Alabama Shakes

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2015

Today is April 18, and while the rest of the nation celebrates Tax Day (an extra three days later this year), we here at Rust Is Just Right choose this occasion to 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.  Also, we have reviews for nearly all of these albums, so for those of you seeking a more detailed analysis all you need to do is click the appropriate tag above.

10. Deaf Wish – Pain; Disasterpeace – It Follows (Score); EL VY – Return to the Moon; HEALTH – Death Magic; Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer; Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon (7 plays)

A very interesting mix at the bottom of the list, including our token electronic choice as well as our first pick of a film score in this site’s history.  Deaf Wish broke through with one of the best noise-rock albums of the year, showing a surprising amount of depth for such a narrow niche, and EL VY proved that side-projects don’t have to be boring.  The debut album from Tobias Jesso Jr. is the star of this particular slot, as Goon shows that the world may have found a true heir to the rich musical legacy of Harry Nilsson.

9. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment – Surf; Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside; Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy; Vaadat Charigim – Sinking as a Stone; White Reaper – White Reaper Does It Again; Wilco – Star Wars (8 plays)

Another eclectic group at the number nine slot–there’s the ambitious rock opera from Titus Andronicus sharing space with the keep-it-simple garage rock of White Reaper, the joyous jazz-inflected Surf project featuring the exuberant Chance the Rapper sliding up next to the brooding and intense personal meditations of Earl Sweatshirt, and the veteran purveyors of Americana in Wilco sitting comfortably by the Israeli shoegaze group Vaadat Charigim.

8. Blur – The Magic Whip; BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul; Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons to Die II; Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter; Low – Ones and Sixes; Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp (9 plays)

Most people seem to have forgotten that not only did Blur come back this year, but they did so with a brilliant album that recalls their peak during the mid-90’s BritPop era, with the group showing that they learned a few things during their downtime.  Similarly, Low once again suffers through the Spoon Curse of being consistently great, with little love being shown for their latest excellent release.  Waxahatchee broadened her sound to great results this year, while Joanna Gruesome solidified their style.  But it is Ghostface who deserves special recognition this year for releasing two separate fantastic records this year.

7. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color; Foals – What Went Down; Ought – Sun Coming Down; Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love; Viet Cong – Viet Cong (10 plays)

We are glad to welcome back Sleater-Kinney into our lives, as No Cities to Love fits in comfortably with the rest of the other great punk records in their back catalog.  Viet Cong’s debut album and Ought’s second record were challenging post-punk works, but there were enough intriguing elements to be found in both to inspire continued listening.  Alabama Shakes improved immensely from their debut album, showing off a broader range than what had been expected from their previous blues-rock groove.  However, we once again wait for Foals to break through into the mainstream, even though they did their part by releasing this great arena-ready album.

6. Beach Slang – Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us; Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves; Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect (11 plays) 

A lot of people may be surprised by the high ranking of the new Modest Mouse album, but we feel that there was enough on this sprawling effort to reward repeated listens.  While it may not appear as seamless as classics like The Lonesome Crowded West and The Moon & Antarctica, there are several tracks that different eras of fans can enjoy–even the notorious “Pistol” gets better each time you hear it.  Meanwhile, Protomartyr’s brooding post-punk serves as a great contrast to Beach Slang’s exuberant beer-soaked punk.

5. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (12 plays) 

A worthy recipient of many accolades this past year, Kendrick Lamar’s magnum opus brilliantly pushes the boundaries of what many thought hip-hop could do.  It is often a difficult and uncompromising listen, but there are still many joys to be found throughout the album.

4. Bully – Feels Like; Royal Headache – High (13 plays) 

Both of these records are thrilling half-hours-of-power, and frankly I am wondering why they did not receive more publicity.  There were few albums as fun as this duo.

3. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress; Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (14 plays) 

Amazingly enough, Godspeed You! Black Emperor seem to be improving with each new release, with Asunder being possibly their most accessible work yet.  There were few moments as powerful as the climax of “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!” or the bombastic ending of “Piss Crowns are Trebled”.  At the other end of the spectrum, Sufjan Stevens may have finally made us converts with the quietly devastating and deeply personal Carrie & Lowell.

