EL VY

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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Catching Up On The Week (Nov. 20 Edition)

A few #longreads for the weekend…

This week we have a few articles for your perusal that directly relate to the bands we covered over the past few days.  First, we have two extended profiles on Beach Slang, our new favorite band.  SPIN dives into the band’s biography in detail, while Grantland (R.I.P.) looks at the band in context of modern indie rock.

After reading our review of Everclear’s sold-out show in support of the twentieth anniversary of Sparkle and Fade, be sure to check out this Willamette Week piece which provides details on the making of the album (and covers how Art Alexakis earned a certain reputation around Portland), as well as this interview with Art for The Oregonian.

Finally, settle in and read this lengthy look at the state of The National from Stereogum, including how they ended up pursuing side projects like EL VY and Pfarmers, as well as the work that the band has done in following up Trouble Will Find Me.

Review: EL VY – Return to the Moon

Side-projects are best experienced with an open mind, with little-to-no expectations based on the previous work of its members.  They are often useful for musicians, in that they provide an outlet for previously unused musical ideas or allow them to express different aspects of their personalities, but they can prove disappointing to the audience when the work does not match the quality of previous results.  So while it may be initially tempting to have high hopes for a collaboration between members of The National and Menomena, two of the best bands in indie rock from the past decade, it is probably in the listener’s best interests to approach their work with caution.

Then again, EL VY’s Return to the Moon is a thoroughly enjoyable lark, and fans of the other bands of Brent Knopf and Matt Berninger should find plenty to love with this project.

In many ways, Return to the Moon is a side-project that lives up to the expectations of a supergroup, since in many ways it does sound like a more experimental Menomena record with guest vocals from The National.  Knopf brings the cut-and-paste approach of his former group, offering up hundreds of quick musical ideas over the album’s eleven tracks; careful listeners may be able to pick out variations of the piano riff and acoustic guitar chords from “Wet and Rusting” sprinkled into a couple of tracks.  The music generally sticks to that intimate indie rock style, but there are quick forays into funk and other left-field genres that keeps the listener guessing.

Berninger seems to relish the chance to step outside the seriousness of his regular gig, and reveals a more playful part of his personality.  This is most apparent in the playful and profane “I’m the Man to Be”, which includes a line in the chorus about his “person”.  For the most part, Berninger is content to deliver his vocals with that trademark soothing baritone, which fits in nicely with Knopf’s compositions.

The album tends to lose momentum as it progresses, though the blend of the harder-hitting “Sad Case” and “Happiness, Missouri” is a highlight of the second half.  However, the opening title track is one of the catchiest singles of the year, and had me humming along for the past few weeks, and there are several other pleasant songs that are nearly its equal.

EL VY, Live at the Doug Fir

The show on Tuesday night had the atmosphere of a homecoming, even though it was only EL VY’s second show.  Even the tickets reflected the casual nature of the evening, as it described the group as “a collaboration between The National’s Matt Berninger and Me.”  The “Me” of course refers to local musician Brent Knopf, who has previously delighted Portland music fans with his previous work in Menomena as well as his solo effort as Ramona Falls, and now makes up the other half of this indie rock “supergroup”.  While there were a couple of issues in making the transition from recording project to a functioning live act, they were only minor speed bumps during an otherwise entertaining show.

One of the coolest concert posters ever.

One of the coolest concert posters ever.

The band’s debut album Return to the Moon had only been released on Friday, and I am sure there were many in the crowd that had not been able to listen to it in its entirety before the show (my copy only arrived the afternoon of the show, so I was only able to get through it once).  Nevertheless, the audience remained enthusiastic throughout the night, even if they had no idea what to expect.   The crowd did show their appreciation for the few songs that they did know, with a few even having learned enough of the lyrics to sing along for a bit.  Songs like “Return to the Moon” and “I’m the Man to Be” had an extra pop to them and were highlights of the set, and one could easily see why they were shared in advance of the album.

The tone of the evening was very light and informal, and one could see that Matt enjoyed the break from the usual seriousness associated with his main gig.  Matt had fun with Brent as he spent some time in-between songs trying to diagnose what exactly went wrong for a couple of measures, citing his own inability to remember his cue to sing for one and playfully arguing with Brent about how one of his chords caused him to overshoot on a vocal jump in another (and in the process showing the difference between recording alone to a track and singing with a live group).  But for the most part, everything went as seamless as one could expect from a brand new group playing one of their first shows.

EL VY also enjoyed the opportunity to play with some of their friends, as local musician Ural Thomas joined in to help fill in some of the background vocals he provided on the album, along with opening act Moorea Masa.  But perhaps the best moment of the night was when the group selected an out-of-leftfield cover, the massive Fine Young Cannibals hit “She Drives Me Crazy”.  Matt opted to bring Roland Gift’s falsetto down a couple of octaves, but otherwise the band captured the song perfectly, to the delight of many in the crowd.

The lighting makes it seem so dramatic.

The lighting makes it seem so dramatic.

