The Alternative’s Top 50 Albums (Pt. 2)
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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 2 which includes 25 to 1. 50 to 26 are on Part 1 (here).
25 Bon Iver – 22, a million
It seems like 22, a million came out of nowhere, but obviously had years of intense preparation. Justin Vernon has professed his disdain with the drudgery and routine of pop music and it’s over normalized instrumentality, so he used this record to explore unconventional mediums. the opening track was recorded over a beat up Neil Young cassette merely to curate a different listening experience. if Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek” was monumental enough to be forever remembered as the high school anthem for kids too normal for Broken Social Scene, “715 Creeks” would be Zach Braff’s first choice for the next Garden State soundtrack. the record embodies the scenery and weather during the time it was released and immediately solidified itself as a staple in modern music. i could not give this record enough praise. – Chris
24 Emma Ruth Rundle – Marked For Death
I’ve already written about this album upon its release so I’ll keep it short, but ERR’s new album is dripping in its own world of misty atmosphere and cold-crushed melodies. More under-covers and monochromatic in sound than her previous album, she’s dispensed with the need to make sounds sound conventionally “songy” and as structurally percussion driven. ERR is exploring the foam of her own tides and convention and digging into what makes her a musician. The highs and lows are polarizing, from gentle hushed forest-echo vocals to big huge crushing waves of guitar and crashing drum. The albums not full of hooks and rad guitar lines, it’s full of emotional ambience and musical alchemy, shaping itself into the most evocative and human album I think I’ve ever heard. It’s introspective, gothically deep and completely fucking astonishing. – Findlay
23 Posture & The Grizzly – I Am Satan
If you’re anything like me, blink-182 was the single greatest part of your middle school life. Then you grew up and they did too, and released 2016’s worst album: California. What does this have to do with anything? I know you’re looking to fill that Tom Delonge sized hole in your heart. Posture & the Grizzly’s new record I Am Satan is exactly what you need. I am not a real doctor, but I would say you should listen to this record twice daily and see if anything changes. – Anderson
22 Tiny Moving Parts – Celebrate
2014’s Pleasant Living clearly established the band as a force to be reckoned with, but what sets Celebrate ahead of its predecessors is a much livelier, more self-confident attitude. From the beginning, the songs feel very in-your-face, which is partially due to an instrumental mix that focuses on louder, grittier tones. Much of the Celebrate’s guitar work takes a small step away from the intricate noodling the band is known for in exchange for a more rhythmic approach, but songs like Birdhouse and Volumes show that there’s a sweet spot between the two styles where they truly thrive. Another factor contributing to this growth is clearly the lyrical content and subject matter. Whereas Pleasant Living discussed nostalgia and the sadness it can inspire, songs like Happy Birthday or Stay Warm have a confrontational quality to them. It’s as if singer/guitarist Dylan Mattheisen is now willing to call people out on their shit, even if that person is himself, as he does in the brooding Common Cold. The track’s call and response with Foxing vocalist Conor Murphy is one of the most emotionally intense moments the band has constructed yet as the speakers try to either make sense of apathy and a lack of faith, or else concede to them. Quite simply, Celebrate does what Tiny Moving Parts does best, provide a plethora of mathy-emo gems that quickly find themselves trapped in your head, only better. – Dylan
21 Dikembe – Hail Something
After the departure of one of their guitarists during the writing process of a new album, Dikembe doubled back and put out a powerhouse album fit for three, through their own Death Protector Collective, no less. Hail Something offers an older, more weathered perspective from the band (in a good way); both the lyrics and overall tone of the album move them further in the direction of alt-emo. Guitar and bass tracks are heavily distorted in ‘Like an Archer’ when singer Steven Gray admits, “I look around at all these humans and wonder if I seem just well enough put-together to raise another me”. This sort of heavily weighted content could easily pass you by, subtly blending into the frameworks of otherwise energetic songs, but instead, the album leaves you feeling raw at each turn. ‘Fix’ and ‘Awful Machine’ are direct in their discussions of self-doubt and longing for something that feels like personal progress. By the end, Dikembe seem fully aware of what they’ve put listeners through, as closing songs ‘Just Explode’ and ‘Eat’ slow down just enough to let you confront the vulnerability you’ve just experienced. – Dylan
