Before unveiling our year end lists, Modern Vinyl would just like to extend some sincere thanks to both readers and supporters of the site. To our readers, thank you for giving us a shot and helping to achieve some admirable growth this year. Hopefully, we’ll continue to make strides in our coverage, allowing to present some unique, quality content. Some other supporters who need to be thanked, include first and foremost our designer, Nate, who helped us out in some tough situations this year; Ross over at Enjoy The Ride; Phil over at Black Numbers; Rachel from Big Picture Media; Jake over at Pure Noise; and Travis at Hot Topic, among others. And of course, I have to thank my writers, especially Bill Houck, who carried the site anytime I was away. Let’s hope 2013 is as kind to us as 2012 was. Unless of course the world ends in a few days…..
In no particular order
Craig Finn — Clear Heart Full Eyes (Vagrant)
Craig Finn is a barstool poet; known for his sprawling, interconnected Midwestern yarns that he crafted as the frontman for both The Hold Steady and Lifter Puller. Each album expanded upon Finn’s mythologized Twin Cities; with each song being a character driven vignette set to the soundtrack of Springsteen meets Hüsker Dü. However, Finn’s solo debut is a departure from the tallboy soaked tracks, heavily seasoned with pop culture references and homages. Clear Heart Full Eyes proves that Finn is as much a writer and a novelist as he is a musician. The yarns that he weaves on the album are of individuals who are displaced, lost and alone. And despite the dark cloud that pervades most of the album, these are some of the most endearing narratives that Finn has crafted. While it does not have the bombastic beer fueled energy of The Hold Steady; Clear Heart Full Eyes makes up for it with honesty and heart.
— Ethan Merrick
Vacationer — Gone (Downtown)
It’s a weird science when musicians who began in hardcore, indie-rock, or punk bands are able to craft delightfully infectious pop albums. Ken Vasoli (The Starting Line, Person L) formed Vacationer in 2011 and released their debut album, Gone, just as temperatures were beginning to rise. The album’s instrumentation is deep, lush and colorful — blending together computer generated beats — that are at one moment aggressive and forceful, with the next as shy and muted. Gone exudes this sonorous, luminescent malaise and is one of the best warm weather albums of recent memory, rivaling Jack’s Mannequin’s Everything In Transit.
— Ethan Merrick
Fiona Apple — The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (Epic)
Seven years removed from the Grammy nominated masterpiece, Extraordinary Machine, Fiona Apple’s long-awaited return to the music industry is one that’s been fawned over all year long. Earning critical acclaim since its release, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, is an album that builds on Apple’s enigmatic approach to experimental pop music. Her most minimalistic effort yet, The Idler Wheel is a vocal record through and through – an emotional journey through the wounds of a tortured songstress, whose vocals carry the often baroque-era inspired instrumentals on her back, and leads each hammer of her piano with a force more capable than any shallow pop diva whose ever belted the hollow, feigned words of a ghost-written flavor of the week. A tour de force if there ever was one, The Idler Wheel cements Apple’s place in the hallowed grounds of true, contemporary pop music.
— Julio Anta
The American Scene — Safe For Now (Pure Noise)
One of this year’s few surprises within the all-ages DIY scene came in the form of San Francisco’s The American Scene. Playing a unique blend of emo and indie rock that’s more alternative than what’s generally heard this side of the Atlantic, the Bay Area five-piece channels a style in tune with British bands coming up in the aforementioned genres. Released by Pure Noise Records, the group’s sophomore album Safe For Now epitomizes introspective lyrics and concise song-writing. Paired with singer/bassist Matt Vincent’s wide vocal range, The American Scene are a powerful band whose sophomore LP may only be the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
— Julio Anta
The Tower and The Fool — How Long (Run For Cover)
Very few albums this year have been more complete, from start to finish, than The Tower and The Fool’s How Long. Released through Run For Cover Records, the album serves as a brand new take on rock music, with the emotion of each track clearly felt throughout, leading to a beautiful and catchy experience. The band’s use of multiple vocalists, along with the blues-infused mid-tempo sound make for an almost new genre all their own. The slower, emotionally filled songs like “How Long” and “Broken” are the highlights of the album, but the more up-tempo songs carry just as much emotion. Not to mention, the band’s sound is perfect for the vinyl format. If you have not given this album a chance, do yourself a favor and give it a listen.
— Bill Houck
Japandroids — Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
I was never a big fan of Japandroids before Celebration Rock. In my humble opinion, a lot of the band’s work really just sounded the same. A whole album would kind of just blend together in a mess of noise and blur into one long track. With Celebration Rock, though, my expectations were blown out of the water after hearing the band’s first single, “The House That Heaven Built.” The song brought a pure rock sound that sounded fuller than anything I’ve heard from the band before, or from any band this year for that matter. Once I got my hands on the record, I was hooked. Songs like “The Night of Wine and Roses”, “Younger Us” and “Continuous Thunder” gave Celebration Rock the feel of a true rock album that never let up.
