The Alternative’s Top 50 Releases of 2017

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By now, you’ve probably read a lot of year-end lists and thoughtful takes on the most critically acclaimed music of the year. You’re also probably tired of seeing what feels like the same predictable list over and over. Well this list won’t be like those others. At The Alternative, we seek out the best new music, whether it be by an unsigned basement band or a pop mega-star.

Let’s be honest, ranking art is ultimately reductive and… kind of weird? However, as music critics, its our duty to attempt to objectify what’s largely subjective. It’s our job to guide our readers toward music that’s worth their time. Music that’s reworking entire genres, innovating sub-genres, or perhaps just doing exceptional justice to a beloved style. Music that deserves to be recognized and appreciated.

The Alternative is built upon the ethos that a lot of the best new music exists in the underground. These underappreciated artists are selling vinyl out of their bedrooms, uploading their releases to Bandcamp with little or no promotion, and performing in basements, attics and in dive bars night after night. Unfortunately, all of this great music isn’t being found by big corporate music sites, and these artists aren’t being rewarded for their exceptional achievements and hard work. That’s why we exist. To tell you, to prove to you, that there’s another world beneath the surface— and it’s producing beautiful art.

Here are our 50 favorite releases of 2017. Please give these records a listen. We promise they’re worth it. Enjoy. – Eli


50           Caracara – Summer Megalith

I don’t know if a genre term already exists for music like this, but I would group Caracara in with Foxing as “Big-Band Emo”. Emotional indie tracks that employ complex and intricate instrumentals to build the feeling of nearly a full orchestra. While this complexity could easily become distracting, Caracara are able to use the wide variety of instruments organically and create an album that is a beautiful experience. This is done with excellent songwriting and thoughtful lyrics. “If this is being civil, I want to be evil. / I want to destroy the world.”  – Henderson


49           Heart Attack Man – The Manson Family

The Manson Family is a depressing album. In many ways this album IS depression. Plodding punk rock tracks about the boredom and pure sadness that comes with the sickness. The world in gray. Music at its highest level is emotion distilled to its purest form and served to the listener in a way that’s entertaining, relatable, and consumable. The Manson Family achieves that level of art in its depiction, and does so without leaving the listener bored or depressed themselves. These songs just rock. “Life sucks“. – Henderson


48           Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps

On her nuanced and personal debut record, Phoebe Bridgers employs folk balladry and clever lyricism to portray her deepest emotions. Throughout Stranger in the Alps, passages of gorgeous country instrumentation and poignant vocals are at once kaleidoscopic and bare-faced. On “Demi Moore”, Bridgers shares candid, out-of-context sets of familiar relationship motifs. Many of the songs on the record toy with more than one emotion at once, binding humor and grief together like two sides of a coin. This is especially true on Bridgers’ gleaming pop song “Motion Sickness” — the song I’d crown with the best opening line of 2017: “I hate you for what you did, and I miss you like a little kid.” Stranger in the Alps is a generous and unique folk record, with the charming introduction of a staying power. – Riley


47           Jelani Sei – LVNDR TWN

Jelani Sei’s EP LVNDR TWN is far jazzier than most things I usually listen to, but as soon as heard it I immediately downloaded it and began starting my day with it every morning. The grooving rhythms build while the smooth vocals provide a flowing context to each track. There is something truly calming about their sound. By my 100th listen, I was revisiting the genre of jazz rock as a whole, maybe there’s more there than I thought, or maybe Jelani Sei are just that good. – Henderson


46           Jay Som – Everybody Works

Call it “dream-pop” or “bedroom-pop”, but either way, there’s no denying the effort and straight-up talent that went into this record. Melina Duterte wrote and recorded the record entirely in her bedroom , which makes it all the more meaningful and impressive considering the amount of nuanced detail layered into it. The soothing vocals reassured by the fuzzy but still grungy guitar are transcendental. Simply put, she touches on many aspects from different genres as intimately as you’d expect and demonstrates a coming into her own kind of progression. – Steven


45           The World is a Beautiful Place… – Always Foreign

On Always Foreign, The World is a Beautiful Place… mostly abandoned the slow-burning complexity and expansiveness of their past albums in order to write a more direct indie rock record. The result is their best album to date. Always Foreign’s real value comes in the complicated issues it’s willing to address: American racism, betrayal by close friends, and the political nightmare we live in. As I have said before, and will say again, 2017 is a dark time for America and the world, and good art should endeavor to examine this darkness and, if possible, bring some solutions to the table. Always Foreign does that, and does so with endlessly re-listenable tracks that pack even more punch than one might realize on first listen. – Henderson


