The Alternative’s Top 50 Albums (Pt.1)

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2016 was an incredible year for new music. There were so many albums that we considered for this list, but after a staff vote these 50 were our favorites. Every single release on here from #50 to #1 is a great album. Take a listen to those that you missed. We hope you find new music that you enjoy.


This is Part 1 which includes 50 to 26. 25 to 1 are on Part 2 (here).


50. Clique—Burden Piece   

 clique

I had never heard anything Clique had ever done, so I went into this record not really knowing what to expect. When I first played the whole 13-song album, I hadn’t realized that about a half hour later, it had restarted. And that’s what’s so great about it. It’s so simple, so quaint and unassuming that it just drifts by peacefully by means of raw but delicate guitar riffs and chords, blended with the occasional burst of energy that seems to hold everything together. The band provides heavy emotions, sung through well thought out vocal harmonies. Though some songs seem to contain incomplete structures, or sound as if they’re missing something, it’s enough to keep your curiosity afloat. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m glad I gave it a shot. What a nice surprise this album was. —Steven


 

49. All Get Out—Nobody Likes a Quitter       

all-get-out

The lead single from the band’s sophomore record, five years in the making, leads off with, “I’ll give it one more try and I’ll be happy if you die.” On the whole, perhaps Nobody Likes A Quitter doesn’t highlight the rambunctious band fans remembered five years ago on their debut, The Season. But Nathan Hussey’s stinging and occasionally sarcastic lyrics help negate the separation between the band’s prior sound and their slightly more poppy, linear sound on NLAQ. — Colin

48. Hurry—Guided Meditation   

 hurry

This album is exactly what it says that it is, a guided meditation. With the beachy guitars and smooth warm vocals drifting throughout, Hurry have an incredibly calming sound. Even as the lyrics bemoan the frustrations and anxieties of life, you feel as though you’ve been transported to some sunny island locale. Basking in the sunlight and musing on your life. Honestly, some of my favorite instrumentals in any record this year. —Hendo


 

47. Lucy Dacus—No Burden 

 lucy-dacus

Lucy Dacus is one of those artists who came out of nowhere and was then suddenly everywhere. Originally self-released in February, No Burden quickly landed her a deal with Matador Records and received gushing reviews by nearly every major music outlet throughout the year. For me, the best compliment I can give the record is that I was legitimately shocked when I learned Dacus is only 20 years old.

Her knack for penning lyrics as wise as “I wanna live in a world where I can keep my doors wide open / but who knows what’d get in and what’d get out,” and ability to write songs that meticulously tear at the seams before bursting wide open (“Map On A Wall”) put her in a league right alongside Hop Along and Angel Olsen—both of whom are over half-a-decade older. Most of the melodies on No Burden aren’t easy, immediate pop hooks, but she proves she can do that exceptionally well if she wants to on opener “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore”—and then ditches that simplicity entirely for the remainder of the album. —Eli

 

46. Slaughter Beach, Dog—Welcome 

slaughter beach dog

This record is beautiful. Plain and simple. It’s graceful and classic. Tracks like “Monsters” and “Forever” whisk you away while “Best Fest” feels like a lazy day spent in bed with the person you love. Welcome has a familiar whimsical quality to it that makes it feel like a children’s book, innocent and magical. The feelings and experiences this album conveys are all encompassing; the nostalgia for our past, the current existential state so many of us find ourselves in, and the longing for a future where everything has worked itself out. —Delaney

45. Mom Jeans—Best Buds        

 mom-jeans

Indie/punk record in the style of bands like Modern Baseball, Marietta, or even PWR BTTM, but Mom Jeans. bring their own special feeling. There is an emotional openness to the lyrics and delivery. “So tell me how the fuck I’m supposed to deal with losing you.” This record has the rawness of a basement show and definitely make me encouraged for the future of this band. While this is essentially a breakup album, they take themselves just serious enough to make it work without being corny. However do not take any of this to mean that they are lacking in technical skills. The bass line and stop and start guitar work throughout ‘danger can’t‘ are some of the coolest moments in emo all this year, and some well-placed trumpet in ‘Scott Pilgrim vs my GPA’ hits the spot. This album is what it is and it is good. —Hendo

