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”.