Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2015

Today is April 18, and while the rest of the nation celebrates Tax Day (an extra three days later this year), we here at Rust Is Just Right choose this occasion to release our Best Albums of the Year list.  We follow this unusual schedule for a few reasons: 1) It allows some of the albums that are released at the end of the calendar year to get some recognition, since they usually get swallowed up in the attention of the flurry of year-end lists; 2) We get the chance to analyze other lists to pick up on albums that somehow escaped our attention during the course of the year; and 3) It provides a handy consumer guide for people to focus where to spend their tax refund.

The process that is used to determine this list is highly rigorous and hardly scientific.  However, we are still in the process of attempting to patent and trademark The Process, which if you may recall, is simply tallying up the play counts on iTunes for each album.  It has served us well in years past, and a quick glance at our list this year proves that it has worked once again.

Note: Though the list is a Top 10, there are more albums than slots, because we don’t like breaking ties for the same play count.  If you’re really intent on focusing on only 10, I guess take the 10 highest performing albums from the list, but you really shouldn’t limit yourself like that if you can help it.  Also, we have reviews for nearly all of these albums, so for those of you seeking a more detailed analysis all you need to do is click the appropriate tag above.

10. Deaf Wish – Pain; Disasterpeace – It Follows (Score); EL VY – Return to the Moon; HEALTH – Death Magic; Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer; Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon (7 plays)

A very interesting mix at the bottom of the list, including our token electronic choice as well as our first pick of a film score in this site’s history.  Deaf Wish broke through with one of the best noise-rock albums of the year, showing a surprising amount of depth for such a narrow niche, and EL VY proved that side-projects don’t have to be boring.  The debut album from Tobias Jesso Jr. is the star of this particular slot, as Goon shows that the world may have found a true heir to the rich musical legacy of Harry Nilsson.

9. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment – Surf; Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside; Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy; Vaadat Charigim – Sinking as a Stone; White Reaper – White Reaper Does It Again; Wilco – Star Wars (8 plays)

Another eclectic group at the number nine slot–there’s the ambitious rock opera from Titus Andronicus sharing space with the keep-it-simple garage rock of White Reaper, the joyous jazz-inflected Surf project featuring the exuberant Chance the Rapper sliding up next to the brooding and intense personal meditations of Earl Sweatshirt, and the veteran purveyors of Americana in Wilco sitting comfortably by the Israeli shoegaze group Vaadat Charigim.

8. Blur – The Magic Whip; BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul; Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons to Die II; Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter; Low – Ones and Sixes; Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp (9 plays)

Most people seem to have forgotten that not only did Blur come back this year, but they did so with a brilliant album that recalls their peak during the mid-90’s BritPop era, with the group showing that they learned a few things during their downtime.  Similarly, Low once again suffers through the Spoon Curse of being consistently great, with little love being shown for their latest excellent release.  Waxahatchee broadened her sound to great results this year, while Joanna Gruesome solidified their style.  But it is Ghostface who deserves special recognition this year for releasing two separate fantastic records this year.

7. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color; Foals – What Went Down; Ought – Sun Coming Down; Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love; Viet Cong – Viet Cong (10 plays)

We are glad to welcome back Sleater-Kinney into our lives, as No Cities to Love fits in comfortably with the rest of the other great punk records in their back catalog.  Viet Cong’s debut album and Ought’s second record were challenging post-punk works, but there were enough intriguing elements to be found in both to inspire continued listening.  Alabama Shakes improved immensely from their debut album, showing off a broader range than what had been expected from their previous blues-rock groove.  However, we once again wait for Foals to break through into the mainstream, even though they did their part by releasing this great arena-ready album.

6. Beach Slang – Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us; Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves; Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect (11 plays) 

A lot of people may be surprised by the high ranking of the new Modest Mouse album, but we feel that there was enough on this sprawling effort to reward repeated listens.  While it may not appear as seamless as classics like The Lonesome Crowded West and The Moon & Antarctica, there are several tracks that different eras of fans can enjoy–even the notorious “Pistol” gets better each time you hear it.  Meanwhile, Protomartyr’s brooding post-punk serves as a great contrast to Beach Slang’s exuberant beer-soaked punk.

5. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (12 plays) 

A worthy recipient of many accolades this past year, Kendrick Lamar’s magnum opus brilliantly pushes the boundaries of what many thought hip-hop could do.  It is often a difficult and uncompromising listen, but there are still many joys to be found throughout the album.

4. Bully – Feels Like; Royal Headache – High (13 plays) 

Both of these records are thrilling half-hours-of-power, and frankly I am wondering why they did not receive more publicity.  There were few albums as fun as this duo.

3. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress; Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (14 plays) 

Amazingly enough, Godspeed You! Black Emperor seem to be improving with each new release, with Asunder being possibly their most accessible work yet.  There were few moments as powerful as the climax of “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!” or the bombastic ending of “Piss Crowns are Trebled”.  At the other end of the spectrum, Sufjan Stevens may have finally made us converts with the quietly devastating and deeply personal Carrie & Lowell.

2. Deafheaven – New Bermuda (16 plays)  

Deafheaven successfully met the challenge of following up their genre-bending breakthrough album Sunbather, returning with the powerful, if more conventional, New Bermuda.  However, the amazing thing about this album is that not only does it stand on its own, it somehow enhances their previous work; each listen of New Bermuda inspires an additional listen of Sunbather, and somehow that album gets better every time we hear it.  Still, New Bermuda stands on its own as a brilliant album, with each of its five tracks jockeying for position as best song on the record.

1. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (17 plays) 

We had a feeling at the beginning of last year that Father John Misty would place high in our list, but even we were surprised that our favorite shaman ended up in the top slot.  I Love You, Honeybear is a gorgeously lush record, filled with swelling strings and ebullient horns, but there is a dark undercurrent lurking below much of the album.  The record works on both a superficial level and with a more critical approach, which helps explain its surprising ranking.  But in the end, it is just a damn good record, and we cannot wait to see one of modern rock’s great showman return to Oregon later this year.

Catching Up On The Week (Dec. 4 Edition)

Some #longreads for your weekend…

The music world is still reeling from the sudden (if not completely unexpected) death of singer Scott Weiland, with many musicians, critics, and fans expressing sorrow over the loss and paying tribute to his work in Stone Temple Pilots, among others.  It is worth taking the time to read old interviews with Scott, including these pieces from Esquire, Alternative Nation, and Popdose.

Along those same lines, we recommend this look at the life and death of Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse courtesy of Pitchfork, a tragic story of an underappreciated artist.

On a lighter note, check out this fascinating interview with Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead as he explains the technical intricacies of Indian music with his collaborator Shye Ben Tzur.

Speaking of India, their version of GQ has a look at the Atlanta strip club that has had an unexpected impact on the hip-hop industry and the music world in general.

Finally, Public Enemy’s Chuck D has an in-depth profile in The Guardian that is as interesting and thought-provoking as you should expect.

!!! (Chk Chk Chk), Live at the Doug Fir

If you have never been to a !!! show, then you are truly missing out on one of the best live acts of the past fifteen years, and should take immediate steps to correct this oversight.  Every performance is a blast, and Wednesday night at the Doug Fir was no exception, as !!! turned the basement lounge into a bumping dance club.

With backup singer Meah Pace

With backup singer Meah Pace

The show marked a complete 180 from the last concert we saw at the Doug Fir, as !!! and Low are about as diametrically different as can be, though it was just as excellent.  !!! has always made catchy, hook-filled dance-punk, but the music takes on an added dimension when performed live.  The band does a remarkable job of establishing fun and infectious grooves, providing the groundwork for frontman Nic Offer’s stage antics and wise-cracking vocals to help loosen up the crowd.  By the end of the night, even the notoriously dance-phobic Portland crowd loosens up and shows off a move or two.  After all, when you watch Nic perform some of the corniest moves possible up on the stage, it really takes away all the pressure of trying not to embarrass yourself.

The crowd was glad that backup singer Meah Pace made the trip out west for this string of dates, as her vocals added an extra dimension to a lot of the new material, and the interplay between Pace and Offer was quite entertaining.  The setlist was a mix between old and new, with their latest album As If blending in well with the old standbys.  The show even ended on a new song, a stretched-out version of “I Feel So Free (Citation Needed)”, complete with audience interaction.

The band opened for themselves as a Stereolab tribute band, "Stereolad".

The band opened for themselves as a Stereolab tribute band, “Stereolad”.

Though not everyone was in on the joke at first, !!! opened up for themselves as “Stereolad”, a Stereolab tribute band that included Offer sporting a dress and a ridiculous French accent.  It was a nice segue from the opening act The Lower 48, who kicked off the show with some infectious straight-ahead garage-blues rock.  Hopefully we will see them at more local shows.

A Shout-Out to Good Business Practices

When the news of the EL VY collaboration first appeared a few months ago, we here at Rust Is Just Right did our due diligence and learned that this was not the first time that members of Menomena and The National had collaborated.  Danny Seim and Bryan Devendorf had teamed up with Dave Nelson to form the group Pfarmers, and released their debut album Gunnera earlier this year.  The record had a low-profile release, and it became clear that in order to secure our own copy of the album we would have to get in touch with the record label and order directly from them.  We put in an order, and waited for our copy to arrive, hopefully in time to compare it to the release of EL VY’s Return to the Moon.

Unfortunately, it seems our order got misplaced, and for a couple of months we did not hear back from the label.  We sent an e-mail to the label, informing them that our copy had yet to arrive, and that we would like an update on the status of our order.  Thankfully, this prompted a quick response from the label, and soon enough we had Gunnera in our hands only a couple of days later.

Not only that, but the good people at Jurassic Pop more than made up for the delay by sending us a bunch of free CDs and other fun stuff.  We appreciated this display of overwhelming generosity, and enjoyed listening to new albums from the likes of Helvetia, Reptar, and J Fernandez that we otherwise would have overlooked.  It is this kind of thoughtful gesture that ensures that customers will keep coming back for more.

So, kudos to Jurassic Pop, and remember to check out what they and other independent music labels have to offer!

Low, Live at the Doug Fir

Before we went on our holiday break, we were fortunate enough to catch one of our longtime favorites at Portland’s best venue, when Low came to town to play the Doug Fir basement.  It is always a treat to see Low play a show, but we were especially eager to witness one of the best albums of the year performed live.  The band indulged us by performing a setlist that heavily featured their latest album, Ones and Sixes, and we are glad to report that the new material sounds just as great live as it does on record.

Taking advantage of a break in the crowd.

Taking advantage of a break in the crowd.

The show started off with the one-two punch of the glitchy “Gentle” and the deliberate “No Comprende” that kick off their latest release, which segued nicely into the menacing and electric “Monkey” from The Great Destroyer.  While it seems that most critics had forgotten about Low’s previous album, it was nice to see that the band had not.  The main set included a run of The Invisible Way tracks that showed off many of the band’s best assets, from Mimi Parker’s gorgeous vocals on “Holy Ghost” to the distorted dissonance of Alan Sparhawk’s fiery guitar on “On My Own” to the group’s sense of irony and humor in “Plastic Cup” (with Steve Garrington ably shuffling between bass and keys throughout, a key if underrated part of the band’s sound).

The group held off from any stage banter for most of the night, before Alan praised the city near the end of the show.  At one point, the crowd began to clap when only the slightest shuffle could be heard from Mimi’s drums, and those close enough to the stage could hear her remark to Alan that “they don’t even know what song it is yet”, but on the whole the band let their music speak for itself.  The main set ended with the epic “Landslide”, just as we had predicted from our review of the album, and it was just as amazing as we had hoped.  Though the encore did not end up including a couple of our old favorites, many in the crowd were ecstatic to hear “Words” from their early album I Could Live In Hope, while “Murderer” from Drums and Guns proved to be a perfect closer.

