Tuned Up’s 60 LA Bands to Watch, as chosen by an Ohio Dude
You all seem to love diving into lists! You’ve seen us do Ohio, Nashville, and Indiana. Now, we dive into a market we still know relatively little about. Below are 60 acts in the general proximity of Los Angeles we think you ought to pay attention to. Playlist at the end of the list—you know the drill!
All My Friends Hate Me – Catch this hazy pop punk group at SXSW this year. I got mad love for their quick and dirty with a dash of sunshine sound, and if I were in Austin they’d be on my “must see” list. Their debut album is called Metal Butterflies, which if you’re asking me is a fitting metaphor for their sound. They got plenty of buzz on small to midsize outlets around the time of the album release—here’s to moving up and up!
Archer Oh – Archer Oh play a generally upbeat brand of no frills garage rock. As far as I can tell, they wish to spread good will and let the music speak for itself. They’re touring around the West, hitting markets like Reno, NV, Las Vegas, and San Diego outside of the LA area. It’s only a matter of time before they head east…
Bam Marley – When I listened to Bam Marley for the first time, I didn’t make the assumption or connection that Bob Marley was his grandfather. In fact, I chose him for this list completely unaware of this fact. His brand of hip hop is worthy of list placement for his expressive flow and deliberate lyricism. Marley is a true DIY artist—the last thing he would want you to think is that he’s headed to greatness because of legacy. His full length debut, Mesa Pt. 1, just released on February 6th.
Beach Clinic – If you enjoy the laid back vibes of bands like Real Estate, you’ll love Beach Clinic. They still seem to be virtually unknown; however, area groups are adding them to higher profile gigs. “Only In Heaven” is the group’s latest release; it mixes soothing harmonies, relaxing guitar tones, and just enough muscle to remind you they’re a rock band.
Bird & Byron – There are a few bands on this list that are there because we have to go by a gut feeling. Duo Bird & Byron are one of those acts. Not much is known about them yet. They have a fondness for the classics (see their cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” on their Facebook page). Their bio simply reads “Soul, rock and spirit.” Most notably, one half the duo comes from a musical family; his brother plays in Columbus Ohio’s Cousin Simple, who have risen to prominence in the midwest in a relatively short period of time (yours truly voted for them to win a local battle of the bands, sponsored by Groove U a few years ago).
Booty&theKidd – If you’re a reader of this blog, you know we have mad love for these lads. They make an irresistable brand of jazzy hip hop that most notably has been endorsed by CAAMP. I like that these guys aren’t afraid to play in random places; my first experience with them was hearing about them in the house show scene, and later they would play a basement of a pizza parlor with family hardcore band Desiring Dead Flesh. Since then, they’ve graduated to bigger rooms, and their sound continues to become more polished.
Cami Petyn – This singer only has one song to her name at the moment, but you have to be intrigued by someone who’s sound is described as a mix of Billie Eilish and Amy Winehouse. I kind of doubt Cami will need to go to rehab anytime soon, but there’s still plenty of life experience to inform her songwriting, methinks. I’d like to hear that powerful voice against a more minimalistic backdrop to see what happens. Something really unique could be in the works here.
Cappa – What do all Cappa songs have in common? A breathy singing style and hooks that sneak up on you, that’s what. I recall being struck by her performance at SXSW 2017 (or maybe it was 2016?) in a venue call the Palm Door on Sabine— her ethereal stage presence suited the venue which had a lighter, less dingy vibe well. Since that year, she relocated to LA and has been slowly but surely getting her name out there.
Chaycin Change – Chaycin Change has already had a rap career that has spanned thousands of miles—starting in Pasadena, moving to Atlanta, and then moving to LA. So, we truly have an intermingling of prolific hip hop scenes influencing his overall sound and attitude. His sound has a dirty vibe; he almost seems to be ranting at times. This isn’t for the faint hearted.
Chris Jobe – This pop artist crams a whole lot into songs under three minutes long. That might be why many of his songs are in the six figure range approaching that coveted 1-Mil, in spite of his name being relatively unknown still. There’s a huge replayability factor present here. The LA by way of Nashville artist has been playing out strategically and has even shared the stage with Tuned Up friend Effee in the past.
Cody Randall – You thought we were going to get through this list without a heartthrob rising pop artist? Think again! Cody fits the bill for the Gen Z-ers. Whether to classify Cody as pop or hip hop is debatable: his sound is along the lines of Post Malone, but more serious and less meme-worthy. Only two official singles into his career, Randall is holding the fort in LA with label support from London—nice!
