The music press community has been buzzing these past few weeks about the release of legendary critic Robert Christgau’s memoir, on which Deadspin provides some commentary while Rolling Stone interviews the “Dean” himself. Personally, I understand his importance to the field of music criticism, and appreciate the fact that he championed some worthy acts over the years, but I often found his writing itself as too clever by half.
Consequence of Sound interviews Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips frontman focuses their discussion on love. I would assume that the site’s editor was disappointed that they ran this piece two weeks after Valentine’s Day.
For some reason, the Internet celebrated the FCC net neutrality classification decision with hours of chatter about a pack of escaped llamas. With all this talk about llamas, my mind turned to Vs., my favorite Pearl Jam album, because of its memorable album cover. Then there was a huge uproar on social media about the color of some random ugly dress, and my head began to hurt because of the light and my eyes and all the terrible arguments that confuse perception and reality and so on and so forth. After all this hubbub, I then conducted some additional research and found out that the animal on the cover of Vs. is not a llama at all, like I had assumed after all these years, but is in fact a sheep.
My mind has been broken. Llamas are sheep and gold is black. It is nearly impossible to function.
So we’re going to take things easy today, because it’s just too difficult to write a response to this terrible article about how “live music kinda sucks” (and please don’t click on the link for now, but just know it exists) when the mind is broken. We will instead delay our rebuttal for another time, in part because we will also the piece as a pivot to include a discussion concerning recent commentary on the purposes of live albums. But that’s for the future.
The profile of British Sea Power has diminished considerably in recent years, which makes the title of their debut unfortunately prescient. While there are several things that I love about Open Season and Do You Like Rock Music?, there is still a certain quality about The Decline of British Sea Power that puts it a cut above and helps establish it as one of the great indie rock records of the last decade. The band found the perfect mixture of idiosyncratic rockers, catchy anthems, and gorgeous ballads, and twelve years later I still find the record as fresh as it was the first time I listened to it.
There are several extraordinary moments worthy of discussion on Decline, from the bizarre “Apologies to Insect Life” to the epic guitar freak-out of “Lately” to the dazzling instrumental “Heavenly Waters” that closes the album. But there is one particular aspect from the middle section of the album that we want to single out for closer inspection, when the band runs through a string ofsongs packedwith hooks. Even amid all those great tracks, the propulsive and energetic “Remember Me” stands out and gets stuck in your head for days, and the key is a subtle strategy employed by the drummer Wood.
The immediate element that grabs your attention is the jagged and raucous twin guitar attack from Yan and Noble, a trebly, noisy blast packed with bends that doesn’t bother to stop to catch its breath as it jumps from riff to riff. Of course, even after multiple deep listens you aren’t going to shake off those prominent leads, but you can pick up on some of the other parts hidden underneath the surface, such as the brilliant drumwork. Wood does an excellent job from start-to-finish on this song, expertly deploying fills and keeping a rock-solid beat amid all the surrounding chaos. I can point to his ridiculous snare-rolls or deft cymbal-work, but the element that I love the most is a very simple trick he does to keep up the energy and provide some variety to keep the song from getting stale. Listen carefully to the verse (around the :47 mark), and pay attention to how Wood shifts his pattern with each lyrical phrase. The first line is a standard beat, but then it shifts to a double-time beat on the hi-hat for the next phrase; this alternating structure is repeated throughout the song.
It’s a very small detail, but it’s an excellent example of a drummer providing some extra creativity by deviating from the standard approach, yet not doing too much to overshadow the work of the rest of the band. By switching between the two patterns, Wood provides an extra push-and-pull to the song and establishes an additional forward momentum, driving the song through the verse into the chorus. There are several other excellent moments in the song, but this is something that I listen for every time I hear the song.
However, if that’s not satisfying enough for you, then take a few minutes to enjoy the tranquil beauty of “Heavenly Waters”.
Rust Is Just Right is not a very large operation, so we may overlook some albums when they are first released. However, when we eventually catch up and listen to some of these records, we are not going to let the fact that we are ten months behind stop us from writing a review. The point of all this introductory nonsense is to explain why we are reviewing the debut album from Ought in February of 2015 even though it was released in April of 2014, but the only necessary reason should be that More Than Any Other Day is a fantastic rock record that electrifies the listener with both its furious energy and its thought-provoking experimentalism.
