[Editor's note: Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. Be sure to also check out the archives.]
We are impeccable thieves, transplanting artists both from burgs bearing but a single Waffle House and metropolises where they measure the cold in Celsius. Biggie credited the centripetal pull of L.A. to the weather, the women and the weed. The ability to work was implied. The city has been a music industry magnet since The Byrds baited American teens with “So You Wanna Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star.” Out of that group's five original members, only David Crosby grew up here.
What's new is the subterranean sprawl. Scenes once were easily straitjacketed to Central Avenue, the canyons, the Sunset trip or Whittier Boulevard. Musicians usually recorded for one of a half-dozen labels. If geography is the chief constant, there are now almost as many underground venues, home studios and indie imprints as there are Instagram accounts. No longer are we limited to metaphors about being eight miles high. We can see the fuel firsthand, stained in “Rise” tint.
Of the artists below, only two (Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q) were born in the 213. The rest came after the area codes splintered and live in Topanga, Echo Park, Silver Lake, South L.A., Eagle Rock and elsewhere. They make blue rag-waving gangsta rap and psychedelic garage rock, art-rap lampoons about asymmetrical hipster haircuts and Kraut-rock pop jams. Some make dub reggae, some European house, and others search for the modern sound of soul.
All records were released on independent labels, and their inclusion is colored by my inherent biases (age, gender, zodiac sign, aversion to anything on the Shahs of Sunset soundtrack).
If you're reading this online, you may already be familiar with them. If you're wise enough to steer clear of the Internet echo chamber, it may read as a litany of the obscure. Don't worry about that — you don't need me to tell you about Maroon 5's latest malfeasance.
With six months evaporated, these are my favorite local records of 2012, in alphabetical order and imperfect haiku.
Ab-Soul, Control System (Top Dawg)
The seat of the soul
Spied through weed smoke and dark shades
Hail black lip bastard
Sun Araw & M. Geddes Gengras Meet The Congos, Icon Give Thanks (Rvng Intl.)
Dub cruise disciples
Commune with Kingston legends
True story Jah rules
Tomas Barfod, The Salton Sea (Friends of Friends)
Makes house in Silver Lake house
Party in the USA
Open Mike Eagle, 4NML Hsptl (Four Four)
The Cuckoo's nest opens
Free membership for artists
Bad food but good jokes
Julia Holter, Ekstasis (Rvng Intl.)
Myth via vocoder
Joni Mitchell never lies
Nor does her heir apparent
Nite Jewel, One Second of Love (Secretly Canadian)
Kraftwerk jams with SWV
Heidegger hangs with Mary J
Real love is not weak
Peaking Lights, Lucifer (Mexican Summer)
Madison to L.A.
Couple makes angelic dub
Speak of the devil
Schoolboy Q, Habits & Contradictions (Top Dawg)
Hoover Crip ascends
But keeps hands tight on the wheel
Figg gets the money
Ty Segall & White Fence, Hair (Drag City)
Garage punks unite
Write new Easy Rider anthems
Welcome to jam rock
Nick Waterhouse, Time's All Gone (Innovative Leisure)
Soul man out of time
Muscle Shoals will never die
Happy Days are here