LCD Soundsystem

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2017

Today is April 17, and while the rest of the nation trudges through another Tax Day (a few days later this year), we here at Rust Is Just Right choose this occasion to return from the dead and 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.

10. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps; Fleet Foxes – The Crack-Up; Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers; Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory; Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy; Wolf Parade – Cry Cry Cry (7 plays)

It should come to no surprise for our readers the band who inspired our site’s name would crack our Top Ten with our return, though their low placement on the list may raise some eyebrows.  While their return has enough artistic merit to make it more than a simple cash-in on instant nostalgia, Cry Cry Cry lacked the standout songs that marked Wolf Parade’s previous work, with the album seeming to be more competent than anything.  Still, the one-two punch of Dan Boeckner’s “Artificial Life” and Spencer Krug’s “King of Piss and Paper” (reversed for the video) should alleviate the worries of any fans that the Canadian supergroup still has gas left in the tank.

I felt bad for the short people behind me

Wolf Parade, at the Crystal Ballroom

Tyler, the Creator bounced back from a couple of forgettable efforts with an ambitious album that recalls why fans were so impressed with the Odd Future crew back when “Yonkers” first hit, mixing bangers with surprisingly introspective tracks.  We’ll leave the discussion about the lyrical prowess of Vince Staples to others (they never really impressed us that much, but the words aren’t usually our focus), but the beats on Big Fish Theory were a goddamn revelation considering the malaise that seems to be spreading over modern hip-hop these days.  We’re not sure what gets the party going with the kids these days, but bump Vince’s latest on your headphones and you should be set for one heart-pumping adventure.

Much like Dinosaur Jr., another iconic alternative group, Godspeed has shown new life after their return from their prolonged hiatus.  However, as good as their recent albums have been, they seem to be following a similar arc where the third album doesn’t quite have the juice of its two predecessors.  That said, the climax of “Bosses Hang” is exactly what we need these days.

Phoebe is the newcomer to the party, and her delicate debut is perfect for late-night listens.

9. Dieg Cig – Swear I’m Good at This; The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding (8 plays)

What can we say–we love duos.  The mix of the sugar-sweet vocals with the propulsive punk makes Diet Cig a welcome addition to the garage rock revival.  The War on Drugs exceeded our expectations; we had begun to get tired of the band’s style (and had read too many critiques of their sound), so we weren’t exactly pumped for their latest.  However, there are plenty of songs on Understanding which will make the band’s eventual Greatest Hits release.  That said, we pray that on the next album Adam Granduciel learns you can use drum patterns besides ones that hit on 2 and 4.

The War on Drugs, at the Crystal Ballroom

8. Alvvays – Antisocialites; Beck – Colors; LCD Soundsystem – American Dream; Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent (9 plays)

Alvvays went a bit darker with their follow-up to their self-titled debut, and added new textures to their indie-pop sound.  Beck finally released his often-teased follow-up to the Album of the Year winning Morning Phase, and while it seems the rest of the country wasn’t psyched for a return of “fun” Beck, we found this album plenty enjoyable.  Beck may have fussed over individual sounds endlessly before the release of Colors, but repeated listens prove it was well worth the effort.  LCD Soundsystem was another welcome return of indie rock royalty, and though it seems they may have stalled a bit creatively after their wonderful initial three album run, “Call the Police” was worth the price of admission in and of itself (though we wish they could have found a way to include the teaser single “Christmas Will Break Your Heart” on the album).  Protomartyr further honed their sound of post-punk mixed with the ravings of an esoteric college professor.  Relatives was not as initially catchy as The Agent Intellect, so it may discourage new fans, but eventually it hooks your way into your brain–see how the line “She’s just trying to reach you” keeps repeating throughout and how it fits with the themes of the record.  The lyric from the Michigan band of “It’s been leaded by snider men to make profit from the poor” might be the best line from 2017, but it’s the following line I keep repeating in my head: “I don’t want to hear those vile trumpets anymore.”

Protomartyr, at the Doug Fir

7. Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder; The National – Sleep Well Beast (10 plays)

Hug of Thunder might be the most consistent front-to-back record in the BSS catalog, with several songs that are just really damn uplifting.

Broken Social Scene, at the Crystal Ballroom

By contrast, Sleep Well Beast is a step down for The National, but they’ve been on fire since Alligator and you can’t expect them to maintain perfection forever.  The electronic flourishes to the album are a nice touch, and there are several standout songs that will be great additions to the average setlist.  Simply put, the album gets dinged only because it pales in comparison to their recent string of successes.

The National, at the Schnitz

6. Death From Above 1979 – Outrage! Is Now; Queens of the Stone Age – Villains; Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3 (11 plays)

Death From Above officially dropped the “1979” from their name, but it’s going to take us a while to get used to it.  However, we are thrilled that the return to form of The Physical World was no mere fluke, and we’re exceedingly pleased to see the band continue to evolve.  At first, it may seems the album dips in the middle, but after a few times through it becomes clear the forays into sludgier metal riffs are a welcome evolution for the duo (and will help save the stamina of a singing drummer).  Hell, see how easy they make metal look with the hard-hitting opener, “Nomad”.  We may overrate these guys compared to others, but honestly, we have no idea why “Freeze Me” wasn’t a bigger summer hit.

Death From Above, at the Roseland

It took a few times though to get on the same wavelength as QOTSA for their latest, with our initial impression being that a few of the better songs would have worked just fine as Eagles of Death Metal tracks instead.  But once we got lost in the sound and feel of the record, we began to appreciate it more.  Also, “Villains of Circumstance” will be remembered as one of their best ever.

Queens of the Stone Age, at the Hult Center

RTJ is in a strange position, because the schedule of their leak and official release had them straddling the line between 2016 and 2017 lists, but this feels like the right spot for them (if we included every single listen since its release, it would tie for the top spot).  RTJ3 isn’t as lean as its predecessors, but there’s plenty here that will leave listeners longing to hear the continuing saga of Jamie and Mikey.

Run the Jewels, at the Crystal Ballroom

5. Joey Bada$$ – All-Amerikkkan Bada$$; The xx – I See You (12 plays)

A couple of surprises make it into the top half of the list!  We were not impressed with Joey’s debut, but All-Amerikkan Bada$$ is an impressive step forward, effectively mixing groovy R&B and political hip-hop.

We thought The xx had already begun running out of creativity with the decent Coexist, but it turns out there is still juice left in their minimalist indie rock.  Who knew you could make introverted love songs so danceable?

4. Big K.R.I.T. – 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time (13 plays)

Big K.R.I.T.’s ambitious new record easily slides into the trinity of Wu-Tang Forever and All Eyez on Me on the list of greatest hip-hop double albums.  Though nominally split between his two personalities with the party anthem heavy “Big K.R.I.T.” and the introspective gospel-tinged “Justin Scott”, the album flows just fine as one long piece.  Hell, even the few skits on the album can be listened to more than once!

3. Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound; Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins; Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life (14 plays)

Now here’s a triumvirate you would expect from us.  Japandroids got an early jump on everybody with a January release, which partially explains their high ranking on this list, though we don’t want you to put too much in that disclaimer.  Wild Heart of Life is a half-brilliant, half-decent album, which explains our reluctance to fully commit to any direction in our assessment.  The title track opener is an all-time great for the band, and the run from “Midnight to Morning”, “No Known Drink or Drug”, and “In a Body Like a Grave” finish the album on a rousing note.  It’s the middle songs which sag, though we appreciate them as experimental forays necessary for a duo who wish to have a long career.

Japandroids, at Revolution Hall

Grizzly Bear once again returns with an album that sounds great on headphones, begging for you to pick out more and more details with each listen, all in a style that’s perfect for either driving in the car or listening late at night.

Grizzly Bear, at the Roseland

Cloud Nothings made the most consistently brilliant punk record of the year, and goddammit I hope that band keeps moving on to bigger and better things.

