Due to the global pandemic, there was a disruption to “The Process” in constructing our annual best-of list for the year. However, we still wanted to recognize that music was in fact released during these difficult times, and sometimes it was even quite good. So once again, for the purposes of our records (and your shopping list), here are our favorite albums from the past year.
10. Idles – Ultra Mono; EOB – Earth
9. Wolf Parade – Thin Mind; Moaning – Uneasy Laughter
8. Fleet Foxes – SHORE; Muzz – Muzz
7. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters; Cults – Host; Deftones – Ohms
6. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud; Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
5. Pearl Jam – Gigaton; Hum – Inlet; The Strokes – The New Abnormal
4. X – Alphabetland; Washed Out – Purple Noon
3. Run the Jewels – RTJ4; Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Having spent some time working at a radio station, I understand many of the problems and concerns that come with writing up a playlist and fitting music into the right slots, in addition to the more general concern of finding and maintaining listeners. So I understand the point of cutting songs down into more manageable slices so they can be shuffled in and out more easily, as well as avoid the possibility of driving away potential ears if an unpleasant song goes on too long. This is especially the case when songs from bands new to a station’s playlist get added; it’s best to approach with caution to make sure that your listeners are fans.
However, I find that once songs are dropped from current rotation but are maintained in the station’s library shouldn’t have to encounter those same difficulties. Once a band becomes an accepted part of the format, it makes little sense to me why the radio should continue to play the shortened version of a song, especially when in the meantime many fans went out and bought the album or song and got used to the way it was intended to be played. With that in mind, here is a short list of the songs that stations need to replace with their album versions immediately.
5. Nine Inch Nails – “Closer”
Now I understand why stations would want to play the radio edit of this song, if simply for the convenience of not going in to edit all the non-PACIFICA approved language themselves. I say this even though I know all of us twenty years later know exactly what Trent wants to do to someone like an animal. My main problem is that it also chops off close to two minutes of pure instrumental genius near the end. I know it’s tough for radio stations to have plain music without vocals playing for extended periods of time, but throw the audience a bone once in a while and toss in the full version every once in a while. We’re sophisticated consumers at this point, and we know what to expect.
4. Silversun Pickups – “Lazy Eye”
If you only listened to this song when it came on the radio, you would have no idea that this song contains the most beautiful feedback-drenched guitar solo since the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Drown”. That is, unless you listened to my old radio station. Our station never got a radio-ready copy of the single, and instead we just played the album version of the song that we had from when we played the song on our specialty new music show. We simply dropped that version into regular rotation, and somehow managed to survive with a six-minute song getting heavy rotation for a few months. It can be done.
3. The Black Keys – “Little Black Submarines”
It makes sense that our ultra-hyperactive generation can’t sit still enough through two acoustic verses, that we have to get to the RAWK immediately. But this kills the beauty of the song in my eyes. In the radio edit, the acoustic beginning serves as mere prelude to the heavy second part of the song, and especially with the fact that the backing organ comes in so early in this version it feels inevitable that the distortion is going to kick in soon. With the album version, the first part feels more complete, as if we are listening to two equal songs together. By drawing out the soft beginning, it also gives more weight and emotion to that kickass second half, and it feels more earned.
2. Interpol – “PDA”; Interpol – “Obstacle 1”
We’ve got a tie at this spot, since I can’t choose between the two of them which edit is worse. With “Obstacle 1”, the bridge is severely cut, and in a rarity, we even lose some lyrics. While some may be pleased that there are people that never heard the line “Her stories are boring and stuff”, they miss the opportunity to marvel at Sam Fogarino’s shuffling drums and some more of Carlos D’s unique basslines.
The hatchet-job is even worse with “PDA”, as the ending is completely chopped off in an absolutely graceless manner. The interplay between the different guitars is one of Interpol’s best musical moments, but apparently we shouldn’t be allowed to appreciate that.
1. Deftones – “Change (In the House of Flies)”
The video version of the breakthrough hit from the Deftones cuts even more than the radio version, but I’ll allow it because 1) the video is pretty great and 2) it helped the band reach a massive new audience. But the radio version commits the unforgivable sin of fading out just before Abe Cunningham’s drums kick in once again with one of the best fills of the decade as the song ramps up one more time before gradually winding down for the finish. The minimal damage that would be done by letting the song linger for thirty seconds longer is what puts this edit at the top of my list.
BONUS CATEGORY: SONG THAT WOULD BENEFIT FROM A RADIO EDIT
Tomorrow is a big day for Rust Is Just Right, because we’ll be releasing our long-awaited list of the Best Albums of 2013. We’ll explain why we chose that particular day for the big reveal tomorrow, but just be content knowing that the day will finally be here. Meanwhile we have a selection of videos to help you ease into the week.
Last week, Queens of the Stone Age released a music video of their latest single, “Smooth Sailing”, featuring Josh Homme on a wild night of partying with a group of businessmen. As the old saying goes, beware of what karaoke may bring. Now’s a good time to familiarize yourself with the song and the rest of …Like Clockwork, because we’ll have a review of their live show later this week, and QOTSA will certainly make an appearance in tomorrow’s Best Of list. You could check out their performance at Coachella from this past weekend as well; Pitchfork has their performance as well as many others, so they’re worth checking out.
Eels also released a music video last week for “Mistakes of My Youth”, the lead single from the upcoming album The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett. The full album is also available for streaming on YouTube, ahead of its release date next week on the 22nd. It seems the band has stepped back from the happier, livelier sound of Wonderful, Glorious to a more delicate, winsome sound that E has favored on recent albums, but long-time fans of the band should be pleased.
Atmosphere just released a music video for “Kanye West”, their latest single from their upcoming album Southsiders. It’s a fun Bonnie & Clyde story, with an unexpected couple, with a cameo from Slug as a cashier.
Yesterday saw an unexpected release from the Deftones, as they released a track from the Eros sessions in memory of their departed bassist, Chi Cheng, who died a year ago on Sunday. “Smile” was the first song we’ve heard from the sessions, which were put on hold after Cheng had gone into a coma after a car accident. Though Chino Moreno had himself posted the song, the record label took it down because of copyright issues; we’ll see how long the link I’ve posted lasts.
We also got a brand new track today from The Black Keys, who posted the title track to their upcoming release Turn Blue today. It’s a groovy ballad, reminiscent in my mind of their cover of “Never Gonna Give You Up” and featuring that trademark Danger Mouse bass.
A few quick links you may have missed this week and worthy of your time this weekend
Chino Moreno is best known for his work as the vocalist for the Deftones, but he is definitely unafraid to branch out and work with other artists (Palms, Team Sleep). Now Chino has a new project called ††† (Crosses), and they released their debut album out this week. Chino gave interviews to SPIN and Rolling Stone, discussing his musical influences and other interesting stories including battles with labels over his career. For me though, the one piece of information that most intrigued me was finding out that Chino now lives in Oregon. If I ever see him around, I’ll be sure to welcome him.
Happy Birthday Oregon!
Mark Kozelek has a new album out this week under his Sun Kil Moon moniker called Benji which is already drawing raves for both the evolution of his style and the stark, deeply personal lyrics. He did an interview with Pitchfork a couple of weeks ago, and you can read it here.