Flying Lotus

Best of the Rest: Other Highlights from 2014

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.

Atmosphere – Southsiders.  At this point in their career, you know what you’re going to get with Atmosphere, and for occasional fans that’s perfect.  Slug still comes up with great one-liners, and Ant provides an intriguing, grimy production to back him up.

Biblical – Monsoon Season.  This selection is proof that good things can happen when you show up to see the opening act.  We first caught them when they were touring with Death From Above 1979, and we instantly fell for their version of heavy metal that takes the sensibility of Queens of the Stone Age and Mastodon and expands it out to include several rocking solos.  A prog version of Red Fang?  We’re there.

clipping. – CLPPNG.  These guys do a great job of pushing the boundaries of modern rap, though their experimentalism can get the best of them on occasion.  There are several instances on CLPPNG that the abrasiveness becomes oppressive, but then there are plenty of other times where everything coalesces and it just hits.  Throughout the record, MC Daveed Diggs showcased some of the best technique of the past year, displaying an impressive ear for rhythm and deploying some incisive rhymes, with “Story 2” serving as the most prominent example.

Flying Lotus – You’re Dead!.  This mixture of electronica, jazz, hip-hop, and R&B flows effortlessly from one track to the next and always keeps your attention.  Kendrick Lamar’s appearance on “Never Catch Me” is the highlight, but there is a lot of fun to be had throughout the album.

King Tuff – Black Moon Spell.  A unique mix of glam rock and lo-fi indie, the best moments of this album are some of the most fun rock’n’roll released last year.

Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun.  Mastodon continues to evolve and refine their sound, reining in some of their tendencies towards excess with more concise songs but still adventurous enough to seek out some crazy riffs and solos.  In this way, Once More serves as an efficient composite of their previous albums, but also features some of their catchiest riffs yet.

The Roots – …And then you shoot your cousin.  The Roots are so consistently excellent that they are practically the Spoon of hip-hop.  Their latest concept album was overlooked and underrated, and though it suffers from a diminished presence from Black Thought, the record still works even if it leans on more traditional R&B than rap.

Slow Bird – Chrysalis.  They show a good ear for slow builds and pretty melodies, and  one can hear the foundation for future success.

Tweedy – Sukierae.  Who would have thought that Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer would make a good team?  This side project has enough of the charm of his main gig in Wilco, while also offering enough of an alternative that makes it a worthwhile effort.

Walter Martin – We’re All Young Together.  This is the third solo album from a former member of The Walkmen released last year, but since the intended audience was for children there were much lower stakes involved.  However, this is one of those “kids albums” that is just as pleasant for adults, with its effortless easy-going charm.  If you play this for the kids, chances are they will grow up with good taste in music.

Also Worthy of Praise

Broken Bells – After the Disco; Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Only Run; D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah; Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita; Eels – The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett; Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways; Parquet Courts – Content Nausea; Sun Kil Moon – Benji; Temples – Sun Structures; tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack.

All Albums That Were Considered

Here is a list of the 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 good news is there were no absolute stinkers this year, though some were weaker efforts from bands that had excelled in the past.

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – IX; Band of Horses – Acoustic at the Ryman; The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Revelation; Circulatory System – Mosaics Within Mosaics; Cold War Kids – Hold My Home; Coldplay – Ghost Stories; Crosses – Crosses; Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots; Dum Dum Girls – Too True; Ghostface Killah – 36 Seasons; J Mascis – Tied To A Star; Jack White – Lazaretto; Karen O – Crush Songs; Kasabian – 48:13; Kevin Drew – Darlings; The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers; Philip Selway – Weatherhouse; Pixies – Indie Cindy; Thee Silver Mt. Zion – Fuck Off We Get Free We Pour Light On Everything; Thurston Moore – The Best Day; Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield; We Are Scientists – TV en Francais; Wye Oak – Shriek.

