The 20 Best OC Albums of 2015

Phora
Phora
Photo by George Orozco

It's about that time again—when we finally yank off our headphones at the Weekly and take a step back to examine and analyze what we've been stuffing into our eardrums over the past 12 months. Considering the high volume of music (both the amount and the decibel level) dropped into our inboxes everyday, it's enough to make our heads explode. Thankfully, 2015 furnished us with a wide variety of artists who decided to bare down and create a slew of albums that were undeniable standouts, either because of their intoxicating earmworminess, their ability to shake things up or  just make us smile. Those who dismiss OC as a musical wasteland have no concept of the amount of aural power harnessed within our borders. There were some hard choices to make and definitely more we could have thrown on if we were masochistic enough to push this list to 50. The only thing we can say is that the criteria for the 20 albums we've chosen isn't exactly scientific, but still a good enough indicator of what albums had our fingers glued on the repeat button this year. 

20. Red Curtain
Red Curtain
There’s a pretty remarkable high when you hear a song  for the first time that demands to be blared throughout your speakers. We had that somewhat unexplainable "fuck yeah" feeling listening to the first track “Broken Glass” off Red Curtain’s, self titled, debut album. Devan Fuentes (vocals/guitar), Will Saba (drums), Conner (guitar) and Nadya (bass) are from San Clemente and often perform at DIY venues in Orange County. Fuentes’ vocals resemble Jordan Pundnik of New Found Glory, the band's guitar and drum solo’s often feel like a melodic, emo, trance that quickly hinge on the genre of alternative rock as the album progresses.  (Taylor Morgan)

19. Pedestrian
Healthy Ways to Die

This month marks the release of Pedestrian’s second album Healthy Ways to Die via Sun Terrace Records. “It’s an album with a lot of post rock influence, such as Explosions In The Sky, as well as heavy alternative bands like Brand New and Manchester Orchestra” Irfan Qadeer writes. In 2012 Lee Lizotte (bass), Logan English (vocals/guitar), Luke Feilberg (vocals/guitar) and Qadeer (drums) began jamming together. Today you can find them performing in intimate settings like Art Supply Co. in San Clemente, Los Rios Rock School in San Juan Capistrano and a whole lot of crazy house shows in their home town of Laguna Niguel. Healthy Ways to Die is hauntingly magnificent and explores everything from Antarctica to human beings just trying to get by. Be sure to catch their record release show December 19th at Los Rios Rock School in SJC. (Taylor Morgan)

18. Tunnels
Formula

Tunnels' debut album Formula, “is an exploration, reflection and response to being overwhelmed by life, girls, the local music scene, drugs, love, death, friendship and living in the moment” their bandcamp reads. Eric Jensen (guitar/vocals), Eddie Merk (bass/vocals) and Matt Swedo (drums/percussion) have created an acid punk, fuzzy, groove with hilarious lyrics that nod to life behind the Orange Curtain. Formula was recorded in three hours, in the “every-so-roomy bedroom of Isiah Rolow's” and “many of the songs on the album were inspired by Laguna Beach or my local community pool,” Jensen says.
You can catch them performing at Top Acid, a gallery in Downtown Santa Ana, Max Bloom’s Café Noir in Fullerton and Knuckleheads in San Clemente. As for 2016 Tunnels has another album brewing that will be a little more experimental. This will commence when the band members are not eating chicken enchiladas, playing chess, waiting tables at Wind & Sea, hiking trails through Cleveland National Forest and slaving away at Outback. (Taylor Morgan)

