Danny Brown

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2019

Today is April 15, and though circumstances are not what they usually are for this time of year, we here at Rust Is Just Right have decided to brighten your spirits a bit by following tradition and releasing 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 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.  Unlike other years, however, we do not recommend spending your stimulus money on these albums, though if you have money to spare consider different ways of supporting your favorite musicians directly.

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.

10. Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿; Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost–Part 2; Jay Som – Anak Ko; Tyler, the Creator – IGOR; Wilco – Ode to Joy (5 plays)

The mood on Danny Brown’s latest was a bit lighter than his previous album Atrocity Exhibition, but the hooks weren’t quite as memorable this time around.  The second half of the ambitious new work from Foals rocked harder than the first from start to finish, with the fiery “The Runner” and the epic “Neptune” as clear standouts, but the lack of variation made it suffer in comparison.  Jay Som provided some of the best lo-fi indie rock of the year, with nifty and inventive melodies (like the hook in “Devotion”).  Tyler and Wilco both continued the path of their most recent releases to dial it down a notch, both to pleasant results.

9. Big K.R.I.T. – K.R.I.T. Iz Here; Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana; Maxo Kream – Brandon Banks (6 plays)

K.R.I.T. followed up RIJR favorite 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time with a solid effort, but most of the best tracks were already released on EPs the previous year.  Bandana mixed fun coke rap with incisive political cracks and Madlib’s production was in fine form.  Maxo Kream showed off one of the most infectious flows of 2019, which made it easy to revisit the album again and again.

8. Beck – Hyperspace; Operators – Radiant Dawn; Titus Andronicus – An Obelisk (7 plays)

Beck continued to operate in “fun” mode like his previous album Colors, but this time the mood is slightly more relaxed, if a bit sedate.  It’s no surprise that we here at RIJR would love whatever project Dan Boeckner (Da Gawd) is working on at the moment, and we were glad to see him return to the synthpop of Operators.  While we were bigger fans of Patrick Stickles’s foray into more “acoustic” songs with A Productive Cough, we were not going to stop him from lashing out and rocking out once again with the furious An Obelisk.

7. Denzel Curry – ZUU; Mannequin Pussy – Patience (8 plays)

We initially were skeptical of Denzel Curry, but his fiery cover of “Bulls on Parade” converted us into fans, and Curry keeps the energy up on the raucous ZUU.  One shouldn’t assume that Mannequin Pussy is our (by now) token female garage rock choice, because the group showed off chops and ambition that far outstrip that kind of pigeonholing.

6. DIIV – Deceiver; Orville Peck – Pony (9 plays)

Considering Slowdive grabbed the top spot a couple of years ago and My Bloody Valentine’s previous high ranking when they returned before that, it should not be a surprise to find a shoegaze album on the list.  The shock is from DIIV accomplishing the feat–sure, their bouncy, surf-style jangle music skirted around the genre, but we couldn’t have expected them to recreate some of the most unique sounds from the legends of the genre and find cool new ways to use them.  Of course, longtime readers are probably more surprised to see a country album this high up on our list, but Orville is no ordinary cowboy.  However, if there were more artists that could croon like Roy Orbison and back it with gorgeous spare guitar, then maybe we would see more representation from that genre on this list in the future.

5. Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost–Part 1 (10 plays)

We got a sense of the scope of the ambitions Foals had with their first release of the year, and honestly the album could have been fine as a stand-alone.  Not as heavy as their recent efforts, but the band compensated by experimenting with different instruments and tones while also focusing on finding new grooves.  It may have been a little bit more difficult to get into at first, but the efforts pay off.

4. The National – I Am Easy to Find (11 plays)

Oh wow, what a surprise–RIJR loves an album from The National!  However, the relatively low placement may throw some of our loyal readers for a loop.  Much like the rest of their catalog, it takes several listens for I Am Easy to Find to get nested and settled in your head, but again like the rest of their catalog, the effort is worth it.  The inclusion of guest vocals from a variety of women helps the album stand out in their discography, and their contributions provide an excellent counterpoint to Berninger’s sonorous baritone.  In the end, a sagging middle section blunts the momentum of an otherwise excellent addition to the band’s discography, but we guarantee you will love hearing these songs live.

3. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (12 plays)

We never got the chance to dive into the excellent work of the Silver Jews, but that was beginning to change with the release of David Berman’s new project Purple Mountains.  We once again had his trademark imagery and wordplay, but this time with a fuller and more expansive backing band.  Unfortunately the album was forever marked by Berman’s subsequent suicide a few weeks after its release, and it remains almost impossible to listen to this beautiful masterpiece without that knowledge hanging in the air.  Still, David was up front and blunt about his struggles, and we are all the better for him describing them to us in such vivid detail.  Somehow, lines like “All the suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind” become even more poignant with every passing day.

2. Bon Iver  – i,i (14 plays)

This was the year we became full-fledged acolytes to the Bon Iver experience and are ready to spread the gospel of Justin Vernon and Co.’s genius.  Their latest can best be described as a synthesis of their previous work–you have the experimentalist aspects of 22, A Million mixed with the 80s soft jazz/synth sounds of bon iver, bon iver with the classic falsetto seen in For Emma, Forever Ago.  The ability of the group to use a cut-and-paste approach (and then recreate them live) continues to amaze us, and has led to some incredible results.

1. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (16 plays)

We have long been champions of Sharon Van Etten, and we were immensely overjoyed to see her put together one of the finest albums top-to-bottom of recent years, followed by tours that saw her playing far bigger venues than ever before (moving up from the cozy confines of the Doug Fir to selling out the Crystal Ballroom is quite the jump, which was quickly followed up by opening for Bon Iver on their arena tour).  The music may have shifted from traditional guitar-based singer-songwriter styles to a more electronics-heavy approach, but none of the magic was lost.  Remind Me Tomorrow is an incredibly dense and layered record, and listeners will pick out wonderful new details each time through.  But what still remains is Sharon’s incredible voice, as well as her captivating and exemplary lyrics, wringing out incredible emotion from every note.  Just about every song deserves its own full-post write-up, but we’ll leave you with our pick for song of the year, “Seventeen”.

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2016

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.

Review: Ghostface Killah/BADBADNOTGOOD – Sour Soul

Ghostface Killah is in the middle of a furious creative outburst, and though for simplicity’s sake this review is nominally about Sour Soul,* it is necessary to examine Ghostface’s most recent collaboration in relation to his recent output.  It is tempting to lump together Twelve Reasons to Die36 Seasons, and Sour Soul as a trilogy, but considering that Twelve Reasons will have an official sequel of its own that would be a mistake.  Despite the fact that there is no official connective thread between them, this trio of albums do share a similar commitment to musical exploration of older genres that provide fertile ground for Ghostface’s preferred lyrical themes.  Twelve Reasons to Die, one of our favorite albums from 2013 (and an honorable mention on our best-of list), remains the best of the group, but Sour Soul comes close to reaching its peak and helps overcome some of the weakness of its immediate predecessor.

Adrian Younge’s spaghetti western/Italian horror-influenced production provided the perfect template for Ghostface on Twelve Reasons; the music contained the right amount of sinister ambiance to complement Ghostface’s pulpy tale of the revenge sought by a gangster spirit, a storyline as bizarre as it was captivating.  Younge’s use of vibrato guitars, jazzy organ flourishes, and expertly arranged strings all contributed to an enthralling soundtrack in its own right that perfectly evoke a 70’s-era noir film, with anachronistic touches like expertly deployed turntables helping provide a refreshing twist.   Younge was able to match the changing moods dictated by the demands of the plot without ever overpowering the rappers.  Ghostface shares the load mainly with fellow Wu-Tang Clan members who drop in to flesh out additional characters, with Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck in particular supplying memorable guest verses.  The success of all these elements coming together set up high expectations when the 36 Seasons and Sour Soul projects were announced.

With 36 Seasons, Ghostface kept up the throwback vibe, but opted for a more old-school R&B feel with the help of backing group The Revelations.  While the combination initially seems promising, unfortunately the album loses steam by the end.  Unlike Twelve Reasons, Ghostface is unable to keep the listener absorbed throughout the record with the storyline of Tony Stark’s return after nine years away from home.  The instrumentals on their own are often a bright spot, and the various interludes are well done, but too often 36 Seasons seems to drift along instead of settling into a true groove.  At several points Ghostface seems to drop out of the picture entirely, as guest verses make up an outsize presence on the record, leaving the listener to assume that there simply was not as much enthusiasm for this particular release.

Sour Soul ends up being somewhat of a mix of styles between the two previous albums, with BADBADNOTGOOD adopting elements of funk and R&B along with some of the more outlandish aspects of Younge’s work, most notably the vibrato guitar lines.  There is a sense of fun and adventurous on this record that was absent on 36 Seasons, which helps keep the listener fully immersed into the music.  Though the album suffers from the weakness of its underlying storyline like its predecessor, BADBADNOTGOOD provides enough variety to overcome this flaw, and shifts between a wide variety of genres with ease.  There are fewer guest spots on Sour Soul, but each emcee not only provides a strong presence but is helped by the fact that none of them are in Ghostface’s usual stable–they range from MF DOOM, Elzhi, to Danny Brown, the last of whom provided a smile to my face by dropping a reference to Toccara in 2015, even if his muppet-like style can be grating.

Ghostface simply sounds more engaged with Sour Soul, as if he enjoys the challenge of BADBADNOTGOOD and their ability to go in unexpected directions mid-song; even when Ghostface is covering tired cliches, he’s able to do so in an entertaining manner, as in the pimp’s lament “Tone’s Rap”.  Perhaps the best example of the difference between 36 Seasons and Sour Soul is that on the former he merely repeats the classic Wu-Tang line “cash rules everything around me” on “Double Cross”, while in the latter he plays with the callback a bit, declaring “money is the root to all evil, that cash rule” on “Food”.  Even though Sour Soul flies by too quickly at a little over a half hour, it ends up being a more satisfying experience because it packs a greater creative punch.  Hopefully Twelve Reasons to Die II will do more of the same.

*It ended up being too difficult a task to come up with a title that incorporated all three albums and did not create a formatting nightmare, but hopefully the greater context provides a more helpful review