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Bandcamping: The Top 5 Underground Albums of 2016 So Far

One of the great things about the internet is that anybody can put anything they’ve created onto it. Talented aspiring musicians who lack proper connections can put their sounds out there and if they’re lucky, have them heard by the right people who can make things happen for their careers. However, one of the bad things about the internet is that anybody can put anything they’ve created onto it. Any uninspired hack with a laptop and a cheap USB microphone can flood the information superhighway with music that is way too rough for public consumption.

Bandcamp invaluably contributes to both sides of this push-pull relationship. It allows artists to host and sell their music for free, so the service attracts all kinds. As expected, there’s definitely a lot of bad music on the site (Anthony Fantano at The Needle Drop writes a fun column about those), but that should never deter you from looking for the gems. We figured it would be a worthwhile public service to sort through the countless hours that are uploaded daily to uncover the best of the internet underground.

That’s what we’ll be doing once a week starting right now, with our new column, Bandcamping.

We picked our favorite five albums released on Bandcamp this week (from January 1 to 6) and we now present them for your consideration below. We explore everything from indie rock to dream pop to alternative hip-hop to experimental electronic to speed metal.

Before we get into it, a quick clarification of our criteria for consideration: Plenty of big-time, major-label artists release their music on Bandcamp, but we’re only considering lesser known artists with smaller followings. Bandcamping is meant to be a showcase of under-appreciated talent, after all.

And now, here’s the best of the best, our top five.

5. Cherry Coals by Cherry Coals

'Cherry Coals' by Cherry Coals

Genre: indie rock, dream pop
If you like: Beach House, Wild Nothing, Real Estate

Here is what we know about Cherry Coals: they play atmospheric dream pop, they seem to be based in New York City, and last October, they played the 2015 CMJ Music Marathon alongside acts like The Men, Neon Indian, Panda Bear and a bunch of others. Here’s the only thing you really need to know: Cherry Coals doesn’t mess too much with the dream pop formula, and in a genre that’s all about creating good vibes, a sense of routine can be a good thing. That’s not to say they’re not engaging; it’s more like Cherry Coals does a familiar thing very well.

4. Alone by My Jacket Is Yours

'Alone' by My Jacket Is Yours

Genre: indie rock, noise pop
If you like: Best Coast, Cat Power, Codeine

This Toulouse, France four-piece (whose web presence is entirely in French despite their songs being in English) was started by sisters Pascale and Relau in 2011, who recruited a bassist and drum player in 2015 to become the band they are today, a group that can quickly flip the switch from brooding guitar rock to upbeat synth jams within a single song. The four-track EP is a strong debut for the new lineup, and it sure would be nice to see them state-side for a few shows. Maybe at South by Southwest?

3. Idle Empress by Idle Empress

'Idle Empress' by Idle Empress

Genre: indie rock, indie folk
If you like: Daughter, Lady Lamb, Your Friend

Thanks in large part to Bon Iver, the small city of Eau Claire, Wisconsin has become synonymous with reverb-heavy indie folk-rock, and Idle Empress is a beautiful product of the movement. Singer Lauren Anderson bears a strong vocal resemblance to Lady Lamb, and the band isn’t far off that mark instrumentally either. They mix nurturing and propulsive vibes with a willingness to experiment, and it works to great effect.

2. 1.6.16 by Mark Mills

'1.6.16' by Mark Mills

Genre: electro pop, indie pop
If you like: Chromeo, Geographer, early MGMT

Weird electronic music is tremendously hit-or-miss, because the balance between oddity and palatability is a tough one to strike. Mark Mills seems to have figured it out on his new album, which he bizarrely categorizes as power-posi-passion-dad-pop. Whatever that means, we’re for it.

1. Maiden Voyage Suite by Signor Benedick the Moor

'Maiden Voyage Suite' by Signor Benedick the Moor

Genre: alternative hip-hop, experimental
If you like: milo, Chance the Rapper, Frank Ocean

What sucks about experiments is that they don’t always succeed. “Maiden Voyage” is with little doubt the most ambitious hip-hop track released so far in 2016, but thankfully, it totally delivers and completely justifies its 11-minute track length. From the gospel-inspired introduction to the urgent verses to the impressive guitar work, the song hits on every level and establishes Signor Benedick the Moor as a rapper to keep an eye on in 2016 and beyond, since he notes that “this album is a prequel.” He’s hitting the road with milo (from our 10 Best Albums That Flew Under the Radar in 2015 list) in February, and you can find those dates here.

And finally, here are a few albums that we liked, but did not make the cut for our top five list.

Honorable Mentions

If you liked anything you heard above, please support the artists by buying their music and seeing them live, so they can continue to release more material. We’ll be back with more underground albums next week, but in the meantime, comment with an album from this week that we may have overlooked. Also, if you know of any cool releases coming out on Bandcamp in the future, let us know!

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