It proved to be a wildly diverse year for alternative and indie music. While artists such as Angel Olsen and Car Seat Headrest turned in some of the best guitar-based records of 2016, a slew of musicians, including Bon Iver and ANOHNI, dove headfirst into cutting-edge electronics and synthesizers. There’s something for everyone in this list of killer albums.
Angel Olsen, My Woman
My Woman is the sound of an artist firing on all cylinders. Angel Olsen’s aching pipes find the sweet spot between defiance and vulnerability. Her songs, meanwhile, rope in practically every style under the sun: folk, glam, punk, ’60s pop and more. On top of all that, Olsen is skilled in the art of big, passionate hooks.
Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial
People fell head over heels in love with Teens of Denial this year — and for good reason. A throwback to ’90s indie rock, the album is stuffed with slacker guitars, intoxicating angst and fabulously slurred vocals from Will Toledo. Best of all, the songs are riddled with unexpected twists and turns that prevent listeners from ever getting too comfortable.
Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
The most important alt rock outfit of the last 25 years released yet another vital album in 2016. Their most epic-sounding since 2000’s Kid A , the profoundly haunted A Moon Shaped Pool is 21st century symphonic rock of the highest caliber. The electronic touches are still there, but more than anything the group sound warm and richly atmospheric.
Bon Iver, 22, A Million
Though Bon Iver is no stranger to experimentation, 22, A Million is easily his most radical endeavor to date. Eschewing hushed indie folk for an electronic mix of art pop, ambient music and R&B, he unleashes a vision that is daring and alien. It’s also super dense. Unlocking all the secrets of this mesmerizingly strange music requires long-term listening.
Stepping away from Antony and the Johnsons was an ace move for lead singer and composer ANOHNI. Her solo debut is an immaculately experimental foray into synth pop. Moreover, it’s one of the most political of 2016. On song after song she explores mass surveillance, drone warfare and ecological disaster in ways that are as complex as they are passionate.
The Lumineers, Cleopatra
Fans expecting another ecstatic folk-rock raver along the lines of “Hey Ho” received a rude awakening when The Lumineers unveiled Cleopatra last spring. Heavy on moodily swaying balladry, the band’s second album is a mature and thoughtful meditation on pop celebrity and its discontents. If you’re looking for a perfect coming-of-age soundtrack, Cleopatra would be a fitting pick.
White Lung, Paradise
On Paradise the punks in White Lung morph into alt-rock tunesmiths of stunning beauty. Darkness and glamour, alienation and allure, all coil around one another like serpents. Mish Barber Way’s cries are crystalline, while guitarist Kenneth William unleashes glassy feedback. Imagine a cross between Los Angeles -era X, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Paramore — that’s how awesome the record is.
Fitz and the Tantrums, Fitz and the Tantrums
“HandClap” was everywhere this year. It’s one of those deliriously infectious cuts that sounds perfect while cutting loose on the dancefloor. The rest of Fitz and the Tantrums’ self-titled third album is equally delicious. With their punchy synthesizers, sing-along choruses and R&B-kissed hooks, the L.A. sextet are nothing less than the Hall & Oates of the electropop era.
Weyes Blood, Front Row Seat to Earth
Few singer/songwriters can match the majestic intensity of Weyes Blood (born Natalie Mering) who is both a powerful vocalist and composer. A complex blend of vintage art folk and underground experimentation, her fourth full-length is a maze-like sojourn through love, loss and spirituality. Despite the music’s heady themes, Weyes Blood maintains a subtly playful vibe throughout this enchanting set.
Iggy Pop, Post Pop Depression
Post Pop Depression is one of the best albums the infamously mercurial Iggy Pop has ever created. Collaborating with desert rock icon Josh Homme, the singer pours his myriad perversities and dark thoughts into tunes that are simultaneously beautiful and damaged. Pop has said he’s retiring after this record, yet its high-quality awesomeness says that would be a mistake.