44. Culture Abuse—Peach   

 culture-abuse

As spring turned into summer, Peach became the album that would soundtrack many people’s lives. Culture Abuse proved they were punk enough to make any garage a home but talented enough to appeal to the dreamy, listening experience side of the genre with an impressive use of pedals. Peach even transcended listening as the band encouraged visuals and arts, even putting up a pop up gallery in San Francisco. While “Turn It Off” and “Chinatown” are the chosen anthems, the entire album offers a consistently good vibe that was much need this year. —Hannah

43. Tancred—Out of the Garden                

 tancred

This Tancred record kicks ass. A confident shredder that is right in your face with straight up rock lyrics and riffs. I got hooked on these catchy choruses and guitar parts. I love guitars, and I think this album loves guitars just as much as me. As songwriter Jess Abbott said about her inspiration while writing the album, “self-empowerment as a means of coping. Finding my own strength changed everything.” This is an album that isn’t afraid to fight back. —Hendo

42. Teen Suicide—It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot     

 honeypot

Teen Suicide went all out for their supposed swan song, constructing a 26-song record that jumps between styles (post-punk, folk, and psychedelic house to name a few) as erratically as Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo does. The difference is, the themes of this record (death, addiction, and conversely, sobriety) actually feel successfully personified by the wonkiness of the tracklist, whereas TLOP felt like a desperate attempt at eccentricity. Songwriter Sam Ray has an uncomfortably dry sense of humor, as well as a tendency to casually reveal his and his friends’ experiences with severe drug addiction, which makes It’s the Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir the Honeypot curiously intriguing on a lyrical level. The length and scope of this album may seem intimidating, but I found myself coming back to it countless times throughout the year and discovering a handful of new details with each listen.—Eli

41. TTNG—Disappointment Island     

 ttng

I love everything about this record. Simply, TTNG is one of my favorite bands, and has been for some time. I’ve become quite accustomed to my favorite bands offering diminishing returns, and would have been happy enough to continue spinning Animals and 13.0.0.0.0 forever. Instead, TTNG put out what I believe to be their best record, and I’ve carried it with me all year long. The interplay between these three phenomenal musicians is endlessly fascinating. I can’t go three days without listening to “In Praise of Idleness” or “Empty Palms.” Love them or just like them, TTNG makes the music I want to hear, and they really outdid themselves this time. —Nick



40. Chris FarrenCant Die

chris-farren

Chris Farren blew minds, melted hearts, molded futures and caused conception in abundance worldwide with his perfect debut solo full-length Can’t Die. This SideOneDummy release showcases the hearthrob crooner’s electrifying range with electrifying bravado. Dulcet melodies seamlessly erupt into roaring pop anthems so fast, it makes you wonder what that man can do with an email. Can’t Die is the record you proudly take home to meet mom once she’s FINALLY over her Pitbull phase – perfect in every way, and fun for the whole family! Wow! Will an additional exclamation point convey how much love this record!? – Tommy

39. Aesop Rock — The Impossible Dream         

 aesop

If you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably seen me going on and on this year about the lyrics from this album. Aesop Rock’s headspinningly clever and wrist-twisting lyrics are usually so complex and culturally sharp it’s almost like a cubist sculpture made from cereal boxes with free gifts in them, but this year he brought out his all-time greatest album. It’s his most open and personal too, rapping about his age, his family, his therapy and his pets. The beats are neat and sneakily mix acoustic, loose, head-bobbing hip hop drums with chiptune, fat synths, Wes Borland-type guitars and esoteric samples. Like drawing weird monsters on an encyclopedia with slime and blood. Songs sound aggressive at times, but it’s just the fist-clenching observations of his own life and others that comes through, like he’s realizing he’s unstuck in a world he’s stuck in. Still, it’s the lyrics in this that fucking blow me away, like when he’s rapping an exchange with his shrink. Who even manages to put that in a hip hop song? Aesop does. —Findlay