Opening act Hibou were quite impressive, veering from the quiet and languid music that recalled Deerhunter to more epic, bombastic rock that would fit in perfectly fine at an arena and not a basement club.  Moorea Masa has a beautiful voice, and the delicate harmonies that she produced with her fellow vocalists brought to mind a female version of Fleet Foxes.  I am looking forward to seeing both of these acts swing through town again.

Over the Weekend (Nov. 2 Edition)

New music, new videos, and other fun stuff to help start off your week…

Halloween has come and gone, but that does not mean we have to stop sharing “scary” music videos.  The bands White Lung and Pink Mountaintops have joined forces to collaborate as the super-group “Pink Lung” for a special compilation EP, and have created a Halloween-inspired video for their contribution “Chinese Watermelon”.  It is quite bizarre, and shares a certain sensibility with the old Japanese horror film House with its penchant for odd, dark humor and cheesy effects.

EL VY also joined in on the Halloween fun, releasing a video for “Silent Ivy Hotel” that was inspired by the celebration of the holiday.  It is a perfect match of song and theme, since the tune has elements that are reminiscent of such spooky classics as “I Put A Spell on You” and “The Munsters Theme”, among others.

Halloween videos were not the only ones that were released last week, as Kendrick Lamar shared the short film for his track “These Walls”, which features a great mid-song dance break with both Kendrick Lamar and actor Terry Crews.  Everyone looks like they had a good time with this one, but the video does end on a cliffhanger.

If you were wondering what the hell was the point of Meow The Jewels, you are in luck, since Run The Jewels has released a short documentary explaining the creation of the charity album.

Finally, we have another Maynard James Keenan interview for your perusal, as he answers “11 Questions” for The AV Club.

Over the Weekend (Oct. 26 Edition)

News, new videos, and other fun stuff to help you get through the week…

The biggest news of the weekend was the announcement that David Bowie will be releasing a new album next year.  There should be high hopes for Blackstar when it comes out on January 8, since Bowie’s last record (The Next Day) was pretty damn good. In other words, this is not merely the case of fans expressing nostalgia for the golden years of a legendary artist, but legitimate excitement for a new album–especially if it is as “completely bonkers”as one “insider” suggested.

Run The Jewels 2 was released a year ago today, and to celebrate the occasion, Run The Jewels has released a music video for “Angel Duster”, which features footage of the duo performing all around the country.

EL VY has released another lyric video from their upcoming album Return to the Moon, which will be released this Friday.  This time the duo of Matt Berninger (The National) and Brent Knopf (Menomena, Ramona Falls) have a video for the bouncy “Need a Friend”.

You may want to make sure you catch the The Late Show with Stephen Colbert tonight, because Chance the Rapper is set to release a new song with Stephen himself on the show.

In case you did not get your fix of write-ups on Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Consequence of Sound has a ranking of all 28 tracks.  Quibbles: the title track and “Here Is No Why” are underrated, “Galapagos” and “Porcelina of the Vast Oceans” are overrated.  But at least the top track is correct.

That is not the only list CoS prepared last week–they have one that documents “25 Essential Performances” from Pearl Jam to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the band’s first show.

And finally, this list serves as a bit of homework for our readers, as Stereogum lists the 50 Best New Bands of 2015.  We will definitely be consulting this list for the next few days, and it is probably a good idea if our readers do the same as well.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 14 Edition)

New music, videos, and other news to help you kick off the week…

This week we have quite a few videos to share, and not much else, so it should be pretty easy for our readers to have fun while expending a minimum of effort.  First, we recommend that fans of The Black Keys take a look at The Arcs, the latest side-project from Dan Auerbach.  The new group recently released their album Yours, Dreamily… and last week put out a psychedelic video for their song “Outta My Mind”, which recalls the recent work of Dan’s main gig, if a little more playful in tone.

Speaking of side-projects, Matt Berninger (frontman of The National) and Brent Knopf (Ramona Falls, formerly of Menomena) have joined forces to record as EL VY, and the results they have shared so far are interesting to say the least.  Their album Return to the Moon is not set to be released until October 30, but for now enjoy Matt having some fun in SoCal with the slinky “I’m The Man To Be”.

Albert Hammond, Jr. of The Strokes is promoting his third solo album, Momentary Masters, and for the video of “Caught By My Shadow” he pays a bit of homage to The Seventh Seal with his chess battle with death.  However, viewers are unlikely to confuse it with the Bergman classic, considering Hammond’s version involves way more special effects.

If you are still in the mood for something strange, be sure to watch Viet Cong’s latest video from their self-titled debut, “Bunker Buster”, which features some bizarre visuals and a sci-fi storyline.

The premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was the biggest news in entertainment last week, and among the memorable moments from the show’s first week was this amazing performance by Kendrick Lamar of a medley of songs from To Pimp a Butterfly.  Be sure also to tune in on Tuesday night, when Run the Jewels are set to perform with TV on the Radio.

Apparently The Decemberists were even more productive during their hiatus, as in addition to this year’s What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, the band is set to release the EP Florasongs on October 9.  The band gives a taste of what to expect with the song “Why Would I Now?”

And finally, if you are looking for something to satisfy your desire for lists, you might check SPIN’s look back to 1995 with their list of “The 95 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1995”.