Month: April 2022

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2021

Today is April 18, and it is time once again for us here at Rust Is Just Right to release our best-of list of albums from the past year.  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 and 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.  The pandemic has been rough on musicians everywhere, so please consider purchasing some of these great albums to help support them (because we all know the .003 cents your streams will generate won’t do all that much).

The process that is used to determine this list is highly rigorous and hardly scientific, but that is the charm and the benefit of The Process. Sure, it may look like a simple tally of the number of times we play each album, but believe us, there are plenty of working parts that contribute behind the scenes that help generate the results (and will be documented when we officially submit our eventual patent application).  It has served us well in years past, and we’re too tired to change systems now.

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. The Armed – Ultrapop; Armand Hammer & the Alchemist – Haram; Madlib – Sound Ancestors; Grouper – Shade; Hovvdy – True Love; Boldy James & the Alchemist – Bo Jackson; Yves Tumor – The Asymptotical World; The Weather Station – Ignorance; SMILE MACHINE – Bye For Now EP; Mannequin Pussy – Perfect EP; BADBADNOTGOOD – Talk Memory. (5 plays) In most years, these albums would probably constitute our “Honorable Mention” list, but there’s still a lot of gold to be found here. We got some catchy garage rock/punk with EPs from SMILE MACHINE and Mannequin Pussy as well as some gentle mood music from Grouper, Hovvdy, and The Weather Station. We see a return of BADBADNOTGOOD with their free-form modern jazz, as well as the newest musical experiments of the impossible-to-pigeonhole Yves Tumor. And we simply cannot resist any album with The Alchemist behind the boards, so we get a double-dip of collaborations with him.

9. IDLES – Crawler; Godspeed You! Black Emperor – G_d’s Pee at State’s End; Tyler, the Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost; Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg; black midi – Cavalcade; Amyl and The Sniffers – Comfort to Me. (6 plays) Probably the most diverse group, we’ve got the snarling post-punk of Idles fitting nicely with the bratty punk of Amyl and the Sniffers, and Tyler reminding us he still has bars to go along with his ever-evolving production skills. Dry Cleaning gives us a vision of what a sedate version of Protomartyr would sound with a female vocalist (yes everyone mentions The Fall when talking about this band, but let’s get a more modern (and RIJR-specific) reference here). black midi throws everything at the wall to see what sticks–and the answer is a surprising amount. Godspeed is practically grandfathered into our lists at this point, but we’re suckers to their late-career run.

8. Lou Barlow – Reason to Live; Ovlov – Buds; Low – HEY WHAT; Lucy Dacus – Home Video. (7 plays) Ovlov joins “The L’s” with a quick and catchy indie rock release that probably flew under your radar. Low got some of the best reviews in their already illustrious career with their adventurous new album, their first as a duo, but we still prefer the first album of their “trilogy” with engineer BJ Burton, Ones and Sixes. That said, “Days Like These” is one of the best songs Low has done and a contender for song of the year. Lucy Dacus follows up her breakthrough Historian with another example of achingly beautiful confessional work, and pairs up nicely with Lou Barlow’s newest solo release. This won’t be the last time Lou will show up on this list.

7. Ka – A Martyr’s Reward; Parquet Courts – Sympathy for Life; Deafheaven – Infinite Granite; Cloud Nothings – The Shadow I Remember. (8 plays) Ka is a rapper we discovered based on recommendations from Twitter users we follow, proving that despite the general shittiness of their operation there is still potentially some benefit to the service; it’s unlikely we otherwise would have heard his compelling narratives. The other groups here are stalwarts of The Process: we’ve got another blistering attack from Cloud Nothings, mixing some of the rawness of Attack on Memory with the catchiness of their most recent work, a solid follow up to our Album of the Year (Wide Awake!) from Parquet Courts, and a Deafheaven record for those who don’t really like the screaming (so, like a typical Alcest album). At this point though, we love the screams, so we appreciate the few chances we get to hear them on this record–which is why the climax of the closer “Mombasa” is on the short list for “Best Musical Moments of the Year”; but we understand the desire to diversify the setlist (and save the voice for future releases).

6. Turnstile – Glow On; Vince Staples – Vince Staples. (9 plays) We got downbeat Vince this time around, which matches the rest of our favorite hip-hop releases from the past year, but the songs themselves weren’t downers. Turnstile is probably the best of the post-genre rock bands going right now, and at their best they sound like a version of At the Drive-In with all the kinks straightened-out–with all the good and bad that description implies. But we do appreciate the diversity in sound, and the songs got catchier each time we listened to the album.

5. The War on Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore. (10 plays) These days the band infuriates us objectively, yet we can’t stop listening to their albums despite our complaints. We can keep asking why can’t they institute some degree of rhythmic diversity (please just play song that isn’t just straight eighth notes), or feel some degree of being cheated as they mine even more 80s soft-rock radio hits into their sound (we are pretty positive the backing drum track (minus the solo) from “In the Air Tonight” is used at some point), and we feel there really can’t be anyone who can dance to “Desolation Row”, at least not well, but fuck it. It still sounds good, and the solos still rip, and we want to play the songs again and again.

