DIIV

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2019

Today is April 15, and though circumstances are not what they usually are for this time of year, we here at Rust Is Just Right have decided to brighten your spirits a bit by following tradition and releasing our Best Albums of the Year list.  We follow this unusual schedule for a few reasons: 1) It allows some of the albums that are released at the end of the calendar year to get some recognition, since they usually get swallowed up in the attention of the flurry of year-end lists and 2) We get the chance to analyze other lists to pick up on albums that somehow escaped our attention during the course of the year.  Unlike other years, however, we do not recommend spending your stimulus money on these albums, though if you have money to spare consider different ways of supporting your favorite musicians directly.

The process that is used to determine this list is highly rigorous and hardly scientific.  However, we are still in the process of attempting to patent and trademark The Process, which if you may recall, is simply tallying up the play counts on iTunes for each album.  It has served us well in years past, and a quick glance at our list this year proves that it has worked once again.

Note: Though the list is a Top 10, there are more albums than slots, because we don’t like breaking ties for the same play count.  If you’re really intent on focusing on only 10, I guess take the 10 highest performing albums from the list, but you really shouldn’t limit yourself like that if you can help it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (12 plays)

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

2. Bon Iver  – i,i (14 plays)

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

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

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

Best of the Rest: Other Highlights of 2016

Even with our expanded Best-Of list courtesy of The Process, there were still a ton of great albums released last year that were worthy of recognition.  Since we here at Rust Is Just Right are big believers in spreading all good music, we’re going to put a spotlight on some other great records that you may have overlooked from the past year.

YG – Still Brazy

This would be a memorable album even if it didn’t include the future national anthem of the United States, “FDT.”

Wilco – Schmilco

A delicate album that seems tossed-off now, but future Wilco fans will enjoy as a secret gem.

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

The token country album, but its status as one that even indie kids would enjoy is earned, even beyond the touching cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.”

PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project

Forgotten too soon (or worse, seen as a disappointment), this was a strong album from one of rock’s most consistent artists.

Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow

It didn’t measure up to their debut, but there’s still gold in their shoegaze-meets-hard rock sound.

The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect

Not quite as strong as their debut, but it was a treat to see Alex Turner’s side-project return once again

Gojira – Magma

I saw these guys open up for Mastodon, and instantly became a fan.

DIIV – Is The Is Are

They pretty much play only one song, but it’s a good one.

Death Grips – Bottomless Pit

Just when it seemed like the creative well was running dry, Death Grips find new nuance in their abrasive sound.

David Bowie – Blackstar

Goddamn, who knew he had this in his backpocket the entire time?  Bowie was still capable of musical surprises, like this futuro-jazz album, up until the end.

Dame D.O.L.L.A. – The Letter O

Damian Lillard is easily the best rapper in NBA history (and in all of professional sports), but really his talent is better than everything that sentence implies.

Clipping. – Splendor and Misery

Daveed Diggs got mass recognition for his role in “Hamilton,” but a lot of fans would prefer he stick to his day job.  A great sci-fi hip-hop concept album.

Bleached – Welcome the Worms

One of the strongest garage rock albums during the current wave of the genre.

Also Worthy of Praise

Yuck – Stranger Things, Band of Horses – Why Are You OK, Wire – Nocturnal Koreans, Banks & Steelz – Anything But Words, Joy Formidable – Hitch

All Albums That Were Considered

In the interests of full disclosure, here are all the other albums that we listened to last year, in full.  Most of these were quite good and worthy of repeated listens, but they just could not crack the previous lists.

The Men – Devil Music, Kanye West – The Life of Pablo, Beyonce – Lemonade, Frank Ocean – Blonde, Red Fang – Only Ghosts, Teenage Fanclub – Here, Anderson .Paak – Malibu, Beach Slang – A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, Tim Hecker – Love Streams, Adrian Younge – Something About April II, A Giant Dog – Pile, Walter Martin – Arts & Leisure, Andrew Bird – Are You Serious, Bloc Party – Hymns, Holy Fuck – Congrats, Pixies – Head Carrier, Yung – A Youthful Dream, Dandy Warhols – Distortland, Pinegrove – Cardinal, of Montreal – Innocence Reaches, Savages – Adore Life, Hot Hot Heat – Hot Hot Heat, DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will Fall, Deerhoof – The Magic, Woods – City Sun Eater in the River of Light, Tindersticks – The Waiting Room, White Lung – Paradise, Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”

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.

