The Alternative’s Top 50 Albums of 2017

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25           Cool American – Infinite Hiatus

I do not feel hyperbolic in saying that Nathan Tucker is a polymath of songwriting, and Infinite Hiatus demands an expansion of what defines a good songwriter. Tucker has created an album that has pop hooks to sing to, lyrics to relate to, breakdowns to move to, and beauty to close your eyes to, all of which slither into one another organically. He speaks to feelings of anxiety with loud, complex, ear-filling riffs (“Cashed Out,” “Sockets”), and feelings of gray, tempered, fogginess with transitions into soft, wispy, sonic comfort (“honestly forever,” “indefinite hiatus). He also meets the desire to feel unencumbered, with danceable, singable, straight-up Sheryl Crow-level melodies (“Lifers Pt. 2,” “Maui’s,” “Soda Yoda”). There are moments where all of these aspects are working in conjunction, and moments where none are employed whatsoever. Maybe that’s how Infinite Hiatus remains surprising, rewarding, and exciting with each successive listen. – Ellie


24           Greet Death – Dixieland

Perhaps no record took me more by surprise this year than Dixieland from Flint, Michigan’s Greet Death. The gargantuan debut LP is glacial and explosive. The band combines sludgy guitar riffs, thunderous alt-rock percussion, and expressive freak-folk vocals for something truly distinct. While most tracks on Dixieland pass the 5-minute mark, Greet Death are versatile; their best is a three-and-a-half minute hypnotic beast called “Valediction.” Their bleak, metal-inspired approach to rock is evocative of cold Michigan winters.  – Riley


23           Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds From Another Planet

A little more laid-back and a little more mature than its 2016 predecessor, Japanese Breakfast’s Soft Sounds From Another Planet is true to its name and all too often overlooked. My picks off this record have got to be “Road Head” for it’s absolutely sick art gallery beat and “The Body is a Blade” for it’s breezy, hazy, forgotten summer afternoon feeling. But any indie chill-out mix should feature at least three tracks off this album, minimum. – Ryan


22           Converge – The Dusk In Us

To continually push the boundaries of a genre is one thing, but Converge continually push themselves into new territory with every release. Their consistency is nearly unmatched, forging yet another record with the same frenetic and dynamic energy of their previous release. The Dusk In Us is another beautiful dot on this band’s ever-growing and hopefully never-ending timeline. – Sean


21           Blis. – No One Loves You

The debut album of Atlanta’s Blis. is so well-crafted you wouldn’t believe it’s their first full-length. No One Loves You is an immensely powerful record laced with themes of religion, forbidden love, disapproving families, and parenthood. Perhaps the most impressive track is “Servant,” an ambient and haunting interlude sandwiched between two of the record’s loudest tracks. Even if you don’t specifically identify with the themes and stories, frontman Aaron Gossett’s display of raw emotion through his vocals is extremely captivating. – Rebecca


20           Bully – Losing

In 2015, Nashville’s Bully came tumbling into the spotlight with their debut record, Feels Like. In the years since, the band have fought off droves of their own demons that left them vulnerable, but stronger. Losing chronicles these battles, balancing the jangly indie rock they’d established previously with something much more ferocious. Alicia Bognanno’s signature howl claws through the thick layers of distorted instrumentation, pumping every song with primal energy. The record patches together pop rhythms and panic-stricken discord into a kind of sonic quilt. The songs on Losing come together to illustrate the pains and pleasures of being human. Whether it be personal relationships or politics, the band turn defenselessness into a brave form of combativeness. – Yong


19           A Will Away – Here Again

It was a big year for A Will Away. The band signed to Triple Crown Records and released their first full-length, Here Again, which they supported on a tour with Moose Blood, Trophy Eyes and Boston Manor. The alternative foursome, hailing from Connecticut, have matured significantly since their first handful of EPs. Here Again flaunts more sophisticated riffs that give an edge to the band’s pop-rock sound. In addition to the music, the group released a series of conceptual videos to accompany different songs on the album. The video for “Gravity,” directed by Eric Teti, visualizes abstract concepts like time and gravity through images of clocks, pocket watches and Newton’s cradles. On Here Again and its cinematic extensions, A Will Away truly come into their own as multi-faceted artists. – Sydney


