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. Also, if you’re one of the lucky folks who get a refund this year, we hope you spend at least part of it on these worthy albums.
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. Alvvays – Blue Rev; Boris – Heavy Rocks; The Chats – Get Fucked; Father John Misty – Chloë and the Next 20th Century; Kiwi Jr. – Chopper; Knifeplay – Animal Drowning; Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong; Wet Leg – Wet Leg. (7 plays) Wet Leg was the hot new band this year that broke through into the mainstream, and I loved everything about their debut except their lead single “Chaise Longue”, so take that for what you will. Sharon Van Etten couldn’t top her previous effort which claimed our top spot a few years back, but her pandemic-inspired record did provide some comfort. Knifeplay is part of the resurgent shoegaze scene, on the more mellow end of the scale. Kiwi Jr. came out with their best effort yet, a fun and hooky indie rock effort that reminded us of a lot of bands, but none of which we could agree was the actual inspiration. Father John Misty dialed it back a notch with his moody new record, but we have the feeling it will have staying power over the years. The Chats put out some brilliantly bratty punk rock (as you might have guessed) that kept our fists and adrenaline pumping. A newfound fascination with the experimental metal of Boris led to their new album leaping onto our list. Alvvays barely makes it in, mainly because we loved their previous albums (but everyone else seems to like this one best).
9. Drug Church – Hygiene; High Vis – Blending; Preoccupations – Arrangements; Sports Team – Gulp!; Wilco – Cruel Country. (8 plays) Wilco keeps up their recent mellow run, but it still doesn’t feel like a chore even at double-album length. Sports Team helped revive memories of the mid-00s British indie rock invasion, but with more cheeky fun and more politically biting lyrics. “Arrangements” is an apropos name for the latest from Preoccupations, because the way the songs fit are intriguing enough, but still there’s something missing compared to their previous albums. High Vis shows that there’s still gold to be mined from 90s alternative rock, especially in the deeper Jane’s Addiction catalog. And Drug Church shows that you can be hardcore and have fun too at the same time.
8. Launder – Happening; Oneida – Success; Peter Matthew Bauer – Flowers. (9 plays) We loved another solo effort from a former Walkmen, but honestly we’re more excited that the guys are back and touring again. Oneida brought back memories of Open Your Heart/New Moon-era The Men, with their fast-charging rock carrying a bit stronger psychedelic streak. Launder was another great leader of the new shoegaze movement, though their reverby guitars are backed by a driving beat that will keep your energy up.
7. Cannons – Fever Dream; Earl Sweatshirt – Sick!; Horsegirl – Versions of Modern Performance; Pusha T – It’s Almost Dry; Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool It Down. (10 plays) If we had not waited so long to pick up the latest from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, this album would have placed much higher on our list; after the uneven Mosquito we find the band reviving the It’s Blitz era, but with a slower more deliberate tempo. We may have heard some of these melodies before, but it never feels like a rip-off. Horsegirl reminded us of the recent debut from Yuck with its inspiration in 90s-era indie rock, but they focused on the scuzzier and more lo-fi end of the spectrum. We first heard Cannons in a beer commercial, but thankfully one of the local stations picked up on the song and put it into their rotation, prompting us to take a listen to their stuff, and we are huge fans of their dream-pop sound.
6. The Beths – Expert In A Dying Field; Orville Peck – Bronco; The Smile – A Light for Attracting Attention. (11 plays) The Radiohead side-project was a pleasant surprise, and their more animated efforts were up to the standard that we expect from the main gig. Orville Peck’s debut has remained a constant in our rotation, which makes us even more upset that the newer, more adventurous album from the goth-country crooner hasn’t been released on disc. The Beths consistently put out some of the tightest, hookiest pop-rock around, and we’re glad to see they’re getting more recognition for it. If the title of the album puts a smile on your face (like “Future Me Hates Me” did before), you’re sure to enjoy the actual music.
5. Chat Pile – God’s Country; Spiritualized – Everything Was Beautiful. (12 plays) Chat Pile proves that what “God’s Country” really needed was a return to the hard-edged noise rock of Big Black; granted, not everyone will have the same appreciation of an opening industrial drum track pierced by the scream of “HAMMERS AND GREASE!” like some of us do, but if you can get past the abrasiveness you can dig in and find real treasure. On the other hand, the best description of the band’s sound we can find is “pure evil”, but that’s not to say it’s anything cartoonish; their sound is best exemplified by the line “real American horror story” which perfectly encapsulates everything they want to say about homelessness in the brilliant “Why”.
On the other hand, Spiritualized is basically on the other end of the spectrum. A companion piece to their brilliant previous record …And Nothing Hurt, the focus here is on the more uplifting parts of life. Even the cacophonous finale “I’m Coming Home Again” finds real beauty in the dissonance.
4. Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future; Fontaines D.C. – Skinty Fia. (13 plays) While we enjoyed their previous albums, it wasn’t until their latest album that we came to fully appreciate the downbeat post-punk with an Irish accent of Fontaines D.C.
Denzel Curry had our song of the year with “Walkin”, a catchy mix that constantly shifts under your feet that never trips you up. The rest of the album comes pretty close to matching it.
3. Buddy – Superghetto; Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa [/Moon]. (14 plays)
We loved Buddy’s overlooked debut Harlan & Alondra, but it didn’t quite match the snap of Superghetto. Quick and to the point, the beats were fun which helped led to replayability, but it didn’t come at the expense of witty and often incisive lyrics.
If there is one thing you can count on in the music world, it’s Spoon putting out a great album. The streak since Girls Can Tell has been incredible, and every time you think their latest is going to fall short, they pull off the impossible and come back with another classic record. This time around they’ve stripped the sound down a bit and shifted some of the focus from synths to guitars, but this isn’t exactly a redo of A Series of Sneaks. Also, special props to the band for putting together a remix album that somehow is good enough on its own but still preserves the original album’s sound.
2. Hurray for the Riff Raff – Life On Earth. (15 plays)
This album is filled with memorable tracks from beginning to end, and a new track becomes stuck in our head with each listen.
1. Bartees Strange – Farm To Table. (16 plays)
We first caught wind of Bartees Strange when we heard of a dude putting together a cover of songs by The National, and you can definitely hear that influence in the song above (we especially love how he captures the ratatat-ratatatatat of the snare). But Bartees is more than just a fan of broody indie rock, and his new album mixes genres without ever sounding just like a tourist taking in different scenes. We also caught his live show a few months back, and the guy is fun as hell (fun fact: last year’s number one artist Pom Pom Squad was set to be the opener, but couldn’t make the show due to mechanical issues with their van. Hopefully they can team up again soon.