Death from Above 1979

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2017

Today is April 17, 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.

10. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps; Fleet Foxes – The Crack-Up; Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers; Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory; Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy; Wolf Parade – Cry Cry Cry (7 plays)

It should come to no surprise for our readers the band who inspired our site’s name would crack our Top Ten with our return, though their low placement on the list may raise some eyebrows.  While their return has enough artistic merit to make it more than a simple cash-in on instant nostalgia, Cry Cry Cry lacked the standout songs that marked Wolf Parade’s previous work, with the album seeming to be more competent than anything.  Still, the one-two punch of Dan Boeckner’s “Artificial Life” and Spencer Krug’s “King of Piss and Paper” (reversed for the video) should alleviate the worries of any fans that the Canadian supergroup still has gas left in the tank.

I felt bad for the short people behind me

Wolf Parade, at the Crystal Ballroom

Tyler, the Creator bounced back from a couple of forgettable efforts with an ambitious album that recalls why fans were so impressed with the Odd Future crew back when “Yonkers” first hit, mixing bangers with surprisingly introspective tracks.  We’ll leave the discussion about the lyrical prowess of Vince Staples to others (they never really impressed us that much, but the words aren’t usually our focus), but the beats on Big Fish Theory were a goddamn revelation considering the malaise that seems to be spreading over modern hip-hop these days.  We’re not sure what gets the party going with the kids these days, but bump Vince’s latest on your headphones and you should be set for one heart-pumping adventure.

Much like Dinosaur Jr., another iconic alternative group, Godspeed has shown new life after their return from their prolonged hiatus.  However, as good as their recent albums have been, they seem to be following a similar arc where the third album doesn’t quite have the juice of its two predecessors.  That said, the climax of “Bosses Hang” is exactly what we need these days.

Phoebe is the newcomer to the party, and her delicate debut is perfect for late-night listens.

9. Dieg Cig – Swear I’m Good at This; The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding (8 plays)

What can we say–we love duos.  The mix of the sugar-sweet vocals with the propulsive punk makes Diet Cig a welcome addition to the garage rock revival.  The War on Drugs exceeded our expectations; we had begun to get tired of the band’s style (and had read too many critiques of their sound), so we weren’t exactly pumped for their latest.  However, there are plenty of songs on Understanding which will make the band’s eventual Greatest Hits release.  That said, we pray that on the next album Adam Granduciel learns you can use drum patterns besides ones that hit on 2 and 4.

The War on Drugs, at the Crystal Ballroom

8. Alvvays – Antisocialites; Beck – Colors; LCD Soundsystem – American Dream; Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent (9 plays)

Alvvays went a bit darker with their follow-up to their self-titled debut, and added new textures to their indie-pop sound.  Beck finally released his often-teased follow-up to the Album of the Year winning Morning Phase, and while it seems the rest of the country wasn’t psyched for a return of “fun” Beck, we found this album plenty enjoyable.  Beck may have fussed over individual sounds endlessly before the release of Colors, but repeated listens prove it was well worth the effort.  LCD Soundsystem was another welcome return of indie rock royalty, and though it seems they may have stalled a bit creatively after their wonderful initial three album run, “Call the Police” was worth the price of admission in and of itself (though we wish they could have found a way to include the teaser single “Christmas Will Break Your Heart” on the album).  Protomartyr further honed their sound of post-punk mixed with the ravings of an esoteric college professor.  Relatives was not as initially catchy as The Agent Intellect, so it may discourage new fans, but eventually it hooks your way into your brain–see how the line “She’s just trying to reach you” keeps repeating throughout and how it fits with the themes of the record.  The lyric from the Michigan band of “It’s been leaded by snider men to make profit from the poor” might be the best line from 2017, but it’s the following line I keep repeating in my head: “I don’t want to hear those vile trumpets anymore.”

Protomartyr, at the Doug Fir

7. Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder; The National – Sleep Well Beast (10 plays)

Hug of Thunder might be the most consistent front-to-back record in the BSS catalog, with several songs that are just really damn uplifting.

Broken Social Scene, at the Crystal Ballroom

By contrast, Sleep Well Beast is a step down for The National, but they’ve been on fire since Alligator and you can’t expect them to maintain perfection forever.  The electronic flourishes to the album are a nice touch, and there are several standout songs that will be great additions to the average setlist.  Simply put, the album gets dinged only because it pales in comparison to their recent string of successes.

