Our Top 25 Albums So Far in 2016
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I don’t want to jinx it because it’s only June, but I can’t stop thinking about how utterly mind blowing the music of 2016 has been. There have been a slew of releases that are worth talking about and relistening again and again. It has been absolutely the best year for music that I can remember, and certainly the best in our site’s short history. The D.I.Y. scene is bursting and smaller bands are making a name for themselves. Each week it seems another album kicks open the door and turns all of our heads. I am sure there will be even more incredible releases to come, but here are 25 of our favorite records to come so far in 2016.
Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
The Impossible Kid is the tale of modern days. Painted in everyday life compelling stories, Aesop Rock packs each track full of incredible wit and a descriptive charm that is not matched by others. It’s an album for himself, made by himself and a reflective stance which is beyond himself. Rock’s flow is very much the same as it has always been, with a monotone delivery that focuses more on wordplay and descriptive imagery — narrating flash fiction pieces that wrap existential life discussions into clever anecdotes. I mean, shit, there is an entire Youtube video for The Impossible Kid. “Kirby” is a song about a cat that comes to a clever ending from Rock’s psychiatrist, “I don’t know, maybe get a kitten.” We at The Alternative like to believe that music is a form of therapy. At your wit’s end I can only say one thing, “I don’t know, listen to Aesop Rock.”
Basement – Promise Everything
Before their 2012 release Colourmeinkindness, Basement announced a “hiatus” that ended up being a bit shorter than many of us thought. They returned after a little over a year with theirFurther Sky EP – demonstrating a change in sound. This change was carried on to Promise Everything, abandoning the grungy approach for a subtle, melodically alternative aesthetic. Produced by Sam Pura, the album opens with an indirect explosiveness with tracks “Brother’s Keeper” and “Hanging Around,” which initially don’t strike nearly as creatively as one would think, but given a second or third time around it’s evident that the transition from a guitar-heavy track into the bass-driven latter track provides a dynamic “push-pull” facet that sets the tone for the remainder of the album. Track four, “Aquasun” is arguably the band’s best on the album, and although carries a big sing-along themed chorus, it’s the coherent changeover into the vocally charged track “Submission” that puts Andrew Fisher’s vocals at the forefront, ready to shine. The bands push in a different direction gives us tracks such as “Oversized,” an acoustic based song that leads listeners through emotionally gauging final songs of the album, which lends to the statement that this may very well be the bands most cohesive work to date. The heartwarming final track “Halo” perhaps encapsulates the more or less growth of the band and a bright future ahead for the UK based quintet.
– Steven Lalonde
Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial
You know those moments in your life where you become hyper-observant? Those times when you can recall vividly every detail – not just what happened, but how you felt about it? These moments are rare and usually prompted by an incredibly significant happening – like a tragedy or a triumph. Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial is full of the former. Their unique but familiar form of indie rock finds frontman Will Toledo recounting stories of self-doubt and tragedy with charming specificity. Each song is strikingly descriptive, and each narrative full of casual allure; so much so that listening to each song feels like a gloomy short film. As soon as I saw “Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales” on Car Seat Headrest’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert, I knew it’d be one of my favorites of 2016. Who knew they’d make 11 more just as captivating? P.S. This album also helped me rediscover my love for “White Flag” by Dido
Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book
It’s getting real hard for the “I don’t like rap” crowd to hate on the genre. Chalk that up to its biggest superstars; last year Kendrick Lamar inspired hearts and changed minds with To Pimp a Butterfly, and now Chance the Rapper is continuing the trend. Chicago’s Chancellor Bennet is one of the most influential musicians on the planet, and the only rapper who can say they did it by themselves and mean it. The 100% independent artist is responsible for a billboard charting album (solely off of free streams), hundreds of coats for Chicago’s homeless through his Warmest Winter program, and even the official new Chicago White Sox hats. More impressive than all of this, though, is the vibrant, life-affirming music offered on his third free mix tape Coloring Book. The project turns Gospel-infused bubblegum rap into full-on anthems, like the certified anti-label banger “No Problem” or the ultra-smooth Future-featuring “Smoke Break.” Carefully-selected guest spots and Chance’s theatrical, always-on energy makes the project the most thoroughly enjoyable hip-hop album of the year.
