Modern Vinyl’s Best of 2013

Special Features / December 24, 2013

With 2013 quickly coming to a close, I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who’s supported us throughout the year. We’ve easily obtained our best year in regard to traffic and I’d argue, in regard to content as well. This past November was our best ever month ever and our best weeks and days occurred during that same time. To everyone who’s spread the good word about us, I’ll never be able to properly express my gratitude, but I can say, thank you. Hopefully we can keep providing you with the same goodness throughout 2014.
Keep collecting and keep supporting physical music,
Chris

And now on to the Best of 2013….

Top 10 Albums (presented alphabetically)

1975

The 1975 (pictured) — 1975

Building an immeasurable amount of buzz through the release of four EPs, The 1975 had a lot to live up to with its debut full-length release. The group would prove to be more than just a pop rock act, but rather a band with a soulful style that gave a breath of fresh air to the genre. With a track listing of 16 songs, they shattered my expectations with a mixture of new and previously released songs. The album was pressed on a beautiful, clear 180-gram double LP that followed much of the same design that the band used throughout the release of their previous EPs. With great sound quality and some stellar design work, the package gave amazing justice to a fantastic album. (Michael Escanuelas)

Enemies — Embark, Embrace

August 20th, Topshelf Records

Embark, Embrace is the self-recorded/self-produced sophomore album by Irish faux-instrumental rock outfit Enemies. On their second outing, the band combines deftly interwoven guitars and scattershot drumming with ethereal harmonies and bursts of bright vocals; culminating in a sound that falls somewhere between emotive post-rock (Caspian, Coheed & Cambria) and glitchy prog-pop (Toe, ASIWYFA) — with whispers of Mono’s sweeping orchestrations and Mew’s danceable weirdness. While a portion of Embark  (“Unit Shifter,” “Beacher,” “Northwest”) skews toward sober, straightforward math-lite, the majority shines with ebullient energy (“Executive Cut,” “Love Unlimited”). A small handful of tracks are even imbued with a shimmering Caribbean vibe: “Coral Castle” and “Nighthawks” are decidedly oceanic, teeming with glittery guitar effects, Latin rhythms, and haunting vocals — easily the album’s high-water mark. Embark, Embrace is nothing short of triumphant; indisputably uplifting and effortlessly poetic; and it might just be 2013’s big secret. Don’t sleep on it. (Trevor Read)

Foals — Holy Fire

February 11th, Transgressive Records/Warner Bros. Records

 Foals’ Holy Fire sees the Oxford five-piece take a second, gratifying step away from the spastic precision of debut album Antidotes and delve deeper into the transcendental atmospherics of 2010’s Total Life Forever. What the album lacks in sheer feverishness, it satisfies with a breadth of lush indie-pop dynamics: the punishing, alt-rock-influenced chorus of “Inhaler”; the infectious Neu Wave danceability of “My Number”; the swelling emotionalism of “Bad Habit” and “Milk & Black Spiders”; and the reflective ambiance of “Stepson” and “Late Night.” Appropriately, Holy Fire’s dancehall temper is matched by its sincerity. Foals continue the patently European tradition of marrying eminently danceable rhythms with honest, deeply felt lyrics. In every sense, Holy Fire is designed to move you. So let it. (Trevor Read)

Kevin Devine & The Goddamn Band — Bubblegum

When “Private First Class” originally debuted before the release of the Goddamn Band portion of Kevin Devine’s two albums in 2013, one thing was certain, Devine was playing with a purpose. Whether attacking the treatment of the controversial American hacker, Bradley Manning; offering up a blitzkrieg of critique toward our current national path in “Nobel Prize”; or asking us younger citizens to speak out against economical injustices in “Fiscal Cliff”; Devine accomplished an intense lyrical mission without falling into the trap of becoming “preachy.” And that’s just in the first three songs. Add in the deliberate, gloomy “Redbird” and the standout title track and you’ve got one of the better albums of the accomplished songwriter’s career. (Chris)