The National, at the Schnitz

6. Death From Above 1979 – Outrage! Is Now; Queens of the Stone Age – Villains; Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3 (11 plays)

Death From Above officially dropped the “1979” from their name, but it’s going to take us a while to get used to it.  However, we are thrilled that the return to form of The Physical World was no mere fluke, and we’re exceedingly pleased to see the band continue to evolve.  At first, it may seems the album dips in the middle, but after a few times through it becomes clear the forays into sludgier metal riffs are a welcome evolution for the duo (and will help save the stamina of a singing drummer).  Hell, see how easy they make metal look with the hard-hitting opener, “Nomad”.  We may overrate these guys compared to others, but honestly, we have no idea why “Freeze Me” wasn’t a bigger summer hit.

Death From Above, at the Roseland

It took a few times though to get on the same wavelength as QOTSA for their latest, with our initial impression being that a few of the better songs would have worked just fine as Eagles of Death Metal tracks instead.  But once we got lost in the sound and feel of the record, we began to appreciate it more.  Also, “Villains of Circumstance” will be remembered as one of their best ever.

Queens of the Stone Age, at the Hult Center

RTJ is in a strange position, because the schedule of their leak and official release had them straddling the line between 2016 and 2017 lists, but this feels like the right spot for them (if we included every single listen since its release, it would tie for the top spot).  RTJ3 isn’t as lean as its predecessors, but there’s plenty here that will leave listeners longing to hear the continuing saga of Jamie and Mikey.

Run the Jewels, at the Crystal Ballroom

5. Joey Bada$$ – All-Amerikkkan Bada$$; The xx – I See You (12 plays)

A couple of surprises make it into the top half of the list!  We were not impressed with Joey’s debut, but All-Amerikkan Bada$$ is an impressive step forward, effectively mixing groovy R&B and political hip-hop.

We thought The xx had already begun running out of creativity with the decent Coexist, but it turns out there is still juice left in their minimalist indie rock.  Who knew you could make introverted love songs so danceable?

4. Big K.R.I.T. – 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time (13 plays)

Big K.R.I.T.’s ambitious new record easily slides into the trinity of Wu-Tang Forever and All Eyez on Me on the list of greatest hip-hop double albums.  Though nominally split between his two personalities with the party anthem heavy “Big K.R.I.T.” and the introspective gospel-tinged “Justin Scott”, the album flows just fine as one long piece.  Hell, even the few skits on the album can be listened to more than once!

3. Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound; Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins; Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life (14 plays)

Now here’s a triumvirate you would expect from us.  Japandroids got an early jump on everybody with a January release, which partially explains their high ranking on this list, though we don’t want you to put too much in that disclaimer.  Wild Heart of Life is a half-brilliant, half-decent album, which explains our reluctance to fully commit to any direction in our assessment.  The title track opener is an all-time great for the band, and the run from “Midnight to Morning”, “No Known Drink or Drug”, and “In a Body Like a Grave” finish the album on a rousing note.  It’s the middle songs which sag, though we appreciate them as experimental forays necessary for a duo who wish to have a long career.

Japandroids, at Revolution Hall

Grizzly Bear once again returns with an album that sounds great on headphones, begging for you to pick out more and more details with each listen, all in a style that’s perfect for either driving in the car or listening late at night.

Grizzly Bear, at the Roseland

Cloud Nothings made the most consistently brilliant punk record of the year, and goddammit I hope that band keeps moving on to bigger and better things.

Cloud Nothings, at the Doug Fir

2. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.; Spoon – Hot Thoughts (16 plays)

After the overflowing To Pimp a Butterfly, a record that placed a lot of its emphasis on being a complete album, it seemed Kendrick was coming back with a series of hard-hitting singles–“Humble.” and “DNA.” were huge, aggressive tracks which got everybody fired up for the release.  The initial impression of DAMN. as a series of singles eventually proved to be incorrect, as Kendrick revealed more of the thought process behind the album.  For us, though, the switch was flipped when the “Collector’s Edition” was released, which flipped the tracklisting from back-to-front.  All of a sudden, the album seemed to have a much better flow, and its themes became more readily apparent.