4. Illuminati Hotties – Let Me Do One More. (11 plays) We loved our hip-hop downbeat, but our indie rock catchy and full of hooks. And few albums were as packed with hooks as this one–we challenge you to listen to “Pool Hopping” or “Cheap Shoes” without bobbing your head or tapping your fingers or just totally cutting loose. It’s impossible.

3. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee. (12 plays). This album has something for everyone, but it’s still a cohesive vision. And again, catchy as hell. You’ll dance, you’ll cry, and you’ll love every minute of it. And the guitar solo in “Posing for Cars” that closes the album will have you wishing for more (or pushing repeat–a convenient solution to your problem).

2. Dinosaur Jr. – Sweep It Into Space. (13 plays) Look, we understand your skepticism–this late-career album which didn’t get much buzz is not your typical album-of-the-year candidate. But J, Lou, and Murph put together a set of all-killer/no-filler tunes to constitute probably the most consistent album of their legendary careers, with Lou’s usual two contributions easily rank as some of his best work with the group. Sure you get your usual fill of fiery solos from the Guitar Wizard himself, but it’s the melodies and hooks that will keep you coming back to this album.

1. Pom Pom Squad – Death of a Cheerleader. (14 plays) Simply put, we could not stop listening to this album once we picked it up. All it took was the vocal melody from the first chorus, and we were hooked. Deceptively simple garage rock sprinkled in with the appropriate amount of tender ballads (including a cover of the classic “Crimson and Clover”), this album is a 30 minute blast that gives you a sugar rush but keeps your attention with each subsequent listen. We simply can’t stop raving about it, and can’t wait for their follow-up.

Oh, and for fun, here’s Pom Pom Squad with their cover of Nada Surf’s “Popular”.

Twitter Hates Punk Rock

For the past four months, I have been locked out of my personal Twitter account. This punishment was for the crime of answering a friend’s question about music with the name of one of my favorite bands. This is not an exaggeration.

Back in December, a friend spent some time talking up John Mayer’s stint with the most recent touring version of the Grateful Dead and was marveling at his musicianship. In the midst of this euphoric posting, he gave the prompt “Actually name a band John Mayer couldn’t improve I DEFY you”. Without considering the merits of Mayer’s guitar-playing skills, I took the question seriously and gave a one word answer. This was the band.

Now, I know many people have different opinions about John Mayer, the majority of them dependent on when they first encountered his music or last paid attention to his career. Personally, I remember him from his debut album, which was filled with chords you normally only hear in jazz band (a plus from this guy who played guitar in jazz band!) that supported decent soft pop-rock songs (a plus for my sister who actually bought the album and played it a lot more than I preferred). In other words, I never was a big fan of Mayer, but it never was an opinion that was set in stone. Over the years I’ve read interviews from musicians I respect who praise Mayer’s skills, so my assessment these days whenever I see his name is more along the lines of “good for him, but not sure I’ll check out the new album.”

In other words, my answer was not given because of any animus towards the man; quite the contrary. It was a serious and thoughtful response to the prompt, and I would argue the definitive correct answer. Suicide was a landmark punk band from the 1970s, and their music could not be farther from John Mayer’s normal work. Suicide was an aggressively confrontational group, who gave no thought to alienating their audience at their live performances. Suicide’s music was harsh, minimalist, and repetitive; in other words, not a match for John Mayer’s ostentatious and pyrotechnic noodling. The point was to reduce music to its most primitive level, relying on artificial sound from early synthesizers and drum machines. The addition of a guitar to this would in and of itself defeat the point of the band. And to further distinguish themselves from other good answers like Kraftwerk, Suicide was always a duo, with Alan Vega and Martin Rev being the sole members of their decades-long run. In this case, three’s definitely a crowd.

So, what’s the controversy? For a few hours, there was none. In fact, my friend responded to my answer in good fun, with “You know he’d bring them to a whole nother level” [sic]. Nobody seemed bothered by it, but later that night I open up Twitter on my phone, and I can’t load up my Timeline. Apparently at some point that evening, either somebody reported the tweet (unlikely) or it was auto-flagged by Twitter itself.

And that’s when I began my battle with Twitter’s totally non-responsive bureaucracy.

In the big block of text preventing me from accessing my account, there’s a link to an appeals form. I fill it out, expecting it to be a quick fix. Surely a brief explanation with a handy link to Suicide’s Wikipedia page will fix the matter!

Nope.

I kept receiving generic “we’ve received your request and will process it as soon as we can” responses, and kept filling out responses with lengthier and lengthier explanations. At first, I was understanding–it’s not like everyone is familiar with the work of old punk bands, especially if the people handling content moderation are either not from this country or are younger than say 30. But after multiple attempts, it seemed nobody at Twitter wanted to believe that a band whose debut was twice ranked one of the 500 greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone actually existed.

A couple of days into the process, I was fed up. I understand the band is somewhat obscure, but how obscure are they really when they figure into the plot of an independent Greek film? (Quick note: the actor in that scene is the writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Favorite”, “The Lobster”, “Dogtooth”)). How unknown is the band when they’re mentioned in the reviews of albums by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Flaming Lips, when they’re name-checked by LCD Soundsystem (skip to 3:06), sampled by artists like M.I.A., and when they’re covered by The Boss?

[Fun fact: Bruce Springsteen was next door recording his own stuff when Suicide was in the studio recording their second album. He loved the band, and noted their influence on his classic album Nebraska]

One might be tempted to characterize Twitter’s response as Orwellian or Kafkaesque, but those terms don’t really fit–though this classic Kafka doodle characterizes my reaction. Apparently most authors never really considered the possibility of a completely unaccountable power, one that is immune to any complaint whatsoever because they can simply ignore them forever without consequence.

Amid the generic responses, there was a single actual reply. Apparently my case was reviewed and it was determined…I violated the rules “against promoting or encouraging suicide or self-harm.” Apparently not only are the people of Twitter culturally illiterate, but they’re just plain old illiterate! By simply reading the prompt and response, there is no way to interpret my tweet as a “threat”, at least if you want to follow the basic rules of grammar. It would take ridiculous leaps of logic to conclude that my response could be viewed as a threat, and that’s only if you decided to read it without knowing how English worked in any way whatsoever.

Now, this incident in and of itself is deeply silly, but it points to a more serious problem with how Twitter functions in general. Despite the ample evidence shown to the contrary, and because they chose to ignore all context to the discussion, had Twitter decided that the mere MENTION of “suicide” was a suspension-worthy offense? It’s the precedent of this incident that truly matters.

Would it now be forbidden to discuss the Eugenides novel/Sofia Coppola film/Air soundtrack to “The Virgin Suicides” in any capacity? That’s tough, because two of those three are favorites of mine as well (I will get around to reading the novel at some point, I promise). Could I also not discuss Pom Pom Squad’s song “Lux”, which is a reference to the story? Hell, would I be able to mention the fact that the album references an incident that also inspired the landmark experimental documentary “Landscape Suicide”? It sure seems like all these mentions would invite a suspension. It’s too bad, because the album rules (and will figure prominently in our Best of 2021 rundown).

Let’s keep this going. Will we now be forbidden to discuss the song about all that guy really wanted was a Pepsi?

Or how about the song about how much the singer loves his dog?

How about mentioning the name of the theme to the most popular TV show of all-time? I’m guessing that’s out of bounds now too.

I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating, but it’s all on the table because according to Twitter, context does not matter at all! It doesn’t even rise to the level of “nuance” in this case, and that is a serious problem.

The cherry on top of this shit sundae is that the week before my suspension, Twitter was full of jokes about ACTUAL SUICIDE PODS. That’s right, news came from Switzerland about a new assisted-suicide machine, and it prompted tons of jokes on my timeline. I did not join in, but I also didn’t report anybody, because that would be ridiculous. Some of the jokes were even good.

What might be the most remarkable aspect of Twitter’s punishment of my account is the fact that it is a secret. None of my followers would know about my suspension unless I’ve personally told them, because Twitter has not posted any warning on my page. All of my friends look at my profile, and they just see a guy who suddenly stopped posting (well, let’s face it, retweeting) back in late December. This led to multiple friends tweeting out “What’s up with @[me]?” I was able to see glimpses of this, because I was still able to view a line or two from my phone notifications. Could I see any more of the tweet, or perhaps yet respond? No. Even better, I received a few direct messages from friends checking up on me, because by all appearances I had fallen off the face of the Earth. I was only able to know about these DMs because I still got an email notification. Again, could I respond? Of fucking course not. I had to instruct a friend to relay the fact that yes, I still am alive, to those folks who reached out to me.

[As a proof of life to my followers: I told you Lil’ Penny was good, we’ll miss you 3J but you’re going to enjoy my original home, and hopefully Thrillard comes back this fall fully healthy and ready to kick ass]

There really is a wonderful irony to the fact that Twitter’s heavy-handed response was supposedly justified by their concern for the health of its users, but their shitty behavior in fact prompted deep concern from many of its users about my health.

Is there a way to escape this bureaucratic nightmare? There seems to be one. Though Twitter keeps giving me the option of filing appeals that they never intend on viewing, they also say if I choose to drop my appeal (which still is being decided after four months???), I can be reinstated. They’re not even asking me to delete the tweet–they already did that for me [if you go to the tweet in question, they note that it violated their standards]. They simply want me to confess in this ridiculous Soviet show trial of a process, and frankly, I’m better than that. Twitter is too ridiculous for me to abandon basic principles, like that punk rock rules or that the name of a band from 50 years ago is too controversial to mention. Again, a name that is so dangerous that mere exposure should provoke terror in those who see the word, and yet one of the members is still alive and the other died in his sleep at the age of 78. Yup, that dangerous.

So at the moment I’m going to keep holding out and hope that somebody, literally anybody, at Twitter comes to their senses. Because seriously, fuck these assholes for making me agree with the Worst People on the Planet in believing that they are incapable of monitoring themselves to any degree whatsoever. And goddammit, somebody should have to answer for that crime.