The best albums of 2011 from Los Angeles artists came from a suitably diverse Angeleno cast of characters; there are rappers and singers, legends and transplants, folks with great careers in front of them, and those who may have peaked this year. One thing's clear: it was unquestionably a great twelve months for local music. Without more ado, then, here is our list, voted on by West Coast Sound's music writers.
10. Hanni El Khatib
Will the Guns Come Out
If you're looking to break a bottle over someone's head, be sure and slip Hanni El Khatib on the turntable first. The hot-blooded debut from this bluesy garage act oozes raw menace. Armed with only a guitar and his drummer Nicky Yaryan, Hanni El Khatib's raspy, whisky-soaked voice sings of destruction ("Build. Destroy. Rebuild.") confrontation ("Dead Wrong") passion ("Loved One") and defeat ("Fuck it. You win"). Hell, even the Louis Armstrong cover "You Rascal You" sounds like it's going to bite. -Molly Bergen
9. Dum Dum Girls
Only In Dreams
While Dum Dum Girls' debut Blissed Out was born from the same lo-fi scene as Best Coast, Wavves and Vivian Girls, their second album Only In Dreams emerged as the thoughtful, substantive answer to their peers. Most notably, frontwoman Dee Dee casts off the shackles of reverb to reveal a deep and nuanced voice that takes notes from Chrissie Hynde. That kind of strength and clarity proves necessary on somber, guitar-drenched tracks like "Coming Down," a song that will leave you doing the same. -Andrea Domanick
For more on Dum Dum Girls see: A Girl Group of One
Family & Friends
The first solo album on Anticon from Chicago-transplant rapper Serengeti is devastating when it's not hilarious; tales of secret polygamy and deadbeat fathers are often played for laughs. Featuring guest vocals from Why?'s Yoni Wolf and production from other members of his collective, it's perhaps Serengeti's starkest and cleanest work. The easy melodies and sharp humor make you forget that, at bottom, Family & Friends is a story of a man's life melting down. -Ben Westhoff
For more see: Free Download: Serengeti's "Tracks"
7. Crystal Antlers
Two Way Mirror
Crystal Antlers weren't supposed to stick around. Cochlear-cracking contemporary psych-rock bands typically disintegrate from the vibrations of sharp noise and short money. Especially after their original label Touch & Go folded, the press moved onto the next band with "Crystal" in their name, and lead singer Jonny Bell had to get a day job as a chimney sweep. But the Long Beach quintet managed to return with the elegant destruction of Two Way Mirror, a splintering antidote to the soft-bearded yawps of popular indie rock. It's loud, obtusely tuneful, and boasts an ideal SoCal balance of soot and sunlight. -Jeff Weiss
For more see: Crystal Antlers: Best L.A. Rock Album So Far This Year?
Bad Vibes sounds like Mount Kimbie snapping D'Angelo out of a potato chip coma and forcing him to teach them his secrets. 21-year old local wunderkind Henry Laufer had one frozen San Francisco summer and alchemized it into the beat scene's best album of 2011. But the emotion in Bad Vibes is universal. This could have been made anywhere blood feels tainted and brains feel feverish and hazy. It's electronic R&B out of the ashes of ruined love, made for those whose heads are ready to pop. -Jeff Weiss
5. Lucinda Williams
Blessed is a survivor's tale, with Lucinda Williams having found the joy that had been taken from her. She expresses her hard-won happiness on songs like "Sweet Love" and "Kiss Like Your Kiss." However, Williams still delves into dark corners, on the Vic Chesnutt-inspired "Seeing Black" and the grim "Soldier's Tale." While not a career-maker like Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, Blessed ranks up with World Without Tears as a powerful work from a mature artist looking life squarely in the eyes. -Michael Berick
The Golden Age Of Apocalypse
Known for his involvement in both thrash metal band Suicidal Tendencies and Flying Lotus' celestial jazz collective, bass guitar prodigy Thundercat's solo debut The Golden Age Of Apocalypse is as diverse as his resume. Ranging from Brainfeeder-inspired electro dissonance to '80s-tinged groove tracks, the work isn't so much a single statement as a sprawling showcase of bass virtuosity. With its intermittently sensitive and subtle jazz inflections counterbalanced with thunderous, expansive riffs, Golden Age demonstrates why Thundercat is one of the most prolific and sought-after musicians in Los Angeles right now. -Chris Walker
3. Zola Jesus
Like a mighty glacier, Zola Jesus' Conatus evokes a bizarre and desolate landscape, cold yet alive and in perpetual motion. The Latin word conatus means 'will to live,' after all. The follow up to her much-lauded Stridulum EP, this is the anti-L.A. record, with its bleak, Siouxsie meets-Schopenhauer synthpop providing melancholy respite from the sweetly dissonant surf pop pouring out of this city of late. If L.A. is the city of endless summer, then Zola Jesus reminds us that we can't escape the winter inside, with songs like the titanic "Collapse" tailor-made for chilly mornings at the edge of the abyss. But despite all the cathartic introspection, don't confuse Zola Jesus for a pessimist. Like the girl with the dragon tattoo, her triumphant, undefeated stance assures us that she will survive the cold. - Caroline Ryder
2. Tyler, the Creator
You'd be hard-pressed to find a review of Tyler, the Creator's sophomore album Goblin that doesn't mention "shock value." But for all its hyperbole and hormone-fueled aggression, the most shocking thing about Goblin is its honesty; it's an unapologetic confessional of self-loathing, sexual deviancy and daddy issues. But Tyler is also self-aware enough to mock that world, and for that reason Goblin doubles an incisive critique of normative culture. There's a reason, after all, Odd Future shows draw fans of all colors and orientations to chant in pissed-off unity. Throw in Tyler's guttural flow and the stunning production, and you've got one of hell of a soundtrack for the outcasts and weirdos of the Internet generation. -Andrea Domanick
1. Kendrick Lamar
The rapper most likely to inherit the West Coast's throne followed up last year's breakout record, (O)verly (D)edicated, with a more thematically-cohesive effort. The lyrics on Section 80 from Compton's pride and joy are haunted by the visions that torment his heart. Whether spitting over a free-base jazz beat on "Ab-Soul's Outro," observing Long Beach Blvd's never-dared-to-dream girls in "Keisha's Song (Her Pain)," or painting a blood-splattered, crack pipe-littered portrait of the CPT in "Ronald Reagan Era," Lamar raps like he's just come down from the mountain. He didn't make the feel-good album of the year. Instead, he thrust his fist into the air and asked us to join him. -Rebecca Haithcoat
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