18           SZA – Ctrl

The debut LP from TDE’s SZA marks a superstar coming into her own on a remarkably transparent album statement—one that’s full of effortlessly relatable R&B anthems. Each song on Ctrl purposefully focalizes SZA’s vocals as she delivers unwaveringly honest lyrics with inspiring confidence. SZA is at her best on album-track-gone-platinum “The Weekend,” and absolutely brilliant on her new-age duet with Travis Scott, “Love Galore.” Like Frank Ocean’s BlondCtrl is all the better for its woozy passages of Animal Collective and Tame Impala-esque indie rock. It’s a stunning moment of open-handed authenticity from an essential new voice in pop music. – Riley


17           Slaughter Beach, Dog – Birdie

Slaughter Beach, Dog’s drop of Birdie came at a perfect middle-of-fall slot, matching the season with cooling acoustic and electric tracks. Lyrically, it felt as though Jake Ewald had opened a window into his nostalgia, reminiscing of how things could’ve been. The vocal stylings dip up and down between somber and gently pop-like, aligned with the flow of acoustic foot-tappers and electric riffs. It’s a record that’s easy to get lost in while bundled in a thick blanket. – Joey


16           (Sandy) Alex G – Rocket

Although Rocket contains some of Alex G’s warmest and most upbeat songs, it also houses some of his darkest and most ominous lyrics. On his first six albums it was rarely obvious when he was talking about himself, as he interpolated his personal narratives through the experiences of made-up characters. But on Rocket there’re lines like, “I am completely guilty,” in the brooding stomper “Judge,” which seems to be referencing the record’s closer, “Guilty.” He doesn’t refer to himself during that song, but he asks in a cheery, sing-songy tone, “Are you guilty?/Are you waiting to be found?/Do you think that you’d be happier with no one else around?.” The notoriously cryptic and reserved songwriter seems like he’s intimidated by his own fame on Rocket, and hearing him confronting his greatest fears over some of his greatest musical compositions is alluring. In an age where the internet has broken down the barrier between artist and fan, people like Alex G have become exponentially more compelling. – Eli


15           Pile – A Hairshirt of Purpose

For Pile’s A Hairshirt of Purpose, many music writers seem to be employing one of their favorite tropes: that this album is a more “mature” Pile record, a step many critics feel is a necessary one to take. Maybe it’s been hit with this cliche because there’s a certain softness on Hairshirt that Pile songs rarely have, or because the songs seem to flow more fluidly into one another. However, RFP (Rick from Pile) has always substantiated his songwriting ability with songs that wax and wane, that build and collapse. And even further, the juxtaposition of these journeyed songs with the uninhibited, asymmetrical bursts of identifiable Pile energy seem to make it a true, all-encompassing encapsulation of Pile’s ability and catalog—not necessarily a more mature one. So it’s not that the new album is more mature, it just feels that RFP’s diversity and range of talent is more succinct. All of the sonic variety that the Pile cult has lusted for is packaged neatly into a single album. – Ellie


14           Meat Wave – The Incessant

Meat Wave’s latest record, The Incessant, is a step in a different direction for a band who’ve historically been fun-as-hell. The quirks and guitar hooks are still there, but the subject matter is a lot more emotionally in-depth. The lyrical themes focus more on self-reflection, exposing an unfeigned side to Meat Wave that wasn’t always present in their past works. While many will remember the bands previous releases as being somewhat goofy, The Incessant takes a more serious tone, but one that’s still invigoratingly loud, fun, and unique. – Steven


13           The Spirit Of The Beehive – pleasure suck

pleasure suck is at once gloriously transcendental and forebodingly disorienting. It’s an amorphous blur of nebulous mutterings, shrieks of distortion and dense instrumental passages coated in foggy reverb that hang like smoke in a small room. But there are many moments of pure euphoria that seep outward in the form of momentous shoegaze builds, pretty yet brief indie-pop melodies, and psychedelic noise-rock riffs that snap and crumble their respective songs like a wet, decaying branch. This staggering dynamic embodies both the overindulgence and the proceeding hangover, as the record is full of sharp rushes of invincibility that abruptly collapse into inescapable periods of confusion and unease. “Pleasure sucks the life out,” is a phrase they utter multiple times, and it’s one that profoundly articulates the painful notion that all wells will inevitably run dry. pleasure suck will spoil your good mood, but it’s a record that argues your good mood will eventually spoil itself, anyways. Dismal, yes, but The Spirit of the Beehive manage to provide some sort of twisted comfort in learning to acknowledge that sentiment. – Eli