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Review: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar instantly launched himself into the ranks of the elite MCs with the release of his stellar album good kid, m.A.A.d. city, where he weaved with exceptional skill a complex narrative of a young man’s struggle to escape from all the various negative influences trying to entrap him.  good kid managed to avoid the primary problem that plagues most concept albums, as it never felt weighed down by the potential constraints of its central narrative; it was an album filled with hit singles (“Backseat Freestyle”, “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” are just three of the record’s modern classics) that could be enjoyed on their own, but gained an additional weight when placed in context with the underlying story.   Kendrick’s technical skills as both a rapper and a writer ensured that there would be heavy anticipation for its follow-up, and for months fans and critics were on the edge of their seats with each revelation.

To be sure, To Pimp A Butterfly meets and possibly exceeds all these expectations.  It is more ambitious than its predecessor, moving from documenting a personal struggle to a more universal one, as Kendrick analyzes the trials and tribulations that face black people in America today.  The result is a denser, less accessible album than good kid, but represents a true artistic statement.  It might best be explained by using the old music critic cliche of the analogous connection to a completely unrelated artist: if good kid, m.A.A.d. city is Kendrick’s The Bends, then To Pimp a Butterfly represents his OK Computer.

The music on Butterfly is a heady and thrilling mix of numerous jazz, funk, and R&B influences, veering from one style to the next and capturing a gamut of emotions and moods.  Though Flying Lotus is only credited as a producer for one song, it seems as if the experience of their previous collaboration rubbed off on Kendrick, with the free mix of jazz and electronic elements dominating a significant portion of the record.  As the album progresses, the music shifts from a smoother, freer feel to a more deliberate beat, and provides an excellent counter to Kendrick’s growing anger. Spoken word passages also play a significant role, with Kendrick periodically adding lines to a poem that begins each time with “I remember you was conflicted”, and it creates an interesting effect of breaking the album into sections while also providing a connective tissue with narrative thrust.

Butterfly is an album that takes a lot of effort to unpack, but the effort is worth it; though it runs close to eighty minutes, it never feels like a chore to listen.  There are not a wealth of singles like good kid, with most of the tracks sounding better in context; “i” works as a single, but it sounds even better as a culmination of the album’s themes and as a response to “u”.  As a result, in the future I can see most people (including myself) throwing on the other album more often, but the times we do listen to Butterfly will still be appreciated.  After all, this is an album that ends with Kendrick “interviewing” Tupac, and it makes perfect sense that the legend finally has a true successor.

Over the Weekend (Jan. 19 Edition)

Videos, news, and other fun music-related articles as you celebrate today’s holiday

In honor of today’s holiday, I hope you take some time to read Killer Mike’s excellent op-ed on how we should pay tribute to Dr. King’s true legacy.  Mike emphasizes the revolutionary ideals of Dr. King, and pushes us to do more than talk vaguely about his virtue but to take action.

Flying Lotus continues to deliver thought-provoking videos for his recent album, You’re Dead!,  with the latest being the dark and disturbing “Coronus, The Terminator”.  He writes in the comments, “For me, Coronus is one of the most important moments on You’re Dead! and holds ideas I’m planning to explore in my future work. I’m happy that the visual encapsulates the meaning of the record and this ambition[.]”

Modest Mouse also released their latest video this morning, with the fan site Interstate-8 providing the video for the track “Coyotes”.  The band had given a tease for the video this past weekend by posting a tweet of the video’s star, so at least those of us who were befuddled by the message now at least understand the meaning.

As a fan of Seattle bands (and the city in general) but not of their football team, it’s been a pretty difficult month.  First, I have to deal with Pearl Jam selling special “12th Man” t-shirts as well as Mike McCready raising a special 12th Man flag at the Space Needle, and then I have to see that Alice in Chains performed at halftime at the game on Sunday.  That said, it’s terrible for Fox not to have broadcast it, but kudos for the various fans who have been sharing footage from the show. (Update: The Seahawks are now sharing official footage of the performance.)

Most people know that bands often make ridiculous demands in their Tour Rider, but few make an actual game of it.  Enter the Foo Fighters, who included an activity book to help hammer home the important points and make sure that the various venues actually paid attention.