Los Campesinos! — No Blues

November 12th, Wichita Records

No Blues, the fourth proper LP from Los Campesinos!, is the six-piece’s most melodic and robust pop album to date. Gone are the bared teeth, sharpened claws and raw confessional lyrics that so defined Hello Sadness, the group’s previous LP. In their place, lip-gloss, colorful press on nails and Gareth’s wry, self-deprecating wit, supplemented by football history as well as Greek mythology, dominates the album’s ten tracks. Instrumentally, this is the most satisfy album that the band has released with a near flawless ebb and flow to its pace. And in short, No Blues sounds like, feels like the album that Los Campesinos! has always wanted to make. (Ethan Merrick)

The National — Trouble Will Find Me

May 21st, 4AD Records

The National have been at it for over a decade and seem to just be getting better and better with each album they release. Their 2013 release of Trouble Will Find Me further proves this notion, as one of the most anticipated indie rock albums going into 2013 did not disappoint once amongst its 13-track effort. The band’s unique musical style and sophisticated lyrics pull you in, demonstrating the genre at its best. The band is sure to take care of their vinyl fans, as well, and released Trouble Will Find Me as a double LP, gatefold release on 180-gram vinyl. (Bill Houck)

Owel — Owel

April 2nd, 2013

A true breakthrough album, the self-titled work from New Jersey-based Owel is at once ambitious and refined, dancing throughout the alt-rock and emo genres on its way to a triumph. The opening 7-minute epic of “Snowglobe” showcases this variety all on its own, the gentle keys and subdued whispers of vocals giving way to sweeping riffs and an intense preview of what’s to come. And when the album was all said and done, I couldn’t help but think that I had witnessed the start of something special. Like I had witnessed the beginning of a long, fruitful career. Could the “smallest” band on our list quite possibly have the biggest sound? Listen to “Death In The Snow” and try to tell me otherwise. (Chris)

Vampire Weekend  — Modern Vampires Of The City

May 14th, XL Recordings

No longer the occasional punchline as a result of their moniker, Vampire Weekend has officially established itself within the upper class of indie-rock, manipulating the genre enough to truly set them apart. But while the musical success — an alteration from quirky to refined — is what initially stands out, it’s the increasingly mature lyrical work which resonates. From standout “Don’t Lie” and its lifetime look at morality; to the heartbreaking journey of “Hannah Hunt”; to the religious insecurities of the “Unbelievers,” the band isn’t exactly singing about life on the college campus any longer. And in that regard, they’re finally producing the lasting work we’ll remember them for. (Chris)

The Wonder Years — The Greatest Generation

May 14th, Hopeless Records

Somewhere between goofing off and growing up, there’s a great realization that pop-punk can deliver sweeping statements that encapsulate a handful of hardships gnawing at the sanity of jaded suburbanites. Lansdale, PA’s The Wonder Years aren’t strangers to this idea, delivering 2010’s The Upsides and 2011’s Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing as ample steps towards their magnum opus: 13 tracks that capture the chaos and clutter of coming to grips with the real world. The Greatest Generation has everything to make a stellar pop-punk record: big hooks (the almost arena-ready stomp of “Dismantling Summer”); emotive delivery (the second leg of “The Devil in My Bloodstream” is worth the price of admission alone); and a definite sonic consistency that showcases a band unhindered by genre convention or delusions of grandeur. (James Cassar)

The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die — Whenever, If Ever

June 18th, Topshelf Records

It’s rare for an album of any genre to possess such potency when it comes to mental transportation. As the needle drops on this 8-piece group’s breakthrough work, though, you’re taken away to locations near the writer’s soul; you’re taken away to the moments they hold dear. In “Picture Of A Tree That Doesn’t Look Okay,” for example, we accompany a group’s final night within storied walls, contemplating the purpose of the years spent within. And in a track like “Gig Life,” we’re treated to an even richer account, the heartbreak of road travel bleeding through their speakers. Having never been “on the road,” tales of listening to Rival Schools and Mewithoutyou allow for you to witness each passing tree, peering through their van windows. In the end, though, it’s touched upon narrative themes which ring loudest, while falling within the idea of existence, either external (“We stack bricks but walls don’t always mean a place to live” from “Fightboat”) or internal (“The world is a beautiful place, but we have to make it that way” from “Getting Sodas”). (Chris)

Honorable Mentions

Touche Amore — Is Survived By
Have Mercy — The Earth Pushed Back
Arcade Fire — Reflektor
Yo La Tengo – Fade
Pity Sex – Feast of Love