The quickest description that I could use to describe Ought’s sound is “Alec Ounsworth fronting a Fugazi-inspired punk band”, but as you should expect, relying on the reductionist rock-crit namedrop cliche does not paint a full picture. Tim Beeler’s vocals do mostly recall Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but that doesn’t cover the spectrum of emotions and contortions that his voice undergoes to match the twists and turns of the music. For instance, Beeler’s use of dynamics in songs like “Clarity!” bring to mind the theatrics of the Violent Femmes, and that dramatic touch helps create a memorable, slow-burning epic. He may not have the the most extensive vocal range, but his speak-sing style is effectively used in a song like “Around Again”, as when the band stops and Beeler asks “Why is it you can’t stare into the sun but you can stick your head into a bucket of water and breathe in deep?”
Musically speaking, Ought blurs the line between punk and post-punk, and in the process does an excellent job of making the lives of critics that much more difficult–in other words, it is not as easy to define the distinction as it is with, say, Viet Cong. Ought often does engage in the full-fledged fury of a more traditional punk band, but they still allow room for experimental sonic elements that makes it hard to pin down to a single genre. Consider the catchy and frenetic “The Weather Song”, which veers from a jittery verse into frenzied finish that is reminiscent of Wolf Parade (especially with the unusual presence of keyboards), as well as “Forgiveness”, whose use of a violin as a drone adds in a touch of the Velvet Underground to the band’s sound. I am unsure what is more impressive: the fact that from song to song, it is almost impossible to pin down where Ought will go next, yet the band switches gears in a way that doesn’t give the listener whiplash, or the fact that despite the fact one can spot all these diverse influences rather easily, the band organically incorporates these elements into their sound so well that one cannot pin the “copycat” label on them.
Though only eight songs long, More Than Any Other Day is a dense but rewarding album that reveals itself on multiple listens. Initially, the most striking element of “Today, More Than Any Other Day” is probably its dramatic tempo and stylistic shifts. Then you may notice the odd lines of “I am excited to go grocery shopping. And today, more than any other day, I am prepared to make the decision between 2% and whole milk” that is referenced in many reviews, but you go back and see that it’s not merely a non sequitur but in fact a riff on the previous line that “I am excited to feel the Milk of Human Kindness”, either an allusion to Macbeth or the Caribou album, and now you have to reconsider how all these elements fit together. The good news is that the album is so great that it is worth the extra effort.
Holy shit guys, we’re actually going to get a new Blur record! Damon Albarn has apparently found some time in between his three hundred musical projects to record an album with his old mates, as The Magic Whip will be released here in the States on April 28. As an appetizer, here’s the bizarre lyric video for the weird new song “Go Out”.
Normally, we would have this new video occupy our lead spot–after all, it includes not only a song from one of the best albums of the year so far, but also features some of our favorite television characters as well. However, it’s not everyday that Blur announces a new album, so the Bob’s Burgers-themed video for Sleater-Kinney’s “A New Wave” gets the second slot, but it should make you happy nonetheless.
NPR has a couple of new albums streaming on their site that are worth sharing: first, Swervedriver returns for their first record in nearly twenty years with I Wasn’t Born To Lose You, and then there’s Of Montreal offering up Aureate Gloom for your pleasure.
Father John Misty stopped by The Strombo Show, and during that appearance he covered the Leonard Cohen classic “Bird on the Wire”. It’s a bit jarring at first to hear the song without Cohen’s trademark baritone, but Joshua Tillman still makes a fine version.
Death Cab For Cutie have shared another new track from Kintsugi, which will be out by the end of March, called “No Room in Frame”.
Vox takes a look at Eric Malmi’s attempt to determine the Best Rapper Alive by looking at the use of assonant rhyme. As with most data-intensive looks at creative endeavors, take it with a grain of salt.
Some #longreads as you finalize your Oscar predictions…
Fans of Joy Division are probably well-aware that the famous illustration that graced the cover of their landmark album Unknown Pleasures was a graphic of radio waves from a pulsar taken from an old encyclopedia. However, they are probably not familiar with the origins of the graphic itself. Scientific American takes a look at the fascinating backstory behind the creation of what would eventually become one of the most famous images in music.
Earlier this week we published our review of I Love You, Honeybear, the brilliant new album from Father John Misty, and for those of you are interested now more than ever about the exploits of the man known as Joshua Tillman, check out the profiles on him by Rolling Stone and Consequence of Sound.