What more can be said about Spoon?  The band is incapable of releasing a less-than-great album at this point, and Hot Thoughts shows off a fun side that had been hiding in the background for a few years at this point.  Britt and the guys walk the tightrope of staying true to their “sound” while not repeating themselves–for example, the funky “Can I Sit Next To You” fits right alongside their early hit “I Turn My Camera On” without it being a rehash.

Spoon, at the McDonald Theater

We love the whole album, but we’re going to keep the somber “I Ain’t the One” and the relevant-to-these-times “Tear It Down” on repeat.

1. Slowdive – Slowdive (17 plays)

The return of My Bloody Valentine may have inspired more ink, but we appreciated the return of the other titans of shoegaze more.  Slowdive fits right in next to Souvlaki and Just for a Day, but doesn’t feel like a mere revival of their early-90’s peak.  The music is as gorgeous as ever, venturing from the delicate haunting vocals in the ballads to the big rush of guitars in the epics.

Slowdive, at the Crystal Ballroom

We’re not sure if we’ll look back in ten years and definitively say we made the right choice on the number one album of 2017, but we’re confident in saying we’ll still love the hell out of this album.

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A Few More SCARY Music Videos

Last year, we provided you with a non-exhaustive list of scary music videos to help you enjoy your Halloween.  This year, we have a few more additions to the canon, so your music video marathon goes on just a little bit longer.

First up, we have the video for Wolf Alice’s “You’re A Germ”, which finds the band in a slasher movie/Groundhog’s Day mashup, as the group constantly relives a terrifying night and attempts to figure out a way to evade the various killers that are out to get them.

Next, we have a selection that we unfortunately neglected to include with our previous list, Franz Ferdinand’s “Evil Eye”.  The video is equal parts gory, disturbing, and campy, which means it more than lives up to its title.

And finally, we have a video that we shared with you before: “Virgins” by Death From Above 1979.  Unfortunately, the band has yet to make a holiday-appropriate video for “Right On, Frankenstein!”, but this psychedelic freakout of Amish kids that evokes memories of Children of the Corn more than makes up for it.

There may be only three additions to our previous list, but it’s fair to say that the quality outweighs the quantity.

Over the Weekend (Aug. 17 Edition)

News, new videos, and other fun stuff to help you begin your week…

There had been rumblings for a while now, but now it can be confirmed that Flight of the Conchords are reuniting.  Fans of the hilarious HBO show featuring Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie should be delighted to hear that not only are they making plans to head out on tour next year, but that they are in the initial stages of writing a full-length movie.

The best song of 2014 finally has a video, as Death From Above 1979 shared the music video for “White Is Red” today.  Instead of following along with the riveting narrative described in the song, it mainly consists of footage from the documentary on the band, Life After Death From Above 1979, serving as a very effective advertisement for the film.

Switching the focus to more recent releases, Tame Imapala released a video today for a condensed version of Currents standout “Let It Happen”, focusing on the travails of one of the weariest travelers you will ever see.

Deerhunter released the first single of their upcoming album Fading Frontier this weekend, with frontman Bradford Cox first teasing fans by playing “Snakeskin” on his radio show.  The song is livelier than you might expect considering Deerhunter’s recent material, and you can check it out for yourself as the band has released a video for the song as well.

In another surprise, Talib Kweli has released a free album called Fuck the Money that is available through the website Kweliclub.com.  All of this is of course for free, in case the name of the title was not clear enough for you.

Rage Against The Machine will be releasing a concert film this fall from their recent reunion, as fans from around the world will now be able to see their free concert from London in 2010.

Foo Fighters = content.  Ultimate Classic Rock has the story of how Dave Grohl ended up singing “My Hero” to a crying fan at a recent concert.

Finally, we have a couple of useless lists for your enjoyment.  First, Rolling Stone has compiled one of those extensive, vague lists that only exist to get people arguing, this time ranking the 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time and attempting to show off some fancy web tools at the same time.  A more interesting list is the AV Club Inventory that takes a look at “20 Great Songs Orphaned By Their Namesake Albums”, a concept that took me a few minutes to understand but is nonetheless a pretty cool idea.

Over the Weekend (Apr. 27 Edition)

New music, new videos, and news to help kickstart your week…

Even though they recently announced a string of tour dates this summer, we have to believe that no one was prepared for the news from this morning: Refused are coming out with a new album.  In addition to announcing that Freedom will be released on June 30, the band released their first new song in nearly two decades, the furious “Elektra”.  REFUSED ARE NOT FUCKING DEAD!

