To label a piece of music as "alternative" is to, in some sense, stand in contrast to what the phrase intends to express. Before the rise of the term as a somewhat identifiable genre that took shape in the '90s, music from the post-punk era took on forms that differentiated from the mainstream rock and commercial pop that dominated airwaves.

More of a catch-all phrase then a strict genre, alternative music spread mostly through word-of-mouth and underground sources, supported by small but dedicated fan bases and often distributed via independent record labels.

In 1989 The New York Times attempted to define the indefinable as "more melodic than post-punk hard-core rock yet looser, more unruly and less formulaic than big-budget productions such as Bon Jovi." Nearly a decade later, after the rise and fall of the grunge movement, The Times updated their definition: "hard-edged rock distinguished by brittle, '70s-inspired guitar riffing and singers agonizing over their problems until they take on epic proportions."

Since then, the ever-changing genre has become a little more recognizable to fans, contrary to its ever-changing roots. In the age of digital music, the accessibility of the music is no longer an issue, and the range of what can be called "alternative music" has broadened even further. Borrowing elements from punk, hip-hop, house, new wave and just about everything else, contemporary alternative still mostly revolves around the core rock instrumentation of guitars, drums and occasional keyboards.

Regardless of precise definition, the below list of the Top 10 Alternative Rock Albums of 2021 includes everything from homages to alternative godfathers the Velvet Underground to veterans who came of age during the grunge era.

Top 10 Alternative Rock Albums of 2021

There's no exact definition of the genre - and that's exactly why we love it.

More From Ultimate Classic Rock