Blur

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.

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Catching Up On The Week (Sept. 11 Edition)

A few #longreads for your enjoyment this weekend…

There were only a handful of articles worth perusing this week, but be sure to read this piece by legendary Rush drummer Neil Peart for TeamRock.  The piece is a response to a compliment from Queens of the Stone Age/The Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore for one of Peart’s solos, and Neil explains the narrative behind the solo.  It is fascinating to see the amount of effort and backstory that went into its creation, and also shows that indeed there is some “craft” to drumming.

Alternative Nation had another interesting piece with this interview with ESPN sportscaster Kenny Mayne in which he discusses his relationship with Pearl Jam, and includes some great anecdotes about seeing the group’s famous Benaroya and Wrigley Field shows, among others.

Rolling Stone has a brief interview with former Dirty Projectors member Angel Deradoorian, who just recently released her excellent solo debut, The Exploding Flower Planet.  It was a much more pleasant experience than this caustic interview by Spin with Public Image Ltd.’s John Lydon, but that should probably have been expected.

Finally, a couple of anniversary pieces from Stereogum, though you may want to skip over them.  First, there’s a tenth-anniversary retrospective of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s self-titled debut, which is used as an excuse to bash on the concept of “blog rock” and take some undeserved shots at the group.  The twentieth-anniversary appreciation of Blur’s The Great Escape is a bit better, though it is not one of the band’s best works.  However, it does have the appropriate appreciation for “The Universal”, which is easily one of the greatest songs that Blur ever recorded.

Catching Up On The Week (July 31 Edition)

Some #longreads as we enter the most boring month on the calendar…

We have entered the dog days of summer, and as such this invites commentary and features discussing the fabled “song of the summer.”  Contrary to what you may think, the “song of the summer” is not a recent phenomenon, and Vox discusses the surprisingly long history of the term.

Here is a great interview with Conrad Keely of …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead done by the Australian website The Music that discusses the band’s surprisingly long history and the friendship at the center of the group that has endured over the years.

The Guardian sits down for an interview with all four members of Blur as they return to Hong Kong, the inspiration for their comeback album The Magic Whip.  In addition to learning the details on how the band’s dynamic has changed over the years and the specific influence of Honk Kong on the record, be on the lookout for a fun anecdote involving shenanigans with Lou Barlow (though he is not mentioned by name). [Ed. Note: The timeline of the story seems to indicate that these shenanigans took place after Lou Barlow left the band, so “Dinosaur Jr. bassist” seems to be an apt description]

We recently reviewed Vaadat Charigim’s new album Sinking as a Stone, and maybe we should have read this interview with CMJ beforehand, as they make sure to distinguish themselves from other groups given the “shoegaze” label.

The AV Club ruminates on the nature of the mp3 as a medium, as the listening public shifts towards streaming.

And finally, following up on one of our earliest pieces, the New York Times is reporting new evidence in the fight against the “Happy Birthday” copyright.  Don’t worry, there is hardly any legal jargon involved.

Catching Up On The Week (July 17 Edition)

Some #longreads for your brief moments indoors as you beat the heat…

Rust Is Just Right is heading to Project Pabst up in Portland this weekend, but we are providing some reading materials for those who are unable to make the trek themselves.

Speaking of Portland, Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse had an interesting interview with the media in Poland that was reprinted in Willamette Week where he lets loose on the uglier side of “Portlandia”.  After digesting that, be sure to read this extensive profile of Isaac, which documents the making of Strangers to Ourselves and proves that Buzzfeed can actually produce something of worth.  Then you can top it all off with a quick look at the video for Modest Mouse’s latest single, the bouncy “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box.”

The biggest news of the day is the much-anticipated release of Currents, the new album from Tame Impala.  During our absence, record release dates have shifted in the United States and now they more closely follow the schedule used by the rest of the world, hence the Friday premiere.  To help prepare you for Currents, check out Pitchfork’s feature on the man behind Tame Impala, Kevin Parker.

We enjoyed immensely the return of Blur, giving high praise to their comeback album The Magic Whip.  Billboard has a fun interview with Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon talking about how the reunion came together and the influence of Hong Kong on the record.

Deadspin offers this op-ed which serves a strong defense for 90’s nostalgia favorite, Third Eye Blind.  We find nothing wrong at all with this stance.

Finally, this week saw the AV Club start a new column called “Version Tracker”, where they analyze a song and the various covers that have been performed over the years.  This is remarkably like our own feature, Covered.  We do not claim any bad intentions on their part, since it is unlikely that deliberately took our idea.  If however the AV Club would like to acknowledge our part in creating as the first comment on the piece state, “a damn brilliant concept for a feature,” we would appreciate that, if not some other sort of compensation.

Over the Weekend (May 18 Edition)

New music, new videos, and other fun stuff as we recover from illness*…

Run The Jewels are seemingly intent on releasing videos for every track from last year’s stellar release Run The Jewels 2, and the video for “Early” might be their best one yet.  The video tackles the topic of police brutality like previous single “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)”, but opting for animation this go-around.