More good news this morning, as the Deftones gave more details about their follow-up to Koi No Yokan.  While the new album is not yet complete, the good news is that it should be released by the end of September.

Last week, Speedy Ortiz released their new album Foil Deer and on Friday we linked to an extensive interview with the band.  Today, we are sharing their video for “The Graduates”, featuring the band ingesting an interesting item, resulting in a bizarre karaoke session with a giant rabbit, among other escapades.

Speedy Ortiz is not the only band exploring psychedelic substances, as Death From Above 1979’s new video for “Virgins” features a group of Amish teens experimenting with mushrooms.  The results are rather unsettling.

And speaking of unsettling, electronic noise-rock band HEALTH are finally releasing a follow-up to Get Color in August, and they shared the video for lead single “New Coke” over the weekend.  Be warned, that is real vomit in the video; that is probably that is all that needs to be said in order to prepare you.

Killer Mike had a very busy weekend–on Friday, he gave a lecture at MIT on race and politics, and on Saturday he represented the Huffington Post at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which explains this fantastic selfie with Arianna Huffington completing the Run The Jewels logo.

Proving that we here at Rust Is Just Right are trendsetters, the AV Club released a Best Of list from 2014 in April 2015.  This time it is their Band Names of the Year list, which runs down all the terrible band names they came across in the past year, which is always a good time.

And finally, for those looking for a quick time-waster at work, NME has a slideshow explaining the stories behind 50 iconic album covers of indie rock (though the term “indie” is stretched beyond its limits for this piece).

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2014

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.  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/gives them an added checklist when they head out to their local record stores this weekend for Record Store Day.

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 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. Alvvays – Alvvays; Aphex Twin – Syro; Nothing – Guilty of Everything; Real Estate – Atlas (8 plays)

Alvvays and Nothing edge themselves onto the list with fantastic debut albums, the former being a sublime beach-pop record and the latter finding an intriguing mix between shoegaze and metal.  Real Estate’s latest would make a great companion album to the Alvvays record on any future trip to the coast, with the band further refining their laid-back, easy-going vibe with some of their most tightly-constructed songs of their career, like “Talking Backwards” and “Crimes”.  The only reason why Aphex Twin’s fantastic comeback effort is so low on the list is that we in general do not spend much time listening to electronica; otherwise, it would have ended up much higher on our list.

9. Beck – Morning Phase; Ought – More Than Any Other Day; Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal; Solids – Blame Confusion (9 plays)

We never grew to love Sunbathing Animal in the same way that we did Light Up Gold, so its inclusion on the list is mainly due to our insistence on trying to gain a greater appreciation through repeated listens; that said, it did have its moments, like “Dear Ramona” and “Instant Disassembly”, that we would love to hear the next time they roll through the Northwest.  Ought’s debut album is the perfect example of why we delay the publication of our list, since their fascinating debut did not come onto our radar until after we saw it on another year-end list, and it soon became one of our favorites with its intriguing take on garage rock and post-punk.  We jumped in early on the Solids bandwagon, and were pleased to see that the duo’s fuzz-rock had some staying power over the course of the year.  And we hope that Beck is as proud of his showing on our list as he is of the Grammy that he got for his gorgeous new album.

8. The Antlers – Familiars; Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else; Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE (10 plays)

Cymbals Eat Guitars surprised a lot of people with the leap forward that they took on LOSE, an ambitious, anthemic guitar rock masterpiece.  Cloud Nothings somehow came back with an even rawer record than Attack on Memory, and in the process became more of a cohesive group, with the furious drumming being a noteworthy highlight.  As for The Antlers, this is becoming old hat for them, because they once again delivered an incredible record, this time meditating on reconciling the internal struggle, dressed up in hauntingly gorgeous hooks.

7. Fucked Up – Glass Boys; Sharon Van Etten – Are We There? (11 plays)

We may have been in the minority with our disappointment in David Comes to Life, but Fucked Up more than made up for it with the punchy Glass Boys.  As for Sharon Van Etten, she continues to find the perfect balance between the pain and sadness of her lyrics and the beauty of her music.

6. The Black Keys – Turn Blue (13 plays)

Though there is probably a sizable contingent of people who are tired of The Black Keys at this point, we are not in that subset.  Turn Blue was the right step after the arena-rock of El Camino, and we love it when they collaborate with Danger Mouse.  Also, the guitar solos in “The Weight of Love” were probably the year’s best.

