Belying his slacker persona, Nathan Williams has been remarkably busy since the release of the last Wavves album two years ago. Afraid of Heights was one of our favorite records of 2013, and reached the third spot in our inaugural Best Albums list; since then, Williams has formed an electronic side project with his brother (Sweet Valley) and released a collaborative album with Cloud Nothing’s Dylan Baldi (No Life For Me), and after the release of several extra Wavves tracks for various projects, was able to find some time to record a proper follow-up. It seems that by dividing up his attention into pursuing all these different projects has allowed Williams to focus on a singular approach for Wavves, as V is the most streamlined album the band has released in years.
V is a giddy rush, blasting through eleven tracks in half an hour, but by relying on a particular formula leads to some diminishing returns as the album progresses. Each song is amped up to eleven and played at a breakneck speed, and while individually each song is great and could be selected for a single, it can result in a numbing effect when listened to as a whole. The album is missing some of those excellent mid-tempo numbers like “Demon to Lean On” or “Afraid of Heights” from their previous album, or those crazy studio experiments like “Baseball Cards” and “Convertible Balloon” from King of the Beach, both of which helped make for more cohesive records.
However, Williams shows once again that he can write a great hook, as V is absolutely stuffed with earworms that will immediately grab your attention. As fans should expect at this point, all those sunny melodies and cheerful musical background serve as an excellent foil to lyrics that revel in self-loathing, though even in the wake of an apparent breakup the mood is a tad merrier than on Afraid. The group also displays a remarkable capability to create the most artificial sounds possible with traditional rock instruments, and careful listening reveals a wealth of material lurking in the background of each track.
For a band that has a long historywith the letter “v”, it is a fitting gesture to name the group’s fifth album with the Roman Numeral, and the record recaptures the energy of the band’s early years, but with a much better recording budget. V may not reach the heights of its predecessors, but it can serve as a welcome shot of adrenaline or as a palette cleanser after some other more dour and serious records.
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.
King Tuff wrote the best T. Rex song you’ve heard in decades with “Black Moon Spell”, the title track off of their recent album, and for five minutes the listener is transported back to the early-70’s and the heyday of glam rock. It was one of the best singles of 2014, and while the rest of Black Moon Spell doesn’t quite reach the heights of its opener, the record still has its charms. Kyle Thomas (aka King Tuff himself) shows a knack for writing fun and infectious melodies that are quick and to the point, and knocks out dozens of memorable fuzzed-out guitar lines that will rattle around in your mind long after the record has finished playing.
I first heard King Tuff when they opened for Wavves on their Afraid of Heights tour, and one can easily see how those two groups could find common ground, as they share an irreverent attitude and a commitment to stoned-out rock. King Tuff ingratiated themselves with the crowd that night with displays of both their humor and musicianship, and I made a note to keep an eye on them for the future. “Black Moon Spell” made the effort worthwhile, as I quickly fell into the spell of its captivating groove, with its memorably hypnotic riff that brilliantly plays around the contours of its chord progression. It may not be high art, but goddammit does it ever rock, and most of the album follows that template.
Most will point to the obvious inspirations of Diamond Dogs-era Bowie and the aforementioned T. Rex, but it is the unexpected influence of another generation that helps make Black Moon Spell sound fresh enough for modern audiences, that of mid-90’s indie rock. King Tuff filters the touchstones of glam-rock through the lens of the Elephant 6 sound, namely the psychedelic pop experimentation of The Apples In Stereo and the Olivia Tremor Control. The bright and sunny attitude that is prevalent throughout the album immediately recalls Robert Schneider and his group, while elements as diverse as the lo-fi “I Love You Ugly” and the quick sound collage from the mesmerizing ballad “Staircase of Diamonds” bring to mind memories of the latter band, with King Tuff’s vocals emphasizing the melodic sides of both bands.
King Tuff’s approach of glam-via-the-garage makes helps make Black Moon Spell an intriguing and often-exciting album, but it does drag a bit in spots, even with most songs racing by at around two minutes apiece. The album sags a bit toward the end, which is why this recommendation is being published months after its initial release; though many of the songs are not intended to leave much of a lasting impression, a lot of the songs after the mid-way point end up being rather disposable and probably should have been excised. However, even these tracks grow on you after multiple listens, so even this minor caveat should not discourage you from throwing on some face paint rocking some platform shoes with King Tuff, at least for forty minutes or so.
Jeff Tweedy is set to release the album (Sukierae) he recorded with his son Spencer tomorrow, and the duo stopped by the NPR offices to perform as a part of their “Tiny Desk Concerts” series.
The Antlers have another gorgeous, dreamy video from Familiars, this time for the song “Refuge”. Not much actually happens, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying all the pretty colors.
If you’re in the mood for a little more action in your music videos, and don’t mind handling a bit of the bizarre, then check out the video for the Suicide-inspired track “Grid” by Perfume Genius, whose new album Too Bright is also set to come out tomorrow.
Kele Okereke from Bloc Party will be releasing his second solo album on October 13, and today released the second single from Trick. Listen to “Coasting” here.
On Friday we linked to Pitchfork’s extensive interview with Richard D. James, but we we wanted to make sure that you saw this video that was linked to in the article of an early performance of “Aisatsana”, featuring a piano swung across the stage as if it were a pendulum. That should be enough of a signal for you to watch: