Month: January 2015

Catching Up On The Week (Jan. 30 Edition)

Some #longreads as you scramble for something to do in the hours leading up to the “Big Game”

“Vinyl or CD’s?” is an argument that has raged on for decades, and the shifting fortunes of both formats in the last few years has inspired numerous articles promoting one side over the other.  LA Weekly has an extensive and informative piece on the debate, providing a history of the creation of the technology as well as insights into the music recording process to help support the claim that compact discs do in fact “sound better.”  That should be good news to record companies, who apparently view the recent surge in vinyl sales as “just a fad” even if there are reasons to believe this isn’t the case.*

We mentioned earlier this week that Sundance saw the premiere of the new Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck, and because our love for Nirvana has barely diminished over the years, multiple publications from a variety of  backgrounds have pieces on director Brett Morgen and his film, including Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and The Daily Beast.

As a companion to our recent review of the fantastic new Sleater-Kinney album No Cities to Love, you may want to read this extensive feature on Carrie Brownstein for Consequence of Sound’s quarterly literary magazine FACES.

Do not adjust your flickering screen: Rust Is Just Right is recommending that you read an interview with Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit.  Stereogum has a fascinating discussion with the guitarist that shows his good humor and self-awareness of his place in music, and Borland provides an interesting perspective of the business and how bands operate.

And finally, Pitchfork has a couple of worthwhile pieces from “The Pitch”, both relating to leaks: the first analyzes the quest to determine whether or not the SoundCloud leak of unreleased Aphex Twin material was genuine, while the second examines the history of digital album leaks from the past two decades.

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Our First Birthday

Today marks the first “birthday” of Rust Is Just Right, as it was one year ago today that we launched with our “Mission Statement” and an article welcoming the return of Slowdive.   Since then, we’ve published by our count 262 other posts, with a couple that were actually kind of good.  Over the past year, we’ve slowly built up our audience, and we appreciate all of our readers who’ve made it a habit to check in on us from time to time.

Amazingly, we have not run out of things to write about, but we are more than willing to listen to suggestions on future topics and posts.  Feel free not only to contact us using the various formats provided by the “Contacts” tab, but also to comment in the posts themselves.  We love reading your feedback, and appreciate the time you take to respond to our writing.

As for the future, we’re contemplating a potential redesign of the site, but purely for aesthetic purposes–we plan on continuing to follow the editorial format that we set out in our Mission Statement, and doing our part to help share our love of music.  Now, let’s hear from The Ramones, who’ve dropped in with a message for this occasion:

Underrated Gems: Bloc Party – A Weekend In The City

Bloc Party’s reputation was built on the strength of its masterful debut Silent Alarm, which remains one of the greatest albums of the indie rock mini-boom at the beginning of the century.  They channeled a ferocious energy through a combination of spiky, angular guitars and lyrics that zeroed in on battles both external and internal, creating a perfect mix of hard-edged rockers and introspective ballads.  Silent Alarm was both a critical and commercial success, and remains the most beloved album for many of its fans; any follow-up was bound to be met with some resistance, and indeed reception to A Weekend In The City was widely split.  There were many critics that saw Weekend as the beginning of the end of Bloc Party, but there was also a small passionate contingent that has for years fought against this perception, and who instead insist that it’s a classic that is in many ways equal (or even superior) to Silent Alarm.  Guess where Rust Is Just Right falls in this argument.

In many ways, A Weekend In The City was a huge gamble on the part of Bloc Party, and represented a bold change in musical direction.  The strengths of their debut lay in their innovative interpretation of early-80’s post-punk guitars from bands like Gang of Four as well as the brilliant and manic drumming of Matt Tong.  The guitar hooks of a single like “Helicopter” drew in the average listener, but it was the relentless attack of Tong’s drums in “Like Eating Glass” that mesmerized listeners and created fans.  The band chose to de-emphasize these aspects of their sound in Weekend, opting instead for more electronic instrumentation and building more songs around Kele Okereke’s delicate (but potentially divisive) vocals.  It’s understandable that many fans were turned off by this decision, but even if they were turned off by this general approach, the band’s harshest critics would have to agree that the moments when Bloc Party veered into its more “classic” sound are some of the band’s best work, like the furious opener “Song For Clay (Disappear Here)” and the buoyant  “Waiting For The 7:18”.

A chief complaint of many detractors of Weekend was the unconventional sequencing of the album’s tracks.  Silent Alarm had its fair share of slow songs and ballads, but their cumulative effect was muted because they were paired throughout with the more energetic tracks, allowing the album to avoid any lulls.  With Weekend, the band packs the rockers at the beginning, adding a few tracks that alternated moods before piling the introspective sad songs for the last third, which created the sense for many that the album peaked too early and dragged towards the end.  However, the critics of the track order fail to consider the thematic concept of the album as a whole, that in this case the title A Weekend In The City is more than a mere placeholder–it’s a declaration of narrative intent.  The album does an excellent job of mirroring the varying moods as one experiences the weekend: the initial thrills of getting off work on Friday and partying into the night, the attempts to keep the energy up with varying degrees of success on Saturday, and finally the letdown and regret of Sunday.  It’s a brilliant musical representation of a common shared experience, though must of us could only wish to feel an epiphany like the thrilling climax of “SRXT”.

By viewing the album as a running narrative of a weekend, the listener can dig out subtle nuances and derive interesting new meanings by placing songs in context, but each song is still able to stand on its own without losing any significance.  Throughout the running storyline of “the weekend”, Bloc Party interweaves separate statements about drugs and partying (“Song For Clay”, “The Prayer”), racism and terrorism (“Hunting For Witches”), as well as regret and depression (“Sunday”, “SRXT”).  Instead of invoking abstract expressions like in Silent Alarm, Kele splices in specific references in his lyrics this time around, giving a personal touch to each of these songs.  Some people may be taken out of the moment by hearing an odd mention, but others prefer having a specific grounding point; for instance, I’ll always remember the line “I’d pick and eat more wild blackberries” because it conveys a more personal memory and sentiment, even if it appears a bit goofy on its face.

A Weekend In The City works not only as a cohesive whole, but as an excellent collection of songs.  The moments when the band plays to its strengths are thrilling (like the end to “Waiting For The 7:18”), and when Bloc Party challenges itself to stretch beyond its comfort zone, it is able to rise to the challenge (“On”, “Sunday”).  Instead of viewing the album as the beginning of its decline, it should instead be seen as an example of a band maturing and growing musically.  Over the years, the reputation of Weekend hasn’t really improved, as the band has moved further in the direction of dance music and electronic influences, much to the dismay of many of its fans.  However, it’s an album that’s held up surprisingly well over the years and is well worth revisiting, if you need to revise your original opinion.

Review: Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

Though this is difficult to hear, every year we get more evidence that it may be a good idea to break up your band for a decade, even if they are at their creative peak.  Last year, Death From Above 1979 came back and wowed us with the stellar The Physical World; the year before that saw the surprisingly wonderful return of My Bloody Valentine; and then there is Dinosaur Jr., who have released three excellent albums after the reunion of their original lineup after nearly twenty years apart.  Sleater-Kinney has pulled off the same trick with the excellent No Cities To Love, a furious and catchy album that is both an artistic step forward as well as a classic example of the trademark S-K sound.

The frenetic “Price Tag” kicks off the album, pairing an off-kilter looping Sleater-Kinney riff typical of their early years with ferociously political lyrics; not since the heyday of Rage Against The Machine have we heard a song that targets economic inequity and middle-class complacence.  “Fangless” follows and throws a bit of a curveball with its mixture of funk rhythms and new-wave guitars, as well as featuring a prominent bass counterpart that was previously a rarity in light of S-K’s usual twin-guitar attack.  The track is indicative of the kind of musical adventurousness found throughout No Cities To Love as well as what makes the album so much fun.

No Cities To Love features some of the best hooks of Sleater-Kinney’s career, including the peppy title track and the bouncy “Hey Darling”; the descending chorus melody in the latter immediately brings to mind something Ted Leo and the Pharmacists would have concocted circa Hearts of Oak.  “A New Wave” has some fun with the bass riff from Nirvana’s “Love Buzz”  before shifting into a sing-song chorus that makes perfect use of the unique vocal harmonies of Brownstein and Tucker.

Sleater-Kinney has been a band that has long been beloved by critics and pushed by their most passionate fans as all-time greats, but rarely have I ever felt that this type of hype was fully justified.  I’ve certainly have enjoyed their albums over the years (after overcoming an initial reluctance due to their unconventional vocals) and recognize the impact that the group has had musically and culturally over the years (they have been arguably as far-reaching in their influence as Pavement in the past couple of decades), yet never had them break into my regular rotation nor would put them in that upper echelon of groups.  However, even considering Sleater-Kinney’s excellent discography as a whole, No Cities To Love is a cut above, and will certainly invite not only repeated listens but end-of-the-year list consideration.  Not bad for a January album.

Over the Weekend (Jan. 26 Edition)

News, videos, and other fun stuff as you remember once again which is the better coast

The Sundance Film Festival is in full swing right now, and one of the films garnering the most buzz right now is the documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, and Esquire provides a rundown of some of the things that they’ve learned.

Interpol released the video for their latest single “Everything Is Wrong”, which provides an amusing look at the way the band possibly spends their day in preparation for an evening show.  I’m just happy that they’ve chosen one of the best tracks from El Pintor as their next single.

The ladies from the hilarious show “Broad City” sat down with the members of Sleater-Kinney at an NPR event, and luckily there was video of the conversation.  After watching that, feel free to dive into this SPIN ranking of all 109 Sleater-Kinney songs.

To help commemorate the 30th anniversary of the seminal album Psychocandy, the Jesus and Mary Chain have announced a brief U.S. tour.  Combined with the fact that Slowdive has confirmed that they are working on new music (!!!!!) should prove definitively that we are in the new golden age of shoegaze.

Viet Cong has some fun with Pitchfork’s “Guest List” feature.  For the record, we are in full agreement that “Heroes” absolutely needs the “dolphins can swim” verse.

And finally, Death Cab For Cutie has released the first single off the upcoming album Kintsugi, and it’s called “Black Sun”.  It’s an interesting new direction for the band, though initial fan opinion seems to split.

Catching Up On The Week (Jan. 23 Edition)

Some #longreads as you prepare to fire off the last of your “balls” jokes this weekend…

Stereogum takes a look at the 10th anniversary of the self-titled debut from LCD Soundsystem, and I can think of no better way to kick off the weekend than to play “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” at an unreasonable volume, so here you go.

Perhaps the biggest news of this week was the surprise release of Björk’s new album, with Billboard providing the behind-the-scenes response of the leak of Vulnicura.  In order to get you into the proper mindset for the new album, it might be a good idea to read the New York Times profile on Björk as well as her already-much-discussed Pitchfork interview.

We’re not fans of Mötley Crüe by any stretch of the imagination, but when we found out that Drew Magary did a profile of the band while providing a glimpse of the life of a roadie, we were intrigued.  Magary is one of our favorite writers, so we’re glad to share his GQ article along with the extras that didn’t make it into the piece.

Many of you have been humming along to the infectious “Uptown Funk” for a few weeks now, so you might be interested in how difficult it was for Mark Ronson to put the seemingly easy song together, according to this Grantland profile.

The Guardian has a great interview with Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt about his early days working as a fanzine and newspaper columnist and seeing the best of the 80’s underground scene.  It’s a lot like revisiting Our Band Could Be Your Life from a Northwest perspective, as he reminisces about the early days of Black Flag, Dinosaur Jr., Big Black, and more.  In a related piece, The Guardian also takes a closer look at the terminally under-appreciated Portland punk legends Wipers as a part of their new celebration of cult heroes.  Hopefully more and more people go and take a look back at their classic early output.

Feats of Strength: The Good, The Bad & The Queen

The supergroup The Good, The Bad & The Queen has largely been forgotten these days, even though it has been less than a decade since their debut album; if they are remembered at all, it is solely as an odd footnote, only to be invoked when listing the wide variety of projects that frontman Damon Albarn has pursued outside of his original work with Blur.  Damon was fresh off his recent work with Gorillaz, and at the time there were plenty of people that were intrigued to hear what the unconventional combination of Albarn with The Verve’s guitarist Simon Tong, The Clash’s bassist Paul Simonon, and Feta Kuli’s drummer Tony Allen would create.  Most listeners probably did not expect the hazy and melancholic depiction of modern London that the album didn’t turn out to be, and as a result the record was left to be a curiosity to be occasionally puzzled over when stumbled upon in a record store’s bargain basement bin.

This album came out during my time working in radio, and I remember being one of those eager fans who feverishly anticipated its release.  I ended up playing the single “Herculean” on our specialty music show for a few weeks, even though I found it to be a strange choice–though it had a nice groove and some pleasant melodic ideas, there was no real hook to draw in the listener.  I borrowed a copy of the album for personal use, and eventually found it to be agreeable study music since it didn’t force me to shift away my attention from my reading.