Cloud Nothings, at the Doug Fir

2. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.; Spoon – Hot Thoughts (16 plays)

After the overflowing To Pimp a Butterfly, a record that placed a lot of its emphasis on being a complete album, it seemed Kendrick was coming back with a series of hard-hitting singles–“Humble.” and “DNA.” were huge, aggressive tracks which got everybody fired up for the release.  The initial impression of DAMN. as a series of singles eventually proved to be incorrect, as Kendrick revealed more of the thought process behind the album.  For us, though, the switch was flipped when the “Collector’s Edition” was released, which flipped the tracklisting from back-to-front.  All of a sudden, the album seemed to have a much better flow, and its themes became more readily apparent.

What more can be said about Spoon?  The band is incapable of releasing a less-than-great album at this point, and Hot Thoughts shows off a fun side that had been hiding in the background for a few years at this point.  Britt and the guys walk the tightrope of staying true to their “sound” while not repeating themselves–for example, the funky “Can I Sit Next To You” fits right alongside their early hit “I Turn My Camera On” without it being a rehash.

Spoon, at the McDonald Theater

We love the whole album, but we’re going to keep the somber “I Ain’t the One” and the relevant-to-these-times “Tear It Down” on repeat.

1. Slowdive – Slowdive (17 plays)

The return of My Bloody Valentine may have inspired more ink, but we appreciated the return of the other titans of shoegaze more.  Slowdive fits right in next to Souvlaki and Just for a Day, but doesn’t feel like a mere revival of their early-90’s peak.  The music is as gorgeous as ever, venturing from the delicate haunting vocals in the ballads to the big rush of guitars in the epics.

Slowdive, at the Crystal Ballroom

We’re not sure if we’ll look back in ten years and definitively say we made the right choice on the number one album of 2017, but we’re confident in saying we’ll still love the hell out of this album.

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Over the Weekend (Oct. 19 Edition)

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

We here at Rust Is Just Right are extremely excited to hear that one of our favorite all-time bands, The Besnard Lakes, are set to release some new music in the near future.  The band is set to release a full album on January 22 (A Coliseum Complex Museum) as well as an EP in less than a month, with The Golden Lion coming out on November 13.  The group also released a video of their recent performance of “The Golden Lion” at Pop Montreal, with a 17-piece band helping fill out the sound.  The song itself seems to be a continuation of the mid-tempo orchestral rock direction the band started with Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, but who knows what the rest of the EP or LP will sound like.

This afternoon, Titus Andronicus released the latest video from The Most Lamentable Tragedy, for the song “No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant”.  The video has a strong DIY feel, and is no doubt inspired by a lot of old school rap videos.

Hot Chip also released a video today, as they posted a 80’s-inspired video for their cover of “Dancing In The Dark”.  Take note that the song seamlessly transitions into another cover, with the band slipping into their version of “All My Friends” at around the five-minute mark.

And finally, this is probably more a sports post than a music post, but we think you may find it educational nonetheless.  The Classical has a preview of the upcoming NBA season, with each team’s prediction summed up with lyrics from punk legends the Minutemen.

Covered: “All My Friends”

Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original. If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.

I am approaching one of those awful milestone birthdays, so lately I have been even more self-reflective than usual (hard to believe, I know).  As a result, as I pause to reminisce and take stock of my life, I have had LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends” running in my head as a constant soundtrack.  That said, initially this article was outlined weeks ago and was prepared to be published during graduation season, so the case could be made that regardless of circumstance “All My Friends” is probably not far from my mind.  we have previously named it one of the best songs of the last decade, so as problems go, having it stuck on repeat in your head is not a bad one to have.

The foundation of the song is a simple two-chord progression, A and D, which can be most distinctly heard by listening to the bassline.  This I-IV progression creates a natural, unforced tension, as the progression makes sense when it moves from the I to the IV as well as from the IV to the I, but the way the chords are emphasized there is no real resolution.  James Murphy then exploits that tension throughout the song, constantly ratcheting up the tension as the listener expects either a resolving chord or perhaps some sort of modification to the progression; instead, Murphy layers on additional instruments and rhythms, including a memorable looping guitar line and that indelible, repetitive keyboard figure that amplify the lack of resolution.  The listener can sense an innate, organic build as the song plays, and this is the result of Murphy’s simple but ingenious sense of composition.  Murphy’s musical genius is complemented by his incisive and affective lyrics, as he perfectly captures the various anxieties of aging.  The mere fact that LCD Soundsystem created dance/electronic music with thought-provoking lyrics is to be commended, considering the history of the genre; practically every line in “All My Friends” is quotable, with each lyric dripping in both wisdom and humor.