— Michael Escanuelas
Kendrick Lamar — Good Kid, M.A.A.d City (Aftermath)
Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City was the only album I heard this year that truly felt like the next hip-hop classic. With amazing production by T-Minus (“Swimming Pools (Dank)”) and Scoop DeVille (“Poetic Justice”), along with many others, and an executive producer credit from Dr. Dre, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City had great flow and memorable beats. Not to mention, it helps that Kendrick Lamar hails from my home of Southern California. The albums brings out some Southern Californian vibes not seen for some time in hip-hop.
— Michael Escanuelas
Fun. — Some Nights (Fueled By Ramen)
With a mountain of Grammy nominations, numerous national television appearances and explosive mainstream success, some may forget that Fun.’s Some Nights was as excellent as it was popular. Yes, we may be sick of “We Are Young” and if its radio play continues, we’ll soon feel the same about the title track. But from the instrumental perfection of the intro song; to the sprawling, slow build of “Why Am I The One”; to the bombastic horn section of “One Foot”; the album carries with it much more than your typical radio sound. With Some Nights, Nate Reuss, Andrew Dost and Jack Antonoff all received the hit they so wildly deserved, while also showing us exactly how pop music should sound.
— Chris Lantinen
Bad Books — II (Triple Crown)
As the collaboration between acclaimed songwriters Andy Hull and Kevin Devine, Bad Books carries with it an immense amount of musical talent. That could be why their debut, self-titled record, which while better than the majority of 2010 offerings, just felt a little too safe. Luckily, on their follow up, II, the group has addressed this problem, most notably with the inclusion of an electronic vibe, especially on the expansive first single, “Forest Whitaker.” The ambitious approach continues throughout the record, with “It Never Stops” featuring a near perfect use of dual vocals; “The After Party,” carrying with it a slight touch of grunge; and “Lost Creek” as just another folk-rock gem from Hull. Bad Books finally capitalized on their massive potential with II and better yet, they’re finally coming to the northeast (see you there Pittsburgh).
— Chris Lantinen
Now, Now — Threads (Trans)
When Now, Now toured in support of Motion City Soundtrack earlier this year, I made sure to give them a close listen, as a friend had recommended the up and coming group. Playing a lower-energy brand of indie rock that sounds similar to shoegaze in many ways, the group sufficiently blew me away, their deep, crisp sound reverberating throughout the theater. This leads us to Threads, the album they were touring in support of and one in which should serve as the breakout work for the deserving three-piece. Lead vocalist Cacie Dalager’s unique timbre, along with simple, yet catchy musical arrangements both shine on the album, captivating the listener from beginning to end. As one of the biggest surprises this year, Threads may not have the big hit single, but as the songs blend effortlessly into one another, you realize that it’s got something more important than that: it’s a complete, cohesive experience.
— Brian Vitunic
Playable in free version of Spotify
Desaparecidos — MariKKKopa/Backsell (Saddle Creek, not on sale anymore)
Person L/Weatherbox — Split 7″ (Youth Conspiracy)
David Bazan/Deerhoof — Split 7″ (Polyvinyl)
Cruiser — The Fritz (Company Ink)
Giant Peach — Callous and Strange (Rok Lok)
Sam Means — Nona (Independent)
Now, Now/The Lonely Forest — Shifting/Woe/Me (Trans, sold out)
Brick + Mortar — Making Moves (Mad Dragon)
My Chemical Romance — Number One (Warner)
Lemuria — Varoom Allure (Bridge Nine)
Right Away, Great Captain! — Trilogy Box Set (Favorite Gentlemen, sold out)
Boys Night Out — Trainwreck (Ferret)
Something Corporate — Leaving Through the Window (Enjoy The Ride, sold out)
Look Mexico — So Crucialtine (Independent, no longer on sale)
Pedro The Lion — It’s Hard To Find A Friend; The Only Reason I Feel Secure; Winners Never Quit; Control; and Achilles’ Heel (Jade Tree)
Weezer — Blue Album (Mobile Fidelity)
Into It. Over It. — 52 Weeks (No Sleep)
Weatherbox — American Art (Youth Conspiracy)
Thrice — Vheissu (Island, sold out)
Northstar — Is This Thing Loaded? (Triple Crown)
Athletics — Why Aren’t I Home? (In The Clouds)
The Early November — In Currents (Rise, photo book)
Bad Books — II (Triple Crown, deluxe photobook)
Deerhoof — Breakup Song (Joyful Noise, flexi-book edition)
Lights Resolve — Feel You’re Different (Enjoy The Ride, reverse playback, lyric sheet with band members’ blood)
How did we do? What did we miss? Give us your top albums, along with opinions on the rest of the categories in the comment section.