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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”.

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:

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, from everyone here at Rust Is Just Right!  We’ll celebrate this holiday the same way we do all the others–with way too much food and indie rock!

Once again, The National has collaborated with Bob’s Burgers to produce a new carol for the holiday canon, this time branching out into Christmas music.  It’s delicate and way-too-serious in a goofy-sort-of-way, which is exactly what we’d expect from this partnership.  We hope that for those of you celebrating today that you make this a small part of your festivities, and for those of you who aren’t, that it at least puts a smile on your face.

Catching Up On The Week (Nov. 28 Edition)

Some #longreads as you awaken from the Thanksgiving food coma…

We’re going to put the spotlight on Seattle this weekend, since we have multiple articles discussing the city’s place in music history.  First, Seattle Weekly talks to Bruce Pavitt, co-founder of the now-legendary independent label Sub Pop.  Next, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a profile of Dave Grohl as the Emerald City episode of his Sonic Highways is set to air.  And finally, Kim Thayil of Soundgarden talks to Loudwire about the band’s new rarities release Echo of Miles.

Seattle, though often grey, is still pretty.

Seattle, though often grey, is still pretty.

We’ve been enjoying the latest album from TV on the Radio these past couple of weeks, and before we unveil our official review on Tuesday, read up on the making of the new album with profiles in both the New York Times and Consequence of Sound.

The Atlantic has an article about how the internet helped spark a revival of interest in Nick Drake, far more than he had enjoyed in his brief life and career.  While we mentioned the seminal Volkswagen ad in our “Pink Moon” Covered feature, this piece helps fill in some additional interesting details.

In the past we’ve looked at different aspects of the streaming debate, mainly focusing our attention on Spotify and their payout model.  East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys sheds some insight on another service we’ve neglected, YouTube, showing how the company pays even less to artists than its competitors.

Though he’s mainly known for the off-center comedic empire he’s built with partner Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim has had a successful side-gig as a director of music videos.  The AV Club interviews Eric for its Random Reels feature, and he sheds insights on such videos as the frightening “We Are Water” video he did for HEALTH (and cited in our Scariest Videos list) as well as the weirdly gorgeous “Wishes” video from Beach House.

And finally, Pitchfork has multiple articles worth checking out this weekend.  Be sure to read this pleasant interview with Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker, then check out this analysis of the importance of Top 40 radio and the significance of different genre stations.  And finally, proving that the publication actually has a sense of humor, here’s “The Most Crucial And Yet Totally Overlooked Releases of 2014 and a Pre-Emptive Guide to 2015.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, from everyone here at Rust Is Just Right!  We’ll celebrate this holiday the same way we do all the others–with way too much food and indie rock!

That’s the second time there was a collaboration between The National and Bob’s Burgers, and since that’s the better video it’s grabbing the top spot.  But we’re feeling generous, so we’ll share the band’s cover of an original song from the show, giving the holiday all the necessary gravitas it deserves.

Sing these songs with your family, and you’re sure to have a wonderful day!

Mission Statement

Welcome to “Rust Is Just Right”.  This is a music site that’s designed to provide an environment for all kinds of fans, from the ones that study every single page published by the music press to those who have barely any time to keep in contact with what’s happening in popular culture these days.  We’re all here because we all love music, and we all want to find more of it.

Our aim is not to just be another music criticism site, but to focus on what makes certain songs and albums great and worthy of your time.  That means going beyond handy crit-speak cliches, and getting to the root of “why you should listen to this new band right now.”  In other words, we are well aware of the limits of providing reviews that are a string of name-drops, and will make sure to provide commentary that is actually helpful.

We’ve also planned a couple of features that will look into the past with this same goal in mind.  “Feats of Strength” will analyze particular songs or videos, and point out certain parts that you may have missed on the first few listens, but are really the key to what makes a song great.  “TL;DR” will be a section for longer essays that ponder theories and trends, and hopefully provide some helpful history for those that are in search of new areas to explore.  “Covered” will be a recurring feature that looks at different covers and hopefully sparks a discussion on whether they are faithful or even surpass the original songs.  While that’s what we have planned for now, we’ll always welcome suggestions for other features in the future.

We hope you enjoy the site.  Feel free to give us feedback.  We know we won’t be perfect, but hopefully over time and with your help, we’ll get close.