Culture Abuse – Peach
On their full-length debut, Peach, the San Francisco outfit dare you to try and categorize them. Within the confines of the 10 song concoction, Culture Abuse manage to aggressively blend together poppy melodies, true punk grit and grungy garage rock — yet never give the listener a definitive genre to brand them with. If I were to guess, they wouldn’t want it any other way. Throwing in the occasional keyboard, harmonica and acoustic arrangements on tracks such as “Yuckies” and “Living in the City” adds even more intrigue to an album that owes much to the noisy skater punk sound that was displayed on their previous EP releases. Produced by Scott Goodrich (Nu-Tone Studios), the album masterfully combines guitar heavy tones, infectious drum grooves all held together by bassist Shane Plitt. Vocalist David Kelling then adds a ragged vocal style that works to a tee on an album that, lyrically, is nothing short of emotional and straight to the point — invoking a main theme of “doing the best with what you have while you’re here.” All in all, Culture Abuse have provided their audience with an album that oozes confidence and “go for it” attitude that bodes well with their fans and any new first time listeners that will give them a listen.
– Steven Lalonde
David Bazan – Blanco
While I don’t know that I could say that David Bazan (Pedro the Lion, Headphones) is completely underrated compared to his 90’s contemporaries in both emo and indie, he certainly has not seemed to have the fervent praise that he deserves. Truly one of the most outspoken and sincere artists, Bazan has continued to make wonderful music since the end of Pedro the Lion, and his latest solo effort, Blanco, is no exception. While past projects layered existential topics and storytelling over somber instrumentals, Blanco offers a more straightforward, but nevertheless candid, Bazan over keyboards, drumtracks , synthesizers, and the occasional acoustic. The broad thoughts covered in, say, Control, have become more direct and focused on the present. The album tackles musings of life on the road as a career musician, loneliness, finances, and family, especially on “Oblivion” and “Trouble With Boys.” However, the modern electronics that Bazan used to back his songs give a new twist on said topics, offering a sonically “fresher” perspective. “Little Landslide” is a gorgeous track that keeps the acoustic guitar at the forefront in which Bazan’s weary “Stop and think” elicits both forlorn and hopeful feelings. The album stays relatively steady throughout, and some may not enjoy the use of modern sampling and keyboard, but in Blanco, Bazan has managed to present a crisper, newer wrinkle to his emotional and introspective songwriting, and quite honestly, he nailed it. It may take some time to adjust to its format, but I was lucky enough to have first-listened to this on a late-night drive from Wilmington, DE to Norfolk, VA, and it was absolutely perfect. Highly recommended for late-night solitude.
David Bowie – Black Star
If 2016 has been defined by one theme so far, it is – undoubtedly and unfortunately – loss. With some of the most deadly, too often human inflicted disasters hitting cities and people across the world, and the seemingly unending string of untimely deaths of those we hold in our society’s highest regard, an album like Blackstar has only become more poignant in the months since its release. The elegiac power of this album aside, Bowie’s farewell would have made an impact regardless of climate. The rich, incredibly modern, cutting tracks on this album have the power to stir and scintillate. Infectious grooves, brooding sentimentality, and expertly executed instrumentals allow for this record to stand – for this listener – above even the year’s boldest efforts. While there are many great albums on this list, most of them from the younger crop of artist trying to make a name for themselves, only Blackstar harkens to that golden, or perhaps star dusted age when albums were towers and not houses, all while showing us something bright and new in the face of so much darkness.
– Nick Otte
DIIV – Is The Is Are
Audibly this album is pretty easy to understand, but the depth of which it strikes you matters so much more than the pure sonic palette. It rings like The Cure but feels so modernly extinguished. DIIV had something to prove and they went beyond thought about it — including an album title that is as philosophically inexcusable as my own head. Is The Is Are is not only a record that defines a space, but it creates the next space for it to sift into as you listen.
