The spectrum of sound generated by today’s SoCal artists in 2018 would be enough to fill a book, let alone a list. From the brash and adventurous to the meek and minimal, the artists both in and of Orange County and surrounding areas definitely hit us with some heat in these turbulent times that helped us forget the world outside when we tuned in to listen. Throughout the year there were a handful of artists from our corner of the world that took the lost art of the album to new heights and left our ears ringing with praise. Here now are just a few of the best albums the Weekly’s music writers picked as the best of the year.
It’s not nostalgia that led us to put Thrice on my best of 2018 list. On Palms, their second album since returning from hiatus in 2015, the foursome churned out songs that are classic Thrice, with the heavy riffs, introspective lyrics and post-emo ballads that helped shape many a millennial adolescence in Orange County and beyond.
There’s still experimentation with synths (“Only Us”), samples (“Blood on Blood”), and ballads (“Everything Belongs”), plus some cool easter eggs: Emma Ruth Rundle sings on a song, and another features more than 1,000 backing vocalists. But the core of what makes Thrice Thrice — heavy, bluesy songs, solid guitar riffs, lyrics seeking spirituality — is at the heart of Palms. “The Grey” carries the album, and as one of Thrice’s heaviest releases, sounds like it could have been in The Artist in the Ambulance or The Illusion of Safety. “My Soul” wouldn’t have been out of place in Beggars.
Thrice has come a really long way from its emo roots, and it’s easy to say that they’ve gone full-on dad rock in Palms. It’s not everyone’s favorite or most groundbreaking album for possibly that reason — the album’s ballads, such as “Everything Belongs,” are some of the most memorable and likable songs. Maybe it’s due to the fact that Thrice’s fans have matured alongside the band, and for fans who’ve grown up with Thrice, that reflection of growth and experience is much appreciated.
Pacific Dub, Guide You Home
I’m a big fan of Pacific Dub, even though their album Guide You Home, released in May 2018, pays tribute to pretty much like each and every one of its stoner-beach-rock antecedents: Sublime, Slightly Stoopid, Dirty Heads, Rebelution.
From lead singer Colton Place’s white-boy-whine to the references to breezy Cali surf vibes in its hip-hop-reggae-punk stoner songs, Pacific Dub misses not a beat in their 11-song offering. And, oddly enough, the fact that they’re so loyal to their influences doesn’t make the set terrible … in fact, it’s even better for it. The songs in Guide You Home suck you into a feeling of jamais vu — which translates to “never seen,” that feeling when something happens which seems like it should be familiar but isn’t. (I.e., the opposite of deja vu)
Instead, they’re a natural extension of the Sublime or Dirty Heads or Slightly Stoopid album that you always wanted but can’t possibly have. And, in true millennial fashion, the songs are also slicker and sweeter than ones from other bands in the genre — “Reaching,” “Same Old Story,” and “Don’t Tell Me” are prime examples. It’s hard to believe that the songs were mixed and mastered in bassist Nathan Ueda’s home studio, given the polish on each track. Definitely an album for the road trip down PCH, and definitely wouldn’t be out of place beside a Bradley Nowell song.
— Lilledeshan Bose
Vince Staples, FM!
If you have ever turned up at a flyer backyard party where there is a dusty ass NOS tank in the back and the party gets eventually rolled by the police when either a) punches get thrown, b) a stabbing or c) a gun gets pulled, this album is for you. FM by Vince Staples is a dark phantasmagoria of vignettes about the gang life, LBC summertime, and dark humor packed into a pure mellifluous flow and told through the narrative structure of the radio show, Big Boy’s Neighborhood.
Stand out tracks are rampant on the short and hard FM. On “Outside” Staples reps a gun knowledge, over a hardened Nyan Cat Theme sample, that would make the NRA blush, “Summertime” is a perfect party banger even if you’re not about that gang life, and in “FUN!”, Staple’s wordplay on top of a fire beat — that is reminiscent of Potion by Ludacris — is the epitome of his rap finesse. FM is one part concept album and one part banger’s r’ us and is the quintessential album for the all non-gentrified areas in so-cal.
Sonoda, Karaoke Life
Lisa Sonoda started releasing music on Bandcamp as a solo artist while at UC Irvine. She built soundscapes and loops influenced by Beach House, Angel Olsen, and Broadcast. Now based in L.A, Sonoda’s new music shows how far she has progressed from diary-like self-releases. Although reminiscent of her musical influences, Sonoda gives her own music a unique twist and bestows to it her own vision.
Her second release through Never Anything Records, Karaoke Life, is sewn together by her lyrical minimalism, Tibetan singing bowls, and a six-piece backing band — made up of the Young Lovers band — that can turn the sonic tapestries that she made in her bedroom into floaty euphonious realities. This album takes the listener into a beautifully produced sonic journey that invokes zen like self-contemplation. Karaoke Life shows us that the DIY scene isn’t all surf rock, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and mosh pits but also lush tapestries of sounds you can chill out to.
Young the Giant, Mirror Master
At this point in their career, fans hoping for Young the Giant to create the same boisterous indie alt pop that encapsulated their early years, in particular through songs like “My Body” and “Cough Syrup,” well, those days are long gone. Now on album four, the quintet has evolved. Focusing on themes that tackle technological reliance, social media, and with a sound that fused elements of prog-rock, soft rock, new wave, dance rock, Mirror Master is unlike anything the band has released before. A focused, mature Young the Giant dazzled crowds — in particular, a sterling local spot at September’s Ohana Fest in Dana Point — it showed that not only did their new album (which was released in October) resonate with the audience, but proved that they’re not going away anytime soon, and are proving to be one of the area’s more lasting bands of the past decade or so.
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Upside Down Flowers
The driving force behind the pop-punk outfits Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin – returned this year with his third effort for his Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness project.
“Upside Down Flowers,” released Nov. 16 via Fantasy Records, offers 11 tracks with a piano-driven, synth-pop sound and vivid lyrics, some based off true stories while others are fiction from the Dana Point native’s imagination. The release presents a more mature McMahon than the teen who once sang songs that told off a high school bully and asked a girl to be his “Punk Rock Princess.”
The new album’s first single, “Ohio,” expresses a longing of returning to the west coast, while “Teenage Rockstars” appears to recount McMahon’s own journey to stardom back when he attended Dana Hills High School.
Other notable tracks include “Monday Flowers,” which tells a woeful tale of love gone wrong, and “House in the Trees,” in which McMahon recounts friendships and stories of travel. McMahon’s daughter – the namesake for the singer/songwriter’s hit song, “Cecelia and the Satellite” – is the loving subject of the lullaby-like tune, “This Wild Ride.”
The disc, produced by alternative rock musician Butch Walker, is a noteworthy follow-up to last year’s “Zombies on Broadway” and 2014’s self-titled release. Some songs hint at influences by fellow piano rockers Billy Joel and Elton John, while others, like “Goodnight Rock and Roll,” are reminiscent of McMahon’s pop-punk roots.