Ghostface Killah has been extremely busy lately, releasing 36 Seasons last year and Sour Soul with BADBADNOTGOOD earlier this year, and later this summer he will be releasing the sequel to the fantastic concept album Twelve Reasons To Die.  Today Ghostface released the first track from the collaboration with Adrian Younge, with fellow Wu-Tang member Raekwon contributing to “Return of the Savage”.  Stereogum has the SoundCloud link.

Tame Impala keeps trickling out new tracks from their upcoming album Currents, as “Eventually” was released last week.

Noisey talks to Yuck’s Max Bloom about one of his favorite new bands, and he uses the opportunity to talk about Vaadat Charigim.  It was pretty obvious that Max had great taste in 90’s indie rock considering his band’s own albums, and it sounds like he has a great ear for shoegaze as well.

Rolling Stone has the surreal short film that Soundgarden used to introduce their Superunknown tour, so those of us who were unable to attend that tour can find out what they missed.

Having previously compiled a playlist for another band with an expansive and eclectic discography (Built To Spill), the AV Club provides a service once again for those looking to get further into the music of Blur.  The result, sad to say, is not particularly good, and features the writer completely misunderstanding the Metacritic grading system (as witnessed multiple times in the comments, where she defends saying that The Magic Whip got “mixed reviews” when by their own metric Metacritic gives it a “Universal Approval” stamp).

Finally, the music world lost one of its greatest members, and a true titan, with the death of B.B. King late last week.  Billboard provides an excellent look at King’s legendary career.

*We apologize for our absence, as a stomach flu hit our writing staff with a vengeance last week.  We will run the planned Thursday post tomorrow, and then proceed as normal.  Not only did we lose two days of articles, but the illness also prevented us from covering a performance from one of our favorite live acts, Local H.  Hopefully they swing by again as soon as possible.

Review: Blur – The Magic Whip

Over on this side of the Atlantic, news of a long-awaited Blur reunion album has been greeted with a collective shrug.  It is a reaction that is indicative of the band’s general reception in the US, but not befitting of the group’s sustained greatness over the course of their career.  Most American listeners remember Blur more-or-less as a one-hit wonder (“oh yeah, those guys that did the ‘Woo-hoo!’ song!“), which is a shame because that particular attempt to taking the piss out of grunge is hardly indicative of the band’s diverse body of work.

Blur’s albums have been eclectic and sprawling affairs, with the band shifting effortlessly between different genres over the course of the record, and The Magic Whip follows that template as well.  Unlike the band’s previous work though, there are no big singles to be found on the new record; it is unlikely that a crowd favorite like “Tender” or “Beetlebum” or “To the End” will emerge from this set of songs.  Fans should not be discouraged however–though Blur does not reach the peaks that they have in the past, overall this is perhaps the band’s strongest group of songs since their self-titled release, and it improves with every listen.

It is rather remarkable how little The Magic Whip resembles the typical comeback album.  The effort compares favorably to the recent Dinosaur Jr. reunion, as Blur sounds like they never broke up in the first place; listening to The Magic Whip in conjunction with the rest of the band’s discography, the novice listener would have no idea that there was a sixteen-year gap between the new album and the previous full-lineup incarnation.  There are no attempts to cash in on any modern trends, nor are there any painful attempts to recapture the glory of their youth; perhaps this is the payoff for all that restlessness and genre-shifting from their previous albums earlier in their career.  Blur never really had a typical sound, so they are free to experiment however they would like.

Contrary to what one may expect, there is only a moderate influence that can be detected from Damon Albarn’s myriad side-projects since the band’s last album; there is a bit of dub that recalls The Good, The Bad & The Queen, a bit of the melancholy that marked his recent solo album Everyday Robots, but little that is reminiscent of Gorillaz.  Instead, it is a much more cohesive affair than what would have been predicted, especially considering the background behind the recording of the album (it was put together during the downtime of a cancelled music festival over the course of a few short days).  In general, The Magic Whip is a laid-back affair, and some of the album’s best moments are when the band takes it down a notch and stretches out a bit, such as in the drifting “Mirrorball” or the appropriately-named “I Thought I Was A Spaceman”.  Of course, Blur is never content to just stick around mining the same groove, so there are a fair number of uptempo numbers, most notably the cheery “Ong Ong”.  It is an effervescent song that is placed perfectly near the end of the album, serving as an excellent capstone to the record, and will have you singing along with its refrain of “I wanna be with you” long after the whole thing is over.

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.