Catching Up On The Week (Sept. 4 Edition)

Some #longreads for your perusal this long holiday weekend…

If there is one person who knows the proper way to relax as summer winds down, it is Willie Nelson.  The Red Headed Stranger recently opened up to GQ in an entertaining interview, focusing mainly on his decades-long relationship with the sticky-icky, and revealing who exactly was with him when he was smoking up on the White House roof.

Last week we shared one retrospective on Kanye West’s Late Registration, but we recommend you read the AV Club write-up of the album as well.  Their piece for this week’s Permanent Records feature on Hot Fuss from The Killers is not as essential, though it did lead me to an entertaining theory as to a possible hidden storyline behind the album.

(For the record, “Jenny Was A Friend of Mine” and “Smile Like You Mean It” are the superior singles from that record, and the closer “Everything Will Be Alright” should not be relegated to the also-ran status that has been given to the entirety of the album’s Side B.)

DIIV is set to finally release their follow-up to 2012’s Oshin, and The Fader talks to frontman Zachary Cole Smith about the events of the past few years as the band recorded Is the Is Are.

Finally, be sure to read this fascinating conversation between Huck Magazine and the legendary Ian MacKaye (Fugazi, Minor Thread), as they engage in a thought-provoking philosophical discussion.  It is more interesting than it sounds, I assure you.

Review: Alvvays – Alvvays

Summer may be winding down, but luckily it’s not over quite yet; there are still a couple more weekends for you to enjoy some sunshine and relaxation before the horrors of autumn begin.  However, you might be getting a little annoyed with listening to the same Summer Mix playlist on your iTunes–a perfectly understandable concern.  To that end, it is worth checking out the self-titled debut of the sunny beach-pop band Alvvays.

(Ed. note: from what I’ve read about the band, despite the odd spelling, the name is still pronounced “Always”)

There have been several bands that have mined this vein of indie rock in recent years, most notably DIIV and Real Estate; the trademarked trebly guitars laced with reverb, the simplistic percussion, and the general laid-back vibe are all present on the album.  Even though there are many strong similarities between these groups, the upbeat disposition of many of the songs as well as the unique vocals of Molly Rankin help distinguish the group from its peers.  Whereas Real Estate would be perfect for spending the day relaxing by the ocean, Alvvays fits better as the soundtrack to help get you amped on the car ride to the beach.

The album begins with a 1-2 punch of “Adult Diversion” and “Archie, Marry Me”, and it’s easy to see why these two songs were the first singles.  “Adult Diversion” is propelled by a bouncy arpeggiated guitar part and airy vocals, a combination where one can note the apt comparisons to DIIV, but the true engine is the driving bassline, which provides both momentum and a great counterpoint.  “Archie, Marry Me” is a a great pop song with a big chorus, with a style that recalls the Dum Dum Girls and their attempts to capture that 60’s nostalgia haze.  While it’s easy to get caught up in the big sweeping hooks, the best part of the song is actually the feedback-drenched lead guitar in the second verse that provides a necessary subtle edge to the gauzy production.

The album is not without its problems, as the momentum begins to sag around the middle with “The Agency Group” and “Dives”.  The latter is actually a well-done ballad with enough unique touches that are promising for the future, but within the context of the album it just ends up being a drag.  Alvvays is able to avoid falling off the rails with the energetic “Atop A Cake” and its extremely catchy chorus, which should have you singing “How can I lose control when you’re driving from the backseat” long after you’ve finished listening to the album.  Other highlights include “Ones Who Love You”, a great slow number that gradually builds into a shocking climax of “You can’t feel your fucking face” before breaking back down once again, and the midtempo song “Party Police”, which is built around an intriguing minor-key guitar lick and finds Rankin hitting an unexpected high note like Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries or Sinéad O’Connor.

When Alvvays is hitting on all cylinders, it’s a fun ride; unfortunately, there are a few too many moments when it stalls.  That said, it’s a solid debut that can easily find a place in any future Summer Mix, and the band displays enough talent that it’s worth watching what they do in the future.