The 20 Best OC Albums of 2015EXPAND
Carl Pocket

17. MELTED
Ziptripper

There's nary a song on MELTED's latest album Ziptripper that makes it to the three-minute mark, so they don't waste time hitting you with their loud and fast pop punk songs like a wallop. “Still Waiting” is the album's boisterous opener and sets the tone for the following songs with its furious guitar shredding and Justin Eckley's bat-out-of-hell wail. Released through Burger and Lolipop Records, there's plenty of angst-ridden lyrics about restlessness, bad love, loneliness and self-loathing within Ziptripper to relate to disillusioned youths everywhere, while the upbeat, garage-tinged, surf punk stylings prevent it from seeming overly nihilistic. For this Anaheim trio's first full-length release, they're clearly reveling in providing energetic, mosh-friendly jams that are the norm for Burger and Lolipop bands, but there's a freshness in MELTED's music that won't erode with time. Tracks “25 Years,” and “Pepper and Milk” will especially send you into maximum overdrive. (Aimee Murillo)

 16. Media Jeweler
$99 R/T Hawaii

2015 has been a solid year for Anaheim's Media Jeweler, who—in between rocking stages from LA's The Smell and New York's Shea Stadium— released their brash and eccentric $99 R/T Hawaii album in September. Thematically, the album navigates through a weary escapist worldview with song titles such as 'No Exit,' 'Autopilot' and 'Passport Invalid,' maintained by a tension-riddled, frenetic sound bolstered by a slick combo of math rock, post rock, funk and jazz influences. But to label the group in any one genre would be a fool's errand, since the members bring in various songwriting styles drawn from their individual musical backgrounds in punk and experimental bands. There's an overriding sense of anxiety and eventual catharsis through controlled bursts of energy in varying intervals in the most unpretentious way, as well as a pervading wittiness that inspires pure glee. Though these guys may view fantastical travel offers for cheap getaway trips as absurd, it doesn't mean they'll shy away from exploring new sonic worlds in their music. (Aimee Murillo)

15. Alice Wallace
Memories, Music & Pride

In the whirlwind of punk and indie acts performing around Orange County, it’s rare to see a country artist kicking up dust like Alice Wallace. The Fullerton-based singer/songwriter debuted Memories, Music & Pride in October and the album has spawned gigs from Nashville to Portland. Built on Wallace’s classic country style but infused with a flirty, modern vibe, eleven-tracks showcase her vocal range and matured songwriting. While she still makes room for her trademark yodel on a cover of Patsy Montana’s “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” the remaining original tracks are a melodic glimpse into life on the road. Now three albums into her career, Wallace's confidence is apparent on “Rough Around The Edges,” a vocally rich ballad about finding love while touring. She kicks up the tempo and the attitude on “I Just Don’t Care Anymore” where country meets rhythm and blues. Whether charming folks at honky tonks in Texas or playing to a hometown crowd that swaps out flip-flops for cowboy boots, Wallace is on an upward swing and gaining momentum. (Heidi Darby)

14. Tijuana Panthers
POSTER

The fourth album by Long Beach’s Tijuana Panthers, POSTER, could be described simply enough as more of the same. Since their first three albums, Max Baker, Semi-Sweet and Wayne Interest, barely reach 100 minutes of music combined, though, their fans should be fine with that. The surf-punk trio have chilled out a bit since Max Baker was released five years ago, but the snarling vocals from bassist Dan Michicoff and head-wobbling backbeat from drummer Phil Shaheen are as urgent as ever. On POSTER, TJP has snuck a bit more confidence and grown-up soul to their reverb-soaked jangle. From the opening guitar strut of “Foolish,” the band seems ready to explore deeper and stranger sounds, reaching out for psychedelia and country twang in equal portions. The Panthers haven’t forgotten how to get down, though - the bass overdrive that starts “Front Window Down” is a particular favorite. Finally, to guitarist Chad Wachtel’s 50’s-dad mustache - we see you, bro. Keep fighting the good fight. (Kyle Cavaness)