Gates – Parallel Lives
The sophomore LP from the five-piece American/Canadian post-rock band, Parallel Lives came with a cloud of questions encompassing it. The main question being, could Gates release an album that not only maintains an ambient, yet soft collection of tracks, but also provide the vital serenity-grandeur combination that Gates fans have come to expect at this point? The answer: yes. Parallel Lives begins with an ambient tone with “Forget” that holds true and resonates through until the finale “Parallel Lives.” The atmospheric keyboards present on tracks such as the aforementioned opening track and “Color Worn” allow listeners to draw comparisons to Copeland’s Ixora and lend to the totality of the overall laid-back aura the album is presented in. Kevin Dye’s vocals gleam best on track 8 “Fade” as the piano-led sound compliments Dye’s wistful yet somewhat vulnerable voice. While some may have an issue with the band slowing things down in a sense – with respect to their previous work Bloom and Breathe – Parallel Lives manages to give the songs a sense of blissfulness while allowing for reflection. Different from the post-rock orchestration on Bloom and Breathe, the latest provides a guitar-drum combination that is not as emphatic, yet perfectly timed, allowing in a way for the songs to be open and breathe.
– Steven Lalonde
Half Waif – Probable Depths
Nandi Rose Plunkett is a sheer FORCE with which to be reckoned. On Probable Depths, Haif Waif’s follow-up to 2014’s Kotekan, emotional, equal parts delicate and durable vocal performances, icy but far from unfeeling keyboards, organic piano tones, minimalist-where-appropriate and tastefully electronic percussion (from Pinegrove’s Zack Levine, exhibiting his far ranging stylistic masteries, between his performance herein and on this year’s Cardinal) all come together seamlessly to form this extremely satisfying listen of a record. Plunkett’s refreshing approach to song structure and the way her pieces naturally grow and evolve out of and within themselves, paired with her seemingly effortless fusion of musics ancient and futuristic, are what make “Probable Depths'” sound entirely its own. Sorrowful string arrangements and drums pads? Antique choral yet bionic synth-cool layers of vocal harmony? Ya. To boot, have you checked out the recent “A Remote Session,” featuring nothing but Nandi’s voice and her piano prowess? More evidence than needed (yet entirely welcomed) to make clear her immense talent. Don’t be a goof — catch Half Waif touring across the country this summer.
Henrietta – Paper Wings
Paper Wings starts rather abruptly, with an immediate reflection wading through the mix. It’s rather calming — composed through soft guitar licks bouncing between breathing refrains illuminated by weaving melodies. Behind the swirl of silvery guitars, the rhythmic drum work accents everything rather perfectly. Henrietta strung every ounce of their best offerings into a short, cohesive record. Seven succinct tracks are wound together with careful detail, of eminent quality backed by catchy refrains and to the point compositions. It’s an album that reaches the atmosphere of possibility even if the lyrical content addresses otherwise. It’s doesn’t try to overdo anything, it just plays.
The Hotelier – Goodness
Honestly. I don’t think more words can be spoken about this record than the massive buzz it has received across the internet. Goodness is more methodical, more drawn out and more emotionally invested. It plays with traditional mixing technique and song structure. The songs won’t be scratching at you with their nails, rather caressing you with their warmth. Personally, I still have not made it past the final five songs without being a complete emotional wreck.
Hurry – Guided Meditation
In these warm summer months, no album from earlier in the year has stuck with my like Hurry’sGuided Meditation. The album is truly a meditation, a warm contemplation of one’s own flaws. Like the best of The Beach Boys, each track stand on its own rock foundation, while embracing pop sing-along type refrains. The guitars and cutting vocals carry the album and hook onto your own mind, a self depreciating and self reflective mantra. “I’m fascinated by you, I’m insane does that surprise you“. Are these my feelings? Are these Hurry’s feelings? Either way, great record.
Into It. Over It. – Standards
Evan Weiss (AKA Into It. Over It.) didn’t try to make emo tasteful, he just keeps subtly reminding us that it already is. For his 3rd album, Standards, Weiss and new bandmate Josh Sparks spent 30 days in a snowed-in Vermont cabin writing for 13 hours a day, and it shows. The detail-oriented LP shows massive range and versatile songwriting that artists in any genre could only dream of; Sparks’ flashy percussion energizes the LP’s driving tracks (“No EQ,” “Adult Contempt”), while lush strings and esoteric minutiae leave a lot of little discoveries for repeated listening in the gentler cuts (“Your Lasting Image,” “Anesthetic”). Standards is a unique record, genre-less not because its indecisive or lacks identity, but rather because of its natural earnestness. Weiss wrote 12 emo and indie-rock ‘standards’ in a time when the two are basically synonymous, opting to step back and be proud of his expanding genre while quietly pushing it forward.
Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp
Michelle Zauner has done it. Shes done something that bands have struggled with in the past few years and shes done it so effortlessly I cant listen to Psychopomp without smiling. Shes made the familiarity of 90’s shoegaze indie and made it contemporary in its execution. A lush, cosmic, romantic flightpath over swirling galaxies of late-mornings and reflections of the sun through glasses of water. Catchy vocals and dreamy, shimmering instruments forming and coalescing out the fuchsia void, giving us a brief glimpse of a nostalgia we never actually had, only to reshape it in its wet hands. I cant even begin to list how many things I love and feel inside this music because this paragraph would end up being some long meandering novel on fingertips brushing against flowers in the sun and stars exploding in a rainy field. Just listen to this. It’s the fucking best.
Modern Baseball – Holy Ghost
In the time since their last release, Modern Baseball has matured both musically and emotionally.Holy Ghost is a listening experience with songs often sounding like vulnerable journal entries, yet they remain accessible enough for fans and live shows. The album has distinct opening and closing tracks, as if the split song writing between Jake and Brendan isn’t enough to show MoBo & co.’s thought and care for everything they create.
Nothing – Tired Of Tomorrow
This album is the best to rise out of 90’s revival; with songs transcending different bands of the area and playing them to perfection. The sonic palette ranges from discordant distortions to airy melodies, winding over and over. On Tired Of Tomorrow, Nothing put everything on the plate. The vocals dip into the atmosphere and tinge them with another driving force to the overall melody , creating an umbrella of sonic pleasures to be heard throughout every song; no matter the tone or mood expressed.
Pinegrove – Cardinal
After catching these guys in a cramped, dark basement in October 2015, I walked away knowing that I’d never see that band in a space like that again. Pinegrove have undeniably blown up since the release of Cardinal, an album that’s been virtually immune to negative criticism throughout all circles of independent rock music. It’s also an album that quite honestly didn’t fully click upon my initial listens, at least in the way some other records did this year. However, I now accredit that to the record’s thoroughness, with both its lyrics and the vast array of subtleties that make Evan Hall such a charming, appealing songwriter. Be patient with “Cardinal,” it improves with age.
Posture & The Grizzly – I Am Satan
Posture and the Grizzly’s surprise sophomore LP is called I Am Satan – a project that not only transcends the shock value of its title, but embodies it also. The 12-tracker was recorded around the same time and in the same studio as The World is A Beautiful Place’s landmark LPHarmlessness (the bands also share two members); as a result, the same sharp, stadium-sized production that Harmlessness boasted now magnify Posture’s bouts of drug riddled rage and self-deprecation. Sonically, I Am Satan somehow ends up sounding like some super-hybrid of Blink-182 and Jimmy Eat World; frontman Jordan Michael’s new polished vocal approach and the album’s wide mix lend palpable urgency to its explosive moments. Aside from the scattered instrumental bits – which more directly call to mind TWIABP’s recent output – Michael’s cathartic honesty and frenzied persona take center stage on this LP, and make up the foundation for some of the most accessible pop-punk songs i’ve heard in years. (Don’t sleep on this one, I haven’t come across something with this much sing-along-in-your-car value since Tell All Your Friends)
PUP – The Dream Is Over
It’s 2016 and everyone wants to talk about PUP. The Canadian quartet’s sophomore record has received rave reviews from practically every music journalism outlet in the blogosphere- and deservedly so. Whether it’s the supernatural transition between the first two tracks, the devilishly catchy “woah-oh’s” in “Sleep In The Heat,” the exploding breakdown at the end of “Familiar Patterns,” or the infectious, gang-vocal chorus of “Can’t Win,” this record is beyond saturated with punk rock prowess. Following up a debut as blistering as theirs almost seemed like an impossible task- but we should’ve known if anyone could do it, it’s PUP.