My opinion of the album radically shifted the first time I listened to it on my iPod.  Before, I only paid attention to the finger-picked acoustic guitar arpeggios of “History Song”, but now with the benefits of headphones I was greeted with a surprise in the first thirty seconds.  Hey, I can finally hear Paul Simonon’s contributions to the album!  When I was listening to the band either through the speakers in the studio or through my laptop, the mix was improperly balanced so that Simonon’s bass was swallowed up and barely noticeable.  The speakers were usually not a problem, but there was a sweet spot where the particular tone and level of the bass didn’t come through on this album as it did on others (or I had been lazy with my listening and only could pay attention when I had speakers jammed into my ears for the first time–either explanation works).  Simonon’s bass was a revelation, because it turned what I had previously perceived to be a gentle acoustic ballad into a dank, reggae song.  Listening closely to his part, I was reminded of his classic Clash contribution “The Guns of Brixton”* and marveled at how his dub influences totally changed the feel of the song.

Now that I was fully alerted to Simonon’s presence, my opinion of the album completely shifted.  His bass provided a captivating counterpoint to the album’s more prominent textures and melodies, and now that I could identify his bass lines, each song became much more compelling.  Simonon is able to accomplish a lot even with relatively simple lines, as in the title track–the bass grounds the song even as everything is falling apart around it, making the overall effort much more effective.

The Good, The Bad & The Queen is proof then of how the bass can subtly affect the perception of an album–or that you need to make sure to listen to a record through several sets of speakers before finalizing your impression.

*Oh hey look, there’s Paul Simonon on one of the greatest album covers of all time!  Remember that for all your future trivia needs.

Covered: “Running To Stand Still”

Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original.  If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.

For this edition of Covered, we’ve decided to take up a suggestion from one of our friends from Twitter.  We had never head the cover before and only had passing familiarity with the original, but nevertheless we decided to take up the challenge and assess the merits to the best of our ability.  If you feel we’ve failed, don’t blame The Captain, but our own hubris.

The Joshua Tree deserves its reputation as one of the best albums of the 80’s as well as a definite of U2’s career, but for many music fans my age, their general knowledge of the record is limited to the big three singles that kick off the album, thanks to the endless repetition on the radio of “Where the Streets Have No Name”, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, and “With Or Without You”.  While all three are great songs in their own right, they paint an incomplete picture of The Joshua Tree as a whole; and because these songs have been so overplayed, the desire to sit down and listen to the album is often absent, so the rest of the record is often overlooked.  It’s too bad, because then you miss out on such gems as “Bullet the Blue Sky”,* “One Tree Hill”, and “Running to Stand Still”.

“Running to Stand Still” is a different kind of ballad than the overblown epic, anthemic types with which U2 has become synonymous, as it demonstrates a certain subtlety that the band has unfortunately neglected in recent years.  The song begins with a quick country-tinged blues guitar riff, a nod to the album’s Americana themes, before shifting focus to the delicate piano chords which make up the bulk of the song, augmented by a light palm-muted guitar (which connects the music to the first third of the album).  As the song builds, Larry Mullen, Jr.’s thundering toms then help guide the song to its climax.  As the song peaks, Bono refrains from breaking into a full-throated bellow as would be expected, and instead takes a more measured approach as he gingerly sings the final lines.  The song then tapers off with a mournful harmonica solo, creating a whirlwind of emotions within the listener–there is a sense of deprivation as the listener is deprived of the desired big climax, but at the same time there is a deep appreciation for the restraint which matches the mood created by the lyrics.

Though Elbow has enjoyed a certain level of popularity among critics for a number of years, my only experience with the band is catching on Palladia a part of a festival performance of theirs; they’re one of those bands that I always mean to check out but unfortunately never do.  My initial impression of the band brings to mind comparisons to Coldplay and Frightened Rabbit, even though I know Elbow predates both bands.  In other words, Elbow fits perfectly as a new millennium version of U2.

As for this cover, Elbow does a great job of respecting the reverence of the original while adding their own personal touches on the edges.  They expand a bit on the intro with a few embellishments of the acoustic guitar, before transitioning to the piano section.  Here, instead of relying on block chords with the occasional melodic connections, the band chooses to arpeggiate them instead, elongating the progression and giving the song an additional bit of momentum.  As the song moves into its climax, the band eschews the thunderous toms of the original and instead relies on a more traditional drum pattern.  The intro guitar makes an additional appearance in this version, making its inclusion seem like less of a novelty, but most importantly Elbow exhibits the same restraint as the song fades to a quiet finish.

