Kendrick Lamar

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.

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 (Sept. 21 Edition)

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

After months of waiting, Run The Jewels finally released their highly-anticipated Meow The Jewels, a joke-remix album for charity that had several producers and musicians recreating the brilliant record Run The Jewels 2 using only cat noises.  If you want to take a listen, a free download is available through the RTJ website, and yes, it is about as ridiculous as you would expect.  As you enjoy such great remixes as “Paw Due Respect”, be sure to read El-P’s interview with Deadspin discussing the project.

Of course, if you want to listen to a more traditional version of Run The Jewels, we highly recommend that you check out their electrifying performance with TV on the Radio for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, if you have not done so already.  Speaking of Mr. Colbert, he had a busy week last week, with the highlight probably being his vocal assistance on Pearl Jam’s cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” to close out one of his shows.

The team-up between Colbert and Pearl Jam was part of a promotion for Saturday’s Global Citizen Festival, with Stephen helping to host and Pearl Jam closing out the festivities.  One of the highlights of Pearl Jam’s set had to have been Eddie Vedder’s performance with the one and only Beyonce of Bob Marley’s classic song “Redemption Song”, though you may have to search for the video yourself as different versions keep getting deleted.

In other news, The Strokes informed announced to the crowd at their recent D.C. show that the band will soon be recording a new album, which we personally hope will be better than Comedown Machine.

Broken Bells premiered a new concert film over the weekend entitled Live at the Orpheum, and the group shared a new track to help promote the movie, an upbeat track with a jittery disco beat called “It’s That Talk Again”.

Don Cheadle has a new film about Miles Davis coming out next month, and Vulture has a brief primer on the legendary musician for those who would appreciate some background before seeing the movie.

And finally, be sure to set your DVRs or plan your schedules accordingly, because Austin City Limits announced that they will be taping shows with Kendrick Lamar as well as D’Angelo and the Vanguard in the next few weeks.  Both of those should be memorable performances.

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”.

Over the Weekend (July 13 Edition)

New videos, new music, and news as you get over the fact that the European Union is anything but that

Well, it looks like the crew is back from their sojourn down in LA, so let’s dive right in and attempt to cover at least some of the stuff you may have missed since our last update.

We had been teased with a couple of glimpses into the making of this video, and Kendrick Lamar did not disappoint when he released the video to “Alright”, his latest single.  “Alright” features some nifty effects and a strong political message, offering a nice rejoinder to the idiots who complained about his “controversial” performance of the song at the BET Awards.

In the lead-up to the release of their stellar album They Want My Soul last year, Spoon shared a strange animated video for the track “Inside Out”.  Apparently, that was not the official video for the song, because the groups has now provided a more “conventional” video for the song, though by no means does that indicate that what you will see is entirely “normal.”

And because Spoon are a bunch of cool dudes, here is a story about the band showing up at a house party in Maine where a Spoon cover band was playing, and the real thing decided to join in on the fun.

Dream-pop purveyors Beach House are set to release their latest album, Depression Cherry on August 28, and have kindly decided to share the lead single “Sparks” to help build up anticipation.  The video even features a visual representation of the title!

Low has announced that they will be releasing their new album Ones and Sixes on September 11 of this year.  If you click the link, you can check out the new song “No Comprende”.

And finally, one of the most highly-anticipated albums of the year is set to be released this Friday, as Tame Impala’s new album Currents goes on sale.  If you are on the fence (or just want an early listen), NPR has the album available for streaming.

Over the Weekend (Apr. 6 Edition)

New videos and other fun stuff as you fill in the hours around the NCAA championship game…

Lots of new songs and videos to get through this week, so let’s get straight to the action.  After announcing a North American tour and releasing a new track (the groovy epic “Let It Happen”), Tame Impala has finally revealed some details about their followup to the fantastic Lonerism.  The album Currents will be available later this year, and to help celebrate the news the band released another track, the slow-burning “‘Cause I’m A Man”.

My Morning Jacket continues to leak out new songs from their upcoming album The Waterfall, sharing the ballad “Spring (Among the Living)” last week.  My immediate reaction was to say that it is a more dramatic version of “Victory Dance” from Circuital, but with a seriously ripping guitar solo.

Kendrick Lamar is doing the rounds in promoting his album, which involves things like talking to MTV about the origins of the album title to doing radio interviews discussing how he did the Tupac interview that closes To Pimp a Butterfly, as well as announcing his engagement (congrats, btw).  Kendrick also released the music video for the new album’s latest single, “King Kunta”, which features a performance in his hometown of Compton.

The National have shared a previously unreleased track from the Trouble Will Find Me sessions, a song called “Sunshine On My Back” that features Sharon Van Etten on vocals.  The band explained in a Facebook post various options for people to purchase the track.

Most of us were not able to make it down to Austin for SXSW this year, but NPR is doing us a real solid favor by hosting video of TV on the Radio’s performance at the festival.

