There are so many great bands and talent in the Los Angeles music scene. For me, it’s a major factor in what makes this city the only place I can really see myself living. The opportunities to see so many different acts on the rise from their earliest days is pretty special. In this Best Music of 2016 feature, we recount some of our favorites from the year that we expect to breakout in a major way in 2017.
This rock and soul act had a pretty good thing going in San Francisco as the band enjoyed solid success, selling out mid-sized venues without much effort. But the band decided to move to L.A. and “get out of their comfort zones” as singer Octavio Genera told me at SXSW in Austin this year. They quickly became favorites here, earning radio time on KROQ’s Locals Only show with “Sorry to Say” and just now released their latest, The Ocean Way EP which is strong top to bottom. They had a residency at The Satellite that was well-attended and a perfect showcase for what they do best: put on a killer rock concert. The entire band has swag for days and there are few singers at this level that have as much of it as Genera. They’ve got a Black Keys vibe to them but their songs carry more depth than the Keys’ earliest work. They’re a band that has thrived on word of mouth and in LA it didn’t take long until word traveled that they’re one of the best live shows in the city.
L.A.-based synthpop act Luna Shadows started the year by keeping her identity a secret, slowly releasing tracks once per month that made up her incredible Summertime EP. It’s an epic four-song debut that showcases Luna’s already dialed-in songwriting prowess. It takes many people years to learn how to craft a perfect hook but Luna already seems to have the formula. Her song “Waves” was in as heavy rotation as any song this year for me and the other three songs are no slouches either. Luna got her first two live performances under her belt with August showcases at School Night at Bardot followed by a New York gig. She concluded her year with a special show at Dirty Laundry just this past week. Though she only just now burst onto the scene, I expect her to blow up pretty big sooner rather than later. I’d put her EP up against the debut EP of Halsey in terms of how much potential there is.
This L.A. trio was one of the feel-good stories of Coachella. With little in the way of representation at the time, the band got the call to be one of the last acts added to this year’s bill. They took that early-day set in one of the tents and ran with it, delivering a killer show while dressed in suits, probably sweating their asses off. They have enough material to work through for one, maybe two albums next year based on what the band told Grimy Goods earlier this week. That entire interview is worthy of your eyes for a close and honest reflection on what a big year 2016 was for them and what they see ahead.
This grunge band is currently at a higher level than any of the other acts on this list, but what makes them a breakthrough band is that they are now finally reaching that next tier in their trajectory. With new music on the way in the form of the full-length Apocalipstick (out January 20 via Secretly Canadian), this trio is poised to become headliners beyond just their current L.A. digs. Bandleader Clementine Creevy is a future star and that could be realized with this new album. Her carefree demeanor is no more apparent than in the video for the lead single “Told You I’d Be With the Guys.” They’re another band that if you saw them live, they left an impression. Popular with the Burger Records crowd of young kids, they grew beyond that community in 2016 and are ready to take on the rest of the country.
It’s crazy how a little love from someone with a major social media following can lead to big things for a new band. This LA electropop sibling duo got some big-time exposure before they were even officially a band in 2015 when older brother Chase Duddy used his sister Paige’s vocals on a campaign for Pac Sun for the Jenner sisters. Kylie and Kendall’s fans fell in love with the sound and it was at that response that the two began recording music together on a serious level. With just four songs to their names, XYLØ got some stage time at School Night earlier this year and definitely have the live chops to go with their killer studio sound. Paige’s vocals are pitch perfect and Chase provides lots of depth in terms of production. There are a ton of synthpop duos out there these days, but XYLØ stands out from the rest.
Sticking with the synthpop genre — sorry, I just really love it. Similar to Luna Shadows, Elohim kept her identity under wraps. A producer who has made some dope remixes for Casey Veggies in the past, Elohim’s been making waves on her own. Not that far into her career, she was opening for Louis the Child at two sold-out gigs at the Fonda Theatre just this month. She has the artistry of a Bjork or Grimes. She dropped her debut EP this year, a stellar first effort. She’s got incredible versatility in that her sound will allow her to appear on festival bills and as an opening act from performers of all genres. Just like her identity, her music comes across as extremely calculated — there’s a reason behind every hook and every beat.
Singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers has been playing shows in small venues in LA for years but finally seems poised to make a big splash nationally. After teaming up with Ryan Adams on her debut 7″ single, Bridgers has found an audience touring with the likes of Julien Baker and more recently Conor Oberst. She knows how to write a heartwrenching song and seeing her perform it at the El Rey as an opener for Baker this year was one of the year’s biggest treats. Adams called her “a musical unicorn” that “could make a jar of sand sound like Blood on the Tracks.” That’s quite the praise from one of the folk-Americana genre’s biggest hitters. Bridgers’ music has enough depth and adaptability to cross that genre line into a more straight rock and roll vibe. Her influences are very well reflected in her songwriting style — Elliott Smith, Mark Kozelek, Mitski in particular. My favorite song “Georgia” made me think it was a song Ryan Adams wish he had written immediately after hearing it. Check it out.
Set to release their debut record Feel Your Feelings Fool! (out January 13 via Warner Bros.), this is unlike any other teenage band I’ve ever seen. Band leader Lydia Night knows how to write a great punk anthem and the songs certainly speak to her teenaged peers, as well as anyone who remembers what it was like to navigate high school life. They opened for Sleigh Bells, Kate Nash and others during a big year for the band. I caught their gig at The Echo late in the year and they connect with their audiences better than a lot of bands with twice their experience or more. They’ll head back to The Echo on January 13 for their record-release show. It should get their year off to a massive start, especially considering they’re already with a major label this early in their careers.
Sumney has been playing L.A. venues for several years but really hit his stride in 2016. His two shows at the Cathedral Sanctuary at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in October were regarded as some of the best shows all year by those who attended. He’s a jack-of-all-trades that can make it sound like he’s up there with a bevy of help despite it being a one-man show. His latest EP Lamentations was a major step forward for him. His falsetto is as pitch-perfect as they come. He’s got bits of James Blake in him to go with bits of Erykah Badu. In fact, it was him opening for Badu last year that really put him on my radar for good. His music and demeanor make him one of the most mysterious and enchanting musicians to come across in some time. He’s like an onion and it’ll be great to find out what he’s all about as he begins to peel the layers on his burgeoning career.
CHECK OUT OUR OTHER BEST MUSIC OF 2016 FEATURES SO FAR: