Top 20 Best Alternative Pop & Indie Folk Albums Of 2016

From Emma Ruth Rundle to Agnes Obel, from Marissa Nadler to Warpaint, it was hard to pick just 20 albums, but here’s our Top 20 (in no specific order whatsoever) alternative pop & indie folk albums of 2016 along with our thoughts on them. Stay tuned, more lists are going to be unveiled in the following days… Enjoy!

The Promise And The Monster – Feed The Fire (Bella Union)

“To feed the fire can be seen as both constructive and destructive. You keep the fire burning, the spark alive,” stated Billie Lindhal. Feed the Fire isn’t an easy album to digest and wrap your head around. Throughout its ten tracks the album challenges the patience and plays with perception in such witty way that doubts regarding the existence of its evolving nature often emerge. The constant repetition of patterns and lack of more harsh changes (“obvious climaxes”) deny a more instant pleasure, but it’s with accumulated listening experiences that one is allowed into the powerful spiritual journey offered. The mantra-like experience offered refutes the Stockholm Syndrome theory because there’s in fact more than Lindhal’s striking voice luring you into Promise & The Monster’s third album.

(Tiago Moreira) // Listen at YouTube.

Warpaint – Heads Up (Rough Trade)

After working on solo projects, Warpaint got together to make their third album and the girls seemed more focus and open to whatever idea would come up to them. Heads Up flows so ridiculously well that is quite hard to stop listening to it, it just gives you a great mood. It’s got all the elements to make it by far their most confident and daring album. Their dynamic is phenomenal, as usual, keeping always that electrifying and sensual approach, like the way they play their instruments and the way they sing their lyrics. You just get wrapped up to those danceable beats and the intense melodies. Working apart or together, these girls are just incredibly talented and they fucking know that.

(Andreia Alves) // Listen at Spotify.

Wild Nothing – Life Of Pause (Captured Tracks)

Life Of Pause is Wild Nothing third album and it’s another great listening experience to go into. Jack Tatum definitely took his time to work on this album and the result is something refreshing and cohesive. He finds balance through every chord and every beat. He keeps on doing all by himself on the writing and recording process, though this time around he had other musicians on board to help him out. It’s possible to find time and harmony in a chaotic life, Tatum just basically showed us that.

(Andreia Alves) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Basia Bulat – Good Advice (Secret City)

The Polish-Canadian angel that is Basia Bulat begins 2016 with a new stunning record. Still maintaining her folk roots, Basia now takes her unusual autoharp into more dream pop territories, without ever forgetting her origins. “Long Goodbye”, “Fool” have a very upbeat indie-pop feel to them with beautiful keyboards that complement her celestial voice perfectly. The best track is without a doubt “Someday Soon”, a somewhat hypnotizing song that enters your soul and for a moment leaves you completely entranced. Throughout Good Advice Basia shines in her use of various instruments, but it is the introduction of more lively drums and guitars that really separates it from her previous works, showing that for Basia this album was all about evolution.

(Carlos Cardoso) // Listen at Spotify.

School Of Seven Bells – SVIIB (Full Time Hobby)

With maturity and confidence, School of Seven Bells drive home their commitment to music with SVIIB. Catchy to the core, this New York duo perfectly captures modern day indie rock fused dream pop. Songs like “Ablaze” and “A Thousand Times More” are guaranteed to get you off your feet while tracks like “Open Your Eyes” and “On My Heart” portray a more relaxed but never slow vibe. It must also be mentioned that, tragically, after a long struggle of lymphoblastic lymphoma, band member Benji Curtis passed away before the album’s release. Following news of his passing, the other half of the duo, Alejandra Deheza, announced this would be the band’s final record. Gone but not forgotten, nothing will pay as much tribute to a man’s life as an album so full of talent and musical courage.

(Justin Kunz ) // Listen on Bandcamp.

Jackie Lynn – Jackie Lynn (Thrill Jockey)

The biography for Jackie Lynn’s debut album presents a force of nature that moved from Franklin, TN to Chicago and has run a multi-million dollar operation distributing cocaine, with Tom Strong. The truth is that this is a project made by Circuit Des Yeux’s Haley Fohr, using a character and fictional stories to tell her own story – she too moved to Chicago. If last year’s CdY’s In Plain Speech made the world aware of the undeniable talent of the folk-based singer Haley Fohr then Jackie Lynn’s debut album makes it a dogma. Very few are, and were, able to construct and deliver such gut-wrenching musical pieces. Fohr’s mesmerizing dramatic and soulful voice became more prominent in an album where even the toughest motherfucker around will kneel down and weep.

(Tiago Moreira) // Listen at Thrill Jockey.