12           Remo Drive – Greatest Hits

Great things can happen when a band stops giving into expectations. Remo Drive have developed a following by not letting themselves be pigeonholed by the emo genre, instead allowing their music to take a series of interesting directions. Their youthful lyrics are enough to incite endless notebook doodles and their catchy, energetic instrumentals are the perfect match, creating a sound that’s immediately accessible. With lead single “Yer Killin’ Me” racking up over one million views on YouTube, multiple tours this year, and a slot opening for Sorority Noise already announced for 2018, it’s clear that the passion behind this project has paid off. – Scott


11           Citizen – As You Please

On Citizen’s third and best full-length, the band delivers a slick, hooky, and lyrically-developed collection of songs. Like their previous efforts, As You Please was engineered by Will Yip, but this time the band brought in Ken Andrews (of Failure, and who worked on Paramore’s S/T) to mix; his hand lending noticeable punch and depth to the record’s percussion. Most impressive, though, is Citizen’s apparent songwriting progression. This is evident in the eerie sampled chorus of “In the Middle Of It All,” and the clever use of vocal effects on album highlight, “Control.” Although AYP is a much sleeker affair, the band maintains the snarl of their sophomore record on more dynamic songs like the fiery, raucous banger “I Forgive No One,” and the propulsive “Fever Days.” – Riley


10           Big Thief – Capacity

Since their formation in 2015, Brooklyn’s Big Thief has been steadily gaining traction with their infectious and introspective folk-rock. 2016’s Masterpiece was one of the strongest debut records I’ve heard in a long time; a bold statement on the intricacies of love, relationships, fear, and humility. On their 2017 follow-up, Capacity, the band offers a cathartic listening experience built around tales of perseverance, personal growth, and closure in the fallout of trauma and darkness. Tracks like “Shark Smile,” “Mary,” and “Mythological Beauty” are prime examples of the brilliance of Big Thief, featuring optimistic melodies and meter akin to a young Joni Mitchell that are as uplifting as they are thought-provoking. Its impact is sure to extend far beyond 2017. – AJ


9              Hodera – First Things First

Growing up, particularly within one’s twenties, is weird. Hodera’s First Things First accomplishes describing and living in this time frame where questions never seem to be answered and feelings seem to be everywhere. First Things First is a breath of relaxation in a troubling area, a room full of comfort while also feeling like quicksand. This record confronts the pain of mental illness, heartbreak, and loss in a way that is both relateable and affirming. – Sean


8              Strange Ranger – Daymoon

With their epic, 16-track debut album Rot Forever, Portland-based duo Strange Ranger captured the hearts and ears of many last year. Daymoon, the band’s second LP and follow-up to 2016’s Sunbeams Through Your Head EP, carries with it a similar ambition but a new sense of self. Each and every track sounds distinct, but not disjointed enough to disrupt the flow of the record. Tracks like “Warm” and “The Future” showcase the duo’s ability to take that same sensibility that their fans have grown to adore and transform it into something more refined and cohesive. Their songwriting is as clever and sharp as ever, full of compelling melodies and nuance that reveals an increased depth with each listen.  – AJ


7              Sorority Noise – You’re Not As ___ As You Think

Sorority Noise’s third album dashes out the gate with “No Halo,” which is an indication of form this record takes in comparison to the choppy, often-slow Joy, Departed. This album takes the listener through life, death, addiction, and mental illness in a way that is ultimately hopeful. The lyrical content is intensely personal in a way that fosters a deeper connection despite the listener not having the exact same points of reference. You’re Not As _____ As You Think builds and releases tension masterfully, ebbing and flowing as a cohesive piece of art that requires a certain amount of time and attention, but fully pays off. – Scott