The 20 Best OC Albums of 2015
Courtesy of Voices of Ruin

13. Voices of Ruin
Born From the Dark

Coming back with a second album, Born From the Dark, Orange County’s up-and-coming extreme metal band Voices of Ruin offer a thrash-fueled death metal attack that is equal parts barbarity and melody. Voices of Ruin features vocalist Dave Barrett and his brother Tom Barrett on Guitar, additional guitarist Steve Calton, drummer Lonnie Vanhorn and bassist Wallace Myers. The album’s eight tracks take listeners on down the death metal tour of a post apocalyptic world. The artwork was done by artist Par Olofsson (Immortal, Exodus, Immolation, Abysmal Dawn). According to the band, although the album has no direct theme, most of the song lyrics focus on the struggles of life, living in fear, psychotic religious groups, and the inevitable fact of Death. Born From the Dark also featured a music video for the song, "Death’s Design," which was featured on Metal Injection. (Alex Distefano)

12. Aloha Radio
California Scheming

OC has no shortage of reggae and roots music. And actually, some of it is damn good! But a lot of it sounds the same. Everywhere you look, there are groups of tank top-wearing bros of all types combining their favorite reggae sounds with some faster punk rock and rap elements. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s hard for anything to stand out from the crowd when it all sounds kind of like Slightly Stoopid. Aloha Radio broke that mold with both of their albums this year (California Scheming and Stoked and Broke), as the four-piece took the working recipe and added some extra spice in the form of charismatic frontwoman Lauren Mulderrig. Although both albums are worth listening to, California Scheming contains just the right blend of chill reggae vibes with poppy rock tunes to please both roots fans and top 40 listeners alike. They haven’t blown up just yet, but Aloha Radio sounds like what should be playing in most dorm rooms on lazy afternoons. After opening for Shwayze this summer, it seems like they’re already halfway there. (Josh Chesler)


11. FISSURE
FISSURE (Split with Final Draft)

Clocking in at a total 4 minutes and 43 seconds, local powerviolence sweethearts FISSURE dropped a split that even the most cynically ardent critic of hardcore will respect. Released on vinyl through the Italian press Grindpromotion Records, six heavy, sludgy, and grinding jams occupy one side of a 7” that has received local and international praise. The Stanton- based foursome have been at it since 2012, releasing a string of EPs and touring steadily, locally hitting up both radical DIY spots like Riverside’s Blood Orange Infoshop and more mainstream establishments like Los Angeles’s Echoplex. FISSURE manages to play powerviolence in a way that doesn’t make it sound like a caricature of itself while still having a sense of humor. Every track hits hard, and their song writing reads as intentional not stereotypical. This record shreds, its no wonder why FISSURE patches have replaced those tired old '90s street punk bands on crust kids vests across the county. Cue the punk police to challenge my credentials! (Candace Handsen)

10. Storeetellers
The Royal Baeby

Moving between pop punk, blues, radio pop, and Latin jazz, Storeetellers debut full length The Royal Baeby manages to blend multiple genres into 12 relatable and catchy tracks that take inspiration from ‘80s and ‘90s power pop groups while totally subverting contemporary notions of what it means to be a “girl band” from Southern California. Lingering between a declaration and an apology, The Royal Baeby lyrically takes on identity, circumstance, relationships, and sorrow with humor and lush yet sometimes brooding harmonies sung by all four members. Musically, Storeetellers versatile chops really hold the whole thing together; pulling off transitions from Latin feels to punk breakdowns. The entire record is on point, polished and layered, familiar yet challenging, featuring rock instrumentation accompanied by horns, shakers, and percussion. After forming in 2014, Storeetellers have honed their chops and relentlessly pounded the So Cal pavement, proving themselves to be a local staple to watch. (Candace Hansen)

9. Rudy de Anda
Ostranenie

Conceived in Mexicali, born in Watts, and raised in Long Beach, Rudy de Anda is the diversity of today’s Southern California personified. So it should come as no surprise that when the frontman for Long Beach’s psych-prog wunderkids Wild Pack of Canaries wanted to record some songs he’d written by himself, he entrusted the project to a local legend also known for a penchant for cultural crossover — the late, great, much-missed Ikey Owens. Owens helped record and mix Ostranenie before his untimely death last October and the five-track record’s release this summer was not only a reminder of his talent but also a testament to de Anda’s potential as a solo artist. Named after a 20th century concept when an artist presents something common in a new light, Ostranenie lets de Anda’s pleasant pop songs — usually hidden by layers of sonic texture with Wild Pack —take a stripped-down approach that utilizes lo-fi guitar work, jazzy spazz and Avi Buffalo-like earnestness to make an album of occasionally Spanish-language songs inspired by the Beach Boys, but decidedly of today’s SoCal scene. (Sarah Bennett)

