Today is April 15, and though circumstances are not what they usually are for this time of year, we here at Rust Is Just Right have decided to brighten your spirits a bit by following tradition and releasing our Best Albums of the Year list. We follow this unusual schedule for a few reasons: 1) It allows some of the albums that are released at the end of the calendar year to get some recognition, since they usually get swallowed up in the attention of the flurry of year-end lists and 2) We get the chance to analyze other lists to pick up on albums that somehow escaped our attention during the course of the year. Unlike other years, however, we do not recommend spending your stimulus money on these albums, though if you have money to spare consider different ways of supporting your favorite musicians directly.
The process that is used to determine this list is highly rigorous and hardly scientific. However, we are still in the process of attempting to patent and trademark The Process, which if you may recall, is simply tallying up the play counts on iTunes for each album. It has served us well in years past, and a quick glance at our list this year proves that it has worked once again.
Note: Though the list is a Top 10, there are more albums than slots, because we don’t like breaking ties for the same play count. If you’re really intent on focusing on only 10, I guess take the 10 highest performing albums from the list, but you really shouldn’t limit yourself like that if you can help it.
10. Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿; Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost–Part 2; Jay Som – Anak Ko; Tyler, the Creator – IGOR; Wilco – Ode to Joy (5 plays)
The mood on Danny Brown’s latest was a bit lighter than his previous album Atrocity Exhibition, but the hooks weren’t quite as memorable this time around. The second half of the ambitious new work from Foals rocked harder than the first from start to finish, with the fiery “The Runner” and the epic “Neptune” as clear standouts, but the lack of variation made it suffer in comparison. Jay Som provided some of the best lo-fi indie rock of the year, with nifty and inventive melodies (like the hook in “Devotion”). Tyler and Wilco both continued the path of their most recent releases to dial it down a notch, both to pleasant results.
9. Big K.R.I.T. – K.R.I.T. Iz Here; Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana; Maxo Kream – Brandon Banks (6 plays)
K.R.I.T. followed up RIJR favorite 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time with a solid effort, but most of the best tracks were already released on EPs the previous year. Bandana mixed fun coke rap with incisive political cracks and Madlib’s production was in fine form. Maxo Kream showed off one of the most infectious flows of 2019, which made it easy to revisit the album again and again.
8. Beck – Hyperspace; Operators – Radiant Dawn; Titus Andronicus – An Obelisk (7 plays)
Beck continued to operate in “fun” mode like his previous album Colors, but this time the mood is slightly more relaxed, if a bit sedate. It’s no surprise that we here at RIJR would love whatever project Dan Boeckner (Da Gawd) is working on at the moment, and we were glad to see him return to the synthpop of Operators. While we were bigger fans of Patrick Stickles’s foray into more “acoustic” songs with A Productive Cough, we were not going to stop him from lashing out and rocking out once again with the furious An Obelisk.
7. Denzel Curry – ZUU; Mannequin Pussy – Patience (8 plays)
We initially were skeptical of Denzel Curry, but his fiery cover of “Bulls on Parade” converted us into fans, and Curry keeps the energy up on the raucous ZUU. One shouldn’t assume that Mannequin Pussy is our (by now) token female garage rock choice, because the group showed off chops and ambition that far outstrip that kind of pigeonholing.
6. DIIV – Deceiver; Orville Peck – Pony (9 plays)
Considering Slowdive grabbed the top spot a couple of years ago and My Bloody Valentine’s previous high ranking when they returned before that, it should not be a surprise to find a shoegaze album on the list. The shock is from DIIV accomplishing the feat–sure, their bouncy, surf-style jangle music skirted around the genre, but we couldn’t have expected them to recreate some of the most unique sounds from the legends of the genre and find cool new ways to use them. Of course, longtime readers are probably more surprised to see a country album this high up on our list, but Orville is no ordinary cowboy. However, if there were more artists that could croon like Roy Orbison and back it with gorgeous spare guitar, then maybe we would see more representation from that genre on this list in the future.
5. Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost–Part 1 (10 plays)
We got a sense of the scope of the ambitions Foals had with their first release of the year, and honestly the album could have been fine as a stand-alone. Not as heavy as their recent efforts, but the band compensated by experimenting with different instruments and tones while also focusing on finding new grooves. It may have been a little bit more difficult to get into at first, but the efforts pay off.
4. The National – I Am Easy to Find (11 plays)
Oh wow, what a surprise–RIJR loves an album from The National! However, the relatively low placement may throw some of our loyal readers for a loop. Much like the rest of their catalog, it takes several listens for I Am Easy to Find to get nested and settled in your head, but again like the rest of their catalog, the effort is worth it. The inclusion of guest vocals from a variety of women helps the album stand out in their discography, and their contributions provide an excellent counterpoint to Berninger’s sonorous baritone. In the end, a sagging middle section blunts the momentum of an otherwise excellent addition to the band’s discography, but we guarantee you will love hearing these songs live.
3. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (12 plays)
We never got the chance to dive into the excellent work of the Silver Jews, but that was beginning to change with the release of David Berman’s new project Purple Mountains. We once again had his trademark imagery and wordplay, but this time with a fuller and more expansive backing band. Unfortunately the album was forever marked by Berman’s subsequent suicide a few weeks after its release, and it remains almost impossible to listen to this beautiful masterpiece without that knowledge hanging in the air. Still, David was up front and blunt about his struggles, and we are all the better for him describing them to us in such vivid detail. Somehow, lines like “All the suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind” become even more poignant with every passing day.
2. Bon Iver – i,i (14 plays)
This was the year we became full-fledged acolytes to the Bon Iver experience and are ready to spread the gospel of Justin Vernon and Co.’s genius. Their latest can best be described as a synthesis of their previous work–you have the experimentalist aspects of 22, A Million mixed with the 80s soft jazz/synth sounds of bon iver, bon iver with the classic falsetto seen in For Emma, Forever Ago. The ability of the group to use a cut-and-paste approach (and then recreate them live) continues to amaze us, and has led to some incredible results.
1. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (16 plays)
We have long been champions of Sharon Van Etten, and we were immensely overjoyed to see her put together one of the finest albums top-to-bottom of recent years, followed by tours that saw her playing far bigger venues than ever before (moving up from the cozy confines of the Doug Fir to selling out the Crystal Ballroom is quite the jump, which was quickly followed up by opening for Bon Iver on their arena tour). The music may have shifted from traditional guitar-based singer-songwriter styles to a more electronics-heavy approach, but none of the magic was lost. Remind Me Tomorrow is an incredibly dense and layered record, and listeners will pick out wonderful new details each time through. But what still remains is Sharon’s incredible voice, as well as her captivating and exemplary lyrics, wringing out incredible emotion from every note. Just about every song deserves its own full-post write-up, but we’ll leave you with our pick for song of the year, “Seventeen”.