Much like the classic mixtape, Tracklisted presents a collection of tracks under a theme with good rhyme or reason, which you can check out below. Click on the provided Spotify or Rdio widgets below and listen to this week’s arrangement while you read a few words about every pick on the list — and find out where to grab each selection on vinyl if we’ve grabbed your attention. Have an idea for a future installment of Tracklisted? Send over a Spotify and Rdio playlist link and accompanying commentary to firstname.lastname@example.org.
2014 has brought a plethora of incredible releases. Any buzzworthy site can deliver a list detailing their staff choices of this year’s crown jewels — and come December, nearly all of them will. However, it takes a lot to create a riveting and cohesive listening experience from front to back, especially in the age of the digital stream and download. Seeing as this is Modern Vinyl, there’s no more appropriate way to evaluate the strength of this year’s offerings than judging a handful of first expressions. When the needle drops on side A, which cuts ultimately set the stage for an enjoyable escape? Look no further. We’ve done most of the detective work.
When our staff predominantly consisted of a trio this summer, all three of us unanimously agreed The Hotelier (who returned refocused and rebranded from an earlier stint as The Hotel Year) crafted nine near-perfect songs which blended together politicized storytelling with earnest emo. This kickstart establishes the group’s new-found agenda, which constructs its near-four minute incline on reserved guitar lines and faraway piano chords only to explode for the track’s remaining 30 seconds, showcasing vocalist Christian Holden’s anguished screech and the first on an album rooted in passionate vignettes.
There aren’t many bands who make the choice, nor have the creative palate or ambition, to release a double LP worth of material as their debut full-length. Leave that difficult task to New Jersey’s Gates, who broadcast dynamic, atmospheric tones with touches of post-rock scope and a wounding case of vocal and instrumental spitfire. This first track teases this attention to both melody and ferocity, unloading punishing drums behind foregrounded ambient noise and a sprawling series of intermingling guitar rhythms.
Gates and Prawn have a few things in common, besides analogous Garden State origin stories and a fascination with whatever strain of the “emo revival” hasn’t been revisited ad nauseum. The latter band’s sophomore record lights its fuse with a single note which multiplies and encapsulates an impressive variety of sounds. An unexpected string section swells, basslines fuzz and crackle, and air-tight production zeroes in on the real focal point of the song — a thunderous drum session which undulates between primal urgency and understated precision. The opening lyric of the record discloses “It’s the floor I’m reaching for.” Prawn’s lying. There’s no way a song like this would exist if that were true.
Michigan pop-punk band Fireworks again attempt to reinvent the wheel with this spring’s self-analyzing sequel to their Triple Crown debut Gospel. It’s no secret why this was the inaugural selection revealed from the record, as there’s enough stuffed into the track to be both an extension of geography well-traveled on previous LPs — soulful vocal delivery chokes up a snapshot of tortured religious adolescence — and a foundation for what this Common Life uncommonly delivers. Fireworks doesn’t blow up with the same blatant intensity on their first two full-lengths, yet saves their gunpowder for loaded poetics and smarter musicianship.
With pop-punk and emo having guns and defibrillators thrust in their genre conventions (to defend and revive, respectively), straightforward punk-rock found its spotlight waning in the midst of its polarized cousins. Enter Single Mothers’ shrapnel-tasting first album. Ripping open with a thunderous guitar riff, the record sets its score early. Single Mothers are “so sick of your fake rock n’ roll.” Move over, weaker states of musical mind. Canada’s latest export is ready to deliver a lobotomy. It sounds like they’re having a blast preparing for surgery.
Raise your hand if you thought New Found Glory’s last LP, Radiosurgery, found the legacy pop-punk group firing on all cylinders. Sure, that effort has a few undeniable gems which no other band could pen, but after the first few listens, the ink already dried up without a fight (unlike its easycore-touting predecessor, Not Without a Fight, but that’s besides the point). After shedding primary songsmith Steve Klein, the band bit back with this clear mission statement. The carpe diem lyric sheet is clearly pointed at the group’s titular resurrection, and the starting line sets up a delicious riff that returns New Found Glory to a more organic headspace right off the bat.
Marrying Social Distortion’s devilish snark with modern pop-punk might seem like a tall order (or even a bad joke) for some, but this Philadelphia outfit finds itself meeting at the intersection of garage-rock crunch and unbridled energy to speed out of the gate on their debut EP. In just over two minutes, treatments of self-deprecation (hear the apathetic snarl of lines like “it’s not okay, but maybe it’s enough”) touch grimy elbows with spurts of cautious optimism (“turn the amps up to nine, I don’t want it too loud”) against a soundtrack that could very well fuel a sugar-drowned joyride during whatever quarter-life crisis Pennsylvania punks find themselves grappling with in the near future.
The Menzingers have a formula, a time-tested blueprint that has carried them from a short period of recording hollow Against Me! facsimiles to becoming a fleshed-out, promising punk-rock act. Their Epitaph introduction, On the Impossible Past, overflowed with the passion of a basement gig and the narrative arc of an angst-ridden journeyman. That record’s successor continued this trend, down to the hook-heavy stomp-a-long functioning as the album’s opener. With an infectious chorus boosted by the band’s unmistakable endurance, this track makes its presence known, even throughout the album’s subsequent songs.
It’s probably clear by now that the Internet doesn’t really know what the definition of a “hiatus” is, or if Tigers Jaw actually embarked on one. Returning this year with an LP and a new perspective after being left to two principal members, the group maps self-reflection to receptors that fire under ’90s alternative rock and early emo stimuli. The band’s signature mixture of astute observation (“it’s a cruel world, but it’s cool”) and ear for vocal synergy is apparent with their comeback LP’s zealous beginning.
Ignore the fact that this band — once unafraid to fly the colors of heartland rock nostalgia — announced their end in the middle of a tour, and fittingly, did die on stage. Pay attention to their swan song’s introductory movement — an uptempo flirtation with jangle pop and 1950s-esque rock n’ roll — which at times broadcasts the innocence grouped in with holiday music. If that comparison leaves a bad taste, consider this track a distillation of the band: Hostage Calm 101, if you will. Their unique tendencies aren’t for everyone circling the Run for Cover camp, but they’re refreshing in a sonic climate that at times refuses to take risks.
Opening their stab at understated emo with digitally-reversed guitar ironically underlines this UK group’s commitment to forward-thinking. Sure, the first-person speaker dishes out memory snippets which force his heart on his sleeve — this is nothing new — but the way the accompanying atmosphere never threatens to burst open this reflective session is calming and mature. The only percussion featured on this opener is a series of chimes which twinkle in the background; the aforementioned backwards guitar almost becomes a makeshift string section, heightening the drama to great effect. It’s only slightly alarming this intimacy is ruptured with the combustible “Anyway” directly afterwards.
Dream pop records are no longer a dream reserved for shoegaze’s inner circle and female-fronted groups sporting a tad more panache than the former. Philadelphia has joined in the fun — more overtly this time — with Alex G. Production values are crisp yet slightly unrefined on DSU, which compliments the album’s overarching allegiance to Elliott Smith’s once-sleepy vocals and late-career fascinations with electric arrangements. The LP opens with a symphony of effected noise and unfolds to maintain a steady pop-rock mentality that dips in the waters which flow back to fuzz-frenzied ’90s alternative. Enroll in DSU before the inevitable fourth (!) pressing disappears.