Saosin – Along The Shadows
In 2016, post-hardcore is experiencing a resurgence few could have predicted. The reunion of genre-defining bands like Underoath has caused understandable excitement, but nothing could top when news broke that the genre’s most anticipated album to never exist, a proper full-length from scene veterans Saosin fronted by original vocalist Anthony Green, would finally see the light of day this year. I, like so many others, always felt a little robbed by never receiving a proper Green-fronted followup to 2003’s incendiary Translating The Name EP. Their influence is legendary – you can’t look at a Warped Tour roster from the last decade without finding a dozen bands or so who owe their existence to “Seven Years” or “3rd Measurement in C”. Saosin’s meteoric rise saw a divisive split – Green opting for a fiery tenure in Circa Survive while Saosin forged ahead without him. With vocalist Cove Reber at the helm, the band nobly sought to catapult screamo beyond their debut EP’s vision for years before going on hiatus 3 years ago (effectively firing Reber and losing lead-guitarist Justin Shekoski in the process). While those years of effort inevitably fell short, Along The Shadow realizes that grand vision, but not without a few missteps.
Sioux Falls – Rot Forever
It’s difficult to comprehend the brilliance that is Rot Forever. However, it’s legitimately mind boggling to think how this is Sioux Falls’ debut album. The Portland trio developed the perfect concoction of sprawling indie rock and abrasive, stream of consciousness emo that’s spread throughout 72 gorgeous-though tastefully gritty-minutes. The band can slowly climb before breaking down into a fit (“San Francisco Earthquake”), sear quickly and dangerously (“In Case It Gets Lost”), or patiently crescendo into the sonic embodiment of their picturesque album cover (“McConaughey”). Also, the lyrics on this record are…oof. Chillingly relatable. I’m calling it right now: this record is a gem of this era.
Tancred – Out Of The Garden
Lead singer of Tancred, Jess Abbott’s approach was always notably scornful, but the instrumentation behind her words was both mild and graceful. Out of the Garden is a pivot from the serene and upset, yet relaxed state that once defined Tancred. Abbott and company made an album that is a logical progression musically, but is unexpectedly slathered with a layer of explosive angst, cynicism, and bitterness. Together this produced an incredible record I have been revisiting constantly since it’s release.
Tiny Moving Parts – Celebrate
I get why this record is atop most mid-year favorite lists I’ve seen – here we’re seeing one of the genre’s premiere breakouts in peak form. TMP uses each moment to their advantage, crafting a deliberate record with plenty to revisit after multiple listens. “Headache”, while catchy, ultimately reminds me of Jared Alonge’s genre-parody “The Distance Between You and Me is Longer Than the Title of this Song” – comprising the best mid-western emo has to offer. After catching TMP’s recent set at Bled Fest, I can say first-hand that the album translates into one of the most phenomenal live shows around. Verse after verse is sonic to the last. No band makes such mathy-technicality sound so effortless. Guitarist/vocalist Dylan Mattheisen finds his a groove on “Common Cold”, blending bounce with bravado with loaded lyrics like “I don’t believe in anything” (potentially cliche on the surface, but timeless in execution). Clearly, one thing Mr. Mattheisen believes in is practicing, because his chops are certifiably lit. Matthew & Billy Chevalier hold down bass/drums respectively, and go from 0-to-batshit at the turn of a verse. “Happy Birthday” stands out as my favorite TMP track both live & on-record because, for a few precious minutes, I find myself optimistic for a future where dozens of bands will cite this band as their reason for forming one of their own. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but Celebrate really feels like this generation’s Four Minute Mile. There’s much to ponder, and much to believe in here.
Weezer – White Album
Weezer’s The White Album to me is an extremely welcome throwback to a different era of pop rock. Rivers Cuomo’s oddly charming whiny style of singing will burrow into your head and make you feel like he sat on his bed with his shitty acoustic guitar and wrote it for you. Make no mistake though, there is not a shitty song on this album. The track that really stood out to me was the single “Thank God For Girls.” This is the song that sounded like something off an album 10 years ago that got played on the radio 3 times an hour. It’s fun, it’s energetic, and you can singalong with it at the top of your lungs, which is one of the main reasons I think this song will last, and you will still hear it in bars 15 years from now.
That being said, the whole album has this classic rock album feel. Theres nothing particularly fancy on any of the songs but they are just so solid. It’s actually sort of odd because it’s hard to say why this album stands out to me as one of the best of the year, but it does. The lyrics are probably the most unique part about this album, they sound like if a stream of consciousness occasionally rhymed. Its not as if the album ROCKS particularly hard, but that just makes the songs on it that do rock rock so much harder. The closest thing that I can compare this album to is art that utilizes negative space to tell its story.
– Ryan Manns