2. Deafheaven – New Bermuda (16 plays)  

Deafheaven successfully met the challenge of following up their genre-bending breakthrough album Sunbather, returning with the powerful, if more conventional, New Bermuda.  However, the amazing thing about this album is that not only does it stand on its own, it somehow enhances their previous work; each listen of New Bermuda inspires an additional listen of Sunbather, and somehow that album gets better every time we hear it.  Still, New Bermuda stands on its own as a brilliant album, with each of its five tracks jockeying for position as best song on the record.

1. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (17 plays) 

We had a feeling at the beginning of last year that Father John Misty would place high in our list, but even we were surprised that our favorite shaman ended up in the top slot.  I Love You, Honeybear is a gorgeously lush record, filled with swelling strings and ebullient horns, but there is a dark undercurrent lurking below much of the album.  The record works on both a superficial level and with a more critical approach, which helps explain its surprising ranking.  But in the end, it is just a damn good record, and we cannot wait to see one of modern rock’s great showman return to Oregon later this year.

Over the Weekend (May 4 Edition)

News, new music, and videos as you recover from the decadence and depravity of this past weekend

Alabama Shakes has had a busy week: not only did they receive a rave review from this publication, but they learned that their album Sound & Color debuted at number 1, the first time they have earned such an honor.  To top it off, the band released the superb music video for the album’s title track, a subtle, heartrending tale that takes place in the unlikely setting of a spaceship.

It was a busy week for late night performances, with Modest Mouse stopping by Jimmy Kimmel Live, My Morning Jacket stopping by The Tonight Show, and Blur making their first US TV appearance in over a decade.  Blur has been hitting the rounds on both sides of the Atlantic, having recently stopped by Later…with Jools Holland to perform selections from The Magic Whip and also talk to the man himself.  Though the shows were broadcast previously in the UK, it was only recently shown here in the States on Palladia, so please forgive our tardiness.

We have been keeping you informed about the updates from Tame Impala about their new album, and now we can share that Currents has an apparently official release date of July 18th.  In addition, the band has released another track, the quick and punchy “Disciples”.

This afternoon, The Chemical Brothers released a music video featuring Q-Tip and directed by Michel Gondry, for a track called “Go”.  Yes, it still is 2015 and not 1998, for the record; the track appears on their upcoming album Born in the Echoes, which will be released July 7.

Finally, the music world suffered terrible losses this week, with the passing of Jack Ely, lead singer of The Kingsmen, and the legendary Ben E. King.  Portland’s connection to the recording of “Louie, Louie” makes Ely’s passing difficult to hear, and of course everyone is well aware of King’s contributions for The Drifters (“This Magic Moment”, “Save the Last Dance for Me”), as well as his immortal hit, “Stand By Me”.  They will be missed.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hwZNL7QVJjE=

Review: Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

April has been an extremely busy month for new releases, with highly-anticipated albums by several noteworthy artists hitting the stores each week.  Several of these records have lived up to the hype, but the latest album from Alabama Shakes surpassed my wildest expectations to top them all.  Sound & Color sees the band expanding beyond their well-worn retro style, as they explore a wide variety of genres and captivate the listener with their passion and precision.

There is a reason why Alabama Shakes experienced massive success with the release of “Hold On”: the brilliant single was the perfect showcase for Brittany Howard’s powerhouse voice, and it was effectively supported by the band’s ability to reproduce old audience-pleasing blues-rock staples perfectly.  There is also a reason why despite the fact Boys & Girls was certified Gold off the strength of “Hold On”, the rest of the album failed to leave much of a mark.  While it was a perfectly pleasant record, Boys & Girls ended up being a somewhat forgettable album; each song failed to distinguish itself from one another and without a hook as memorable found on “Hold On”, everything eventually bled together.

The same cannot be said for Sound & Color, as Alabama Shakes digs deep into their record collection and delivers songs that filter in 70’s soul, funk, and even garage-rock influences into their blues-based style.*  The album never comes off as a series of dalliances with experimentalism though, and Alabama Shakes never sound like mere tourists,  since the band is able to find a common thread through each of these genres and infuses each song with their own distinct personality.  Each song allows the band to demonstrate their considerable musical chops, but the tracks are so well-composed that none of them sound like a technical exercise; Every guitar riff, organ flourish, and drum fill fit the song perfectly.  To top it off, not only is Howard’s dynamic voice as commanding as ever, she also displays a deft sense of control in fitting it within the style of each song.