38. Japanese Breakfast—Psychopomp      

 2-japanesebreakfast

This album is like a big fuck-off bit of cake. Sweet, delicious, and totally satisfying. Filled with familiar shoegaze synthesized breaths you heard on Loveless and oscillating twinkles and daydream electronic swirls totally enveloping a heap of beautiful indie songs. Michelle Zauner is so fucking cool. Her voice is like the sound of when you see someone you have a crush on. Light, delicate, breathy, cool and powerful. Dreampop is such a hard sound to get right without automatically falling in line with a million other bands, but Japanese Breakfast sound so real and tangible like they made a dreampop album without ever even caring or hearing about dreampop before. The album is full of tiny moments in the shimmer that make you go “oh!” when you hear it, like the guitar noodles on “Rugged Country” or the descending stairs synth ~just~ before the chorus on “The Woman That Loves You”. Psychopomp makes me feel good. It makes me feel good to be myself and totally fucking optimistic about my life and make everything I do be totally full of energy and joy.  So aye, it’s a good album. —Findlay

37. You Blew It—Abendrot      

  youblew-it-abendrot

You Blew It’s Abendrot is the graduation from grabbing a pbr from the rafters of a dimly lit basement to ordering a drink at the House of Blues bar. Tanner’s voice translates well from basement to stage and to be honest, the progression was inevitable. Unlike Keep Doing What You’re Doing, Abendrot’s bass lines weren’t learned by a proxy bassist (who also pulled doubles as the recording engineer of the record) and instead have had time to gestate and find it’s own voice, giving complementary effects unmatched on previous efforts. it’s also the band’s first full length with former We We’re Skeletons drummer Matt Nissley, who flawlessly pays homage to Tim’s pulsating marching band style tendencies while showcasing his own intricacies and abilities. like their former touring mates Say Anything once said, “I can’t write the same damn song over and over again”, You Blew It prove their versatility on tracks like “Hue” and “Minorwye,” with an expansive palette of instruments used with extreme finesse and purpose. they also remind us of the times we (assuming you’ve seen them 10+ times like myself) screamed the lyrics right back in Tanner’s face with tracks like “Basin & Range” and “Autotheology.” Greenwood’s immediate sense of familiarity let’s us know it’s still the same You Blew It we’ve grown to love, there’s just even more to explore now. Abendrot was truly worth the wait. —Chris

36. Danny Brown—Atrocity Exhibition    

 atrocity-exhibition

This is not just another rap record. Danny Brown did something special here. In my opinion Old Dirty Bastard was one of the greatest rappers ever because he went out of his way to push the limits of what rap could be. What beats were appropriate, what lyrical topics, what flows. I feel Danny Brown has that same energy and ability. On this album he experiments with rock beats that are barely beats at all. He is straight up rapping over songs, and with his own unique style and unhinged energy. This album will lose a lot of people. It isn’t perfect. But it is an expedition into spaces rap music has rarely if ever explored. To take that risk in the prime of his career, Danny Brown should be rewarded.

‘Really Doe’ one of the more traditional rap tracks on the albums features a hook and verse from Kendrick, and verses from Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt. It is probably my favorite rap song that came out this year. It was his intentional track just to prove he could. Danny Brown can write hits any which way you want them, club bangers, battle raps, he’s got them. But he isn’t here for you. He’s writing to express himself and push the boundaries right over. —Hendo

35. Kanye West—The Life of Pablo      

tlop

As much as I hate to type it, The Life of Pablo really has becoming a living, breathing document. It started out as what felt like a momentous experience, accompanying his fashion line at Madison Square Garden. It evolved over time as Kanye tinkered and added songs for months after its initial release, which has its pros and cons. Some changes were great, like: he finally mixed all the songs, and “Saint Pablo” was a nice addition. Some were not so great, like: the extra synth part on “Freestyle 4,” the corny Joseph & Mary verse on the new version of “Wolves.” But Pablo, as it stands, is a 20-track album. Within those 20, there is an 11-song possible best album of 2016. But like we must do with Kanye is general, we’ve gotta take what we love and shrug at the rest. The 4-song run from “Ultralight Beam” through “Famous” alone makes Pablo worth the ride. Kanye makes himself hard to love here, but he makes himself even harder to hate. —Riley