The 20 Best OC Albums of 2015
Bryan Sheffield

8. Sublime With Rome
Sirens

For the second album of their second act (well, sort of) Sublime With Rome headed deep into the heart of Texas with drummer extraordinaire Josh Freese to build on the touring force they've become in recent years. The result wasn't the smash that the earlier incarnation was once known for, but instead a solid collection that sees the band steadily feeling each other's strengths and weaknesses, and the comfort that comes with, in spite of its name, being a new band. Above anything else, Sirens is a great jumping off point for a band that isn't relying on nostalgia; instead looking to a bigger brighter reggae rock future that uses its name as a mission statement rather than a crutch. (Daniel Kohn)

7. Free the Robots x Opio
Sempervirens

It’s not often that Orange County gets to count one of L.A.’s top exports as its own, but for the better part of a decade, Free the Robots’ Chris Alfaro has been one of the most consistently sought-after members of L.A.’s influential beat scene. The Santa Ana native — who until a few years ago could also be found doing double duty as DJ and server at his restaurant The Crosby — performs his bappy fusion of jazz, psych, electronic bass and even Krautrock for audiences around the world, pushing himself further into washed-out sonic worlds with each album. For Sempervirens, Alfaro’s latest, the beatmaker teamed up with Oakland rapper Opio, who came up in the experimental ‘90s hip-hop scene by working witty, articulate rhymes for the seminal hip-hop group Souls of Mischief and the Heiroglyphics crew. Sempervirens is an unlikely collaboration, perhaps, especially for being Alfaro’s first attempt at making beats for rapping over not bumping instrumental on a stoney Sunday afternoon. But it’s a union of California talents that ultimately works, with Alfaro’s deftness with his arsenal of samples laying the foundation for 13 old-school-meets-new-beat-scene hip-hop tracks. (Sarah Bennett)

6. Zebrahead
Walk the Plank

They formed almost two decades ago in Orange County when the genre of ska-punk was blazing. They strayed from trending tunes and created their own niche in the music industry with punk-rap.This year, Ben Osmundson aka Ozz (bass), Ed Udhus (drums), Dan Palmer (guitar), Matty Lewis (vocals/guitar) and Ali Tabatabaee (co-vocalist) released their 10th studio album, Walk the Plank. The album was recorded in Orange with Paul Miner at Buzzbomb Studio and features acoustic guitar, instrumental interludes and of course memorable riffs. Zebrahead tours in Japan, come February, and have additional tour dates slated for this spring and summer in the U.S. and Europe. (Taylor Morgan)

The 20 Best OC Albums of 2015

5. Endz
Live Free

In representing a hip-hop collective whose ethos is growth, rapper Endz can ill afford to be formulaic and predictable. The Orange-based emcee thrived outside his comfort zone on Live Free, a collection of a dozen new songs released in March. The usually energetic rhymer relaxes on the mellow vibes that frame the album. He draws on the strength of fellow Locally Grown Collective members with 4th Beats carrying most of the production. Dave Allen lends his woozy, soulful vocals and Leticia Muñoz provides the poetic interludes. Endz enlisted the collaboration of Rass Kass turntable master InDJnous as blesses the effort with deft scratches on a number of cuts. The rapper ups his storytelling ante while flexing inventive, skillful rhyme schemes. Although Live Free yearns to propel the emcee above and beyond Juice County, it’s the home grown songs that hit hardest. “North OC” is a gritty, head noddin’, klezmer sampling ode. The standout track of the album belongs to “Seven One Four,” an area code anthem that doubles as lyrical cartography of Orange. Jazzy horns, turntablism, and Endz trusty flow make Juice County beam with pride. (Gabriel San Roman)