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Over the Weekend (Apr. 20 Edition)

News, new music, and other fun stuff as you celebrate today’s “holiday”

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had its induction ceremony this past weekend, and while we won’t be able to see the concert for a couple of months, bits of news have been floating around and low-quality video of some of the performances have surfaced.  The various performances for Lou Reed’s induction are probably the most intriguing, with Beck performing “Satellite of Love” and Karen O with bandmate Nick Zinner taking a stab at “Vicious”.  Of course, no story that mentions the Hall would be complete without mentioning the countless times the committee has failed, so after reading about the specifics of the induction process enjoy a slideshow that argues for the inclusion of 40 other artists.

We are excited for the release of Built to Spill’s latest album, Untethered Moon, tomorrow, and to help our readers get in the mood, we are sharing Consequence of Sound’s 10 song summation of the band as well as the group’s latest video for “Never Be The Same”, a sequel of sorts to the previous “Living Zoo”.

The sight of goofy old people dancing is always fun, which is why it was also the basis for another recent video, “Lonesome Street” from Blur.

Fucked Up has released the B-Side to their yearly EP release based on the Chinese Zodiac, with Pitchfork providing the stream.  Year of the Hare will be released on June 16, but you can listen to “California Cold” now.

We usually do not discuss press releases from the Norway Ministry of Culture, but their announcement over the weekend that the country will shut down FM radio stations in the next two years caught our attention.  Some of my fondest memories are from my time working at a small FM alternative station, so in spite of the fact that in the specific case of Norway this seems to be a smart way to move forward (the fact that they only have five stations as a nation as well as the prevalence of Digital Audio Broadcasting channels seems like it will not be a particularly disruptive shift), it is still jarring to read.  Let us hope that they come up with a way to update all those car stereos before the change is fully implemented.

Over the Weekend (Mar. 23 Edition)

Some news, new music, and new videos as you get over your post-SXSW hangover…

Modest Mouse stopped by CBS News on Saturday morning to perform songs from their latest album Strangers to Ourselves, with frontman Isaac Brock also sitting down for a quick interview to go over what happened in the time since the release of We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.  Though many sites have posted videos of a couple of the songs they performed, the band’s Facebook post has links to all three performance videos and the interview.  The band also released the official video for the single “Lampshades on Fire”, featuring a lot of jump-cuts and one crazy party.

Though “Lampshades” was the first single released from the album, it strangely is the second video, as the video for the ballad “Coyotes” was previously released.

Blur shared another track from their upcoming Magic Whip, and “Lonesome Street” should please fans with fond memories of the band’s Parklife era.  Of course, Blur’s albums are fairly diverse affairs, and the singles released by the band so far proves that Magic Whip will be no different in this regard.

Built To Spill has released another song from Untethered Moon, the sweet and poppy “Never Be The Same”; it is available instantly along with the previously released jam “Living Zoo” when you pre-order the album now, which is available on vinyl for Record Store Day this year and on disc on April 21st.

Action Bronson is releasing his major-label debut this week, and right now Mr. Wonderful is available for streaming, if that is your preferred method of consumption.  This brief interview Bronson did with GQ should convince you to check it out.

Speaking of streams, a couple of major albums that will be released next week can now be streamed, with Death Cab for Cutie’s Kintsugi available on NPR and Sufjan Stevens’s Carrie & Lowell available at multiple sites.

Finally, enjoy this video from last week’s South by Southwest of comedian Hannibal Buress sitting behind the kit for Speedy Ortiz in a terrible, terrible performance of “MKVI”.

Over the Weekend (Feb. 23 Edition)

New music, new videos, and other fun stuff as you prepare for when the revolution comes

Holy shit guys, we’re actually going to get a new Blur record!  Damon Albarn has apparently found some time in between his three hundred musical projects to record an album with his old mates, as The Magic Whip will be released here in the States on April 28.  As an appetizer, here’s the bizarre lyric video for the weird new song “Go Out”.

Normally, we would have this new video occupy our lead spot–after all, it includes not only a song from one of the best albums of the year so far, but also features some of our favorite television characters as well.  However, it’s not everyday that Blur announces a new album, so the Bob’s Burgers-themed video for Sleater-Kinney’s “A New Wave” gets the second slot, but it should make you happy nonetheless.

NPR has a couple of new albums streaming on their site that are worth sharing: first, Swervedriver returns for their first record in nearly twenty years with I Wasn’t Born To Lose You, and then there’s Of Montreal offering up Aureate Gloom for your pleasure.

Father John Misty stopped by The Strombo Show, and during that appearance he covered the Leonard Cohen classic “Bird on the Wire”.  It’s a bit jarring at first to hear the song without Cohen’s trademark baritone, but Joshua Tillman still makes a fine version.

Death Cab For Cutie have shared another new track from Kintsugi, which will be out by the end of March, called “No Room in Frame”.

Vox takes a look at Eric Malmi’s attempt to determine the Best Rapper Alive by looking at the use of assonant rhyme.  As with most data-intensive looks at creative endeavors, take it with a grain of salt.

And finally, have some fun as the satirical website Clickhole asks the question “How Well Do You Know The Lyrics to Radiohead’s ‘Creep’?” with their ridiculous quiz.