 

34. Balance And Composure—Light We Made              

light-we-made 

Following up 2013’s The Things We Think We’re Missing was sure to be a difficult feat for Balance and Composure, but they certainly managed it with Light We Made. Opening track “Midnight Zone” establishes an electronic aesthetic that permeates throughout the album. Its use of synthesizers and some processed vocals set the pace before surrendering itself to the airy falsetto of singer Jon Simmons. This new tone is most apparent on lead single “Postcard,” which has moody guitar work splayed across a simple drum machine track and a fairly repetitive vocal melody that’s remarkably catchy. The increased production fits extremely will with songs that are reminiscent of earlier work, like “Afterparty” and “Call It Losing Touch,” while still setting the record apart on “For a Walk” and “Loam.” I’m sure there are some fans confused by the shift in sound, but it seems to be keeping in line with a movement towards a calmer, or more composed version of Balance and Composure. Light We Made shows off the band’s ability write impactful songs that don’t depend on heavy distortion and growled vocals to establish an intense environment. —Dylan


 


33. Slingshot DakotaBreak

break

Slingshot Dakota’s dynamo record Break is a fiery album that infectiously infiltrates punk’s oversaturated landscape of dudes with guitars. As a duo, vocalist/keyboardist Carly Comando and drummer Tom Patterson created one hell of a soundscape via keyboard riff after keyboard riff, one that I’ve enthusiastically revisited on a weekly basis since it’s March release. Break is pulse-pounding from start to finish, with worlds of eye-opening conversation stemming from each song’s catchy lyrics. Attempting to capture this record’s essence in a single paragraph feels futile – go blast it! FEMMES TO THE FRONT! – Tommy

 

32. Nothing—Tired of Tomorrow               

 nothing

When Nothing released Guilty of Everything in 2014, it garnered the band quite of bit of very well-deserved attention, and the hype for their sophomore full-length was just as publicized. Despite a hiccup in funding and distribution due to the unexpected actions of a certain pharma-bro, the band came back strong on one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Tired of Tomorrow gives listeners more of the mesmerizing waves of sound they were hoping for, but in a more concise package. Not only has some of the guitars’ grit has been toned down in places, but the vocals are regularly mixed higher, with less reverb and fewer layers. This helps to bring prominence to the flat out eerie lyrics and delivery of Dominic Palermo and Brandon Setta, which even manage to creep through seemingly upbeat songs like “Vertigo Flowers” or “Everyone Is Happy.” This isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t tracks that slam into you like a bag of bricks, because there certainly are. Opening track “Fever Queen” is inescapably catchy with its simple song structure and “Eaten by Worms” maxes out the gain settings like fans are used to. What’s most enjoyable about the album is Nothing’s willingness to embrace the alt-pop vibe that seems to come so naturally to them. Not only does it result in great, anthemic songs (see “The Dead Are Dumb” or “Curse of the Sun”), but it also helps to set Tired of Tomorrow on par with 90’s heroes like The Verve, Hum, or hell, dare I say Oasis. —Dylan


 

31. Cool American—You Can Only Win a Few   

cool-american

I think one of my biggest musical revelations this year is that the term “bedroom pop” can be applied to so many different sounds, and isn’t synonymous with unpolished or unrefined. You Can Win A Few was a major factor in my revelation. Its raw and bedroom-esque production quality closes the gap between artist and audience. Vocalist Nathan Tucker has a distinct voice that will echo in your head for days on end, and the “twinkly” guitar elegantly graces this album without a single moment being cliche. The multiple references to universal DIY show-goer experiences and general millennial existential themes make this album the anthem for a community. —Delaney


