Kanye West, Beyoncé, Solange, David Bowie, Chance The Rapper, Childish Gambino, Frank Ocean, Bon Iver, Anderson Paak., Radiohead… Listed in no particular order, these artists created some of the most listened to, talked about, and beloved albums of 2016, and odds are, you’ve heard to at least a couple of them or at least seen them on year-end top album lists; we sure have.
As readers of this column have come to expect, though, when we step into this space, we put big names like that aside, in favor of the little guy, in favor of the laptop producer in New York City, the start-up garage band in Seattle, the psychedelic group from Portugal you’ve never heard of. If there’s one thing this year has proven, it’s that people are looking for an alternative from the establishment, whether that be pre- or post-election, so we’ve rounded up what we feel are the 25 best underground albums that appeared in Bandcamping this year.
10. Record 2016 by Madd Comrades
Genre: post-punk, indie rock
If you like: The Walkmen, Interpol
Original post: August
If opening track “PT SOOM” isn’t enough to get you hyped, then your body just doesn’t produce adrenaline in a normal way. It’s a frenetic post-punk roller that won’t slow down, because the wailing vocals just won’t let it. It’s a firecracker of an album, although there are plenty of more reserved moments to create that loud-quiet dynamic and normalize the energy.
9. 1.6.16 by Mark Mills
Mark Mills is in the vein of Hot Chip, in that he produces quirky pop that strives to experiment and almost reinvent the stylistic wheel with every track. It all falls under the same indie electro pop umbrella, but it’d be wrong to call any track here facsimile of any other, and they’re all pretty inventive in their own regard.
8. Horse Jumper of Love by Horse Jumper of Love
Genre: slowcore, alternative rock, shoegaze
If you like: Codeine, Deerhunter, ’90s alternative
Original post: Week 11
Horse Jumper of Love will remind you that grunge isn’t dead, but it’s also vastly different than it once was. The band’s eponymous album a nice slow(core) ride filled with alternative, Weezer-sounding guitars and deliberate song structures and pacing that’ll put you to sleep if you want it to, with enough edge to pump you up if you want that instead.
7. Dreamstate by Horace Bray
Genre: jazz, jazz fusion
If you like: BADBADNOTGOOD
Original post: Week 21
Horace Bray is a young, adventurous composer and bandleader who makes jazz for the person who doesn’t consider themselves a jazz fan, whether or not that’s his intention. That’s not a disparagement, rather a testament to Dreamstate’s broader and more immediate appeal than genre-beholden jazz.
6. Upsweep by Hannah Epperson
Genre: indie pop, electronic
If you like: Lykke Li, Four Tet
Original post: September
This album is all over the place, sounding alternately classical, glitchy, poppy, indie, and most other musical adjectives you can think of. It’s also very dense, likely a record that rewards repeat listens.
5. 11:11 by Tessa Dillon
Genre: indie folk, indie rock
If you like: Warpaint, Your Friend, Lady Lamb
Original post: September
This album admittedly might not stun you at first, but it’s a haunting grower. The songs are super simple, and Tessa Dillon has an ultra soothing voice that pairs well with lo-fi production and an overcast day.
4. Yuhng by Toulouse
Genre: indie rock, psychedelic rock
If you like: Real Estate, Tame Impala
Original post: October
Toulouse could be categorized under the same heading as Real Estate, in that they have the kind of flexible sound that is accommodating and comforting while remaining engaging. There is a sunny drone that becomes mildly psychadelic in its repititions, so it is the perfect album to let mesmerize you.
3. Psychic Materials by Casey Mecija
Genre: indie pop, dream pop
If you like: Tennis, Beach House, Lana Del Rey
Original post: Week 2
Psychic Materials is a dreamy and satisfyingly poppy record that flew way too under the radar. This Canadian radio presenter knows how to dominate a microphone in more ways than one, and really ought to be on the airwaves in a non-hosting capacity.
2. SUI // RAP by youngster jiji
Genre: alternative hip-hop, alternative, experimental
If you like: Tyler, The Creator, Death Grips, Yung Lean
Original post: Week 10
Hip-hop seems to have permanently adopted soul and R&B elements, but if you’re yearning for the noisey intensity of the Odd Future clan or Death Grips, here you go. youngster jiji is kinetic as all hell, and this is a record you could either bob your head to, or mosh with some hardcore fans to. It’s absolutely wild, so perhaps consult your cardiologist before checking this one out.
1. June by Pat Hull
Genre: singer-songwriter, folk, alternative country
If you like: Brett Dennen, Kacey Musgraves, Wayne Newton
Original post: Week 26
Patt Hull has the greatest voice that you probably haven’t heard. The 60’s pop singer androgyny of his pipes work gorgeously in a indie folk/rock landscape, so this album, as well as his back catalogue, are absolutely worth a deep dive. His gentle folk missives feel like a time capsule to a lost era that or one that has yet to happen. In a word, June is otherworldly.
Thanks for taking that trip with us; It was fun for us, too. If you’d like to explore some of the albums that nearly made this list, you can find the Bandcamping archives right here. Enjoy the holidays, and we’ll be back with more under-appreciated music in 2017.
Featured image: Steve Snodgrass