Sound & Color fades a bit down the stretch, but the impact of the first three-quarters of the album more than makes up for it.  It is heartening to see Alabama Shakes improve upon the success of their debut by exploring different creative urges, and in the process they created a record that easily outshines their previous work.

*The easiest comparison I can make is to the new musical directions that the Black Keys took once they started collaborating with Danger Mouse, especially on Brothers and Turn Blue.  Though since this is only the second album from Alabama Shakes, the shift will probably be less jarring to the band’s fans.

Catching Up On The Week (Apr. 17 Edition)

Some #longreads as you prepare yourself for Record Store Day…

It should be obvious that we here at Rust Is Just Right love record stores, and so it would seem to follow that we would appreciate the “Record Store Day” celebration.  However, as the “holiday” has grown in recent years, we have begun to realize that the success of the promotion can be a double-edged sword for the very businesses it was meant to protect: a sudden influx of sales can be good, but it means little to these stores if these sales do not create regular customers, and the emphasis on special releases has the problem of crowding out vinyl production, with limited edition records for established artists taking up space initially earmarked for truly independent bands.  Pitchfork has a piece that breaks down in more detail the ambivalent feelings that Record Store Day has generated.

It may sound counterintuitive at first, but the thesis of this Stereogum essay makes more sense the more you think about it–Brian Wilson certainly had an impact on the creation of punk rock.  Elsewhere on the site, the Anniversary Machine takes a look at the tenth anniversary of Alligator from The National, which marked a significant turning point for the band.  The best point made in the article is that despite what some detractors may say, there is a real evolution from Alligator to the present day in The National’s sound.

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is awarding Kanye West with an honorary degree, and FADER has an interview with the president and dean of the school explaining their decision.  Though it has generated a mild amount of heat among a minority of students and some alumni, it is an easily defensible choice, as explained in the piece.

An ugly spat has been brewing between Black Sabbath and drummer Bill Ward, and it has spilled over into the public sphere this week.  Rolling Stone has an interview with Ward explaining the origins of the dispute and the band’s current situation.

The highly-anticipated second album from Alabama Shakes will be released on Tuesday, and Consequence of Sound talked to frontwoman Brittany Howard about Sound & Color as well as the band’s rise to fame.

Finally, Cuepoint has a fantastic piece courtesy of Bethlehem Shoals on the legacy of Percy Sledge, who should be remembered for more than his mammoth hit “When A Man Loves A Woman.”

Over the Weekend (Mar. 2 Edition)

News, music videos, and other fun stuff to help kick off your March

It seems like there has been buzz about the new Kanye West album for months now, but the follow-up to Yeezus finally has a name: “So Help Me God”.  New material has been trickling out for some time now, and today the studio version of the club-friendly “All Day” was released, with an accompanying video to which we will link but not embed because of a certain amount of nudity that may not be welcome in all work establishments (Update: the video has been pulled).

Our favorite video of the week is Action Bronson’s “Actin Crazy”, which mashes up a ridiculous CGI video with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of said goofy video.

Alabama Shakes stopped by Saturday Night Live this weekend in preparation for the April 21 release of Sound & Color.  “Don’t Wanna Fight” was a nice little peppy funk number, but the standout performance was the electric “Gimme All Your Love”.

It wouldn’t be a Monday if we didn’t have random lists, so here’s SPIN ranking every single Oscar Winner for Best Original Song and here’s Loudwire’s list of the 10 Best Stone Temple Pilots songs, which includes just about every song you would hear from them on modern rock radio, with the welcome addition of “Down” from the long-neglected album No. 4 (though I would have hoped they could have found a spot for the closing ballad “Atlanta”).

Followers of The Thermals on Twitter have long known that singer/guitarist Hutch Harris is a funny guy, but they still may have been surprised by his recent forays into stand-up comedy.  Hutch talks to Splitsider about his longtime interest in the form and the difference in performing comedy versus on-stage as part of a band.  But don’t despair Thermals fans, Hutch hasn’t ditched his regular gig yet, and the band is working on a new album as we speak.

And finally, we regret that we weren’t able to post this video when it happened last week, but frankly it has taken this much time just to process what happened: Jimmy Kimmel had Warren G perform his classic “Regulate” with help from Kenny G.  I’m speechless.