STAFF LIST: Eli’s Top 10 Albums of 2016

Posted: by The Editor

Over the next few weeks, The Alternative will be publishing numerous EOTY staff lists leading up to our site-wide ‘Top 50 Albums of the Year’ article. Why so many lists? Well, we believe in giving as many bands/artists exposure as possible, and with so many great releases in 2016, more lists will cover more ground. Our goal is to help you find something new. Thank you for reading.

I’ll keep this short.

After nearly a month of re-listening and contemplation, these are the 10 albums that meant the most to me in 2016.


10. Mitski—Puberty 2


Puberty 2 is thematically based around the second major period of awkward, confusing growth in our lives—our twenties—but the record is also a coming-of-age for Mitski as an artist. Her 2014 breakthrough Bury Me at Makeout Creek was full of distorted guitars and a fearless vocal delivery, which are still present on this record on tracks like “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars” and “A Loving Feeling.” However, it’s the healthy variety of slower, moodier, synth-based songs on Puberty 2 that demonstrate her range and keen ability to evoke tangible emotion.

9. Danny Brown—Atrocity Exhibition


Whereas some of 2016’s biggest rap stars partook in the gospel revival, jocking faith and holiness, Danny Brown moved in a much darker direction with his latest work Atrocity Exhibition. The record deals with the grim repercussions of an overindulgence in drugs and sex, as well as the challenges he faced growing up in poverty. These aren’t uncommon themes within hip hop, but Brown’s maniacal delivery and daringly experimental instrumentals transmit his narratives through a uniquely disturbing lens. This album is a rush, and it deserves to be heralded by those within and outside the hip hop sphere due to its diverse set of influences and musical ideas.

8. Angel Olsen—My Woman


My Woman was Angel Olsen’s Highway 51 Revisited. It saw a traditionally folky artist transform into a dynamic, multifaceted rock performer with ease, and with the sheer number of styles she worked with on here, there’s the potential to further develop any one of those approaches moving forward. The first half of the record is devoted to her pop-rock side—as tracks like “Never Be Mine” and the raucous “Shut Up Kiss Me” draw from 60s girl groups, but with a modern edge—and the second is full of long, drawn-out slow burners that eventually take off in the form of psych-rock guitar solos or Olsen’s fierce belt. There’s a lot to take in here, but it’s the gradual digestion process that brings out all of the record’s rich flavors.

7. Andy Shauf—The Party


The Canadian songwriter/multi-instrumentalist is being criminally slept on by the majority of the music press. In terms of its production, The Party is one of the most gorgeous sounding records of the year, but it’s also one of the most creative and clever. Each song takes on the perspective of a different character at a house party, and Shauf uses this theme to explore heartbreak, death, and the intricacies of the human condition. Lyrically, this album is like a sociological study, but it’s the colorful instrumentals, subtle melodies, and Shauf’s distinct voice that give each song a life of its own. I’m calling it now: critics will be hitting themselves in a year when they realize what they’ve been missing.

6. LVL Up—Return to Love


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.

5. Prince Daddy & the Hyena—I Thought You Didn’t Even Like Leaving


Although significantly younger, Prince Daddy & the Hyena are in the same league with Jeff Rosenstock and PUP. Those three are carving out a niche of loud, gritty, technical, wildly melodic punk rock music that very few bands can contend with. The Albany, New York quartet’s debut album I Thought You Didn’t Even Like Leaving has an energy to it that never subsides throughout the record’s 30-minute runtime, and although each song is coarse and lo-fi, this album is unbelievable catchy and the performances are tight as hell. This band is incredibly talented, and seeing them play these songs handfuls of times throughout the year—flawlessly—has cemented my opinion that Prince Daddy are the best up-and-coming band in their scene.

4. Jeff Rosenstock—Worry.


Worry. is the latest of a rare breed of records that just happen to appear when the world needs them most. Released right in the midst of a period of social upheaval and political turmoil—a cultural climate that was unprecedented to the western millennial up until this point—this album acts as both a reinforcement that it’s okay to be scared, angry, and confused, and a reassurance that we’re not as helpless as we feel. Rosenstock delivers this narrative through 17 punk rock songs that nod to virtually every single mark on the punk spectrum in a way that’s hilariously overwhelming, thought provoking, and comforting all in one. At a time where punk rock is as vital to the world as it was during the genre’s inception, Jeff Rosenstock is our current torchbearer.

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

2. 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.

1. Strange Ranger (FKA Sioux Falls)—Rot Forever


Rot Forever is the longest album on this list yet in many ways it feels like the shortest. The Portland, Oregon trio (which has since shrunk to a duo) captured a chemistry on these songs that’s quite difficult to put into words. Lyrically, Rot Forever is an impeccable blend of personal admissions that hit like a conversation with an old friend; observational tidbits that are vividly familiar to the band’s self-aware audience; and introspective nostalgia that puts the listener in a contemplative headspace few musical works can accomplish.

The music itself is what drives you to maintain that reflective activity. The masterfully cohesive tracklist—as represented on the album’s cover—travels through a series of sonic peaks and valleys. At times, frontman Isaac Eiger is barking his way through lines like, “It’s so romantic when our lungs disintegrate,” and at others his gravelly croon is providing the melody to one of the record’s many, infectious “ooo-ooo’s.” Some of these songs contain sprawling instrumental sections that wind up and down like their West Coast forefathers in Built to Spill and Modest Mouse; ultimately concluding with smashing breakdowns or stretching guitar solos. Other songs are short, blistering, punk tunes that blaze by with impassioned intensity.

Conclusively, it’s the band’s acute dynamism that makes this behemoth of a record so easy to stomach. Eiger’s wordiness is balanced by the atmospheric instrumental breaks, and his melodic yelps are evened by his abrasive howls—allotting the audience time to listen intently, yell along, and then zone out and recuperate before the next track. Rot Forever isn’t something that can be copied or easily replicated. An album like this just has to happen. Thankfully, it did.

Eli Enis | @eli_enis