6              Rozwell Kid – Precious Art

Rozwell Kid has always felt more of a popular opening act than a distinct indie rock outfit—that is, until this year. Precious Art is the group’s first truly focused project, full of addicting power pop melodies, carefully constructed song structures, and anthemic hooks that bleed Weezer influence. The record is as anxious and thoughtful as it is hilarious, toying with slapstick humor without ever overshadowing the album’s clever, addicting songwriting. Rozwell Kid simply have a knack for creating catchy, 90’s geek-rock for modern emo and indie kids. Backed by one of the coolest labels around, SideOneDummy, Precious Art stands out as both a defining moment for Rozwell Kid’s career, and an opportunity for newcomers to jump on the bandwagon of a still-blossoming talent. – Kevin


5              Great Grandpa – Plastic Cough

Early in 2017 I became enamored with Great Grandpa’s Can Opener EP. When I heard during an interview with vocalist, Alex Menne, that their new album would be more expansive and varied than the EP, I was intrigued. From my first listen of Plastic Cough, I knew this was exactly what I was looking for. Each track ricochets through tempo changes and angular riffs, while the vocals cut through and then collect for scream-along choruses. Great Grandpa’s lyrics leave me raging at the sky or collapsed on the floor in a puddle; the sheer variety of emotional energy leaves my mind reeling. As the guitars build a wave of warm fuzz, I wrap myself in it. The album ends with a track about escaping zombies when you’re high. Plastic Cough is so my shit it’s crazy. – Henderson


4              Charly Bliss – Guppy

With its shimmery take on power-pop, Charly Bliss’s first LP finds itself in good company this year with the full length debuts from compatriots, Diet Cig and Great Grandpa. However, few others have ever been able to balance indie-pop sweet enough to give you a toothache with an edge and talent to nourish and sustain quite as well as Charly Bliss. Each song off Guppy is so catchy that naming singles may as well be done by drawing from a hat. Equal parts grunge and pop, Guppy harkens back to the alt-rock of the 90’s, yet Charly Bliss isn’t a hollow imitation of bands like Letters to Cleo. They own their sound so earnestly that they naturally fit in, but their energy and gusto prevent them from ever blending in. They challenge any reductionist or negative connotations of the term “bubblegum” by serving up their own brand that never quite seems to lose its flavor. – Zoe


3              Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

Kendrick Lamar is the type of voice that only comes around once a generation. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was a concept album about his youth, showcasing his capacity as a storyteller. To Pimp A Butterfly garnered a staggering 11 Grammy nominations, as Kendrick flirted with jazz and delved into social commentary. Damn. is simply an album full of great songs, a victory lap for the greatest rapper alive. On “DNA.” and “HUMBLE.” Kendrick channels the same kinetic energy he had only previously hinted at on “Backseat Freestyle,” chewing up and spitting out his peers in the process. “FEAR.” could have fit snugly on Good Kid, M.A.A.D, as Kendrick weaves a dense and complex narrative of self-realization. The production on “FEEL.” is straight out of the To Pimp A Butterfly playbook, bolstered by jazzy percussion. On closer “DUCKWORTH.” (or opener, depending on which way you choose to listen to the album) Kendrick tells the unbelievably true story of a chance meeting between his father and TDE CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith. It’s a story that’s almost too good to be true, serving as proof that Kendrick’s here for a reason. – Michael


2              Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights

Every emotion packed into this record is touched with a grace of heart and the familiar holes within. The vulnerability of open-ended emotions knows no bounds here, and Turn Out The Lights soars with immediacy and radiates power. Julien Baker unwinds and lifts the veil off of some of the horrors in her mind, leveling the sound barrier with that incredible vocal range and melodies that stick their landing on top of pure intimacy. – Sean


1              Oso Oso – the yunahon mixtape

Despite its release way back in January, Oso Oso’s sophomore record made a lasting impression on many throughout the rest of the year. The Yunahon Mixtape tastefully blends sugary, pop-punk melodies with emotional snapshots of personal emotions and experiences. Despite the sentimental weight each song seems to carry, Oso Oso craft them in a way that makes everyone feel at home while singing along. Throughout The Yunahon Mixtape, you find some of the biggest, catchiest hooks of 2017. “Reindeer Games” embodies the spirit of early ‘00s pop-punk, with its driving rhythms and playful lyrics. But on tracks like “Get There (When You’re There),” the band show they have complete control over their sound and aren’t afraid to strip back the layers and leave their sensitive side exposed. With the fun, transparent nature of The Yunahon Mixtape, Oso Oso have established themselves as one of the most promising up-and-comers in both emo and indie rock. – Yong


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