The surprise return of D’Angelo was one of the biggest stories in music last year, when after over a decade of silence that allowed wild rumors to flourish, he stunned everyone with the release of Black Messiah. The album captivated fans and critics alike, with the former finding that the result was worth the wait and the latter frantically trying to rejigger their year-end lists to find a place for its inclusion. During this time, we did our part in sharing news items about its release, and also highlighting especially worthwhile analysis and explanations for its significance. However, we never offered our own assessment of the album during this time, and we wanted to provide an explanation why never wrote about this record that we’ve enjoyed.
Our aim here at Rust Is Just Right is to contribute something beyond the usual echo-chamber of ideas that make up most music publications, and contribute genuine insight and any expertise we may have. To do this, we tend to write about subjects and genres with which we have more history and experience, which explains the focus we give to both rock music and to guitar, bass, and drums. We realize how boring it can be for readers to read variations of the same stuff over and over again, so we challenge ourselves to explore different genres and expose ourselves to different ideas. This allows us to avoid ruts both from a writing and musical perspective, and helps contribute to our own musical education, which we then hope to impart on our readers. It’s a beautiful cycle.
If we were to do a review then of Black Messiah, then we wanted to be able to do so from a position of some authority, with the ability to offer original insights on the record. However, after multiple listens, it was clear that our lack of familiarity with both D’Angelo (beyond a few cursory listens over the years) and with neo-soul in general would hinder our ability to make truly engaging analysis. There were few hooks for us to grab hold, and while we felt there were several admirable aspects to the album, it was difficult for us to make any personal connections to it with our initial listens. That said, it was easy to see how in a live setting D’Angelo could make the songs come alive.
We enjoyed how Black Messiah experimented with various soul and funk elements, like the subtle changes in rhythm in the electric “1000 Deaths”, which inverts and plays with straight and syncopated feels. This is an album that needs to be cranked up to truly appreciate, with special attention paid to the low end, because the bass playing on Black Messiah is truly a marvel but has the potential to be lost in the mix if no precautions are taken. Those points represent the extent of our insight, though; the lack of a lyric sheet makes that particular analysis difficult, and it’s clear that there are significant political and social themes that run through Black Messiah that would require more rigorous assessment than what I could periodically catch by ear.
So, consider this a recommendation, but we are unable to show more of the work that led us to that conclusion. But who knows, maybe after another few months of listening we’ll be able to offer up a more cogent assessment. At the very least, we’ll at least have a better foundation for discussing the next D’Angelo album–but hopefully we won’t have to wait fourteen years for that.
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.
I’m not sure if you can call Nancy Sinatra’s classic hit “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” a good song per se, but it is definitely a memorable and fun one. To its credit, “Boots” does an excellent job of evoking in present-day listeners the sound of the Swinging 60’s; filmmakers have relied on it as a retro touchstone for years, including in memorable scenes that range from Full Metal Jacket to Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. It’s a fun piece of trashy pop, with a versatile pseudo-female empowerment message that can be interpreted either sincerely or ironically. Musically, the most memorable thing about “Boots” is its hypnotic descending bass line, though I’ve always had a particular fondness for the particular tone of the cheap-sounding guitars as well. However, the song fails to do anything with the fact that the legendary Hal Blaine behind the kit, and those ridiculous horns that end the song are best used as fodder for potential edits due to time restrictions.
The cover that inspired this edition of our regular feature was the version done by Parquet Courts for their second album of 2014, Content Nausea, recorded under the moniker of “Parkay Quarts”. Their take on the song (titled on the album as “These Boots”) straddles the line between serious and mocking, sticking close to the original for the most part musically speaking while vocally alternating between not-giving-a-shit and caring-just-enough. The group made sure to include that amazing bass riff as well as for doing a reasonable facsimile of the original’s guitar tone, and even did a better job with the horns by adding a nifty supporting part to the verse. Courts/Quarts also improve upon the ending by ending everything in a giant haze of guitar squall and irritating feedback.
The Content Nausea version also reminded me of the ridiculous take done by Operation Ivy, where they transformed the pop number into a bouncy ska romp as “One of These Days” for their album Energy. They didn’t really care to remember any of the lyrics besides the chorus, and it’s just as well, since beyond the initial inspiration to add guitar strokes on the upbeats they didn’t bother to do too much to it musically either. It does however fit in perfectly with the rest of Energy in that regard, and it’s only when you pay attention to the fact that Jesse Michaels is shouting those famous words in particular that you realize that this is a “cover”. As a song in and of itself, it’s not particularly good, but as an example of the kind of we-working of pop classics by early punk bands, it’s not half-bad.