20 Dowsing – Okay
Full disclosure: I have the hand from this album artwork tattooed on my forearm. Yup, that’s how much I loved this album, that’s how much I adore Dowsing. This album serves as a reminder; that we’re going be “okay”, that you’re going to be “okay”. Featuring some of the band’s most energetic tracks to date, Okay displays a new and passionate side of Dowsing. While faster and fuzzier than previous releases, vocalist and writer Erik Czaja’s signature vulnerability and borderline self loathing themes don’t waiver. What makes Czaja’s writing stand out to me, is that while it’s incredibly personal, it isn’t whiny and it lacks the typical “call-out”-esq features that I’ve long grown tired of. It isn’t angry or spiteful, but it’s realistic and frank and that is surely a byproduct of the immense maturity both lyrically and musically, that defines the band. This record keeps things short and sweet, without sacrificing anything. Every song wastes no time, says what it needs to say and concludes before it can run the risk of growing boring or annoying. – Delaney
19 Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
Regardless of what you think of Chance the Rapper’s music, the opportunities he’s afforded other artists is unmatched in any genre. On his third project, Chance continues to question and cripple the pop machine (I mean, seven Grammy noms for an independent artist, 3 for a free mixtape?). Coloring Book starts where Chance left off on “Ultralight Beam,” utilizing vibrant Gospel textures to paint beautiful images of freedom & joy. His anti-label banger “No Problem” has both a soulful choir sample and a fantastic 2 Chainz verse. Francis & the Lights goes full Justin Vernon for Chance & Jeremih’s vivid depiction of hot days in south side Chicago. D.R.A.M. gets a song to himself. And that’s all before track 5. A long and eclectic list of guests drop by Coloring Book, but everyone is exactly where they should be, and each serves to amplify the heart of the project: Chance the Rapper. – Riley
18 Microwave – Much Love
Much Love is the best true to form rock record of the year. It’s loud and climatic, however, Microwave shines when they trade in their aggression for serenity. “Roaches,” “Dull,” and “Wrong” slowly progress through harmless and interesting riffs below Nathan Hardy’s soft yet jarring vocals. Hardy’s dramatic delivery is chilling and his lyrics witty, enough so to become the outstanding focal point throughout Much Love.
“Vomit,” the least accessible song on the album, is the premier example of Microwave’s balancing act. Rhythmic guitar melodies that sit right between Hardy’s calm voice and Tito Pittard’s delicate drum pattern unexpectedly detonate with power and hostility reminiscent of Brand New’s “You Won’t Know.”There have been many talented bands that have tried to do the “classic” rock album and have fallen short. Microwave have not, which is one of many reasons that they’re the most promising band alternative music has to offer. – Colin
17 Frameworks – Smother
The driving pace of this album helps blend its visceral nature into a full throttle, frantic pleasure. The vocals shred over the instruments, which often time take really delicate swings, and then there’s the crushing weight of the world to not be smothered by. – Sean
16 Into It. Over It – Standards
Each album Evan Weiss has released as Into It. Over It. has been poignant and resonant in its own right, so calling Standards his best work yet feels slightly backhanded. Instead, it feels more appropriate to suggest he has found his most essential voice to date. Standards utilizes and builds upon aspects of songwriting from every stage of the band’s catalog. Songs like Your Lasting Image and The Circle of the Same Ideas create a more open atmosphere with softer guitar melodies and somewhat slower tempos, while Vis Major speeds things up and provides dynamic intensity. All of this brings a welcome familiarity to the album, but its innovations shine just as brightly. Most notable is the prominence of synthesizers in the melodies of No EQ and Who You Are ≠ Where You Are, which presents itself entirely genuinely. The result of Standards’ across-the-board confidence is an album with tremendous clout in its genre; one sure to be a reference point for bands from here on. – Dylan
