Deafheaven

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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Deafheaven, Live at the Wonder Ballroom

Though they have stormed onto the scene on the strength of two critically-acclaimed albums, perhaps the only stronger consensus surrounding Deafheaven is their thrilling and intense live show.  On Monday night, the band lived up to that reputation with a brilliant and electrifying show at the Wonder Ballroom that left the crowd craving even more.

Bathed in blue (though not Baby Blue)

Bathed in blue (though not Baby Blue)

For this show, the band performed their latest album New Bermuda in its entirety from front-to-back, with a brief appearance at the halfway mark from last year’s “From the Kettle Onto the Coil”, a single that in retrospect served as an excellent bridge between albums.  Though the band eschewed the various interludes that are sprinkled throughout New Bermuda, opting not to bring along a piano for some of those gorgeous passages, the group otherwise did an excellent job of recreating the technical intricacies of the record in a live setting.

Guitarist Kerry McCoy showed off his skills throughout the night, and second guitarist Shiv Mehra contributed a couple of excellent solos as well.  Drummer Dan Tracy was a sight to behold as well–it was a marvel seeing him lay down an easy groove up top with the barest hint of effort, while his feet were engaged in a frenzy delivering double-bass drum kicks.  Vocalist George Clarke played the part of conductor, acting out many of the instrumental parts with a variety of hand gestures in a way that I am sure many members of the audience had done in the past as well.  As the rest of the band was mainly concerned with getting their complex parts just right, Clarke stepped up to the role as showman, as he stalked the stage or dropped to his knees to deliver his impassioned shouts.

As great as the new record sounded live, the show went up another level when the band returned to play “Dream House” for the encore.  The opening track from Sunbather whipped the crowd into a frenzy, and the feeling in the room was electric.  Though the band is probably tired of the song after touring relentlessly behind the album, their performance was fresh and awe-inspiring.  If only we could have heard the rest of the album as well.

A clearer view of the group

A clearer view of the group

The band dedicated their set and the tour to their opening act, the death metal group Tribulation.  Though metal is only an occasional indulgence on my part, I enjoyed their set as well.  They did an excellent job in preparing the crowd for the main act, as many in the audience were impressed by their technical virtuosity, if not their elaborate theatricality.

Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 16 Edition)

A few #longreads for your enjoyment this weekend…

You might need to find something else to do this weekend than find new music articles to read, because we only have a few pieces to share with our readers for this edition.  One article that we do recommend is this discussion of Deafheaven’s new album New Bermuda in Pitchfork that somehow ties the album to Lana Del Rey, but is definitely worth reading if solely for the analysis of the record alone.  Also, since Deafheaven is set to perform in Portland on Monday, now is the perfect time to check it out.

Elsewhere on Pitchfork, Josh Langhoff has a fascinating look at the strange history behind the song “El Karma” and the saga of narcocorridos in contemporary Mexican culture.

In an amazing coincidence, there were two articles on the iconic and innovative group Suicide published this week.  The Quietus has an excerpt from a new biography on the band as well as a Q&A with the author of Dream Baby Dream, Kris Needs, while Noisey has a first-person recollection of the group.

Finally, it seems like we have a link to this story every few months, but here is another scientific explanation behind the cover art that was used for Joy Division’s seminal debut, Unknown Pleasures, courtesy of Scientific American.

Review: Deafheaven – New Bermuda

Now this is how you follow up a masterpiece.  With New Bermuda, Deafheaven have matched the brilliance of their universally-beloved album Sunbather, and have created another record filled with thrilling, triumphant climaxes and breathtakingly gorgeous moments that show the power and diversity of metal as a genre.  New Bermuda works both as a cohesive whole as well as five fantastic individual tracks, as each listen prompts me to proclaim a new track as my definitive favorite.

To answer the first question that is on every non-metalhead’s mind when it comes to Deafheaven: yes, George Clarke still employs that banshee-yelling technique on every song.  In fact, the vocals are a bit more prominent in the mix than they were on Sunbather, but they might be an even better fit with the accompanying music on New Bermuda.  At the same time, while Clarke’s delivery is as harsh as ever, his “diction” has become clearer, with individual phrases easier to parse than before–to this day, the only phrase I can pick out from Sunbather is the line “I want to dream” from “Dream House”, and that was only after several listens and a careful look at the lyric sheet.  In other words, those turned off by this facet of Deafheaven’s sound are unlikely to be converted with New Bermuda, but those who appreciate/have made peace with it will have no problem.

While there are still several moments where Deafheaven incorporates elements of shoegaze into their black metal style, New Bermuda finds the band adding more concepts from traditional metal into their songs.  Whereas Sunbather was characterized by brick walls of guitars creating dense chords with shifting, underlying melodies, New Bermuda often focuses more on riff-based songwriting and single-note solos.  In terms of the tone and complexity of these riffs, the band finds a spot where early-Metallica and late-System of a Down meet, evoking Leviathan-era Mastodon as well with their furious churning nature.  In addition to the fantastic work from guitarist Kerry McCoy, who adds a wah-inflected solo and subtle slidework to his repertoire, drummer Dan Tracy shines once again with his furious but precise work behind the kit, alternating between blastbeats and more subtle grooves.

The post-rock interludes that distinguished Sunbather from other metal records are now integrated into the songs themselves, as they often dissolve into beautiful instrumental passages marked by guitars drenched in reverb and delay (among other effects) atop subtle, rolling drums.  These moments go beyond the usual Explosions in the Sky comparisons and recall some of the more lyrical moments of Slowdive, an intersection of post-rock and shoegaze that is especially evident in the outro to “Come Back”.  There is only one noticeable Godspeed-like field recording this time, a brief and cryptic snippet of a traffic announcement warning about the closure of the George Washington Bridge.

There is no single moment that approaches transcendence, as they were able to accomplish with “Dream House” and “The Pecan Tree” on Sunbather, but New Bermuda as an album is every bit as equal.  It is crazy that this is as close to criticism as I can get for this record, but New Bermuda is that much of an accomplishment.  Deafheaven have now firmly established themselves as one of the most important groups of the current era, and have laid the groundwork for a long and fruitful career.

Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 9 Edition)

Some #longreads that have been carefully selected for your reading pleasure…

We have spent the week blasting Deafheaven’s excellent new album, New Bermuda, over and over again.  Before you read our review of the album next week, we recommend you check out this interview with the band from VH-1, which goes into great detail about the making of the follow-up to the universally-acclaimed Sunbather.

Before Elliott Smith became a beloved solo artist, his music career began as a member of the up-and-coming Portland rock band Heatmiser.  Though the group is largely seen as a footnote to Smith’s career, they had a solid career in their own right, and are set to be inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame this weekend.  David Greenwald of The Oregonian catches up for a rare interview with the other members of Heatmiser for a look back at their career.

Alan Sparhawk from Low talks to The Skinny in a deeply personal interview, and reveals among other things the meaning behind the title Ones and Sixes.  For the record, we were on the right track with our guess about minimums and maximums in our review of the album, though we were off on the specific reference.  Another follow-up worth checking out is this Vox interview with John Seabrook, author of The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, which provides additional anecdotes about the mysterious mega-successful songwriter Max Martin.

Next week sees the release of Deerhunter’s Fading Frontier, and Bradford Cox once again provides an entertaining interview, this time with Observer.

Finally, we have our usual anniversary pieces.  First, Allmusic interviews singer Ed Kowalczyk about his former band Live’s massively successful Throwing Copper, and about his current solo acoustic tour in celebration of the album.  We are guessing that many of you did not realize that Ed had left the group, and to be honest, we did not know this either.  Then you can finish up with this look back at another huge album from 1995, Tragic Kingdom from No Doubt.  If anything, this gives you a chance to sing “Just a Girl” and “Don’t Speak” in your bedroom as loud as you can.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 21 Edition)

New music, videos, and news to kick off your week…

Eagles of Death Metal are set to release their first album in seven years, and the duo sat down for an interview with Rolling Stone that was in equal parts hilarious and eloquent, which should not be a surprise to anyone with a passing familiarity with their particular exploits.

Another fun interview worth checking out is the one SPIN conducted with Wayne Coyne about the twentieth anniversary of Clouds Taste Metallic, which touched on such topics as to how The Flaming Lips ended up on the Batman Forever soundtrack and the circumstances of the departure of guitarist Ronald Jones from the group.