44           Sinai Vessel – Brokenlegged

The narrative and awareness of this record was next to none this year. Settling in on having lyrics that chomp away at normality and feeling ‘safe,’ the creative aspects of Brokenlegged beg for people to push farther. Sinai Vessel’s continuing sonic expansion is ever more exciting thanks to this stellar release. – Sean


43           Diet Cig – I Swear I’m Good At This

Diet Cig are a punk rock two-piece (guitar and drums) that write songs about crushes, jerks, relationships, and family. A fairly common formula, but in this case, executed incredibly well. Alex Luciano and Noah Bowman are able to find a ton of variety even within their small band structure (sometimes through the addition of some cool synths) and write songs that keep you dancing while you yell along to the hooks. When Luciano lets out a cathartic “fuck offffff” it feels fucking great. – Henderson

42           Lorde – Melodrama

Apparently Lorde set out to make the dark blues and mellow moods as seen on the record’s cover. This sort of phenomenon (synesthesia) only adds to the grandeur of Lorde and the incredibly gifted assets that make the music so brilliant. Taking pop to this level was everything we ever wanted and more. The biting lyrics, the cynicism, the melodies and even the dramatic lows are what makes Melodrama a special release from a still-rising star. – Sean


41           Wiki – No Mountains In Manhattan

As a born New Yorker and an Upper West Side resident, Wiki’s solo album No Mountains In Manhattan made me profoundly proud. This is our city, rap is our medium, and this is our story. Every line, every video, and especially every live performance was New York in a way no imposter could summon. Intricate bars delivered with the brashness of someone who isn’t looking for a hit single. In a year of resurgence for N.Y. hip-hop, Wiki’s authenticity made him the flag-bearer. – Henderson


40           Mo Troper – Exposure and Response

Exposure & Response comes closer than any other record released this year to capturing the same feeling that Jeff Rosenstock perfectly encapsulated on WORRY., crafting a beautiful sonic template out of never-ending anxiety. Musically, Troper falls somewhere in the middle of Robert Pollard and Rivers Cuomo, his palette is replete with power chords and catchy hooks that serve to punctuate his own perpetual trepidation. Over half of the track list clocks in at less than two minutes, with the aforementioned tracks lasting just long enough to get stuck in your head. “Jumbotron”, for instance, is short and sweet; in somebody else’s hands it might come off as mawkish but Troper finds a way to make it remarkably endearing. “The Poet Laureate Of Neverland” calls out an older generation too afraid to give up power to the younger one—the lyric, “You don’t have to reminisce when you never move on” bites especially hard. Exposure & Response is one of the most brutally honest albums of 2017, serving as a moment of solace in these seemingly hopeless times. – Michael


39           Brockhampton – The SATURATION Trilogy

They did it. In a mere six months, Brockhampton dropped three, developed, innovative, personable, hard-hitting, sweet, socially conscious and just plain fun full-length albums that mashed together hip-hop, pop, R&B and rock music in way that felt both sonically liberating and in-tune with the desires of today’s youth. These albums were the fruits of what 15 budding, enthusiastic minds with nothing to lose and everything to gain can accomplish, and a testament to the creative longevity of a multitude of genres that were due for upgrades. Every generation needs its defining figures, and whether or not Brockhampton continue to dominate their field(s) in the way they did in 2017, the SATURATION trilogy will always be regarded as one of the boldest and most exciting musical experiments of this era. – Eli


38           Walter Etc – Gloom Cruise

 Gloom Cruise boasts Walter Etc’s classic style of song in a primarily electric setting. Tracks like “Gloom Cruise”, “Stumptown Summer Heartthrob”, and “April 41st” are prime examples of the group’s ability to incorporate wonderful quirks in their not-so-acoustic sound with little bits of fuzz, uplifting riffs, and catchy jams. The third track, “Dumb Angel”, features a repeating riff feeling like a cross of surf punk and the theme from early 90’s cartoon “Doug”—in the best way possible. Jeff Rosenstock also produced this thing, so… – Joey