5. Interpol – El Pintor; Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2 (14 plays)

After their disappointing self-titled album and the polarizing Our Love to Admire, Interpol gave itself a needed shot in the arm with El Pintor.  Though on paper it seems that dropping the band’s “secret weapon” Carlos D. was a bad idea, Paul Banks comfortably assumed those duties and seemed to reinvigorate the rest of the band with their strongest effort since Antics.  Run The Jewels proved that sequels can improve upon the originals, with Killer Mike throwing down some of the best verses of his career.


4. TV on the Radio – Seeds; The War on Drugs – Lost In The Dream (15 plays)

A lot of critics seemed to have slept on Seeds, but any visit to see TV on the Radio on their latest tour should quiet any doubts that people had about the band.  It is an album about finding strength through loss, and the band crafted some of its best songs in the wake of the loss of bass player Gerard Smith.  The War on Drugs improved upon their initial breakthrough Slave Ambient by shaping their soundscapes into more cohesive “songs”, but the album is still a delight to listen to with the headphones cranked up to listen to all the different sonic details.


3. Hamilton Leithauser – Black Hours; Peter Matthew Bauer – Liberation!; Spoon – They Want My Soul (17 plays)

It is fitting that two of the solo albums from one of our favorite bands would end up in a tie; though we mourn the apparent loss of The Walkmen, we should rejoice that we have been blessed with multiple excellent albums already.  Each captured distinct parts of their previous band’s sound–Hamilton’s penchant for vintage sounds, Peter with the charming raggedness of their music.  Spoon once again proved that they are the most consistently brilliant band in indie rock for the past 15 years, as They Want My Soul effectively captures the band’s past sound as well as finds new ways to innovate, with songs like “New York Kiss” and “Outlier”.


2. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits (19 plays)

This is perhaps the best example of the peculiarities of The Process, as the placement of Tomorrow’s Hits was partially inflated by just how much fun it is to drive around playing this record.  The band looked backwards for inspiration, re-configuring the sound of a bar band from the 70’s to create one of the most entertaining records of the year.  The Men have been busy throughout their career, releasing five records and five years, so we should probably be expecting a sixth record soon.


1. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World (23 plays)

We have been in love with this album since the second we heard the opening notes of “Trainwreck 1979”.  Death From Above 1979 made the most of the ten years off since their debut, finding the perfect balance between recreating the magic of their early work while moving ahead into new and exciting directions.  You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine still holds up hundreds of years later, and The Physical World looks like it will repeat the same feat.  The band still has the same ferocious energy as when they first burst on the scene, but it is clear that both Sebastien and Jesse have improved as musicians, finding new ways to create original music through the simple tools of bass and drums (with the occasional synth).  Hopefully we do not have to wait another ten years for the next step.

Over the Weekend (Feb. 16 Edition)

New music, videos, and news as you kill time on this arbitrary holiday…

If you could forgive us for a moment, but today was a bit of a downer when we heard about the passing of Lesley Gore this morning. Though many of the singer-songwriter’s hits have been overlooked over the years, Gore will forever be remembered for the timeless classic “It’s My Party.”

Father John Misty shared an acoustic cover of Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” for Valentine’s Day, and it’s quite a beautiful and haunting arrangement.  Hopefully this will whet your appetite for our upcoming review of his stellar new album, I Love You, Honeybear.

Over on Reddit, Modest Mouse leaked another track from their upcoming album Strangers to Ourselves, releasing “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box”, a funky number that calls to mind the groovy “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes.”  Isaac also answered a couple of questions, but since they are few and far between, we’ll provide our favorite exchange:

[–]trippingwalrus 7 points 3 hours ago

No. Fuck you Modest Mouse. I saw you at the Monterey music festival a few years ago and you didn’t even play Float On. Fuck you.

[–]modestmouseband[S] 64 points 3 hours ago

Ha. Hahahaha. Haha. You’re simple. Love ya.

 

My Morning Jacket has been busy with their One Big Holiday festival, but crowd footage has leaked of a couple of new songs that made appearances in their setlist.

Death From Above 1979 has decided that acoustic versions of their songs are not a one-time thing, as you can see by their recent appearance on The Strombo Show, as they with pepper in a few stripped-down versions of their songs during their interview with George Stroumboulopoulos.