Kristin Kontrol – X-Communicate (Sub Pop)

Sometimes your own inspirational muse is your own artistic self. That’s when you are looking for something like a fresh start, and that’s what Kristin Kontrol – aka former Dee Dee (Dum Dum Girls) – planned. Starting for ditching Dee Dee for her real name, Kristin, and adding Kontrol. X-Communicate is surprisingly effective, strongly direct and quite positive. Kristin creative input goes into the 80’s all the way, something between Kate Bush, 80’s Madonna and David Bowie’s own sonic universe. It’s clear that X-Communicate is utterly compelling and beautifully thrilling, but it’s the cathartic effect that truly resonates this liberating effort, “… for years I was hellbent on the rock’n’roll thing, revering Joan Jett, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde… But with Kristin Kontrol I just wanted to try it all… I thought I’m Kate Bush covering Mariah.” Enough said.

(Fausto Casais) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Haley Bonar – Impossible Dream (GNDWIRE/Thirty Tigers)

Noiseland LP GATEFOLD Sleeve
With detailed guitar work and catchy and warm melodies, her creativity and songcrafting have never been sharper than now, her spirit is fearless and contagious and her music is the way to set it free and for everyone to experience it. Diverse and enthralling, Bonar is more than savvy on making a good damn song and these songs are inherent as much for her as it is for the listener. Haley Bonar shared with the world her most cathartic and vibrant effort ever with Last War, now with Impossible Dream she continues to show her integrity as a musician and as a human being.

(Andreia Alves) // Listen at Spotify.

Marissa Nadler – Strangers (Sacred Bones/Bella Union)

Going into Marissa Nadler music is like going into the middle of a forest in a foggy day and get lost in the beauties of the nature and in the melancholy of that scenario, sort of speak. Strangers is another exquisite and beautiful journey. Marissa’s allure to convey her feelings into textural atmospheres just makes you want it to never to end. The mist around Strangers is sublime; the mysteries and wonders of our existence come to life on Marissa’s sounds and words. This time around Marissa left a little aside themes like heartbreaks and she focused much more on global themes, leading to this delicate and deep dreamscape of hers. At her seventh full-length, she has given enough proof that she’s a damn amazing songwriter and musician.

(Andreia Alves) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Agnes Obel – Citizen Of Glass (PIAS)

Haunting, powerful and intimate. These are just a few of the words that cross the mind of this humble writer. Citizen of Glass is bright and bold, perhaps Agnes Obel most revealing and transparent effort, almost naked revealing with all her frailties exposed. It’s like an emotional and cathartic experience, but at the same time sounds quite normal and brutally honest, “It’s just like we are”, she explains. Exploratory in every single way, both lyrically and musically, Citizen of Glass is also an intense and melancholic journey, a stunning blend of sounds and styles that invade your heart and penetrate your soul in the most effective stripped down way. It’s also a challenging experience for the listener, because it makes us think about how we see ourselves, and how we see other people, and how love and emotions work in this strange new world.

(Fausto Casais) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Emma Ruth Rundle – Marked For Death (Sargent House)

On her second solo album, Emma is expressing everything in the deepest way possible and she clearly wanted to deal with everything that has happened to her through the music. With ongoing health and personal issues, this album is a culmination of all of her experiences. Each song has its meaning and its feeling, all autobiographical. Even the album’s artwork is a self-portrait of hers, reflecting how much this is raw and straight to the point. With a season of change, Marked For Death is the perfect record to listen to through a gloomy autumn day. Nature is changing with the weather as Emma is evolving with her experiences and her ability to create something beautiful from painful events.

(Andreia Alves) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Emily Jane White – They Moved In The Shadow All Together (Talitres Records)

Taking inspiration from Cormac McCarty’s novel Outer Dark and places Emily among the most celebrated alternative female songwriters of the moment, such as Chelsea Wolfe, Marissa Nadler and Marika Hackman. After experimenting a little with electronics on Blood/Lines, the new album marks a return to the acoustic format – occasional string arrangements, subtle piano lines, vocal choirs and minimal yet interesting percussion make this one a particularly pleasant work. It’s a heavy but somehow beautiful record that deals with the loneliness and pains of overcoming a traumatic experience. The very first song leaves us at this dusty and broken place; there is a sense of drifting through the remains of something, a barren landscape full objects that once meant something or belonged to someone.

(Ricardo Almeida) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Muscle And Marrow – Love (The Flenser)

Love is one of those things that tend to be destroyed when deconstructed, and so is music sometimes. For their second LP Muscle & Marrow dive deeper into atmosphere, focusing on pulsing drumbeats, electronics and the overall gloomy ambiance of the record. A thoughtful and unconventional instrumentation, where the notes one chooses not to play are as important as the ones played – a kind of minimalism that only amplifies and enriches the whole experience. Dealing with loss and all the contradictory feelings that sometimes come along with love, this LP will certainly be amongst our 2016 favorites. And about Muscle & Marrow, with their intense and genuine expressiveness and the absolutely gorgeous vocal performance of Kira Clark, well, they definitely deserve the status of a very special project with an unparalleled identity.