Franz Ferdinand managed to brilliantly reconstruct “All My Friends” as a post-punk dance track, an effort that is all the more impressive considering the quick turnaround that was required to create their own version, since their cover appears on the single LCD Soundsystem released just a mere two months after the release of Sound of Silver.  Franz Ferdinand’s music has long been characterized as a revival of the post-punk genre, but this is probably the first time that their sound recalls New Order instead of Gang of Four (though the coda provides a taste of those spiky guitars we have all come to love).  The band emphasizes groove instead of tension with their cover, and though this causes the song to lose some of its power, it provides for a damn entertaining listen.  There is the same attention paid to layering different instruments and musical ideas as found in the original, with guitars and keyboards floating in and out of the mix; if you listen closely, you can pick out a hint of the memorable piano riff from the original version poking through on the second verse.  To top it all off, Alex Kapranos delivers an impassioned vocal performance with his distinctive style that even if it is unable to capture the angst of the original still manages to thrill the listener.

In the course of researching for this feature, I came across Australian radio station Triple J’s recurring series “Like A Version”, which provides musical guests with the opportunity to play a cover.  Many of these covers straddle the line between passable and underwhelming, but there was one that stood out above the rest as a truly outstanding performance.  I had never heard of the band Gang of Youths before, but their cover of “All My Friends” convinced me that I need to correct that problem immediately.  Unlike Franz Ferdinand, Gang of Youths attempted a more straightforward cover, and do an excellent job of mimicking the feel of the original (though the use of chorus effect-laden guitars provides an interesting bridge between the FF version and the original).  They push the beat with their insistent drumming and tap into the song’s inherent tension, and by emphasizing these components, the band is able to transfer their energy and restlessness into creating a memorable performance.  It is clear that the group has a deep love and respect of the song, and that this is not a mere exercise in burnishing their indie credentials.  Their passion really comes through in their performance, and is a key part of what makes this such a wonderful cover to listen to again and again.

Catching Up On The Week (Jan. 23 Edition)

Some #longreads as you prepare to fire off the last of your “balls” jokes this weekend…

Stereogum takes a look at the 10th anniversary of the self-titled debut from LCD Soundsystem, and I can think of no better way to kick off the weekend than to play “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” at an unreasonable volume, so here you go.

Perhaps the biggest news of this week was the surprise release of Björk’s new album, with Billboard providing the behind-the-scenes response of the leak of Vulnicura.  In order to get you into the proper mindset for the new album, it might be a good idea to read the New York Times profile on Björk as well as her already-much-discussed Pitchfork interview.

We’re not fans of Mötley Crüe by any stretch of the imagination, but when we found out that Drew Magary did a profile of the band while providing a glimpse of the life of a roadie, we were intrigued.  Magary is one of our favorite writers, so we’re glad to share his GQ article along with the extras that didn’t make it into the piece.

Many of you have been humming along to the infectious “Uptown Funk” for a few weeks now, so you might be interested in how difficult it was for Mark Ronson to put the seemingly easy song together, according to this Grantland profile.

The Guardian has a great interview with Sub Pop co-founder Bruce Pavitt about his early days working as a fanzine and newspaper columnist and seeing the best of the 80’s underground scene.  It’s a lot like revisiting Our Band Could Be Your Life from a Northwest perspective, as he reminisces about the early days of Black Flag, Dinosaur Jr., Big Black, and more.  In a related piece, The Guardian also takes a closer look at the terminally under-appreciated Portland punk legends Wipers as a part of their new celebration of cult heroes.  Hopefully more and more people go and take a look back at their classic early output.