A colorful view of the band

A colorful view of the band

Unfortunately, we missed nearly all of opener Andy Shauf’s set, due to Portland’s complete stupidity when it comes to creating a reasonable parking system.  It is difficult enough parking on the East Side on a Friday night, but with many spots blocked off for the shooting of the television show Grimm, it made it impossible to find a spot anywhere near the venue.  However, from the one song I heard, it seems that Shauf’s spare and haunting sound was a good fit for the main act.

Over the Weekend (Nov. 30 Edition)

New music, new videos, and other fun stuff as you recover from the holiday weekend…

The music world continued to respond to the tragic events in Paris earlier this month, including a touching message from Eagles of Death Metal themselves.  Other bands have shown their support by playing EoDM songs at their own concerts, including this Pearl Jam cover of “I Want You So Hard”.  EoDM has responded to these efforts by asking others to play “I Love You All The Time”, with the band then donating the royalties.  My Morning Jacket fulfilled the request at a recent show in New York, and Consequence of Sound has the footage.

Eagles of Death Metal also sat down for an emotional interview with Noisey, though it may be too soon for some fans to watch.

David Bowie recently released a bonkers new video for the title track off his upcoming album Blackstar, and though Mos Def & Talib Kweli do not make a cameo appearance, the bizarre sci-fi vignettes are worth watching regardless.

M.I.A. also released a controversial new video for her song “Borders” from the upcoming Matahdatah, featuring a cast of dozens of refugees.  You can view the video in the link above, since this YouTube copy will probably be taken down in the near-future.

Walter Martin is continuing his solo career during the hiatus of his former group The Walkmen, releasing the easy-going folk song “Jobs I Had Before I Got Rich & Famous” from next year’s Arts & Leisure.  In a fitting gesture, he first released the song through his LinkedIn profile.

Coldplay has probably the last big release of this year, with A Head Full Of Dreams coming out on Friday.  The first single is the soaring “Adventures of a Lifetime”, accompanied by a video featuring computer-animated gorillas, because why not.

Finally, The Verge alerts you to a new Sony website that allows you to mix Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”, which should be a great way to waste some time this week.

Catching Up On The Week (Nov. 20 Edition)

A few #longreads for the weekend…

This week we have a few articles for your perusal that directly relate to the bands we covered over the past few days.  First, we have two extended profiles on Beach Slang, our new favorite band.  SPIN dives into the band’s biography in detail, while Grantland (R.I.P.) looks at the band in context of modern indie rock.

After reading our review of Everclear’s sold-out show in support of the twentieth anniversary of Sparkle and Fade, be sure to check out this Willamette Week piece which provides details on the making of the album (and covers how Art Alexakis earned a certain reputation around Portland), as well as this interview with Art for The Oregonian.

Finally, settle in and read this lengthy look at the state of The National from Stereogum, including how they ended up pursuing side projects like EL VY and Pfarmers, as well as the work that the band has done in following up Trouble Will Find Me.

Everclear, Live at the Wonder Ballroom

There needed to be the right set of circumstances to drag my ass to Portland to see an Everclear show, and Wednesday night at the Wonder Ballroom provided those exact requirements.  The group returned to their hometown to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their breakthrough album, Sparkle and Fade, and would play the record in its entirety.  Though I have ignored Everclear’s more recent output for a number of years, I still have fond memories of listening to Sparkle and Fade in my high school years, and continue to insist that it is one of the best top-to-bottom alternative rock albums of the 90’s.   I was more than glad to relive those days, aided by the guarantee that I would see all my favorite songs performed live.

Sparkle...

Sparkle…

This was more of an “Everclear” performance than an Everclear performance, with Art Alexakis having long shuffled out the “classic” lineup of Greg Eklund on drums and Craig Montoya on bass for a rotating cast of supporting players.   To be fair, the band was always the manifestation of Art’s vision, and one would be hard-pressed to come up with many memorable contributions from either former member (though I have always loved Eklund’s signature drawn-out single-stroke rolls).  As long as it is Art singing and playing his songs, fans are going to be happy, as they were on Wednesday night.