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4. Atreyu
Long Live

Atreyu has been stealing the hearts of metalcore fans since the late ‘90s. They’ve toured alongside Deftones, as well as fellow OC locals Thrice, and Avenged Sevenfold. They’ve electrified audiences at Ozzfest, Warped Tour and KnotFest. But we know Brandon Saller (drums/vocals), Dan Jacobs (guitar), Chris Thomson (bass), Travis Miguel (guitar) and Alex Varkatzas (vocals) from their original stomping grounds at Chain Reaction where they also made their first re-appearance after six years. The album is the perfect mix of chilling vocals, roaring screams, signature riffs and smooth breakdowns. (Taylor Morgan)

3. Vince Staples
Summertime '06
Vince Staples isn't just the brightest rapper to emerge from Long Beach, he's one of the best in the world. His eagerly anticipated Summertime '06 confirmed Staples ability as wordsmith far surpass his 22 years. His eloquent storytelling recalls the period in his life described in the album's title, making for a gritty, important journey through the rapper's life, which clearly is a time that deeply resonated with him. The production, along with appearances by the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Jhene Aiko and Future, show that the rapper's respect goes beyond his rabid fan base. The 20 songs that encompass that fateful summer serve as a reminder how a razor sharp thematic focus mixed with a rare talent like Staples can result in one of the most important albums of the year. (Daniel Kohn)

2. Phora
Angels With Broken Wings

This year, the release of Phora’s Angels With Broken Wings was a triumph in many ways. The fact that it was the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign ($65,000 raised by his fans!) was an early indicator of how well it would do when it debuted at No. 6 on the iTunes hip-hop chart smack dab in the middle of some major label competition. With this album of more lyrically honest, street-level boom bap we’re seeing Phora’s underground appeal bubble up to the surface. For the last several years, Phora's become well-known for regularly pumping out sleek, well-made videos on YouTube. Aside from garnering millions of hits, they're also designed to give fans a dose of Phora's reality to compliment his diary entry, Drake-esque rhymes detailing his life and times on and off stage. And nothing really seems off limits—from his bouts with love and loneliness, to growing up in Anaheim, to controversies over stabbing incidents that happened to him at age 15. Just two months before it’s release, the rapper’s life and his success were almost cit short when he was nearly killed in a driveby shooting in Pasadena. Thankfully it wasn’t his time to become an Angel just yet and it’s clear from the album’s central inspiration—"all the people across the world who had a voice that was never heard," he says—that he’s got a lot more work ahead of him. (Nate Jackson)

The 20 Best OC Albums of 2015
Epitaph Records

1. The Garden
Haha

Twin brothers Wyatt and Fletcher Shears, were already a dominating force in the punk scene before the release of Haha, their debut full length on Epitaph and Burger Records. But where previous EPs only offered sketches of their artsy, sonic weirdness, Haha is more polished and matured version of their garage punk evolution over the last several years. The title track’s simple yet angular riff and awkward lyrics atop the single note bass guitar line and a heavily filtered organ are gloriously abstract and creepy like much of the band’s music. But the most impressive effort on the 17-song tracklist is the radio-ready melancholy pop tune "Egg." It’s not really a punk album in it’s execution, but the risks the brothers take and the emotions that ooze from their songwriting (from feverish, to frenzied and fun) would definitely earn the approval of their four-chord, mosh pit forefathers (and probably their actual father, who is a member of Shattered Faith). Even, growing into a formidable art punk act hasn’t tempered their zany sense of humor or the reverb-laden bass and drum combo we’ve come to love on songs like “Everything Has a Face," or "We Be Grindin." The basic ingredients are still the same, they’ve just added a few more spices to their sound. (Nate Jackson)


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