Sufjan Stevens released the first single from his upcoming album Carrie & Lowell, and it’s the delicate “No Shade In the Shadow of the Cross”.

And finally, to prepare you for tomorrow’s release of their collaboration Sour Soul, here’s the video to Ghostface Killah and BADBADNOTGOOD’s “Ray Gun”, featuring an appearance from DOOM.  It’s pretty bizarre.

Stop Caring About The Grammys

The Grammy Awards are a good idea in theory.  We like to recognize artistic merits in a variety of disciplines, and we feel good when we come together and come up with some sort of consensus decision as to what is “the best.”  The Academy Awards have worked pretty well for film over the years, and the Emmy Awards (despite never giving an award to the greatest television show ever) have done an adequate job as well, so why shouldn’t it be the same for music?  And yet, pretty much from the very beginning, the Grammys have always been garbage.

I remember the moment when I completely lost faith in the Grammys, and it should be noted that this happened when I was in middle school, because that is when any hopes and dreams you may have had about the music industry recognizing artistic merit should die, and you can then readjust your expectations accordingly.  It was when Radiohead’s ground-breaking, landmark album OK Computer lost out to probably Bob Dylan’s tenth-best effort (Time Out Of Mind) that I decided it was probably for the best that I stop giving a shit about this particular award.  I probably should have seen the signs from the previous year, when Beck’s Odelay and the Smashing Pumpkins Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness lost out to Celine Dion, but at that point I didn’t have the same investment in either of those albums that I did in OK Computer.  Even at that age, I knew that with that album I could divide my history of listening to music as pre-OK Computer and post-OK Computer, and no matter how good an album Time Out Of Mind may be, it wouldn’t be remembered in the same way.  If you want to view the award as an acknowledgment of the greatness of Highway 61 RevisitedBlonde on BlondeNashville SkylineThe Freewheelin’ Bob DylanJohn Wesley HardingThe Times They Are A-Changin’, and Blood on the Tracks, that’s fine, but that’s the only way to defend it.

It was then that my cynicism fully set in and I finally understood the rants of many alternative artists about the quality of the Grammys.  Here’s how I can best sum it up: “How many Grammy Awards did London Calling win?  That should tell you exactly how much attention you should pay to the Grammys.”  This is an album universally recognized as one of the greatest of all time, one that ends up atop best-of-the-decade lists for two different decades (because of its UK ’79/US ’80 release date), and it received exactly zero Grammys.  In fact, The Clash won precisely one Grammy in the course of their career, an award in 2002 for “Best Long Form Music Video” for the documentary The Clash: Westway to the World, long after the band had stopped making music.  And to top it off, the Grammys had the gall to put together a supergroup performance of “London Calling” to honor the life of Joe Strummer when he died, as if the Recording Academy gave a damn about the group at all when they were around.*

Consider this: Exile on Main Street… Loveless… NevermindIn the Aeroplane Over the SeaAre You Experienced?Who’s NextRemain in LightWilly and the Po’ BoysUnknown PleasuresFear of a Black PlanetThe Velvet Underground & NicoHunky DoryDoolittle…not a single one of these albums received a nomination.  And not only could I list dozens more examples, but I could point to a ridiculous number of artists who never won a Grammy of any kind.

Part of the issue may be with the nature of the Grammys themselves.  The sheer number of albums that are produced dwarf the number of films that are released or television shows that end up on the air, so the mere act of getting thousands of academy members to listen to the same records is enough of a challenge on its own.  Then consider the wide variety of musical genres that exist, and contrast that with the simple comedy/drama divide that characterizes film and TV–it’s even tougher to build any sort of consensus when you take this into account.  And then there is the simple nature of voting, which anyone with a background in political theory can point to as a potential stumbling block.  All of these issues make the Grammy Awards an exercise in futility, and yet for some reason people still get up in arms with the results every year.

Was Morning Phase the best album of the year?  According to us, probably not, though if one considers it in comparison with the other nominees, we agree with the decision.  Though it’s not Beck’s best (which is a nearly-impossible hurdle to clear, considering his incredibly consistent output and the Odelay/Mutations/Sea Change triumverate), if you judge it on its own merits, Morning Phase is a great album filled with gorgeous musical moments and poignant lyrics that will be remembered for years.  But let’s consider that if the Grammys were actually interested in honoring the best of the year in music, then they would have had to invite Death From Above 1979 and have them perform, and despite the fact that they’re only two guys they would have melted the faces off of everyone in the audience with their blistering performance, and then no one would be able to work on Monday.