Ought just came out with their second album last week, and Sun Coming Down has been greeted with rave reviews so far.  For those looking for a taste as to how the new album sounds, the band shared the video to the almost-title track “Sun’s Coming Down” last week.

With the breakthrough success of their album Sunbather still fresh in the minds of critics and fans, Deafheaven’s New Bermuda is set to be one of the most highly anticipated releases of the fall.  They should be highly pleased with the release of the song “Come Back”, as it incorporates many of the elements that people loved about Sunbather with some additional metal touches thrown in for good measure.

New Bermuda is not the only big album being released next Friday, as V from Wavves is also coming out on October 2nd.  The band shared the wrestling-themed video for the single “Way Too Much” last week, and it should get you pumped.

DIIV released the single “Dopamine” last week from their upcoming album Is The Is Are, and you can take a listen to the driving and infectious jangle-pop track through the band’s SoundCloud page.

Diffuser provides a look at the history of the photograph that Rage Against the Machine used for the self-titled debut, providing a bit of context to the unforgettable image of  Quảng Đức’s self-immolation.  Elsewhere on the site, you can find a pretty good list of the 25 Most Underrated Albums of the Past 25 Years, which we can say because we agree with many of the choices.

And finally, in not-unexpected news, the band Viet Cong has announced that they have decided to change their name.  The group still has a few shows left on its tour, including a date in Portland, but have not settled on a new name yet.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 15 Edition)

Helping to start your week off with some live videos, new music, and whatever else we can find lying around…

Last week saw some great performances on the Late Night show, including The Replacements returning to 30 Rock with a blistering version of their classic “Alex Chilton”, their first since their banishment due to their infamous SNL trainwreck of a performance.  Speaking of “trainwreck”, Death From Above 1979 performed their lead single “Trainwreck 1979” on Letterman, with some help from Paul Shaffer and the rest of the band.  It was awesome.

That wasn’t the only memorable performance from Letterman last week, as Interpol did such a great job with “All The Rage Back Home” that it prompted Letterman to continually ask if he could join the band.

There was also Death Cab For Cutie’s Chris Walla’s last show with the band, and Stereogum has the video of the last song from that show.

There’s a Deafheaven side-project that is definitely worth checking out, if the first single is any indication.  Creepers features Dan Tracy, whose drumwork on Sunbather helped make that album one of the best of 2013 as well as touring guitarist Shiv Mehra, and they have an album coming out October 28.  “Stuck” reminds me a bit of the Nothing album that came out earlier this year, so if it was the shouting vocals of Deafheaven that turned you off that band, that’s definitely should not be an issue with this release.

Run The Jewels have released “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” for the Adult Swim Singles Series, and this morning they sent out emails to fans who purchased their first album giving them the details of the various preorder packages available for their followup.  Good, good news.

Feats of Strength: Deafheaven

Deafheaven’s second album Sunbather came out of nowhere to appear by the end of 2013 on numerous Best Albums lists.  It was no small feat for a black metal album, considering how rarely the genre receives recognition from a broad critical audience–no matter how brilliant or adventurous it may be, black metal tends to be confined to a specific niche audience.  I myself am not a particularly avid metal fan; I tend to stick to a few favorites, and usually do not venture into the more extreme subgenres.  However, after a random search through Metacritic midway through last year to see what albums I may have missed, I noticed one album with a peculiar cover with a score in the 90s, and I knew I had to check it out despite any possible misgivings about the labelled genre.*

I wasn’t the only person that ventured out of my comfort zone, as there were plenty of other fans and critics that went out of their way to praise the album.  But I found it interesting that there seemed to be a consensus that the opening track “Dream House” was the clear highlight, it made me wonder how closely a lot of these people listened to the album as a whole.  I’m not saying that people didn’t actually listen to the album and claiming otherwise; “Dream House” is an excellent song and it does a great job of preparing the listener to what’s in store for the rest of the album.  It’s just that the closer “The Pecan Tree” is a perfect encapsulation of the different themes and styles of the album, one that ends with a beautifully cathartic release that may have been the peak musical moment in all of 2013.