And finally, proof once again of the importance of music, with a recent study that shows that music training provides significant benefits to development in children’s brains.

Over the Weekend (Dec. 8 Edition)

Lists, lists, and more lists.  Oh, and the most metal animal on the planet…

Once again, we have even more Best-Of lists for you to peruse, including Best Albums of the Year lists from The AV Club, Stereogum, and God Is In The TV (though they only have half their list published as of today).  You’ll see a lot of our favorites appear on these lists, but you can use these lists like we do and try to track down stuff that you may have missed the first time.  The AV Club helps out even more in this regard by listing all the authors’ ballots, including less-represented genres like metal (courtesy of the lists of Jason Heller and Sean O’Neal).  Also, kudos to Ryan Bray for having Tomorrow’s Hits at the top of his list, since we love that album from The Men so much and it hasn’t been getting the recognition we feel it deserves.

Run The Jewels, who is of course well-represented on these lists, released a new video for “Oh My Darling (Don’t Cry)”.  Though not as involved as their effort in “Blockbuster Night (Part 1)”, at least you get to see El-P and Killer Mike perform their verses on one of the highlights of Run The Jewels 2.

Speaking of music videos, we’ve got lists for those too, as Pitchfork rounds up a Top 20 and Consequence of Sound came up with a Top 5 (though they were more generous with their songs list, giving us a Top 50 that includes several RIJR favorites).  It’s no surprise that the Flying Lotus/Kendrick Lamar collaboration “Never Catch Me” is found on both lists (and probably others that we have yet to track down).  Though we featured it earlier this year, we present it to you once again for your convenience.

Considering the themes of that video and the Flying Lotus album in general, now is the time to note that today is the tenth anniversary of the murder of ‘Dimebag’ Darrell, and Billboard has a whole series of remembrances of the legendary guitarist that are worth taking some time to read.

We understand that not everyone can have taste in music that is as good as ours or our readers, and Noisey explains that despite this initial stumbling block, there are benefits to dating people with different musical tastes.

And finally, with a story that’s sure to generate some aww’s, metal salutes, and clicks, here’s the news about Slayer rescuing a homeless kitten.  No word on the condition of the homeless man in the story, but I guess we can at least take comfort that the kitty is safe.

Over the Weekend (Oct. 13 Edition)

News and video as you prepare for a week of facing the Pumpkin Spice onslaught

Thurston Moore has a new solo album coming out next week, and NPR has The Best Day available on their First Listen stream.  I loved his two most recent solo records, Trees Outside the Academy and Demolished Thoughts, which show a more sedate, folkier version of what one might expect from the Sonic Youth frontman.  If that worries you, take comfort in the fact that Moore throws on the distortion for this one.

On Friday we mentioned how Kendrick Lamar’s “i” was received with an underwhelming reaction; however, people were gushing over his appearance on Flying Lotus’s “Never Catch Me” off the latter’s new album, You’re Dead.  Enjoy the video, featuring some fantastic dancing by a couple of precocious dancers.

David Bowie released a new song this morning, the jazzy, seven-minute long “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)”.  It will be available on the upcoming compilation Nothing Has Changed, which aims to replace the version of Changesbowie which is now taking up space on your shelf.  At the very least, you can have a compilation which also includes “I’m Afraid of Americans”.

Consequence of Sound has the newest track from …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead, as well as an explanation of its inspiration.  “A Million Random Digits” is from IX, which will be released next month on the 11th.

Peter Matthew Bauer isn’t done releasing new material, as he offered up the new track “You Always Look For Someone Lost” on SoundCloud.  He also released a new video with an interview that helps explain the song as well.

Foo Fighters are being a bit more coy with their previews, offering only glimpses of tracks.  Alternative Press notes that you can hear clips of two new songs from this trailer for the upcoming Sonic Highways.

And last week, Ryan Adams was apparently inspired by the setting and performed a cover of Alice In Chains’s classic “Nutshell” in his show in Seattle.  Because “Nutshell” is one of the greatest songs of the last 20 years, you bet we’re going to pass a long a video like this.