Vinyl – The 2017 Holiday Gift Guide

Recommendations for the music-lover in your life from the 52-albums covered on the TFT Podcast (plus some we couldn’t resist including.) All on warm, clear, bespoke, artisanal, farm-to-table vinyl.

The Theory for Turntables Podcast covers 52 albums a year,  evenly split between new releases and a chronological tour through the great pop, indie, punk, and rap albums of the past. Here are some of our recommended purchases for the vinyl-lover in your life, featuring our  favorite albums of 2017, our favorites from our historical tour of the peak 90s (1992-1997), and a few thematic gift bundles that prove that two or three records are always better than one. – Ryan Sheely

TFT’s Favorite Records of 2017

Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 3

Technically, Run the Jewels 3 was surprise-released on Christmas Eve 2016, but the vinyl didn’t come out until the scheduled release date in January 2017. Beyond that small technicality, this album defined the sound and feeling of early 2017 for me, which was filled with equal parts uncertainty, rage, defiance, and triumph. This is easily Killer Mike and El-P’s best and most consistent album to date (although I’m sure my tune will change when RTJ 4 inevitably drops). Grab this gold vinyl, put it on your turntable, and stand with your gun and fist at the ready. – Ryan Sheely

Run The Jewels 3

Priests, Nothing Feels Natural

After the November 2016 presidential election, some writers speculated that one possible silver lining might be a bumper crop of great new protest music, citing both the folk movement of the 60s and the rise of punk and hardcore during the Reagan/Thatcher eras of the early 80s as times when political turmoil combined with youth culture to produce era-defining songs and albums.

At first glance, Nothing Feels Natural, by the DC punk band Priests seems to support this hypothesis. Released just one week after Donald Trump’s inauguration, Nothing Feels Natural starts with a one-two punch of galloping drums and Katie Alice Greer’s shouted vocals that instantly capture the feeling of every one of 2017’s many protests and marches. But the album, which was written and recorded before the election, goes much deeper than post-election protest, both thematically and musically. The lyrics are more focused on the cross-cutting structures of capitalism and gender that created the conditions for what happened in the 2016 election. The music on the album showcases that creative misreading can be an act of protest in itself by fusing classic DC-style punk with dream-pop, surf rock, and free jazz that defies categorization and control. – Ryan Sheely

Nothing Feels Natural

Kendrick Lamar, Damn

Damn contains multitudes. It is simultaneously a chart-topping pop album an alienating and confounding concept album (those Kid Capri “What Happens on Earth Stays on Earth” koans are as mind-bending as any of the jazz-rap on To Pimp a Butterfly). It also balances of-the-moment political commentary through its well-placed Fox News samples with a complicated reckoning of Kendrick’s place in both his family and in the broader culture (and maybe even in the universe). It simultaneously features some of his most dense, high-intensity verses (“DNA” and “XXX”) and some of the most audacious experiments with melody and texture in his whole discography (“Loyalty” and “Love”). Buy this album now so you can explain to your grandchildren just how complicated 2017 was.– Ryan Sheely


Alvvays, Antisocialites

Not every great album of 2017 was a tense, brooding reflection on an increasingly dire political and social landscape. Antisocialites, the sophomore album from  Alvvays captures the feeling of summer sun in a way that feels much more a product of SoCal than of their hometown of Toronto. Yet, Antisocialites is more than just a brisk, uptempo dream-punk romp, it is a beautifully-written collection of short stories of privilege and ennui that feel like Gossip Girl by way of Richard Linklater. It clocks in at just over 30 minutes, so just stand by your record player and just keep flipping it over again and again. – Ryan Sheely


Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir 

This was my introduciton to The Magnetic Fields, having missed out entirely on Steven Merritt’s 1999 magnum opus, 69 Love Songs. This is another, well, magnum opus, a 5-volume album that contains a single song to encapsulate every year in every decade of his life. TFT listeners will know that I love folk songs—worn down by time until they seem like objects more found than made. It’s an astonishing accomplishment that many of the songs in this album feel like that, and yet feel at the same time so irreducibly personal and so indelibly hummable.  – Matt Wrather

50 Song Memoir

The Mountain Goats, Goths

As a songwriter, nobody can touch John Darnielle, the creative force behind The Mountain Goats. (With the 300th episode of TFT coming up, will he become the first artist to have four episodes devoted to his work? Almost certainly.) The New Yorker famously called him “America’s best non-hip-hop lyricist,” and his songs, already preternaturally mature in the days that he was recording them on boom-box cassette, have blossomed into new, vital riches on recent albums, as his excavation of his own history has given way to an almost ethnographic consideration of various subcultures: semi-professional wrestling on Beat the Champ, and the death-obsessed underground of Los Angeles goths on this record. The thing that sets it apart is an almost total absence of self-consciousness. We do it different on the west coast. – Matt Wrather



Breeders, Last Splash

As a teenager, I listened to a lot of L7. I listened to a lot of Tilt (a lesser known ska band). I listened to a fair bit of Hole. But when I wanted to to listen to some female-driven ass kicking, nothing for me ever took the place of The Breeders, and revisiting their debut album, and researching a bit in to the circumstances surrounding its production, for a recent episode of TFT. Its strangeness, its refusal to be doctrinaire about its sound, its unwillingness to capitulate to a scene or a genre, its determination to overcome obstacles of inexperience in the name of rock—these things make it a classic worth revisiting again and again.. – Matt Wrather