Cory Becker – We had to have a least one country pick here—even though that isn’t exactly the first genre that comes to mind associated with LA. Becker takes western music and gives it a modern, almost psychedelic twist. It’s both humble and flamboyant at the same time. His debut album One is out February 21st. Look for his influence to radiate out from LA in the coming months. How can you expect otherwise when you read that he’s shared songwriting credits with pop mastermind Max Martin?
Constanza Herrero – This pop singer has roots in Chile and Australia, mixing the best of the pop and Latin music realms into one accessible, upbeat sound. She’s a veteran of the touring circuit and has made media appearances in various forms (and on various continents!). Her only release came out in 2017. However, her busy performance schedule seems to indicate much more to come. She also won a John Lennon award for songwriting in 2018.
Dear Boy – A publicist told me Dear Boy is “the buzziest band in LA right now.” I don’t know how to quantify that, but the fact that this driving dreamy rock act toured with the likes of The Psychedelic Furs and Pete Yorn certainly lend credence to that notion. I’d like to see this band make appearances at Desert Daze and Nelsonville Festivals in the future.
Dei Lucrii – Mitch Rossiter, one of the master indie curators of the Columbus scene relocated to LA to further his curation in many forms. He channels his instrumental necessities via a noise rock band, Dei Lucrii. Rossiter and friends consistently surround themselves with quality musicians—it’s only logical that some of that momentum will rub off on his own band.
Draag – Between press emails from Drag City records and various other shoutouts, including Draag on this list was a no brainer. Add to that the Mariachi background of one of their members and the all-encompassing sound they emit so well, and this might be one of my favorite additions to this list. Their latest single, “Trauma Kit,” is the best combo of shoegaze, jazz, noise rock, and a myriad of other genres I’ve heard in quite some time.
Druzy – Druzy plays a brand of music that makes the words “strangely upbeat” come to mind for no particular reason. They aren’t your typical indie pop duo. The duo has formal training at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, which they are applying on the other side of the country now. They also have the backing (read: Facebook like) of Hope Oberwanowicz, the frontwoman of dark pop act VISTA. There’s something nostalgic going on in their sound as well—an off kilter 80s synth vibe that I love.
Fever Joy – What happens when you mix Imagine Dragons, Royal Blood, and the newest Of Monsters and Men record? Fever Joy. Duos are in vogue, but don’t worry about Fever Joy just being trend followers. They craft mean hooks too. They are touring regionally, and have the endorsement (by endorsement we mean an Instagram follow) of our friend andrews’ (who recently toured with Vesperteen’s backing band).
Filmspeed – Filmspeed have taken Motown influence of their hometown of Detroit and slathered on it a sunny LA sheen to marinate it for the masses. Their sound is anthemic and hooky. They love to do things the old school way; their recent material was recorded analog in the Echo Park recording studio. I’m not sure what their touring plans are this year, but their sound is the type that ought to be malleable to many different environments.
Follies & Vices – Right off the bat, this band will confuse you. By the end of a song, you’ll be hooked even if you’re not sure why. Imagine if FUN. made music vaguely creepy and shouty, with heavy emphasis on the drums. This Seattle band relocated to LA not too long ago and probably don’t take themselves too seriously. I’d love to see how this sound plays out.
The Gutter Daisies – The Gutter Daisies are just indie enough to win over the SXSW curators’ approval and that of the indie crowd, and just angsty enough to appeal to the Alt Press kids too. They have a ranty singing style and at one point desperately scream in their latest single “Celebrity Suicide.” They aren’t a “open up the pit” kind of band, but you’ll want to throw down when you listen anyway.
Heart Like War – Indie Vision Records might be one of the most under-appreciated indie labels around. Exhibit A: Heart Like War—a pop punk band that places more emphasis on the punk than the pop. This is wholesome punk with all the attitude you should yet expect. If anyone from Audiofeed Festival is reading this, I’d consider reaching out to this band.
Hoity-Toity – Within a few seconds, this band had me feeling good. This all-girl band (I’m almost hesitant to say that; I want to avoid tokenism) is tight in description and playing style. This is powerpop here to takeover your earholes and the airwaves. They remind me a bit of KITTEN—tour package anyone?
Iress – I’m no expert in doom rock, but I happened upon Iress randomly when researching this list, and I had to include them. This is the sort of sound that has to be experienced late at night, preferably in isolation—whether literal or just lost in your own thoughts at a show. The loud, dark music specializing blogs are all over this band.