Top 50 Songs of 2013 (Presented Via Spotify)

Top 10 Non-LP Releases (7″, 10″, 12″ EP, presented alphabetically)

Bloc_Party_Warfield_San_Francisco

Bloc Party (pictured) – The Nextwave Sessions
Cloakroom – Infinity
Foals – CCTV Sessions
The Hundred Acre Woods/Modern Baseball – Split
Manchester Orchestra/Grouplove/Frightened Rabbit — 12″ RSD Split
New Manners – New Manners
Pet Symmetry — Two Songs About Cars. Two Songs With Long Titles.
Their / They’re / There – Analog Weekend
Their / They’re / There – Their / They’re / There
Title Fight – Spring Songs

Top 10 Reissues (presented alphabetically)

Alkaline Trio

Alkaline Trio (pictured) — Agony & Irony (Shop Radio Cast)
The Band – The Last Waltz (Rhino Records)
Brand New — The Devil & God are Raging Inside Me (Music On Vinyl)
Circa Survive – On Letting Go (Self Released, Equal Vision Records)
Death Cab For Cutie – The Barsuk Years (Barsuk Records, once they got those labels figured out)
King Geedorah – Take Me To Your Leader (Ninja Tune)
Straylight Run – Prepare To Be Wrong (Victory Records)
Toe – For Long Tomorrow (Topshelf Records)
The White Stripes – Elephant (Third Man Records)

Top Packaging

Owel — Owel (In The Clouds Records)
For the past few years, In The Clouds has consistently been on our packaging radar, with things like plantable packaging, pop-up artwork and liquid filled jackets, but they truly outdid themselves with the release of Owel’s self-titled work. An embedded mini-keyboard, placed inside the gatefold jacket, is both ambitious and more importantly, functional, in the type of release you just won’t see very often.

Honorable Mention

The Postal Service – Give Up (Sub Pop Records)
3xLP 10th Anniversary Set
Into It. Over It. — Intersections (Triple Crown Records)
Die-Cut Jacket
Alkaline Trio — Agony & Irony (Shop Radio Cast)
Triple Panel Gatefold Jacket, 16-Page Lyric Booklet
The National — Trouble Will Find Me (4AD Records)
Die-Cut box-set, accompanied by 14 heavyweight cards
Blink 182 — Take Off Your Pants and Jacket (Shop Radio Cast)
Triple Gatefold Jacket with slots for 3, 7″ records
John Harrison — Day Of The Dead OST (Waxwork Records)
Director liner notes by George Romero, new artwork by Jay Shaw
Atoms For Peace — AMOK (XL Recordings, Deluxe Edition)
Triple Gatefold Jacket
The World Is A Beautiful Place — Whenever, If Ever (Broken World Media, Cassette Version)
6 panel screen-printed and die-cut covers
Various Artists — Live At Death By Audio 2012 (Famous Class, shown below)
Playable Flexi-Disc Book

tumblr_mps54yKXth1rqoxo7o2_500

Label of the Year

Topshelf Records

Besides putting two releases in our top 10 albums of the year with The World Is A Beautiful Place and Enemies Enemies, releases from label-mates A Great Big Pile Of Leaves, Have Mercy and Tancred were as close as could be to cracking that lineup. And when you factor in their involvement with the Their/They’re/There EP, Analog Weekend, and the massive vinyl reissue campaign for Japanese math outfit, Toe, you can see the label’s fingerprints all over our favorite music of 2013. By signing groups like Braid and getting involved with the newest Nai Harvest release, you’ll be sure to hear plenty more from the Topshelf folks come 2014. In the end, though, good tunes are nothing without a solid team behind them and as somone who’s often a sounding board for label complaints, I’ve yet to hear one about this Massachusetts-based operation.

Honorable Mentions

Merge Records
Run For Cover Records
Deathwish Inc.
Barsuk Records




Christopher Lantinen
Chris Lantinen is the owner and editor-in-chief of Modern Vinyl. Along with his modest collection of sad sounding records, he collects his share of soundtracks and previously adored indie up-and-comers. Chris is currently a professor of journalism and public relations at Edinboro University in the Erie, Pennsylvania area.