37           Washer – All Aboard

Equal parts wonderfully dissonant and anxiously spastic, Washer’s sophomore LP All Aboard is a tried and true expression of what slacker-rock bands should aim to be in 2017. The tracks are minimalistic and endearing, similar to their 2016 Exploding In Sound debut Here Comes Washer, but with a more delightful and ambitious approach. All Aboard touches on similar lyrical themes this time around, with singer-guitarist-bassist Mike Quigley’s honest and self-critical analyses serving as a humble reminder to remain centered and in-check despite the experiences you traverse. Take, for instance, one of my favorite songs on the record, “Everybody Sounds Fake,” where Quigley sings, “we get old/we get selfish/everybody sounds fake/and I’m the worst one.” That’s just one of many relatable sentiments that make All Aboard one of the most thematically engaging records of 2017. – AJ


36           Open Mike Eagle – Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

Thoughtful, delicate and sharp, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is one of hip-hop’s greatest concept albums in recent memory. The record follows the Legendary Iron Hood, Mike Eagle’s comic book-esque alter ego on a story that both deciphers and documents the very essence of being black in America. Inspired by the now demolished Robert Taylor Homes of Chicago, Open Mike Eagle breathes life into this concise, witty project and truly speaks from his soul. From his cathartic mental sharpness on “Brick Body Complex,” to the sweet love-song to radio-waves on “95 Radios,” Open Mike Eagle shows off a talent for strong songwriting, unique rhyme dexterity and cadences, and laces it all together with experimental, often nonconventional beats and softly-sang bridges. – Kevin


35           Harmony Woods – Nothing Special

It’s not easy for an opener to outshine a genre luminary during their last stint of shows for the foreseeable future, which made it all the more surprising when a group of people, standing outside Union Transfer after the first of three final Modern Baseball shows at the venue, shared their favorite part of the evening: Harmony Woods. Led by Drexel University freshman Sofia Verbilla, the project released its debut LP, Nothing Special, in May, which proved to bear an ironic title. Harmony Woods played the album nearly in full at the Union Transfer show in a set that helped propel the band toward a larger stage. The record explores a budding relationship and everything that comes with it: fighting through the anxiety of public transportation to visit your partner, watching Breaking Bad together, and wondering if anyone is actually strong enough to make something real work. Verbilla’s voice shines with the control and maturity of an artist far older than 18. One moment, she’s pushing her range through high-pitched, gentle “ooohs;”the next, she’s shredding both vocally and on the guitar. If Nothing Special is any indicator of Verbilla’s talent, this is just the beginning for Harmony Woods. – Sydney


34           Perspective, a lovely hand to hold – What Not To Do

What Not To Do is like tumbling through a rabbit hole that shrinks you down until you can fit into a pocket of bubbly emo-pop comfort. It’s eccentric, adventurous but still familiar with just enough raw intensity to be genuine—and hopeful. Released during a tumultuous climate both politically and musically, What Not To Do is your 18-minute escape from reality; ideal for either a quick lunch break getaway or an entire afternoon if you smash that repeat button. – Chris


33           Smidley – S/T

This record cares about nothing other than trying to explain what the hell is happening. Conor Murphy of Foxing’s side project tries to detail what living in the moment is like, and it’s a euphoric and exciting turn of events in every song. From trying to find friends somewhere out on drugs, to realizing that life is constantly fucked up, Smidley is such a refreshing and fun spin.  – Sean


32           Run The Jewels – RTJ3

2017 was a year defined by Trump, evil corporate Republicanism, and waves of stunning revelations about the deep layer of filth below the veneer of American society. Run The Jewels (a rap group made up of Atlanta’s Killer Mike and NYC’s legendary producer and MC, El P) delivered the album that perfectly exemplified the rapid fire dystopia of these times. Political and activist without being preachy, this album is a perfect example of the things that hip-hop can accomplish artistically. The bars on this record are some of the smartest political commentary I’ve heard all year (not just in music, but anywhere). RTJ take on cops, the military industrial complex, corporate Democrats, Hillary shills, and more when they aren’t issuing warnings of the incoming class war. “Not from the same part of town, but we both hear the same sound coming/And it sounds like war/And it breaks our hearts.” I feel as if I’m being educated by master philosophers while I jam out, probably because I am. – Henderson