Legendary punk rockers Refused announced a new tour last week, this time emphasizing smaller venues.  If you are unaware how much we love the band, you should take note that the header photo that graces this site comes from their reunion show at the Roseland from a few years ago.  Unfortunately, though it would have been amazing to see them perform at the Doug Fir, tickets sold out in about two seconds, so it is unlikely RIJR will be able to review the show.

Maybe our inability to purchase tickets was due to the fact that we forgot to post the latest Run The Jewels video.  Killer Mike and El-P released the video to the fantastic “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” which features a memorable appearance from Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha.  Enjoy the symbolism.

And finally, watch another one of those “let’s see what today’s teenagers know about the 90’s” videos.  This one has kids listen to various 90’s songs, and for the most part they didn’t do too badly.  I can forgive these guys for not knowing Ace of Base or how the non-rockers were unfamiliar with Tool’s “Sober”, but it pains me that so few knew who Coolio was or could identify Green Day’s first big hit.

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.

Catching Up On The Week (Mar. 27 Edition)

Some #longreads for those still in the throes of March Madness…

After a relative paucity of reading material in recent weeks, this week saw the publication of numerous worthwhile interviews and discussions.  For those who want insight into older music, there’s the Rhino interview with Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and The Guardian behind the scenes look with The Strokes on the making of Is This It.  As for those who are looking ahead, there is Nate Mendel of the Foo Fighters talking with Consequence of Sound about his upcoming solo album as “Lieutenant” and Death Cab For Cutie revealing to Radio.com the background behind the making of their new album.

For those who are looking for more weightier fare, there is a roundtable discussion about the social context of works like the recent albums from D’Angelo and Kendrick Lamar and a Vox op-ed about the prejudicial treatment of rappers and the double standard that is given to rap lyrics by legal authorities, co-authored by Killer Mike.

Finally, GQ has an extended profile of Adam Horovitz, providing a personal in-depth look at the man you probably know as Ad-Rock, as he transitions into his post-Beastie Boys life and looks back on his career.

 

Catching Up On The Week (Mar. 20 Edition)

Some #longreads as you enjoy the first day of spring…

Most of the music world spent this week dissecting and analyzing Kendrick Lamar’s new album To Pimp A Butterfly, a record that will singlehandedly keep the thinkpiece industry afloat for the next several months.*  We are going to be judicious in our selection of Kendrick-related material to link to in the near-future, but we imagine that this piece from Stereogum highlighting the important contributors to the record should be worth your while.  We cannot offer the same judgment for Rolling Stone’s upcoming cover story, since the magazine has only released this short preview.

However, Rolling Stone does have an extensive interview with M.I.A., revolving mainly around the ten year anniversary of her debut album, Arular.  As is the case with most interviews with M.I.A., this feature goes all over the place and explores a variety of topics, in alternately entertaining and confounding ways.

Speaking of ten year anniversaries, Stereogum has a profile on Picaresque from The Decemberists.  It’s an uneven essay, with an oddly revisionist bent about the music scene from the previous decade, though it does take the time to acknowledge how this was the beginning of the influential band’s musical peak.

Earlier this week we shared one introductory course in understanding Modest Mouse, and today we have another courtesy of the AV Club.  Unlike the Consequence of Sound piece which focused on songs, Primer focuses on the essential Modest Mouse albums and examining them in context.

Over the Weekend (Mar. 16 Edition)

Some fun news and videos as you prepare/recover from St. Patrick’s Day celebrations…

The biggest news of the weekend is the sudden release of Kendrick Lamar’s new album, To Pimp A Butterfly.  The weekend began with the release of another track, “King Kunta”, before the whole album was released a week early last night on iTunes.  Physical copies are available for purchase through Amazon as of now, with record stores certain to get in on the action as quickly as possible.

Another group gearing up for an upcoming release is Death Grips, who after a couple of false starts are finally set to release the double-disc The Powers That B.  After practically taunting their fans with the free instrumental release Fashion Week (whose tracklist asked the question when the second disc of their final album would be released by spelling out “Jenny Death When”, the band has a physical release date for the album of March 31.  To help tide fans over, the band released the track “On GP” first with one video with the band, and then released a second “official” video.  Enjoy the strangely depressing single, with the help of some magic tricks, below.

If it weren’t for Kendrick moving everything up a week, most of the buzz would certainly be devoted to Modest Mouse’s first full-length album in nearly eight years finally seeing the light of day this week.  To prepare yourself for tomorrow’s release of Strangers to Ourselves, you can read an unconventional 10 song overview of the band from Consequence of Sound as well as reading the account of The Oregonian’s David Greenwald of what the band has been doing in the downtime since the release of We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.  At the very least, we can all take comfort in Isaac Brock’s statement that the next album will not take nearly as long to reach the band’s fans.

As our readers are well aware, we here at Rust Is Just Right are big fans of Sharon Van Etten, so we were delighted to see this footage from New Zealand of a newscaster who was able to witness and was moved to tears by a surprise performance from the singer.