The band threw a number of curveballs in the usual Album Anniversary show, including opening with “I Will Buy You A New Life” from Sparkle and Fade‘s follow-up, So Much for the Afterglow.  The choice initially threw the crowd for a loop, but soon they were singing along to every word; Art explained the decision at the conclusion of the song, noting that it was the success of Sparkle that would allow him to promise that house “way up in the West Hills” from the chorus (and to which many fans recognized, pointing in the direction of that part of town during the performance).  The band then launched into the familiar strains of “Electra Made Me Blind”, and the crowd went wild.

You might actually be crazy for leaving Nehalem

You might actually be crazy for leaving Nehalem

It was not a perfect performance, with the band often dragging through some of the slower parts, and Art tending to give off a frustrated vibe when the crowd failed to remember all the lyrics for sing-along portions.  However, the highlights made up for any perceived shortcomings, including rousing versions of “You Make Me Feel Like A Whore” and “Heartspark Dollarsign”, and a touching performance of “Queen of the Air”.  The decision to insert the old favorite “Fire Maple Song” from their debut World of Noise in a mid-set break to mark the divide between Side A and Side B of the album was brilliant, as was giving the crowd a brief taste of their huge hit “Santa Monica” before saving it for the last song of the night, ending the evening on a high note.

There were many who questioned what kind of reaction Art would receive in his hometown show, since there was a significant subset that never accepted Everclear as a true Portland band.  It was an uncertainty that even Art acknowledged early in the night, but the Wonder Ballroom was packed with fans who showed their love for the band with great volume throughout the show.  The snide hipsters were unable to get a ticket to the sold-out show, and the night was the better for it.  We loved Sparkle and Fade and the man that created it, and we did not need to hear any dissenting opinions that night.

...and Fade

…and Fade

Openers Hydra Melody had to be the slickest opening act I have ever seen, an impressive feat since I understood that they were touring in support of their first full-length album.  There was a confidence to their performance that was admirable, as they often acted as if the crowd had paid their tickets to see them instead of the headliner (though this is not to say that they dismissed the presence of Everclear, when in fact it was quite the opposite).  Their style did not quite align with my preferences, though they never bored me.  However, I am sure at least one of our readers will enjoy the fact that they featured a cover of Toto’s “Africa”–perhaps this will cause him to almost buy their album!

Review: EL VY – Return to the Moon

Side-projects are best experienced with an open mind, with little-to-no expectations based on the previous work of its members.  They are often useful for musicians, in that they provide an outlet for previously unused musical ideas or allow them to express different aspects of their personalities, but they can prove disappointing to the audience when the work does not match the quality of previous results.  So while it may be initially tempting to have high hopes for a collaboration between members of The National and Menomena, two of the best bands in indie rock from the past decade, it is probably in the listener’s best interests to approach their work with caution.

Then again, EL VY’s Return to the Moon is a thoroughly enjoyable lark, and fans of the other bands of Brent Knopf and Matt Berninger should find plenty to love with this project.

In many ways, Return to the Moon is a side-project that lives up to the expectations of a supergroup, since in many ways it does sound like a more experimental Menomena record with guest vocals from The National.  Knopf brings the cut-and-paste approach of his former group, offering up hundreds of quick musical ideas over the album’s eleven tracks; careful listeners may be able to pick out variations of the piano riff and acoustic guitar chords from “Wet and Rusting” sprinkled into a couple of tracks.  The music generally sticks to that intimate indie rock style, but there are quick forays into funk and other left-field genres that keeps the listener guessing.

Berninger seems to relish the chance to step outside the seriousness of his regular gig, and reveals a more playful part of his personality.  This is most apparent in the playful and profane “I’m the Man to Be”, which includes a line in the chorus about his “person”.  For the most part, Berninger is content to deliver his vocals with that trademark soothing baritone, which fits in nicely with Knopf’s compositions.

The album tends to lose momentum as it progresses, though the blend of the harder-hitting “Sad Case” and “Happiness, Missouri” is a highlight of the second half.  However, the opening title track is one of the catchiest singles of the year, and had me humming along for the past few weeks, and there are several other pleasant songs that are nearly its equal.