15 Frank Ocean – Blond
In the age of anticipation, only Frank Ocean dared to show us how goddamn hard it is to make an album. His quietly brilliant visual album, Endless, shined light on the labor involved in being a desired artist by literally constructing something right in front of us. Blond, however, is not just simply the result of that labor; it is a subtle, genre-less gift of self, from Frank Ocean to the people. Here, he’s as vulnerably honest on his wiry guitar ballads, like “Ivy” and “Self Control,” as he is on the hip-hop cuts, like “Nights” and “Futura Free.” Big-name contributors (Kendrick, Beyonce) and eclectic influences (Elliot Smith, The Beatles) can be discovered in the details, but Blond is all about the man behind the art. So the mystery is solved: while we were hoping and wishing (and complaining), he was building, and the result is a remarkable album that only Frank Ocean could make. – Riley
14 Andy Shauf – The Party
We’ve all been to this party. Throughout his immersive fourth album, Andy Shauf is terse and conversational as he recounts a friendly gathering that borders on too familiar. Sure, most can relate to the innocent froth: showing up a little too early, dancing to the radio, and stepping out for cigarettes just to think. But I suspect many will see themselves in the slippery moments, too: falling for a close friend’s significant other, tearing apart said friend behind their back, and reluctantly holding someone else at the end of the night. The party acts as a vessel for reflection; Shauf uses this space to confront discomfort and address the shadier sides of his psyche, encouraging listeners to do the same. – Riley
13 A Tribe Called Quest – We’ve Got It From Here…
Like many I assumed that the days of Tribe were well behind us, especially following the untimely death of Phife Dawg (one of so many tragic departures of influential artists this year – something I’ll touch on again further down) and would have been happy enough replaying The Low End Theory on and on into eternity. Instead, Tribe ended up dropping a lengthy, dense, and invigorating collection of songs that not only feel fresh and vital, but also are among the group’s finest work. This album came just in time, and has so much to offer across its sixteen tracks – ruminations on politics, ego, grief, and a million and one other facets of life elegantly expressed over some of the year’s finest music. – Nick
12 Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
Of course Modern Baseball’s half-Jake half-Bren album came with the obligatory Speakerboxxx/The Love Below quip. Luckily, the comparisons pretty much stop at structure. Holy Ghost is 1/5th the run time and nobody raps. Its also an extremely dynamic indie rock record from a band that houses two of the genre’s most interesting current voices in Jake Ewald & Brendan Lukens. Despite different styles and narratives, the two halves seem imperative to one another. While Jake’s side mostly touches on grief in the wake of losing a loved one, and Bren’s side hones in on his struggle with mental illness, the overarching theme on the LP is the importance of friendship. Its the glue that holds Holy Ghost together. Friendship means something different for everyone, including Brendan & Jake, but they both know it could save your life. – Riley
11 Touche Amore – Stage Four
There is plenty of great art that addresses the subject of grief, some of elsewhere on this list. So much so in fact that the subject itself can become tired, like a well to often drawn from, or at its worst can feel manipulative and even exploitative. Touche Amore’s latest (and greatest?) record is, as I’ve said elsewhere, a testament to the power of music as a narrative form, and is an important moment in punk and hardcore without an equal. Powerful, elegantly crafted songs with deeply moving lyrics flawlessly performed. It’s an album so heartrending I haven’t been able to listen to it recently (which is something Jeremy Bolm says of himself and his favorite music on “New Halloween”). That is a connection to music unlike any I’ve known. What else can you ask for? – Nick