So really, the fact that the Grammy Awards don’t recognize the best music of the year is more of a public service than anything.  Just don’t get up in arms when they make the “wrong” decision.  They were doomed from the start.

*This is not to disparage any of the performers that participated, all of whom I assume had a great amount of respect for Joe Strummer and The Clash.

Over the Weekend (Jan. 5 Edition)

Prepare yourself for a return to a normal work-week with new videos and other fun distractions…

Broken Social Scene just released a music video for the track “Golden Facelift”, which originally was recorded during the Forgiveness Rock Record sessions but received new life when it was included in a recent compilation.  Pitchfork has the story behind the song if you’re interested; otherwise, just sit back and enjoy this fan-made montage of all the horrifying events from this past year, with a slick BSS soundtrack.

The year 2014 was a bummer for a lot of people, but not for those who benefit from the rebirth of vinyl, as the recent boom shows no signs of slowing down with this latest year of sales.  While the pretty bar graph shows a significant increase in the volume of sales, it doesn’t provide the needed caveat that vinyl still represents only a small percentage of total music sales, because that would require more research and more complicated analysis.

You thought that just because we’re now in the new year that we were beyond the time for lists?  Well, think again, because Slicing Up Eyeballs has a list of the 100 best albums of the 80’s as determined by its readers.  I have to say, I was rather surprised that a website with that name would only list Doolittle as number three, but apparently that’s how democracy works.

Consequence of Sound has an excellent extended interview with Death From Above 1979’s Jesse F. Keeler, with topics ranging from a potential sale of host Sami Jarroush’s guitar to Keeler’s “Mosh Mondays” with his kids.

New York Magazine has an extended profile of the founders of Rap Genius, the lyrics annotation website, with an eye on their grand plans for the future.  Spoiler Alert: the guys are exactly the kind of dudebro assholes you would expect.

Here’s the perfect diversion for any Monday: a Tumblr that mashes up Morrissey/The Smiths lyrics with old Peanuts strips.

And finally, the Tumblr “Fuck Yeah Spoon” shared a brand new Spoon song that made its debut at a show in Houston a few nights ago.  Even though the fan-made recording is not album-quality, it’s clear that “Satellite” is a beautiful ballad with a nice chugging beat, and we will certainly be hoping for an official release of some sort in the future.

The Best Concerts of 2014

We do things a little differently around here when it comes to the traditional lists like “Best Albums of the Year”, since we like to take the extra time to see if we may have missed anything.  But we admit we can’t resist the opportunity to look back on other highlights of the year, so it’s the perfect time to create an arbitrary ranking of the best concerts we saw this year. 

Over the course of 2014 we saw a grand total of 32 different concerts (including two separate festivals), giving us close to an average of three different shows a month to see national touring acts.  Considering that we had to travel at least an hour to and from all but one of these shows, allow us to shed our modesty for a second and say that this was quite the accomplishment.  Luckily, not a single concert could be even remotely considered a dud, so it makes narrowing down the list to just ten shows that much harder.  That said, we think that these shows are worthy of special recognition, and we invite you to use the tags to read up on our reviews for each performance.

Cloud Nothings put on a great show, but will have to settle for just outside the top ten.

Cloud Nothings put on a great show, but will have to settle for a spot just outside the top ten.

Honorable Mention for The Thermals playing a show in Salem and making the town seem like a real cool place for once.

10. The Men, live at Dante’s

9. Hamilton Leithauser, live at the Doug Fir

8. The National, live at the Les Schwab Amphitheater

7. Modest Mouse, headlining Project Pabst

6. TV on the Radio, live at the Crystal Ballroom

5. Queens of the Stone Age, live at the Keller Auditorium

4. Beck, live at Edgefield

3. Neutral Milk Hotel, live at the Crystal Ballroom

2. Death From Above 1979, live at the Crystal Ballroom

1. Slowdive, live at the Crystal Ballroom.

It’s no surprise that the top of the list is loaded with reunions, though the exact order goes against what probably would have been predicted at the beginning of the year; the biggest shock remains that shows at the Crystal Ballroom ended up being the venue to house the best shows, though that speaks to the ability of each of those groups to overcome any obstacles that tricky room could toss their way.