This was one of several covers that were done for this War Child compilation, and I have to say this performance has piqued my interest into how all the other acts did with their takes on some classics.  As for this cover, though it doesn’t offer too much in terms of original spin on the material, it still rises above being a mere rote take of the U2 version.  Perhaps this will be the nudge that I needed to dive into the rest of Elbow’s catalog.

*When I got to see U2 on the Vertigo tour, the unquestioned highlight of the show for me was their surprise performance of “Bullet the Blue Sky”.  Sure, it was great to hear the big three from The Joshua Tree, but you expect those to be played, which made their inclusion of “Bullet” that much better.

Submissions Roundup!

We here at Rust Is Just Right occasionally receive emails from various artists and bands asking us to check out their new album.  Now, we don’t have an official submissions policy for the site, so we end up overlooking these requests for months on end and letting them accumulate.  However, we sincerely appreciate the effort that these people made in finding our site, tracking down our contact info, and personally sending us these requests.  And to show our appreciation, we actually spent this weekend listening to each and every album that was sent to us.

Now, we wish that we could go ahead and write up a recommendation for these artists and provide them a full review, but unfortunately nothing really caught our attention.  But as a token of our gratitude, we decided to provide the public links to each album so that our tiny audience can decide for themselves whether or not we made the right call.  We hope you appreciate it.

Oh, and give whoever found our site a raise–that must have been quite the task.

Clark – Clark

This one surprised us, since a couple of weeks after we received an email we saw that Pitchfork gave it a Best New Music, so we’re dealing with some big time people here.  It takes a lot for electronic music to sway us, so it’s rare that we end up recommending anything in the genre, but that’s our problem and not Clark’s.  Clearly he’s got some skills, and I’m sure now that he’s armed with a bevy of enthusiastic reviews, what little bounce he would’ve gotten from us was surely accounted for already.

Believers – Remedies

A Bandcamp stream from these psychedelic popsters for you to enjoy.

The Ropes – Sadness is the Rich Man’s Drug [EP]

Soundcloud stream from the icy indie rockers.

Battlehooch – Wink [EP]

They provided a Soundcloud stream of their EP, though it was marked private.  However, here’s their official lyric video for one of the songs from Wink, which has a nice Washed Out/Tame Impala vibe.

Blisses B – Sea Level Astronomy

Soundcloud stream.

Nanaki – The Dying Light

Bandcamp stream from the post-rock artist.  Plus, a video!

Traedonya

And finally, proving that we’re truly on top of things, a cover of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” with an island feel.

We hope you enjoyed this roundup, and just because we didn’t give effusive praise this time around, don’t let that stop you from heading over to our contacts page (under the “About” tab) and sending us an email.  Though you should probably be discouraged by the long turnaround time.

Over the Weekend (Jan. 19 Edition)

Videos, news, and other fun music-related articles as you celebrate today’s holiday

In honor of today’s holiday, I hope you take some time to read Killer Mike’s excellent op-ed on how we should pay tribute to Dr. King’s true legacy.  Mike emphasizes the revolutionary ideals of Dr. King, and pushes us to do more than talk vaguely about his virtue but to take action.

Flying Lotus continues to deliver thought-provoking videos for his recent album, You’re Dead!,  with the latest being the dark and disturbing “Coronus, The Terminator”.  He writes in the comments, “For me, Coronus is one of the most important moments on You’re Dead! and holds ideas I’m planning to explore in my future work. I’m happy that the visual encapsulates the meaning of the record and this ambition[.]”

Modest Mouse also released their latest video this morning, with the fan site Interstate-8 providing the video for the track “Coyotes”.  The band had given a tease for the video this past weekend by posting a tweet of the video’s star, so at least those of us who were befuddled by the message now at least understand the meaning.

As a fan of Seattle bands (and the city in general) but not of their football team, it’s been a pretty difficult month.  First, I have to deal with Pearl Jam selling special “12th Man” t-shirts as well as Mike McCready raising a special 12th Man flag at the Space Needle, and then I have to see that Alice in Chains performed at halftime at the game on Sunday.  That said, it’s terrible for Fox not to have broadcast it, but kudos for the various fans who have been sharing footage from the show. (Update: The Seahawks are now sharing official footage of the performance.)

Most people know that bands often make ridiculous demands in their Tour Rider, but few make an actual game of it.  Enter the Foo Fighters, who included an activity book to help hammer home the important points and make sure that the various venues actually paid attention.

And finally, proof once again of the importance of music, with a recent study that shows that music training provides significant benefits to development in children’s brains.