10 Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Teens of Denial tells the story of songwriter Will Toledo realizing how utterly unprepared he is to leap from the warmth of adolescence and plunge into the cold, murky waters of adulthood. Behind the crunchy guitars, momentous hooks, and charmingly slurred verses are shameful confessions of drunk driving, bad trips, and a complete inability to care for himself and make sound choices. Not only does this record speak to a wide audience lyrically, but it has just the right balance of grainy, lo-fi production, classic rock ambition, and melodious accessibility to appeal to practically anyone with even the most basic interest in indie rock. The apex arrives in the form of the 11-minute “The Ballad of the Costa Concordia” in which Toledo hysterically hollers, “I give up.” It’s such a simple phrase, but after an album full of longwinded attempts at rationalization, he packaged it all into that one, concise, relieving sentiment. – Eli
9 Strange Ranger – Rot Forever
In the interest of complete and total transparency – I’ll tell you that being from Portland myself, I’ve seen Strange Ranger live more times than I can count. Yet every single goddamn time they captivate me. There was a lot of hype and build up in our local community surrounding the release of Rot Forever. I remember listening to “Dom” for the first time in November of 2015 and quite honestly losing my shit. I put that track on repeat for days on end. When Rot Forever finally did release I was dumbfounded at it’s pure and unadulterated breathtaking beauty. It’s about 72 minutes long, touts 16 tracks- and not a single second of it is boring. Somehow, I still want more Strange Ranger. (Lucky for us Sunbeams Through Your Head provided a new quick fix to hold us over.) – Delaney
8 Crying – Beyond The Fleeting Gales
It’s not a backhanded compliment to Crying’s previous releases, which showed promise, but in every aspect, the band grew up while writing Beyond the Fleeting Gales. It’s apparent that Crying have discovered that they can write athematic songs without the silliness featured on 2014’s Get Olde / Second Wind.
Gales successfully teeters the fine line between structured chaos and reckless abandon. As a result, don’t expect to be able to hear yourself think while listening to the gigantic choruses of songs like “Premonitory Dream,” “A Sudden Gust,” and “Revive.” It’s highly probable that Crying have used more instruments on this record than I can count on two hands, but they’re incorporated thoughtfully and productively, which is why the record is far above noteworthy. – Colin
7 Mitski – Puberty 2
It’s difficult to find a list of merit out there that is missing Puberty 2. In this case, the hype is not hyperbolic, but entirely earned. This album is populated by songs that are often brief, tunes distilled to their most basic forms, and yet convey – through Mitski’s words, voice, and artfully fleeting arrangements – a vast depth of feeling. Mitski expands on her past work into more experimental and yet concise material on a record that will doubtlessly move anyone who has ever seen the beauty inherent in dark and overwhelming emotions. – Nick
6 Joyce Manor – Cody
As someone who wasn’t shy about not enjoying Joyce Manor’s first two releases, I was pleasantly surprised by the band’s third full-length album, Never Hungover Again. It was a friendlier, less abrupt take on their previously abrasive songs. On Cody, the band continues to move away from their once polarizing sound, slowly forming into a warmer, wittier, and catchier version of Weezer during their peak.
Cody’s lyrics are clever and its songs are diverse – spiking and diving in their aggression, all while each maintaining a lively hook. On this album, Joyce Manor proved that Never Hungover Again wasn’t a fluke, but in fact a tipping point for a series of superb albums. – Colin
5 Hotelier – Goodness
It’s hard for me to put into words exactly what this album means to me. I think it’s the greatest thing to come out of this shitshow of a year and one of the only things that has gotten me through it. Lyrically, it’s unlike anything I’ve heard in a long time. The tone of the album as a whole is soft, but earnest. I found it somewhat reminiscent of Mary Oliver’s poetry, which is referenced in the track ‘Soft Animal’ – seemingly homage to her poem Wild Geese. It’s not an album everyone will find a home in, but I think the people who have latched on see its beauty and necessity in this world. – Anderson
4 Prince Daddy & The Hyena – I Thought You Didn’t Even Like Leaving
Each of their songs explode with angst and deep lyrical introspection about being in your 20’s dealing with anxiety and depression “I forgot to take my meds today / I can’t believe it’s only Tuesday.” hating your shitty job, “you can’t read the menu? / well I don’t give a fuck / I’ve been here since noon / and I’m not leaving soon” or getting high to escape it all, “I spent the past few months lifted away from everyone / I got high and thought everything was alright / I guess I forgot about every aspect of my life.”