Neither of these cover versions are essential, but at least they’re fun. They’re also perfect set-fillers that keep the audience engaged without demanding too much of their attention. And no one has to really worry about impinging on the reputation of the original: while it is fondly remembered, no one is going to fight for the sake of Nancy Sinatra’s classic bit of kitsch.
Father John Misty’s debut album Fear Fun was a delightful surprise–few expected that a solo album from the former drummer of Fleet Foxes would be such a musical revelation. The best case scenario was that Fear Fun would be a pleasant diversion, but Joshua Tillman’s adopted persona of a modern-day hipster-shaman created folk rock tunes that have held up remarkably well over the years. Fast-forward three years, and while we are still waiting to hear anything new from Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty has returned with a stellar new album that will force people to stop name-dropping his former outfit.
I Love You, Honeybear is a stunningly gorgeous album, one that expands the scope of its predecessor with lush strings and intricate arrangements, but also one that delights in intimate personal details. Father John Misty has always had a deft touch with his lyrics, often evoking a wry smile or two, but lines like “She says, ‘Like, literally music is the air [she] breathe[s],’ and the malaprops make me wanna fucking scream…I wonder if she even knows what that word means; well it’s ‘literally’ not that” from “The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apt.” elicit an actual laugh every time its played. Tillman’s recent marriage is a defining influence on the album, but Tillman is careful to balance any sweetness with just the right amount of cynicism; a great example comes from the closing lines of “Holy Shit”: “Maybe love is just an economy based on resource scarcity–but what I fail to see is what that’s got to do with you and me.”
At times, it seems that the music could veer dangerously close to the emptiness of late 70’s AM Radio/yacht-rock (or perhaps worse, playing up the conventions of the genre with too much irony), but Father John Misty employs a nimble hand throughout the album, and simply writes melodies that are too good to be associated with such vapidness. Honeybear‘s laid-back ballads are enhanced by extravagant string arrangements that add both depth and ornamentation, and songs like the relaxed swing of “Nothing Good Ever Happens at the Goddamn Thirsty Crow” and the achingly beautiful “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins)” are enhanced by the expert addition of wind and horn melodies. It is difficult to select any standout songs from this consistently great album, but the euphoric triumph of “Chateau Lobby #4” is one that will be easily remembered.
The album is mainly made up of mid-tempo numbers, but the good news is that I Love You, Honeybear never really drags. The one real rocker (and a soon-to-be favorite of the live set), “The Ideal Husband”, appears two-thirds of the way through and gives the musicians a chance to really thrash about on a fun blues stomp, but otherwise things are generally calm. A trio of ballads follows, beginning with the sarcastic ode “Bored in the USA” that perfectly sums up the sentiment of a generation coping with the readjusted education/benefits equation, and ending with the sweet lullaby “I Went to the Store One Day” which recounts the circumstances that led to the romance that inspired the album. If only all great outcomes could result from a simple line like “I’ve seen you around–what’s your name?”
Note: The CD version of the album comes with a booklet entitled Exercises for Listening. I highly recommend that you read these directions; obey them at your peril.
New music, videos, and news as you kill time on this arbitrary holiday…
If you could forgive us for a moment, but today was a bit of a downer when we heard about the passing of Lesley Gore this morning. Though many of the singer-songwriter’s hits have been overlooked over the years, Gore will forever be remembered for the timeless classic “It’s My Party.”
Over on Reddit, Modest Mouse leaked another track from their upcoming album Strangers to Ourselves, releasing “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box”, a funky number that calls to mind the groovy “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes.” Isaac also answered a couple of questions, but since they are few and far between, we’ll provide our favorite exchange:
Death From Above 1979 has decided that acoustic versions of their songs are not a one-time thing, as you can see by their recent appearance on The Strombo Show, as they with pepper in a few stripped-down versions of their songs during their interview with George Stroumboulopoulos.
And finally, to prepare you for tomorrow’s release of their collaboration Sour Soul, here’s the video to Ghostface Killah and BADBADNOTGOOD’s “Ray Gun”, featuring an appearance from DOOM. It’s pretty bizarre.