(Ricardo Almeida) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Julia Jacklin – Don’t Let The Kids Win (Transgressive Records)

Julia Jacklin’s debut album, Don’t Let The Kids Win, is a lovely and distinct effort, impressive both in scope and sound. Bracing alt-country and indie-folk, Jacklin’s voice is soulful and deeply enthralling, possibly one of the most fresh and exciting new acts around. Full of beautiful melodies, heartfelt lyrics and flawless vocals, Don’t Let The Kids Win is unfashionable and emotional honest. It’s easy to see Angel Olsen’s influence – cited by Jacklin as an influence – , but also a bit of Fleetwood Mac and Anna Calvi now and then. A massive and challenging debut, that sounds daring and defiant from the start to finish.

(Fausto Casais) // Listen at YouTube.

Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones)

What’s this album about, Jenny?… It’s about vampires.” Blood, lunar cycles, sticky choruses, and the smell of warm leaves and winter – these are Jenny Hval’s Blood Bitch inspirations. Black metal undertones are masked by her hauntingly pure voice and dreamy synths, but certainly exist somewhere beneath. As spoken recordings move to echoing vocals, Hval is like Poe or Lovecraft; her beautiful language and story are punctuated with an ever-present lurking darkness. In a masterful way, Blood Bitch links her personal tale with a landscape of sounds that allude to 70s horror. At any moment, a transcendent image could suddenly collapse into a realm of John Carpenter’s creation. Hval’s Nordic roots are evident as this edifice of sincere beauty sways upon its uncertain, shifting foundation.

(Teddy Taylor) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Sleigh Bells – Jessica Rabbit (Torn Clean)

Sleigh Bells – Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss – are back! The duo return with their first new album in three years, Jessica Rabbit. Gloriously expansive and full of sonic explosions, this is a return to form of band that totally justifies their hype, once again they are firing raw passionate anthems all over the place. Jessica Rabbit is refreshing in any way, it’s noisy and confident, all over the album there’s a sense of maturity, attitude and precision, Derek Miller incendiary riffs are still damn catchy and sharp, while Alexis Krauss thrashes and wails right on form with her trademark visceral raw minimalist vocal approach. No one matches Sleigh Bells’ chaotic and wildly infectious sound, Jessica Rabbit is unpredictable, wonderfully dynamic and defying in any way. They’re still the undisputed champions of originality!

(Fausto Casais) Listen at Spotify.

Tasseomancy – Do Easy (Bella Union)

Canadian twin sisters Sari and Romy Lightman (former members of Austra) were inspired by a story, called The Discipline of D.E that’s also the subject of a Gus Van Sant’s short film, from William S. Burroughs, one the primary figures of the Beat Generation, to create a gentle and meditative world with their third album, Do Easy. For almost 45 minutes soft synths, awe-inspiring harmonies, a refreshing calm, and the refusal of harsh and violent movements parade proudly creating a dream pop piece that isn’t too concerned in being song-oriented but to provide an unstoppable stream of harmony. At first seems too pale but ends up revealing itself as a good remedy to these frenetically terrifying times.

(Tiago Moreira) // Listen at Spotify.

Angel Olsen – My Woman (Jagjaguwar)

MyWoman wouldn’t be so impactful without the contrasts that 2013’s Burn Your Fire For No Witness offer. On her third solo album Angel Olsen becomes more ambitious and in the midst of it steps into potentially vulnerable places with how she seems to tackle relationship issues in her lyrics and with the decision of letting her incredibly flexible and dynamic voice to guide an album that is all around less hectic in its production values, offering a wonderful sense of clarity in terms of sound that make the task of listening to it the more enjoyable. My Woman is an album that offers sonic and lyrical excellence through diversity – it never holds still and is always looking for a new color and smell – but more importantly, My Woman is a breakthrough album by an artist that found a confidence so undeniable that we can taste it ourselves.

(Tiago Moreira) // Listen at Spotify.

Money – Suicide Songs (Bella Union)

Money have come a long way, or so it seems when their debut, The Shadow of Heaven, is immediately proceeded by the brand new Suicide Songs on the “turntable”. What at first was just a few brilliant musical (and lyrical) traits displayed in an often sparse instrumentation reaches with Suicide Songs a concretization of a vision that seemed to be lingering around from quite some time in the band’s collective mind. Money take a leap of faith and their initially music and lyrical manifesto is tightened and deepened enabling the creation of preposterous tracks like “Night Came” – where Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks influence is unbelievable precious and notorious. Suicide Songs is courageous and magnificently-crafted document of pain and hardly a celebration of it. It so happens to be ravishing and grandiose in nature as well.

(Tiago Moreira) // Listen at YouTube.

Mothers – When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired (Wichita)

“Too Small For Eyes”, the song that opens Mothers’ debut album is somewhat representative of the nature of the entire album. Kristine Leschper starts slow with a voice that resembles Joanna Newsom in style and dramatic weight and then slowly but surely it expands, with small explosive bursts of energy that inject dynamism in the music and lyrical theme (often about the relation between body and mind). The music never gets compromised by one lane or a very specific mood. It’s definitely a quest without a compass to guide it through in the sense that it’s adventurous looking for different angles and perspectives, whether in terms of sound or in terms of lyrics. The unorthodox, often energetic, and always intense folk of Mothers is freakin’ astounding.

(Tiago Moreira) // Listen at Bandcamp.
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