In analyzing “The Pecan Tree”, it is then necessary to understand the structure of the album as a whole.  Sunbather is made up of four major multi-part metal songs (“Dream House”, “Sunbather”, “Vertigo”, and “The Pecan Tree”), with three interstitial pieces (“Irresistible”, “Please Remember”, “Windows”) mixed in between each that weave in gentler instrumentation (such as piano and acoustic or clean electric guitar) and sometimes accompanied by spoken word and captured field recordings.  It’s the combination of these elements that leads to the comparisons to Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions In The Sky, though there are musical ideas in the metal pieces as well that recall those post-rock artists.  These interstitial pieces aren’t mere throwaways, but instead provide much needed breaks from the pummeling music and emotional assault of the other tracks, and provide some context for the narrative of the album as well.

“The Pecan Tree” kicks off with a bang by immediately launching into a furious musical attack: a thick wall of guitars that bring to mind a more extreme version of shoegaze acts like My Bloody Valentine matched in perfect time by punishing drums playing an extremely complicated series of blast beats.  While the guitars are being played at an extremely rapid tempo, a careful listen reveals that over the top a melodic line is slowly being played over the dense chords, and that the drums match the melodic movement as well.  This leads to a gradual slowing down at around the four-minute mark, as the drums enter into a series of rolls with the emphasized beat punctuating each guitar chord, before settling into a peaceful lyrical ballad that recalls the interstitial tracks.  A descending guitar arpeggiated section evolves into a simple gorgeous piano melody, with another guitar providing a countermelody on top.  As before, we encountered one extreme emotion and are now faced with a different extreme, but this does not provide resolution.

The true release comes at the 7:54 mark, when the distorted guitar comes in again.  This is the moment that makes the album, that makes it all worth while to wallow in the muck and mire of what came before.  The guitars coalesce into a single octave figure, providing the clearest and most forceful melody on the album.  But while this is significant, the key to what makes this passage works is the drums, specifically with its half time feel.  I’m going to try to attempt to explain this in a way that isn’t too technical, so bear with me.  In music, we deal a concept called time signatures, which is how we subdivide the beat; for an outsider, this is how we break up a song so that we can all follow along easily and be on the same page.  When we talk about four beats to a measure, or a 3/4 waltz (boom tst-tst, boom tst-tst), this is what we’re talking about.  For the majority of the album, the drums alternate between regular time and double-time, like in the blast beat section at the beginning of the song that I mentioned.  Think of the difference between the two as the contrast between regular walking and a military march; in the latter, you may not be making any gains in speed, but there’s a different feel when you emphasize every single step and make sure everyone is moving at the same time.  You get a similar result when instead of everyone meeting on the 2 and 4 of each measure everyone is in lockstep 1-2-3-4.

The half time feel works in a similar way, but in the opposite direction.  By emphasizing less, it frees up the overall feel of the passage.  In the context of “The Pecan Tree”, it gives a sense of weighlessness to the music, as the drums purposely slow down and let the guitars float over the top.  Gradually, the drums enter in with a more standard pattern, but the feeling remains, even as the fills get busier.  The drums then are able to emphasize specific melodic patterns; notice how at around the 10 minute mark that while the cymbal hits are at a regular beat, the big hits on the kick drum and snare are still spread out.

This whole final section is worthy of praise, and if I were to try to convince someone to give Deafheaven a listen, this would be the specific part I would highlight.  However, while the section is great in and of itself, its true brilliance is captured when the listener has fully internalized and processed the rest of the album.  Notably, the guitars incorporate specific motifs from previous parts of the album and spin new melodies out of them, and the drums help bring out those specific patterns.  In addition, the rest of the album has to be experienced in order to get the full emotional effect of this final section; these are some beautiful melodies, but they stand out even more in comparison to what preceded it.  That’s not to say that the metal elements in previous songs lack melody, but that they don’t have the same uplift that this final section does.

And I think it’s the “uplift” that’s most significant.  The guitar parts do a great job of capturing the feeling of gradually coming down from a high, but it’s really the ingenious use of the half time feel of the drums that helps capture a feeling of weightlessness in the listener.  Often, the half time feel is a trick that bands will deploy seemingly at random, just for a quick burst of contrast from previous iterations of the same progression or riff.  In the case of Deafheaven, there is a real purpose to the half time feel, and it helps turn “The Pecan Tree” into a true classic.