Jasmine Star [photo credit – @stephaniedcabral] – Jasmine Star is best known as a 16 year old guitar prodigy who posts many a video clip on Instagram and Tik Tok, but recently she dropped her own single. She’d be at home onstage alongside Lindsey Stirling or Halestorm. As much as I hate using the “I can’t believe she’s that good for her age!” trope, I gotta put it out here—she has very mature sound.
Joe Jenneman – When a guitarist discovers Springsteen at a young age, nutures a love of the blues, and moves from Detroit to LA, the sound of Joe Jenneman is the logical result. Duh. His husky vocals carry his catchy songwriting well, but he’s careful not to mask his guitar prowess too much.
Joselyn & Don – This duo have not released any music yet, but that doesn’t mean they’ve been inactive. They’ve been building a name for themselves in the live Americana/folk circuit. I could see them fitting in well at Ohio’s Nelsonville Festival (I saw acts like Death Cab For Cutie, Mandolin Orange, and The War and Treaty there last year). Their sound is down to earth and is reflective of their combined high profile experience in the entertainment world; Don as a film editor for The Simpsons, and Joselyn as a member of the African fusion band ADAAWE. The duo’s debut full length, titled Hollywood Angel, is out later this year.
Josh Del – Man, I didn’t ask to get in my feels this late at night! Josh Del has emotion that just immediately transports my mood to that place. His roots and Americana style are carried by smooth, endearing vocals and personal grit. He’s been around the block in the industry, but his latest round of perseverance makes him one to watch.
Junkmail – This emo-influenced band marches to their own beat, playing a dark, assertive brand of pure rock and roll. We heard of these guys through our friends at Indie Vision Music—one of the inspirations for the beginning of Tuned Up. “Rains It Pours” buries emotive vocals beneath a barrage of wailing guitars and pummeling beats. This band looks to be playing out consistently throughout the region.
Kaze Jones – This hip-hop artist has participated in a number of notable collabs, but my favorite mention has to be Cookbook of LA Symphony (my teenage years!). His style is chill and honest, yet alluring. The instrumentals are often funk inspired, which I like. “Pink Panther” begins with a bare bones bass groove that is straight up tasty!
Kiahna – When we first wrote about Kiahna, she still lived in our hometown of Columbus. In fact, she was a featured at a key industry networking event in my area. Now, she’s ready to make waves in LA, and “Goodbye” is emotional and cool. It’s hard to believe this single isn’t even 2 and a half minutes long—it moves along slow and steady and packs a lot in. Kiahna has a distinct voice in a crowded industry.
Kills Birds – This Reggie Watts–endorsed rock collective is straight up pissed. They’re showcasing at SXSW 2020 this year. That alone should be enough reason to pay attention. Still not convinced? Listen to “Worthy Girl” once and then run, not walk, to the nearest tour date.
KOLARS – Soon after the formation of this blog, I began to listen to the band He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister, who gained some notoriety during the 2010s folk revival. Later, two members of the band would step away and form their own brand; enter KOLARS. KOLARS have been grinding away on the touring circuit for the past few years, and it’s finally beginning to pay off. Catch them on tour with Saint Motel where you’ll hear their unique two piece artsy rock and roll where drummer Lauren Brown tap dances atop a bass drum for the entirety of each performance.
Kuchari – I got wind of this artist in, of all places, a business meeting for my real estate investment job. This artist makes therapeutic, strangely organic electronic music. Many instruments from outside the genre make appearances. I could certainly see this artist touring with Tycho, or doing his own sunrise performance at Burning Man or Desert Daze festival someday.
La Poré – Nick Samson has been pushing out nostalgic electropop bops for the past couple of years, but has been doing so relatively quietly. You might have heard his stuff without realizing it—he’s quickly gaining footing in the sync world, including having a song placed in a key scene in a Netflix movie. Recently, he moved to LA to pursue acting—and its likely that his music presence will continue to grow out west as well.
Leila Sunier – This singer/songwriter pens a brand of pop that is sweeping and atmospheric. Now, these are two descriptors that aren’t new to this scene, but the way she structures her songs feels fresh, and the end result gives forth a sensation like floating. Her aesthetic, glancing at her instagram, is organic and thought provoking; it isn’t your usual collage of pastel and neon color schemes in carefully crafted photo shoots that are unique-but-not-really. All it would take is a little nudge to get Sunier to the stratosphere.
Lisel [photo credit – @lauralynnpetrick] – Lisel is the solo outfit of Eliza Bagg, one half of Pavo Pavo. Her sound feels at once untouchable and inviting. Her work with diverse acts like the LA Philharmonic and Julianna Barwick (who released one of my favorite ambient records) are enough reason to want to zone out to her.
