Locals Only: Local Natives’ Nik Ewing on His All-Time Top 10 LA Albums

From Kendrick Lamar to Tom Petty, the band’s multi-instrumentalist dives into the 10 records that best define his hometown.

Locals Only: Local NativesNik Ewing on His All-Time Top 10 LA Albums

From Kendrick Lamar to Tom Petty, the band’s multi-instrumentalist dives into the 10 records that best define his hometown.

Words: FLOOD Staff

Photos: Jonathan Chu

July 19, 2022

This article appears in FLOOD 12: The Los Angeles Issue. You can purchase this special 232-page print edition celebrating the people, places, music and art of LA here.

When we asked Local Natives to write about their favorite LA albums, the band’s multi-instrumentalist Nik Ewing took on the challenge, selecting records from local luminaries Kendrick Lamar, Tom Petty, and, unsurprisingly, Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson (Ewing’s solo project Chewing covered Wilson’s classic Pacific Ocean Blue album in its entirety in 2018). Here’s his full list: 

Dennis Wilson, Pacific Ocean Blue (1977)

Early Beach Boys albums definitely feel Southern Californian. Pet Sounds was made by the best of the best right in Hollywood, but to me all Beach Boys albums still feel like they belong to the entire world and don't make anyone think of Los Angeles in particular. But a haunted, outcast Beach Boy—who still sung simple Beach Boy lyrics like “I’m sorry, I miss you,” but whose weathered voice is painfully more honest without the hollow late-’70s shine from his band (who seemingly didn’t miss him that much)—making his only solo album feels quintessentially LA to me. Having said all that, I definitely am biased, having a particular attachment to this album. 

Elliott Smith, Figure 8 (2000)

Long before the iconic wall became the backdrop to early Instagramers, then destroyed for a wine bar glass wall cut-out, then the name for a Silver Lake–based real estate company, Elliott was penning heartbreaking songs. RIP. 

Fiona Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters (2020)

Maybe not an overtly LA album, but to me this perfect album sounds exactly like the Westside. Not the pretentious see-and-be-seen types or even the faux-surfer hippies, though. It’s something I can't put my finger on, but FTBC represents those uncommon Westside LA artists who refuse to leave and head way east. I mean, they have good reason to want to live in LA and actually see and feel the ocean.

Fleetwood Mac, Tusk (1979)

This isn't the best Fleetwood Mac album, but the sheer decadence and audacity to spend a ridiculous amount of money building a huge studio annex at The Village to then make an album puts Tusk on this all-time LA list. Not by today's studio standards, but 1970’s indulgent standards, which is why Tusk held the record for “most expensive album” for years. We've recorded a few times at The Village, mostly in some small third-floor room, but ironically once in said annex (Studio D) to record a cover of Tusk’s title track.

Joni Mitchell, Blue (1971)

I had to limit myself to just two artists from the Laurel Canyon scene, otherwise this list could have just been called "Nik's 10 Favorite Laurel Canyon Albums."  

Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2012)

Like many clichéd high schoolers, I remember getting to the end of Pulp Fiction for the first time and thinking, "This movie is incredible...but wait...is it out of order?” Fast forward to when this album came out, and I'm loving the mix of genre, the detailed storytelling, the nuanced progression of dominos in voicemails, etc. And then fast forward another few years after that to when I finally realize this “day in the Compton life” album is actually not in complete chronological order. Because often great story telling isn't about making sure all events are lined up from beginning to end, but instead finding the right tone to paint each scene, which then leaves plenty of room for the listener. And often, it takes me years to decipher the plot.

Neil Young, Zuma (1975)

The first time I heard "Cortez the Killer,” driving north through California, I frantically googled the song. Like, "I know this song, where do I know it from? Was it in a movie?" After much research, I determined I had never heard the song before in my life. It's just one of those songs that sounds like it always existed and yet you, and you alone, have this personal relationship with it. 

Red Hot Chili Peppers, Californication (1999)

I love that RHCP are finally having a non-ironic resurgence in the hipster music circles. Flea was definitely my first bass hero in high school, and I hope he has a subscription to FLOOD and sees this.

Tom Petty, Full Moon Fever (1989)

I had to go with the Petty album that name checks the Valley and Reseda the most.

2Pac, All Eyez on Me (1996)

The most LA thing is a transplant moving to LA to then defining an era of LA. Do you know anyone who was born, raised, and still lives in LA? Those are rare, bizarre, weird birds. Tupac was born in NYC, then helped define a genre called "West Coast rap," and had a hit single about California. How LA is that?