31           The Obsessives – S/T

The Obsessives is lowkey the catchiest indie rock record of 2017. Lowkey is the essential word there, because vocalist Nick Bairatchnyi sings with the same amateurish baritone as the LVL Up troupe—a pitch that, if isolated from the instruments, would sound completely absurd. However, within the context of his own music, he competes with the hookiness of popstars. It’s not just the vocals, though; this record is nothing but earworm riffs, savory basslines and bop-along rhythms that are designed to incite embarrassing incantations from its listeners. The Obsessives is aux cord music, songs that are meant to be blasted and belted along with in your car as passing drivers gawk at the contorted facial expressions you make while intonating a squealing riff. It’s too much fun.  – Eli


30           2 Chainz – Pretty Girls Like Trap Music

After his debut album Based on a T.R.U. Story, 2 Chainz quickly became one of the most prominent go-to fixtures in hip-hop for guest features. His first two studio albums showed glimpses of greatness but were ultimately bogged down by lengthy track lists and punchline flows. Pretty Girls Like Trap Music is his most refined album yet, an instant trap classic in the style of T.I.’s King, striking the perfect balance of the grittiness of street life without sacrificing 2 Chainz’s goofy demeanor. The chorus on opener “Saturday Night” sets the mood for the entire album, “I hit the trap today/I’m gon’ hit the club tonight.” This is celebratory music; a celebration of the Atlanta streets that made him, as well as a celebration of his accomplishments. It’s also strikingly uplifting, with lines like “Believe in yourself/who else gon’ believe in you,” and, “Right now, if you hear this/you’re a miracle,” positioning 2 Chainz as a genuine source of inspiration.  – Michael


29           Fire Is Motion – Still, I Try

When it comes to New Jersey’s DIY scene, we have been blessed with some truly amazing bands as of late. Groups like Hodera and Toy Cars are out there making some great records, and now it’s time to add Fire Is Motion to that discussion.  Still, I Try is an intricate and harmony-laden indie rock experience full of impressive instrumentation and wonderful melodies. The record walks the line between overdriven and reserved, with tracks like “Who Knows?” and “How Long To Get Home?” displaying this duality perfectly. There’s a certain element to Adrian Amador’s songwriting that’s reminiscent of classic songwriters like Bruce Springsteen and The Gaslight Anthem. Lush, orchestral, and full of sprawling melancholy, Still, I Try is brilliant. – AJ


28           Tyler The Creator – Flower Boy

Much of the talk about Tyler the Creator in 2017 deals with the changes he’s undergone in the public eye since his rise in 2009. In eight years, the public has seen a lot of different sides of Tyler; he was first characterized by his shocking horror-core lyrics and corresponding antics, which were often offensive and hard to defend. But even then, his sadistic persona hinted at something more: a ride-or-die dedication to identity and creative freedom. Tyler’s fourth studio album, (Scum Fuck) Flower Boy, shattered expectations. While he’s always impressed as a producer and as a story-teller, this LP finds Tyler tapped into something special, resulting in his most focused effort yet. He brings in vocalists like Steve Lacy, Rex Orange County, Kali Uchis, and Frank Ocean to aid his expressive neo-soul production—his most pristine yet. Songs like “See You Again” and “911” are artful soul-rap songs that feel timeless. Flower Boy is perhaps Tyler’s most coherent artistic statement in any medium thus far, and an honest look at the person at the core since the beginning.  – Riley


27           Wild Pink – S/T

It may be reductive to call Wild Pink’s sound “familiar,” even if it is. A similarly vague but accurate word would be “warm.” The guitars know exactly when to be smooth and when to jangle. The drums alternate between muted and crisp, supporting or cutting through the rest of the wall of sound as needed. Vocalist John Ross’s voice and lyrics are the icing on the cake, with a fulfilling emotional resonance. The album is full of thought-provoking comments on modern life in America without taking itself too seriously. It’s perfect for a sundown, winter listen. – Scott


26           Ratboys – GN

I didn’t think Ratboys could top their debut album, but they did. Every time I listen I find something new to appreciate about GN. The honesty, folksy guitar riffs and unique lyricism make GN a solid record front to back, and it’s held up exceptionally well since its release at the beginning of the summer. Dealing in various ways with personal loss, the record is thoughtful, witty and well worth a listen. It’s also a great soundtrack for introspection by the sunset. – Steven

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