Last Splash

Nas, Illmatic

It was hard to recommend just one of great rap albums from 1993 and 1994 that we discussed on TFT. I mean, really, how do you choose from a list that includes Ready to Die, Enter the Wu-Tang- 36 Chambers, and Doggystyle.  But if you have to buy the rap fan in your life just one of these albums on vinyl, go for Nas’s Illmatic.  One factor that gives Illmatic the edge over these classic albums by Biggie, the Wu, and Snoop Dogg is that Nas’s debut is the only one of these records that bucks the early-90s trend of stuffing rap albums with skits. Instead, Illmatic is packed from start finish with surprising rhymes, slice-of-life details from Queensbridge, and some of the last good hip hop beats before the pop sample-heavy Bad Boy sound took over the airwaves in the late 90s. – Ryan Sheely


Fugazi, Red Medicine

The early 90s were an era where just about anyone with a guitar, bass, and drums could jump on the alternative bandwagon, rising from a regional scene to MTV superstardom in a manner of months. But Fugazi weren’t just any group of guys with guitars, they were a grassroots experimental collective whose members had already founded Dischord records, coined the term Straight Edge, and played in more than a half dozen genre-defining bands before they even turned 30. Given these deep punk roots, Fugazi weren’t going anywhere towards the alternative rock cash grab on their mid-90s classic, Red Medicine. Instead, they expanded their sound well beyond the borders of hardcore and post-hardcore into dub, krautrock, and more. They might not have sold out, but you can buy in to their DIY alternative to the alternative. – Ryan Sheely

Red Medicine

Pavement, Brighten the Corners

I gotta tell you, I was a little afraid of Pavement when I was a teenager and this album was released. The cool kids in my high school, kids way cooler than me, wearing Dinosaur Jr. t-shirts and talking about Mudhoney, were into this band, and I assumed it would be austere and inaccessible and no fun at all. It wasn’t until the relative security of my thirties that I discovered this record and was able to appreciate it. Lucky for me it may be their most accessible, recorde and released as the band tried to communicate to listeners that they had, if not exactly mainstream appeal, at least an accessible voice. It’s a great place to start with some 90s indie bands that didn’t end up in the MTV buzz bin. –Matt Wrather

Brighten the Corners

Modest Mouse, The Lonesome Crowded West

I became aware of Modest Mouse in the 2000s, when they broke through to mainstream commercial success with The Moon & Antarctica. It wasn’t for me, and it kept me from investigating their earlier work. It was my loss, because listening to this album for TFT made me realize that disaffection, gentrification, a non-romantic account of life on the open road, and the mall-ificiation of America—Modest Mouse were bitching about the moral bankruptcy of gentrification before it was even called that—is a much better look, at least in my humble opinion than the stuff that came later. –Matt Wrather

The Lonesome Crowded West

The Tori Amos Gift Set: Native Invader, Little Earthquakes

It was a coincidence of scheduling that the TFT Podcast considered Tori Amos’s first album and her most recent in the same calendar year. It’s no secret to our regular listeners that I absolutely love Tori’s songs, and I was happy to take the opportunity to examine how far she’s come in fifteen (!) studio albums. The production (by her since Boys for Pele) is more assured and more complex, less eager to please, and the resultant textures reward repeated listening with new insights and perspectives each time through. But what hasn’t changed is even more striking: a unique, singular, unapologetic voice speaking the truth in an almost embarrassingly stripped-down language. – Matt Wrather

Native Invader
Little Earthquakes

Amanda’s Ladies of Art-Pop Gift Set

There are so many great records that are released in a given year and in every historical stretch that we can’t necessarily cover every album that we love on TFT. Our very own Amanda Jordá highlights three great records that she’s been loving all year long, two from 2017 and one from a bygone era (the early 2000s). —Ryan Sheely

St Vincent, Masseduction (deluxe edition, colored vinyl)

St Vincent is the rare musical artist who has been talked about on both Theory for Turntables and the Overthinking It Podcast, and you can expect another TFT episode on her 2017 release Masseduction before the end of the year. She has been making guitar-driven rock for years, and this album takes a turn to a poppier side, while still sounding like the work of Annie Clark (her IRL name). This deluxe edition contains the LP in pink vinyl, a poster, and 28-page booklet, and a sticker sheet, all housed in a PVC sleeve. —Amanda Jordá


Björk, Utopia

The last Björk album was full of pain and vulnerability and open wounds, both metaphorically and visually (as in, the cover image depicted a pretty gruesome-looking one). The follow-up, Utopia, was released on Black Friday, and in its second single, she sings about the early days of a crush, trading songs and texting endlessly. It sounds both current and like a throwback to her earlier stuff, and later in the song she uses multiple tracks in a way that illustrates this overlap beautifully. —Amanda Jordá


Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell

It’s been more than a decade since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’s debut studio album Fever to Tell came out and implanted the lyrics “I wish I could buy back / the woman you stole” into my brain forever. If you saw them live in the early aughts, you certainly remember Karen O taking a swig of beer and spitting it out into the audience. They were loud and amazing and one of the best live bands of the early 2000s rock revival. A lot of time has passed, but Karen O’s power and anger is more timely and needed than ever, so invite your girlfriends over and dance, jump, or thrash around to “Y Control”–Amanda Jordá

Fever to Tell

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