*The fact that Rolling Stone reviewed the album two months later and gave it a meh 3-star rating is about as Rolling Stone as it gets.

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2013

Today is April 15, and while the rest of the nation celebrates Tax Day, we here at Rust Is Just Right choose this occasion to release our Best Albums of the Year list.  To be technical, this is our first such list since the site was launched only a few months ago, but this is a practice that I’ve personally done for a few years now.  There are a few of reasons for this: 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) I get the chance to analyze other lists to pick up on albums that somehow escaped my 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.  That said, it is in the process of being patented and trademarked, so I can say that it’s not simply a look at my iTunes playcount for the year.  Actually, that is what it is exactly, but I’ll choose to believe in your good faith that you won’t steal The Process.  On to the list!

Note: Though the list is a Top 10, there are more albums than slots, because I 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). (6 plays) The Flaming Lips – The Terror!!! – Thr!!!erYeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito.

We already have a surprise courtesy of The Process, as I didn’t think that Mosquito would perform so well.  The first single “Sacrilege” had me really excited for the album, but there was no other song that really matched its heights.  It was a bit of a letdown after the great It’s Blitz!, so my response to it may be harsher than it should be.  The Terror on the other hand was a new high point for The Flaming Lips; with the band involved in so many projects and gimmicks, there were legitimate fears that the creative well may have been running a bit dry, but the Lips responded with an album that  showed that even after 30 years the band still has new directions to explore.  Long known for their happy outlook on life, the band channeled inner turmoil (Steve Drozd’s relapse, Wayne Coyne’s separation from his partner) and created a dark, disturbing album that often plays like an hour-long version of the horrifying “Frankie Teardrop”, incorporating new elements like krautrock influences and drum machines.  The only reason it’s not higher on the list is you really need to prepare yourself to handle the despair that is prevalent throughout the album (though there are moments of pure beauty).  With Th!!!er, !!! may have won Album Name of the Year, but they also back it up with some of the best songs of their career.  I’m a sucker for their dance-punk style, and I highly recommend seeing these guys live.  It’s fun to see a bunch of people who normally don’t dance groove to songs like “One Girl/One Boy”.

9). (7 plays) Foals – Holy FireThe Joy Formidable – Wolf’s LawLow – The Invisible WayNine Inch Nails – Hesitation MarksParquet Courts – Light Up GoldPearl Jam – Lightning BoltRun the Jewels – Run the Jewels.

Normally, I would say that Pearl Jam exists outside the scope of “lists”, but one cannot argue with The Process.  I haven’t delved deep into my love of the band since starting this site, so for those of you unfamiliar with my passion for the band, I’ll try to sum it up like this: I’ve been to hundreds of shows over the years, and when people ask me for my all-time greatest concerts, I tell them there’s a Pearl Jam list and a non-Pearl Jam list.

As for the others, I’ll offer a few quick thoughts.  Foals have been underrated for a while now, and by my calculations “My Number” should have been as big a summer hit as “Get Lucky”.  The Joy Formidable put on one of the best shows I saw last year, and I’m a big fan of how the sweetness of the vocals contrast with the heaviness of the music, but all done in a very melodic way.  There wasn’t a big hit like “Whirring” on this album, but “This Ladder Is Ours” should have been.  Nine Inch Nails returned with a very good comeback album–I loved the incorporation of more minimalist ideas, which made it an exceedingly interesting dance record.  And it’s amazing that Low once again produced an amazing album, and I hardly saw any mention of it on the year-end lists.  Invisible Way saw the band returning to the more delicate sounds pre-Drums and Guns, but it was definitely not a simple rehash.

Light Up Gold is a perfect example of reason number two up above, as I heard nothing about this album before I saw it on a few year-end lists.  This catchy and too-smart-for-probably-its-own-good soon became a go-to in my car stereo.  You have to love a band that makes the point that “Socrates died in the fucking gutter.”

As for Run The Jewels, I’ll say this: it’s hard to believe that one of the best albums of the year was given away for free earlier this year.  And it received a small fraction of the attention of Magna Carta Holy Grail.

8). (8 plays) Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right ActionKanye West – YeezusThe Thermals – Desperate Ground.

