wake Bake Skate," "Cocaine" and "Cheap Beer" tell tales of folks without jobs, phones, or, really, lives. Among the apathy and debauchery is a fairly simple message: there's no work, so let's get fucked up.

*Yes, officially this album doesn't come out until January, but the band were selling copies at their record release party in October, so we're counting it. -Molly Bergen

See also: Fidlar Are Drunk, Reckless and Proud of It

4. Ancestors

In Dreams and Time

The sophomore album from Ancestors is a 66-minute journey, one where heavy doom metal eventually infiltrates a Pink Floyd record. Songs that might otherwise come off as tepid prog-rock are given extra weight by vocalist-guitarist Justin Maranga's hearty bellows and sludgy riffs, which mix quite well with excellent Moog work by Matt Barks. The combination of these elements provides a seriously compelling listen. -Jason Roche

3. Schoolboy Q

Habits & Contradictions

If Schoolboy Q's 2011 debut, Setbacks, was about overcoming the trappings of a tough life, his sophomore effort, Habits & Contradictions, shows the rapper reveling in it. The album also provides a snapshot of the rougher sides of L.A. street life: drug-dealing, gang-banging, sex, betrayal, and nights spent high and drunk. But at the end is some remorse and the hope for a better future. Q's versatility is unparalleled, and though he may have been overshadowed this year by his crewmate Kendrick Lamar, there's no question that he is helping redefine the sound of L.A. hip-hop. -Quibian Salazar-Moreno

See also: Schoolboy Q's Questions and Answers: He didn't know what to do with his life. Rap was the last resort

2. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti

Mature Themes

It's pointless trying to figure out if Ariel Pink is being sincere or not, because he is and isn't simultaneously. Equally the lady of his dreams and the shemale hopped up on meth are part of his musical consciousness; his love for each character alike is as boundless as it is provisional. Mature Themes is more accessible than his previous works, but only to the extent that the listener is willing to put aside both irony and earnestness. -Ben Westhoff

See also: Ariel Pink Is the King of Whatever: Raised in Beverly Hills, he became the preeminent Eastside satirical musical madman

1. Kendrick Lamar

good kid, maad city

A few weeks ago, I was talking to an indie-leaning friend about how she couldn't stop playing good kid, m.A.A.d. city. When I asked why, her answer was simple: "I relate to it." I'd never even heard her mention a rap song before, but she proceeded to tell me about how even her most hardcore punk friends were absorbed by the "true ass stories told by Kendrick Lamar on Rosecrans." From Pirus in Compton to Persians in Beverly Hills, surfers in Malibu to Echo Park beardos, Dr. Dre's protégé played in every car stereo and iPod, on Power 106 and KDAY. Old school hip hop heads and the hype beast Fairfax hordes could agree that Kendrick was an appropriate soundtrack for any function. In 2012 he achieved a ubiquitous appeal unseen in L.A. since 'Pac died. Songs about racial profiling, poverty, alcoholism, violence, home invasions, greed, contrition, and good vibes all combined for the best combination of musicality and lyricism since Outkast. It appealed to our angels and devils, our regional pride and our internecine conflicts. Ratchet might have ruled the clubs, but Kendrick felt the realest. It was the album that anyone could relate to -- except Sherane. -Jeff Weiss

See also: 2012 Was a Landmark Year in L.A. Hip-Hop

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