Little Dume – Ever since I heard M83’s Hurry Up We’re Dreaming record in 2012, I’ve been seeking bands to deliver that sound that’s electronica driven with big emotional swells. Of course, there is no other M83, but Little Dume certainly exists in their realm. These songs simply must be heard in an arena setting. I don’t know what 2020 holds, but the release of their Waking Up EP is a darn good start.
Lost Paradox – I’m no expert on bass music, but Lost Paradox is darn satisfying. I feel like in a Blade Runner cyberpunk-esque dystopia while listening, perhaps trying to escape the powers that be on Zion in the Matrix universe. Here’s hoping the DJ, who moved to LA from Belgium, is able to utilize connections stateside to blast off.
mmmonika – Haven’t heard of these guys? What if I told you one of their members won a Grammy this year? For production on Vampire Weekend’s Father of the Bride, to be exact. This band’s sound is certainly in line with the off-kilter vibes of VW, but they’re looking to pave their own way. You’ll be unsure of how you feel about them at first, but a few listens will rope you in.
Motor Sales – Listening to Motor Sales is like turning on Tame Impala having drunk some sleepy time beforehand, and sitting outside as the sun sets in the desert. Just chill, dude. They have a big time collaborator on their side—Shawn Everett, who credits include albums by Alabama Shakes, The War on Drugs, and Perfume Genius. With successful pals on the east and west coast and the dreamy musical chops to back it up, look for Motor Sales to become more prominent in 2020.
New Language – I appreciate that this band is about to rock hard and make you dance too. A bit of a benign description, perhaps—but listen and you’ll agree. If Royal Blood listened to disco for a few hours maybe a sound like this would result. New Language has already been tearing up stages at big rock festivals—look for them to continue their ascent in 2020.
Night Darling – I happened upon this band on Instagram. I was intrigued by their vaguely psychedelic and dark vaporwave branding and freshness. Nothing of theirs has been formally released, but they are starting to play shows. They have an impressive pedigree. Only 7 posts are on their account—intriguing from a band calling themselves synthfolkpop. This band is worth watching because their members dabble and influence in other areas too; a community oriented studio called 369 North; narration for prominent book publishers; and the electronic music of That Bad.
Night Lights – When an indie pop has members hailing from Mexico, Norway, and Japan, you know you’re in for an adventure. Between fellow Tuned Up writer Topher and I, this band hits on many of our soft spots—ethereal influence, latin sounds, and cutting edge pop. With all of these elements in place, there’s still an endearing quality that cuts through everything and stands out. Fans of Flor, The Band CAMINO, Valley, and COIN: look out.
Nightseason – There’s an undeniable tenderness that exists in this band’s songs, who fall between alt-J and needtobreathe in sound (I saw a comparison made to Sir Sly, but I prefer needtobreathe for the Bear Rineheart-esque vocals). They also share a vocalist with Mo Lowda and the Humble, who have been making waves for most of the 2010s. I’d like to see Nightseason at Coachella sometime.
Oston – Not all booking agencies are aggregates of talent for profit only. Many with smaller rosters are great curators as well. One such company is Brandon Hughes’ Revel Talent Alliance, who are active in the indie rock and pop realms. Oston’s powerhouse vocals and big choruses make her worthy of a spot on this list—Revel knows how to pick ’em. Catch her on tour this spring with fellow indie pop rising stars Saint Nomad and Leland Blue.
The Paranoyds – A follower of Tuned Up reached out to me (the Columbus music photographer Rick Carr, by the way) and told me I should consider this group for this list—he was impressed by their opening slot for Bleached on a semi-recent tour. Their vocal style is self-described in their bio as “over-it-but-totally-into-it” and that’s probably my favorite hyphenated expression I’ve heard this week. Look for them to continue to spread their attitude on the road.
Pure Violet – Truly, some of the best synthpop I’ve heard so far this year has come from Pure Violet, the new creative outlet of Chadwick Johnson of hardcore-turned-shoegaze act Hundredth. I can’t think of Hundredth without recalling a visit to a one time festival in PA that was plagued by issues—Hundredth performed and called out the festival in rather colorful language from the stage. Listening to the song “Nostalgia” makes me think of how multifaceted people can be, and also how they can mellow out. No shade at Hundredth—really! This sound is a really enjoyable, sublime journey and I’d love to see this act open for someone like Purity Ring, Little Dragon, or CHVRCHES.
Ramonda Hammer [photo credit – M.Haight] – Existing somewhere between powerpop and grunge is Ramonda Hammer, who are ready to take over with their sweeping aural assaults. Catch them on tour in the near future with Summer Cannibals, which includes an appearance on San Francisco’s Noise Pop Festival. Honestly, that’s some great brand synergy right there.