I was glad to see Franz Ferdinand return from hiatus alive and kicking.  After some experimentation with Tonight, the band decided to go back to their old sound and play to their own strengths–a lot of good, hook-filled rock songs (for the record, I was a fan of Tonight, but hey, I understand the calculus).  The Thermals made a similar return to their roots: after the reflective Personal Life, the band decided to keep the songs short and the tempos fast, with the furious Desperate Ground.

I’m sure Yeezus was the most analyzed album of the year, so my opinion shouldn’t add much to the conversation.  I think Lou Reed did an excellent job in explaining its genius, so you should probably take his word for it.  I will say that one of the things I enjoy most about Kanye records is that it always seems like we’re listening in on a therapy session, because he seems free to let his thoughts roam unfiltered.  I also love a person that embraces the dichotomy of the sacred and the profane; who else would follow a great line “close your eyes and let the word paint a thousand pictures” with “one good girl is worth a thousand bitches”?  The man knows exactly what he’s doing: “After all these long-ass verses, I’m tired, you’re tired.  Jesus wept.

7). (9 plays) The Men – New MoonSigur Rós – KveikurVampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the CityVolcano Choir – RepaveYuck – Glow & Behold.

We had an extensive piece already on Yuck, so we won’t rehash it here.  Volcano Choir is proof that Justin Vernon knows what he’s doing and that he doesn’t need the “Bon Iver” name to make great music.  The Men will continue to put great, solid rock albums from now until eternity it seems like; throwing in some classic rock and Americana touches like they did on New Moon just helps expand their sound.

Vampire Weekend got a lot of credit for their show of maturity on their third album, and a lot of it is deserved–Modern Vampires is an excellent rumination on love and faith.  That said, it wasn’t as great a leap as some critics made it out to be; I thought that Contra showed that the band was creative enough to find a way to connect their niche sound with other genres and still remain true to their identity.  So while this is a very good album, it’s not quite the “Album of the Year”.

I’m much more surprised about the latest album from Sigur Rós.  I found Valtari to be a real low point, an album that often struggled to find any semblance of creativity or inspiration, and it just seemed like an ambient mess.  So when the band released Kveikur so quickly after Valtari, I was pretty skeptical.  But holy shit, this sounds like a band reborn.  It’s a much more aggressive album, an adjective that is rarely associated with the band, and bears some (dare I say?) metal influences.

6). (10 plays) Cults – StaticSavages – Silence Yourself.

We had an extensive piece already on Cults, so we won’t rehash it here.  Savages end up with the highest-ranked debut on this chart, as I found their revival of post-punk thrilling, a brilliant mix of Joy Division and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

5). (11 plays) Arctic Monkeys – AMThe Besnard Lakes – Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO.

The instant I heard “Do I Wanna Know?”, I knew I would love this album; I just didn’t know that it would turn out to revive their career here in the States.  It’s a huge improvement over the good-but-unmemorable Suck It And See and the completely forgettable Humbug, and it wins my coveted award of “Night Driver of the Year”.

I’ve been a longtime fan of The Besnard Lakes, a band far more deserving of some of the plaudits that another Canadian band whose absence you may notice from this list.  If there were actual justice in this world, they’d be headlining arenas, but I’m glad I get to see them perform spellbinding sets in tiny venues like the Doug Fir.  I initially was not impressed with the new album, mainly because I had been hoping that they could use some of the huge hooks from Roaring Night and hopefully catapult into the mainstream; but once I accepted the album for what it was, I was able to appreciate the subtle melodies and beautiful atmosphere.

4). (12 plays) Deafheaven – SunbatherMy Bloody Valentine – m b v.

My Bloody Valentine shocked the world when they announced that they were immediately releasing their long-awaited follow-up to Loveless.  Servers were in a constant state of crashing as music buffs around the world rushed to download the album, but eventually we all got our copy.  Was it worth the over two-decade wait?  If you based it on trash like “Nothing Is”, then you would say no, but then you hear the gorgeous “Only Tomorrow” with its monumental guitar solo, and all is forgiven, because you are reminded that while there are thousands of bands that were inspired by them, there is truly only one My Bloody Valentine.