Nestled between the shredding guitars, driving bass lines, and exploding drums, the lyrics scream out about the troubles of the day. Self-doubt, loneliness, debt, mental health struggles, but also the determined resilience to just keep on going. “Whenever I’m freaking out I keep the thought of the cast of FRIENDS real close to my head / It’s not absurd to say that 10 goddamn seasons would be the longest friendship I’d ever have / and if Ross and Rachel last than maybe this feeling too shall pass.”
3 PUP – The Dream Is Over
If context means anything, then The Dream Is Over will always an album rooted in 2016 when friendships became harder, drinking became heavier, growing up became weirder, and death hit too close to home. It’s a record with closed fists but a clear mind, an anger that still stems from maturity and shamelessness. “I just don’t wanna die / And I don’t wanna live” may have sounded like isolated whining at the beginning of the year, but after months of political or personal tragedy it’s almost a collective mantra of exhaustion. PUP picked up speed but didn’t sacrifice sound, the bass and drums provide enough consistency to allow for the ever intricate guitar work to be as unpredictable as they please. While the album is stuck in the year from hell, the music videos feature the purest thing from this year: Stranger Things cast memebers. Fin Wolfhard graces the visuals of “Guilt Trip” and “Sleep In The Heat.” The dream might be over, but I bet PUP is just getting started and that’s something to look forward to. – Hannah
2 Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY.
WORRY. isn’t the neatest or smoothest record of the year. It abruptly shifts; manic choruses and gang vocals are followed by near silence. Introductory keystrokes are drowned out by scratchy vocals and impatient guitars. It’s only this way because Rosenstock has so much to say in such little time. But attempting to crunch every musical idea and political burn into one record is ill-advised at worst on WORRY. because the message conveyed within the album is important in a way words cannot give full credence.
WORRY. is a masterful explanation of this country’s division and anxiety, containing universal appeal because it unapologetically points out the idiocy and hypocrisy within our political and social culture. It’s the main reason that this record has obtained national attention. In a way, Rosenstock’s words become bigger than himself.
Take for example “Festival Song,” where he sings that, “It feels completely ridiculous that I’m a willing participant / Gazing at the purple and pinks in the shadow of a bank-sponsored skyline / Unite against the establishment.” It’s not likely that Rosenstock wrote this record attempting to define one of the most tumultuous years in modern American history, but I’m sure that as it took form, he knew something special was brewing. – Colin
1 Pinegrove – Cardinal
Pinegrove’s Cardinal is our album of the year. Nearly every member of the staff loved this album and put it in their personal top 10. That just speaks to the widespread appeal of this endeavoring Jersey band. Whether 2016 was the year you watched Pinegrove grow or the year you found them for the first time, there’s no doubt that the masterpiece Cardinal was worthy of everyone’s attention.
DIY at heart and southern in soul, Pinegrove took indie rockers by surprise with a sound that is both refreshing and familiar. Cardinal is so accessible your dad or diner waitress might be listening to it in their headphones without you ever knowing. The eight songs flow effortlessly despite the obvious meticulous work of the New Jersey group. The lyrics allow for universal introspective but songwriting never lacks personality. “I saw your boyfriend at the port authority / it’s kind of a fucked place” might not be the reason Port Authority is renovating but there’s no doubt this album gave both listeners and musicians a certain freedom to change and try something new. – Hannah