Today is April 18, and while the rest of the nation trudges through another Tax Day (a few days later this year), we here at Rust Is Just Right choose this occasion to return from the dead and 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. Alcest – Kodama; Angel Olsen – My Woman; A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service; Bon Iver – 22, A Million; Pity Sex – White Hot Moon; Summer Cannibals – Full of It (7 plays)
Garage rock is still a dominant trend in indie circles these days, and Summer Cannibals with their fiery energy and Pity Sex with their peppy melodies represent the best of the scene. As for Tribe, who knows what was more surprising–that the group reunited or that its comeback effort was so good, able to call back to their 90’s heyday without sounding like retreads. Many have pointed out the influence that Alcest has had on Deafheaven (frontman Neige even appeared on the latter’s groundbreaking Sunbather for a spoken-word contribution), and it looks like the tables have turned–after going in a softer direction in Shelter, Alcest brought some edge back (and a few shouts) to their melodic mix of shoegaze and metal. Bon Iver continues to experiment with loops and vocal effects (in the vein of his work in Volcano Choir) moving further and further away from the delicate acoustic of For Emma, Forever Ago; however, the result is still some gorgeously moving music. Angel Olsen was one of the artists that we picked up on after reading year-end lists, and we quickly became fans of her versatility, with an album that ranges from classic retro numbers to sweeping epics.
9. Chance the Rapper – Colouring Book; Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression (8 plays)
If you were looking for inspiration or a quick pick-me-up, the best place to look last year was the ebullient Chance the Rapper. His mix of gospel and hip-hop helped create some of the best songs from last year, but the album as a whole seemed to run a little to long. Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age helped Iggy Pop stun audiences and critic with a great comeback album, mining the sounds of Pop’s landmark solo efforts Lust For Life and The Idiot. The new songs mixed seamlessly with the classic material when they were out on tour, and together they put together one of the best shows we saw last year.
8. Dinosaur Jr. – Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not; Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine; Mitski – Puberty 2; Parquet Courts – Human Performance (9 plays)
With their latest, Dinosaur Jr. has now put together more great albums in their reunion years (four) than in their original golden era (three-ish). Parquet Courts rebounded with an album that stood up to repeated listens much better than the at-times grating Sunbathing Animal, and songs like “Berlin Got Blurry” stuck with us long after the fact. Hamilton Leithauser formally teamed up with Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend) for his second solo effort (after collaborating on a couple of tracks for Black Hours), with the result being a record that effectively matched Hamilton’s remarkable and unique voice with doo-wop, old country, and soft ballads. Mitski was another find from the critics lists, and we only wished we had come across her inventive explorations of identity and depression sooner.
7. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition; Deftones – Gore; M83 – Junk (10 plays)
We continue to be amazed at the ability of the Deftones to continually put out great new records in a genre where bands can quickly grow stale; perhaps more impressive was how Gore did not have any big singles but was still able to hold your attention from beginning to end. A lot of people dismissed Junk when it first came out, but we quickly grew to love it once we realized the truth in the title; the complaints about the sequencing of the album have some merit, but we enjoyed the detours into what seemed like theme songs from lost 80’s French TV shows. Plus, Anthony Gonzalez deserves all the credit in the world for his ability to use a Steve Vai guitar solo effectively. Danny Brown’s voice can grate on people, but if you can accept his B-Real-style vocals, then it’s easier to plumb into one of the most musically adventurous hip-hop albums in years.
6. The Besnard Lakes – A Coliseum Complex Museum; Radiohead – A Moon-Shaped Pool; The Thermals – We Disappear (11 plays)
This is the part of the list where old favorites take up residence. The latest from the Besnard Lakes was a bit of a disappointment, though it ends on an incredible high note that makes one wonder why they didn’t build the whole album out of this song. Radiohead returned with a much better version of what they previously attempted with the forgettable The King of Limbs, though the best song from the sessions comes only on the deluxe edition (the rejected version of their theme to Spectre). However, we don’t need any caveats to explain how The Thermals ended up this high on the list, as we enjoyed how they were able to meld the better parts of their recent work (the energy of Desperate Ground, the insight and thoughtfulness of Personal Life).
5. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial; Operators – Blue Wave (12 plays)
Come for the lo-fi guitar rocks, stay for the incisive wit and deep explorations of the young psyche with Car Seat Headrest. Teens of Denial is an album that grows with each listen, and amazingly never feels as long as its 70-minute runtime. Dan Boeckner never lets us down, and we were big fans of his latest side-project Operators, which brightens the sound of his previous drum machine-and-guitars outfit Handsome Furs. The man effortlessly comes up with great melodies, and the new wave keyboards are a nice touch.
4. LVL UP – Return to Love (13 plays)
We were excited to find a new band that apparently loves the classic Elephant 6 sound as much as we do, with the song “Hidden Driver” especially reminding us of On Avery Island-era Neutral Milk Hotel. However, the band switches between three different songwriters, which leads to a more varied record than one might expect, though all hit in that sweet spot of classic alternative/indie rock.
3. The Avalanches – Wildflower (14 plays)
Another comeback album that a lot of people seemed to have forgotten, we immediately fell in love with Wildflower. Yes, Since I Left You is now a classic in some circles, but this was another brilliant mix of countless samples and original music that we kept revisiting over and over again. Also, we might argue that “Because I’m Me” was the song of last summer and of many summers to come.
2. Preoccupations – Preoccupations (15 plays)
We initially were underwhelmed by the announced name change, but we were much more impressed by this sophomore effort from this Canadian foursome. The band built on the promise of the second half of Viet Cong and released a post-punk masterpiece. This time the centerpiece of the album comes right in the middle, with the epic three-part “Memory”; the middle section with guest vocalist Dan Boeckner might be some of the most gorgeous music we heard all of last year.
1. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years (17 plays)
We still believe that LOSE should be considered the band’s masterpiece, but we became serious fans of the band’s followup to that incredible album after repeated plays in our car. It may be a step back in terms of ambition, but there are plenty of hooks throughout the record, and you may find yourself humming different songs each day of the week. The band is still capable of packing an emotional punch as well, and the layers reveal themselves after multiple listens. At the end of the day, this is the album we always would default to when deciding what to play, and that may be as good a reason as any to make it our album of the year.