Today is April 15, and while the rest of the nation trudges through another Tax Day, we here at Rust Is Just Right choose this occasion to return from the dead and 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.
10. Black Panther: The Album; Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs; Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance; Lucy Dacus – Historian; Nipsey Hussle – Victory Lap; Ought – Room Inside the World; Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs; Sleep – The Sciences (8 plays)
Against all odds, we somehow once again agree with at least one of the “Best Album” choices from the Grammys with our inclusion of the Kendrick Lamar-assembled soundtrack to Black Panther. Its inclusion was a surprise to us, but the Kendrick/SIA mega-hit “All the Stars” helped make this solid compilation one of the more memorable soundtracks to be released in years. Another surprise was Ought’s latest release, which zigged when we expected it to zag–we were anticipating a return to their hard-hitting debut, but instead it was an album marked by its ballads, most notably the show-stopping “Desire”. Earl Sweatshirt returns with his latest venture into the avant-garde, eschewing choruses and hooks for the enigmatic Some Rap Songs. Idles created one of the hardest-hitting albums of the year with the politically-influenced post-punk Joy, bringing to mind a British working class version of Protomartyr. Lucy Dacus created some of the most gorgeously epic indie rock this year, unafraid to play with dynamics and mix her lovely voice with music that shifts from the tranquil to the anthemic. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever brought the chill factor, recalling a laid-back Real Estate kind of vibe, but with a bit more pep and greater variety to their overall sound. Sleep seem intent to prove how Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality is the greatest album of all time, and considering the results, we are not inclined to argue. As for Nipsey, his inclusion on this list is bittersweet because of his recent murder, but hopefully more people will seek out his music (and benefit his family–he owned all his masters).
9. Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino; Beach House – 7; Black Thought – Streams of Thought Vol. 1, Vol. 2; Vince Staples – FM! (9 plays)
We were puzzled by the backlash to the latest Arctic Monkeys album, which we believed followed the same trajectory as their mainstream-breakthrough AM without being a shameless imitation; maybe we just appreciated their retro/futuristic lounge style more than most. We initially felt 7 was an unremarkable addition to the Beach House catalog, but subsequent listens revealed a greater depth to their trademark synthpop sound. Black Thought released two EPs this past year, and depending on the day we might switch our favorite, though we more often end to lean to the more energetic Vol. 2. For FM!, Vince Staples made the perfect soundtrack for a summer cookout, and even the skits are still able to blend seamlessly after multiple listens.
8. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy; Moaning – Moaning (10 plays)
Will Toledo dipped back into his past for his follow-up to RIJR favorite Teens of Denial, reworking his early work Twin Fantasy. Fans of his hypersensitive attention to lyrical detail and his appreciation for classic indie rock tropes should be pleased with the results, though like Teens, it takes a few listens to appreciate the craft. Moaning is a new group that decided to put a more lively spin on the current revival of shoegaze, and the result is some of the catchiest songs of the year.
7. Hookworms – Microshift; Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning (11 plays)
If you were looking for a more rock-inclined version of LCD Soundsystem, then Hookworms provided the perfect album for you. It is impossible to not get fired up after listening to opener “Negative Space”, and the album never lets up. After cleaning up their sound and sanding down some of the edges for Life Without Sound, Cloud Nothings get back to basics and blow out their amps again for the furious Last Building Burning.
6. Mitski – Be the Cowboy (12 plays)
We loved Puberty 2, and Mitski continues her hot streak with her new album. Mitski gets to the point quickly in each of the fourteen songs here, dispensing with conventional verse/chorus/verse structures and getting the message across around two minutes for each song. Mitski does not necessarily switch between different genres; it would be more accurate to say she explores the limits of the various styles one can find within the larger umbrella of “indie music”, from the swelling “Geyser” to the effervescent “Nobody” to the gentle closer “Two Slow Dancers.”
5. Fixtures – Trust Yourself I Guess [EP]; No Age – Snares Like a Haircut (13 plays)
A link from Twitter led me to this Bandcamp release from Fixtures, and it did not take long for me to get sucked into its irresistible hooks. If you aren’t humming by the end of “On Tape” or “Remember Who I’m Looking For”, then you might need to schedule an appointment with your local ENT specialist. No Age returned from a long layoff showing no signs of rust (no pun intended), and were able to compose an album that effectively summed up the sounds they explored in their previous experimental works. We also love the title, which we learned is a reference to how much like a haircut, one can usually pick out what era a song comes from simply by the way the snare drum is recorded.
4. Preoccupations – New Material; Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt (14 plays)
We continue to be impressed by the evolution of Preoccupations, who have now settled into a gothic post-punk sound. We said it the first time we heard it, but we are glad to confirm that “Disarray” is the best song we heard this year. Take note of the different time signatures employed by the guitar, bass, and drums, as they shift in and out of sync with each other in a perfect illustration of the title.
And Nothing Hurt is another wonderfully gorgeous space rock opus from Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized project. As one may expect, repeated listens reveal brilliant sonic details, and soon you will be picking up the various random instruments that help fill out the sound. Amazingly enough, most of the album was recorded in Pierce’s bedroom, though with the extent of the orchestration and the depth of the overall sound it would be easy to assume it was done instead in a giant studio.
3. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer; Pusha T – DAYTONA (15 plays)
Considering we named his album I Love You, Honeybear our favorite album of 2015, you would be correct to assume we were disappointed with Joshua Tillman’s follow-up, Pure Comedy, which we found overlong and way too much of a chore to listen to all the way through, so much so it did not come close to appearing on our 2017 list. However, FJM redeemed himself with the much tighter God’s Favorite Customer. The bite has returned to the lyrics, but more importantly, it is an infinitely more interesting album from a musical perspective, filled with memorable melodies.
Pusha T once again delivers a batch of coke raps, but the wordplay on this quick-hitter is among his best work, and Kanye provides his best production work in years. DAYTONA was at the forefront of the switch to shorter works, with its 7 tracks clocking in at 21 minutes, leaving the listener wanting more and never wearing out its welcome.
2. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (16 plays)
Deafheaven broke out with the genre-defying Sunbather, and then followed up their shoegaze-meets-black metal classic with an emphasis on their heavier roots with New Bermuda. It seems this was a move made in response to concern about proving the group’s metallic bona fides, and while we loved both albums, it seems the audience expectations weighed heavily on the band. With Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, Deafheaven threw out those expectations and indulged their inner muses, and the result is easily their most fun album to date. If you were hesitant to dip into their work before, this might be the album for you. It even features some actual singing at points!
1. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake! (17 plays)
We were initially weary when tracks from Wide Awake! began to be released, as we could not find a common thread between any of them–one of the singles was even a stitched together combination (“Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience”) that did not make much sense by itself. However, the disparate styles explored by the band made sense within the context of the album. Perfect for the streaming age, Wide Awake! seems perfect for shuffling, even though one track leads into the next through almost the entirety of the album.
There are several reasons why Wide Awake! is our favorite album of the year, including the overt nod to Pavement (their most obvious comparison) with “Mardi Gras Beads” (that somehow also seems to be influenced by The Walkmen), to the infinitely catchy “Tenderness”, to the goofy title track, which effectively parodies the current movement to appear “woke” even if it means sacrificing depth–which led to the surreal moment of the band performing the song on Ellen. But it’s understandable–goddamn, that bass groove is infectious.
But the band is not just smart-asses looking for piss-takes. The opener “Total Football” is the best summation of the group’s approach, with insightful lyrics and hooks galore. And in this time of great division, we can all agree with the song’s final words: “And fuck Tom Brady!”