 

30. Jimmy Eat World—Integrity Blues           

 jew

Jimmy Eat World are now nine albums in but has the same passion and creativity that they’ve had since the start. With many of the 90s/early 2000s bands returning simply for reunion shows it feels even more crucial that JEW returned with a new offering. Integrity Blues is appropriately named, like a comforting rainy day that allows for honest reflection. No track on the the album feels forced, in fact they all feel necessary as the members explore and experience adulthood in the truest sense. The song-writing is as unstructured as a conversation or journal entry but that’s the beauty in it, every word is important but some lyrics catch you off guard; “Why not? We jumped because we could”. —Hannah

29. LVL Up—Return to Love

 lvl-up

On 2014’s Hoodwink’d¸ LVL Up established that they were fuzz-pop pros. On Return to Love, they moved beyond fun, little jams and into fuller, more compelling arrangements that proved they were serious artists with an individual sound. Songs such as “She Sustains Us,” “Five Men on the Ridge,” and “Spirit Was” move at a nodding pace and utilize tasteful distortion and blinking synths to speckle in additional melodies in between the cloudy vocal deliveries. The hooks are still there (“Hidden Driver” is an earworm), but they’re not as immediate since the songs aren’t as urgent. Instead, many of the catchiest moments actually come from the basslines (“The Closing Door”) and the savory guitar leads—particularly the climactic second half of “Pain,” the standout track. There’re some outliers in the tracklist, but the most obvious one, the seven-minute closer “Naked in the River with the Creator,” is their most ambitious song to date—and it works shockingly well. —Eli

28. Peaer—Peaer    

 peaer

Though it might have slipped through the cracks for some audiences, as it almost did for me, Peaer’s self-titled album deserves no shortage of attention. The Brooklyn band’s second record, its first released through indie-label stalwart Tiny Engines, delicately combines elements of both math and slacker rock with great results. In opening track “Pink Spit,” a slow tempo and loose drumbeats complement the seemingly effortless guitar work that noodles and strays just far enough from itself that any resolution almost feels lucky. Vocal melodies regularly mirror the guitars, and the relaxed delivery of singer Peter Katz is practically dichotic to the emotional urgency that lies behind some of the lyrics, as in “I.H.S.Y.A.” when he sings, “I don’t understand why I can’t be that man, holding more than hands, losing more than friends.” This balance between opposites is exemplified through the shifting tones of the album too, where songs like “Sick” and “For the Rest of Your Life” feel light-hearted and almost poppy, while “Cliff Song” and “Third Law” have a fuzzed-out intensity to them, yet none of them feel out of place. Likewise, peaer never seems to reach a climax, but rather continues trudging along until its suddenly over, at which point you’ll likely hit play and start it all over again. —Dylan

27. Every Time I Die—Low Teens               

 everytime-i-die

Every Time I Die have done it again. They’ve manage to masterfully create a “holy shit” album and it’s no wonder they are behemoths of the genre. The band has been a staple in my life for almost 10 years now and is still one of the few hardcore/heavier bands I’ll consistently jam to. Album after album, I’m always so impressed with how this band can churn out banger after banger with basically little to know sign of slowing down. The album begins with an infectious guitar riff, which when I first heard, I immediately thought to myself “this is going to destroy”, and I was not disappointed. Lead vocalist Keith Buckely is as fierce as ever, the guitar riffs as prominent as they could be and of course the drums and bass just as, if not more, chaotic. This is Every Time I Die. Throughout the album they may surprise you, throw in arrangements they’re experimenting with, or just crush you with that signature sound that we’ve all loved for so long.  —Steven

26. Romp—Departure From Venus    

romp

This band may have recently broken up, but I just had to let you know how much I really like this album. It’s got a cool punk vibe and it’s just so honest. This is basement show music at its finest. My favorite track has got to be the title track “Departure From Venus” for its fun pop punk vibe. Goodbye ROMP. You were a hell of a good time. What a great send off. —Ryan