Sunbather might be the most surprising album on my list, because while there is a lot of heavy metal that I do enjoy, it’s usually not of the black metal variety.  However, Deafheaven uses the banshee wail-type vocals to their advantage, as they blend in with the walls of guitar.  If I had my preference, it wouldn’t be the style I choose, if only because it becomes hard to distinguish what are actually some pretty decent lyrics (an exchange like “‘I’m dying.’  ‘Is it blissful?’  ‘It’s like a dream.’  ‘I want to dream.'” read great on the page, but impossible to pick out when sung).  That said, the actual music is pretty goddamn brilliant.  I’m going to explore them in a future Feats of Strength, but I’ll say that the last half of “The Pecan Tree” was probably the best music I heard all year, but to understand its full brilliance you need to hear the 55 minutes of brutality that came before it.

3. (16 plays) Wavves – Afraid of Heights.

Wavves received the best press and sales of their career with King of the Beach, and to follow it up they release an album filled with cynicism and paranoia and plain old depression.  But they made it fun as hell.  I have to give a lot of respect who released a single that got actual radio airplay whose chorus is “Holding a gun to my head, so send me an angel; or bury me deeply instead, with demons to lean on”.  And they played it on Letterman.

2. (17 plays) Queens of the Stone Age – ...Like Clockwork.

This one of the best albums of QOTSA’s career, and that’s saying something since they’ve released several classic albums already.  It’s a brilliant mix of their desert rock with gothic horror.  It’s hard for me to think of much more to say than that, because I’m still bitter thinking how not one person on the AV Club staff gave this album a single vote.

1. (20 plays) The National – Trouble Will Find Me.

In the end, the list was topped off by what I would have predicted at the beginning of the year, but when I first listened to Trouble Will Find Me this was not a foregone conclusion.  But like other albums from The National before it, what initially sounded like a shapeless bore gradually revealed its subtle strength and beauty.  Melodies become more apparent, and dynamics become more evident; often it’s not drastic loud-soft contrast, but a gradual intensity that builds throughout in a song.  Each listen brings about a new favorite; first it was “Sea of Love”, then it was “Pink Rabbits” followed by “Don’t Swallow the Cap”.  Lately, it’s been “Graceless”, a powerful look at attempts to shake the melancholy stemming from a past relationship, filled with great lines like “God loves everybody–don’t remind me” and “all of my thoughts of you: bullets through rotten fruit.”  After a few listens, you notice things like the shift halfway between “graceless” and “grace” that occurs in the lyrics, and the gradual buildup of intensity in Matt Berninger’s voice as he powers through the song.  It’s perfect that an album that rewards multiple listens takes the top spot.

Catching Up On The Week (Feb. 21 Edition)

A few quick links you may have missed this week and worthy of your time this weekend

In preparation for our upcoming profile on Beck (and his new album coming out next week), you may want to read up on these retrospectives courtesy of BuzzFeed (really?) and Grantland.  Strangely enough, the BuzzFeed profile was a bit more satisfying, despite the assertion that Midnite Vultures is Beck’s masterpiece, a claim which is pitched as fact and not a matter of debate.  As for the Grantland piece, the premise that the “real” Beck is either one of two types (ironic funkster or serious folkie) doesn’t make much sense at all, but you know, deadlines mean you gotta come up with SOMETHING.

The A.V. Club had a couple of interesting bits of news.  I’m really excited to hear that Sharon Van Etten has announced that her new album is coming out soon with this teaser.  If you haven’t picked up her previous album Tramp, do so pretty much immediately.  In addition, we have news of another “supergroup” forming–and since Dave Grohl and Jello Biafra are both involved, the label is definitely necessary.

Pitchfork will be posting a documentary on the Brooklyn venue 285 Kent, and one of their teasers is this video of a live performance by Deafheaven at the club.  We’ll be discussing their album Sunbather in-depth in the future, and when we do our Top Albums of 2013 in April, it will definitely make an appearance.  There’s a good reason a lot of outlets have done thinkpieces on the album.

Also, remember Korn?  If you don’t, I envy you.  In case you were wondering, Jonathan Davis has decided to go in a political direction, and his views have all the subtlety and intellect that you would expect.

And finally, when it’s time to settle into a relaxing weekend, it’s a good idea to listen to some Real Estate. If you’re bored with your relaxing weekend, it’s a good idea to learn to play some Real Estate.  The band is providing the lesson with their newest video, which displays an overlay of the guitar tablature to the song.