Let’s hope that any shows we see in the next year live up to the unbelievable standard that this past year has set!

Death From Above 1979, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

For a couple of hours last night, I felt both 14 and 40 simultaneously.  It’s the kind of feeling you can only get when you’re watching a favorite band from your younger and more vulnerable years thrash away at an otherwise-unbearable volume.  Sure, the body can take the abuse of the unruly masses for only a couple of songs these days, but it doesn’t compare to the euphoria of a fucking great performance.

Easily the high point of that lineup

Easily the high point of that lineup

I had been waiting ten years for this show, and I was not going to be content observing the proceedings from a safe spot in the middle of the crowd.  I was one of the few people to give these guys radio play back when You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine first came out, and since then I had desperately wanted to see DFA1979’s furious intensity translated into a live setting.  Instead, due to mostly just bad luck, I had to be content during that long wait to merely play their album hundreds of times or attempting to track down whatever live footage I could find (like their brilliant performance on Conan).  A couple of years later, Sebastien and Jesse broke up, and it seemed like any chance to see the duo live was lost to history.  Of course, we all know now that the band reunited a few years ago, but still I wasn’t any closer to seeing these guys.  There was the initial insistence on playing far-flung festivals that I had no intention of attending, but even when circumstances conspired to put us in the same city at the same time, it wasn’t enough–I was there the year that they surprised SXSW with their reunification, but due to my outdated phone I heard the confirmation hours after their tiny venue had already overfilled well past capacity, and had to be content to learn the details secondhand the next day.  So yeah, I was going to through caution and good sense out the window and get as close as possible, the terrors of the pit be damned.

As soon as the opening piano chords of “Turn It Out” were triggered, the crowd began to lose its (collective) mind as their anticipation reached a fever pitch.  When the drums and bass finally kicked in, all hell broke loose and any chance that I had of being in control of my own movements went out the window, at least for the rest of the song; I found myself tossed from the far left of the stage all the way to the central barrier dividing All-Ages from Boozers with no idea how I got there, though I was jumping up and down to the beat the whole time.  “Right On, Frankenstein” brought a similar pattern of events, but when a shoelace came undone, I decided that it was best to make a break off to the side and fix the issue for safety’s sake.  And as a result of the wisdom that can only come with age, I took the opportunity to camp out at the side for the rest of the show, getting all the benefit of being close to the stage with much less wear and tear on the body.

It was all kind of a blur at the beginning

It was all kind of a blur at the beginning

With the physical terror no longer a concern, I was able to focus more clearly on the music.  The band placed an emphasis on the new material, playing all or nearly-all of The Physical World, and the crowd displayed a remarkable amount of enthusiasm considering the album was only released two months ago.  Sebastien and Jesse played their parts brilliantly, as they were effortlessly able to recreate the sounds of the album, and showing that the years of touring experience have served them well.  When the band dipped into their early songs, the audience found an extra gear and responded in an even more frenzied manner–during the climax of “Little Girl” one fan was able to launch himself completely above the crowd, as if shot from a cannon, to the delight/terror of those around him.  It was also fun to see the duo take the opportunity to stretch certain sections out and play around with the structure of the old songs, breathing new life into decade-old material.

A safer angle

A safer angle

The Crystal Ballroom can be a fickle place to play for a lot of bands, with its wonky acoustics and expansive layout, but Death From Above 1979 was able to keep the feel of a punk club; all elements (bass, keyboards, drums, and vocals) came through with great clarity, and the band tried to keep all sections of the audience involved.  Sebastien was surprised to see a balcony way in the back, opining that those people decided to sit so far back “just to get a look down the shirts of the audience below”; he also expressed bemusement at the strict separation as required by the OLCC, a sentiment with which we share.  The stage show was modest, with their trademark logo being the sole decoration and a line of white strobe lights being the main effect, but this minimalism served them well when they expertly deployed a sudden shift to red lights during the chorus of “White Is Red.”  But the coolest effect was probably the cheapest one possible–during the final song of the encore, Sebastien emptied a bottle of water onto his drumset before launching into the coda of “The Physical World”, and the effect of seeing the water splash high into the air during that brilliant finale was mesmerizing.  Hundreds of cameraphones went up to capture that moment, but it felt better just to experience the moment on its own.  So, sorry I have no actual footage of this–you’ll just have to see it for yourself when Death From Above stops by your town.