Rubaiyat – Rubaiyat’s sound evokes a feeling within me that’s vaguely surreal—like I’m waking up from a dream I can’t quite remember but want to. They call themselves “doom wop”—a moniker that you want to laugh at but when you listen you realize it makes perfect sense. I find that label humorous, but now I’m laughing with the band instead of at the label.
Saticöy – Yes. Yet another Ohio transplant makes this list. These dudes make music that is alternative pop on paper, yet mixes in some unexpected elements here and there to make you go “wait, I need to hear that again.” It’s not too often I find an alt-pop act with fans from party blues funk acts (Steve Hatmaker from Zoo Trippin’) and even acquaintances in church circles, but here we are. I appreciate that their MO is to make their content and brand as engaging as possible.
Sleeping Lion – I actually met one of these guys at SXSW a few years ago. It was a Nashville focused showcase, and Phangs had just finished performing. I knew he had to be good if he was hanging out in this company. His brand of dark, transluscent pop is sensual and alluring. His latest single, “Good” is a sublime solo output—but Sleeping Lion really shines in their collabs. Keep an ear out.
Sleeptalk – A few years ago, Tuned Up had the opportunity to book these guys on a tour with DBMK. This might be my favorite show I’ve ever booked in Donato’s Basement (the basement of a pizza parlor!). These dudes were so chill and humble, and they put on a great show with sounds reminiscent of the 1975. Now they appear to be razor focused on refining their sound. If they keep up their easygoing attitude and keep polishing their sound, 2020 will be a great year for them.
Spare Parts For Broken Hearts – There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of feel-good rock and roll from female driven acts in the LA area. One of the buzziest bands in this realm is Spare Parts For Broken Hearts (you gotta love that name). The local publication Grimy Goods gave this band a shout out in their respective bands to watch article, and we liked what we heard so much we had to follow suit. They are in the studio honing their nostalgic alt-rock sound with Bebe Rexha’s producer—a combo we can get behind.
Sweatpants – I’m always on the hunt for bands that are fun at their core. Sweatpants is loud and certainly fits that description! I could certainly see myself enjoying a mosh pit in a dark venue in the dead of winter to these guys. Their sound is heartwarming, aggressive, and should be absorbed in strategic doses. This trio has some overlap with the stoner metal crowd in terms of their guitar tone and sound but overall is pretty wholesome. Thanks to Indie Vision Music for turning me on to this band!
ufo ufo – I’ve learned that when a friend in the booking world tells you to pay attention to a band, you do just that. One example of this in the past year is ufo ufo, who have racked up in excess of 3.7M plays of their debut single, which channels a mix of Capital Cities and COIN, complete with an infectious whistle topping the proverbial cake that is this bop. They have another new single coming out at end of the month.
Villain Park – This rap trio have made their way around the hip-hop blogosphere, attracting accolades from the likes of Pigeons and Planes and others. Their sound and flow is one that brings to mind the words “aggressive contemplation.” Sometimes they keep things short (under two minutes), because any longer would be overkill for their message. Their album The Recipe came out last August—I’m surprised I haven’t heard more in the past few months, but I’m glad I’m getting caught up now.
War Strings – One of my favorite publicists I’ve worked with during the lifespan of Tuned Up told me to check out War Strings, recommended if you like My Bloody Valentine and Tame Impala, according to him. These influences are definitely present but carry a pop sensibility that neither of the two bigwigs have. If I had to describe the songs in two words, I think I’d call them “fuzzy earworms.” They’ve been racking up followers through strategic LA performances over the past year.
Wax Charmer – I’m not gonna lie: it’s hard to put my finger on what Wax Charmer’s precise sound is. A recent release from them has a sparse beginning, gradually filling out into a satisfying indie rock piece existing in a realm between Local Natives and Real Estate. They have an album coming out at the end of the month—you best believe we’ll be considering for review. A Local Natives / Caroline Rose / Wax Charmer tour package would be clutch.
Willow Stephens – Willow Stephens lists many influences, but seldom do you see a juxtaposition like Norah Jones and Portishead in an artist bio! Her sound is equal parts wholesome and quirky. The hook in her single “Gold” is actually a little creepy and dreamlike. Willow Stephens was actually inspired to explore this more adventurous direction after a meeting with hip-hop artist Andy Mineo, who is currently out on the Winter Jam arena tour. Could Willow follow suit? The Winter Jam demographic might not accept her weirdness, but it might be what they need.