THE BLOG

Alternative Albums

01/27/2014 10:14 am ET | Updated Mar 29, 2014
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Whenever I think of the term "pop music," a few words come to mind: "overplayed," "autotune," and "somebody please change the station." Not to say that all pop music played on the radio is bad, some songs are in fact pretty good. The thing is, popular music stations always seem to favor what they already know: the same artists and same songs played about a billion times over. Eventually, such repetition becomes pretty boring.

I personally love to check out alternative albums from indie bands who don't get played on the radio as often. Instead of supporting artists like Rihanna and Drake (who are already doing quite well), I like to support lesser-known artists who usually are more grounded and more consistent than their pop music counterparts. Here's a few of my favorite recent alternative albums that I would definitely recommend checking out instead of the usual "Top 20" stations:

1. The Suburbs by Arcade Fire (2011)

This Grammy-winning double-album is easily the famous band's greatest accomplishment. While Arcade Fire's recent 2013 album Reflektor was a bit of an experimental mess, The Suburbs remains a near-perfect masterpiece. The album addresses themes like conformity, technology, and modernization with both rock and electro-pop anthems. Songs like "Month of May" are fast-paced tracks about the apathy of the youth while songs like "Ready to Start" are slower musings on the price of fame. While a bit pretentious at some points, the album is brutally honest, and really makes you question the kind of impact living in the suburbs can have on you.

2. The Bones of What You Believe by CHVRCHES (2013)

This recent electropop debut is definitely one of the most consistent and catchy alternative albums of last year. The Scottish band CHVRCHES brings the synthesized beats of Depeche Mode into the 21st century with outstanding results. The lyrics are profound and meaningful, and are rich with literary symbolism and metaphors. Songs like "Gun" and "We Sink" are high-energy dance beats with an excellent electronic feel, and the tune "The Mother We Share" is probably one of the best songs of 2013. The only song that was simply so-so was "We Caught the Light," but besides that, every other song was a crowning achievement. I saw them in concert last month, and still can't stop raving about the band.

3. Manners by Passion Pit (2009) and Gossamer by Passion Pit (2012)

I couldn't decide which of these albums is better, because they are both just so amazing. They both are very different: Manners is a high-strung whirl of uptempo beats and hyperactive melodies, while Gossamer is a more melodic venture. Yet both retain meaningful lyrics and a very optimistic tone. On Manners, classic songs like "Sleepyhead" and "Little Secrets" are high-pitched and beautifully messy. Gossamer contains such buoyant and electronic anthems as "I'll Be Alright" and "Cry Like A Ghost." I also saw them in concert and was really impressed by the energy and excitement they brought (and yes, their voices are that high in real life). Passion Pit is one of the most successful alternative bands of the last few years, and it's easy to see why.

4. Contra by Vampire Weekend (2010)

Another very successful band, Vampire Weekend is certainly nothing if not consistent. Their self-titled Vampire Weekend was a great debut, and their recent Modern Vampires in the City developed their sound in a fascinating new direction. But they can't top their catchy and near-perfect sophomore album Contra. In songs like "Diplomat's Son" and "Taxi Cab," they combine relaxed Californian tones and thoughtful New York lyrics. Their album addresses themes such as white privilege, modernism, and wealth. Some parts are haunting, some are uplifting, but all of it is amazing.

5. Torches by Foster the People (2010)

One of the first alternative albums I listened to, Torches is an excellent electronic rock album with killer beats and catchy tunes. Foster the People is mostly known for their single "Pumped Up Kicks," which even I admit was seriously overplayed. But the rest of their debut album is equally as impressive. Songs like "Waste" and "Life on the Nickel" are upbeat dance tunes about serious topics like mental illness and drug addiction. Other songs adress life on the run, unrequited love, and the price of fame. Foster the People is even releasing a new album, Supermodel, this year. This album is distinctive and genre-breaking, and still remains one of my favorites to this day.

6. Days Are Gone by HAIM (2013)

Last but not least, is this recent debut album by the Californian trio of sisters, HAIM. This playful and dreamy album is complemented by a mix of rock and roll and bubbly pop. Their album mostly addresses themes about relationships: their most famous song "The Wire," is an extremely catchy tune about an apathetic breakup, and other tunes like "Falling" describe sticking through a tough relationship. Some songs like "Honey & I" stumble, but most, like "Don't Save Me" and "Forever" hit the mark. HAIM was one of the biggest bands of the past several months, so they definitely need to be checked out while they are still new.

I couldn't fit all my favorite albums in, but another some of my recent top picks are Lightning by Matt and Kim (2012), AM by Arctic Monkeys (2013), The Lumineers by The Lumineers (2012), Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009) and Bankrupt! (2013) by Phoenix, and This Modern Glitch by The Wombats (2011). It's always nice to be the person in your friend group who finds these unknown bands and shows them to everybody else, so be sure to check them out. I also highly recommend just putting on Pandora or iTunes Radio, which play songs similar to what you already like. Pandora is how I found a bunch of bands I now consider some of my favorites, such as Phoenix and The Wombats. I hope you all enjoy the albums on this list, and hopefully find even more great music through my suggestions.