Lucy Dacus

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2021

Today is April 18, and it is time once again for us here at Rust Is Just Right to release our best-of list of albums from the past year.  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 and 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.  The pandemic has been rough on musicians everywhere, so please consider purchasing some of these great albums to help support them (because we all know the .003 cents your streams will generate won’t do all that much).

The process that is used to determine this list is highly rigorous and hardly scientific, but that is the charm and the benefit of The Process. Sure, it may look like a simple tally of the number of times we play each album, but believe us, there are plenty of working parts that contribute behind the scenes that help generate the results (and will be documented when we officially submit our eventual patent application).  It has served us well in years past, and we’re too tired to change systems now.

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. The Armed – Ultrapop; Armand Hammer & the Alchemist – Haram; Madlib – Sound Ancestors; Grouper – Shade; Hovvdy – True Love; Boldy James & the Alchemist – Bo Jackson; Yves Tumor – The Asymptotical World; The Weather Station – Ignorance; SMILE MACHINE – Bye For Now EP; Mannequin Pussy – Perfect EP; BADBADNOTGOOD – Talk Memory. (5 plays) In most years, these albums would probably constitute our “Honorable Mention” list, but there’s still a lot of gold to be found here. We got some catchy garage rock/punk with EPs from SMILE MACHINE and Mannequin Pussy as well as some gentle mood music from Grouper, Hovvdy, and The Weather Station. We see a return of BADBADNOTGOOD with their free-form modern jazz, as well as the newest musical experiments of the impossible-to-pigeonhole Yves Tumor. And we simply cannot resist any album with The Alchemist behind the boards, so we get a double-dip of collaborations with him.

9. IDLES – Crawler; Godspeed You! Black Emperor – G_d’s Pee at State’s End; Tyler, the Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost; Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg; black midi – Cavalcade; Amyl and The Sniffers – Comfort to Me. (6 plays) Probably the most diverse group, we’ve got the snarling post-punk of Idles fitting nicely with the bratty punk of Amyl and the Sniffers, and Tyler reminding us he still has bars to go along with his ever-evolving production skills. Dry Cleaning gives us a vision of what a sedate version of Protomartyr would sound with a female vocalist (yes everyone mentions The Fall when talking about this band, but let’s get a more modern (and RIJR-specific) reference here). black midi throws everything at the wall to see what sticks–and the answer is a surprising amount. Godspeed is practically grandfathered into our lists at this point, but we’re suckers to their late-career run.

8. Lou Barlow – Reason to Live; Ovlov – Buds; Low – HEY WHAT; Lucy Dacus – Home Video. (7 plays) Ovlov joins “The L’s” with a quick and catchy indie rock release that probably flew under your radar. Low got some of the best reviews in their already illustrious career with their adventurous new album, their first as a duo, but we still prefer the first album of their “trilogy” with engineer BJ Burton, Ones and Sixes. That said, “Days Like These” is one of the best songs Low has done and a contender for song of the year. Lucy Dacus follows up her breakthrough Historian with another example of achingly beautiful confessional work, and pairs up nicely with Lou Barlow’s newest solo release. This won’t be the last time Lou will show up on this list.

7. Ka – A Martyr’s Reward; Parquet Courts – Sympathy for Life; Deafheaven – Infinite Granite; Cloud Nothings – The Shadow I Remember. (8 plays) Ka is a rapper we discovered based on recommendations from Twitter users we follow, proving that despite the general shittiness of their operation there is still potentially some benefit to the service; it’s unlikely we otherwise would have heard his compelling narratives. The other groups here are stalwarts of The Process: we’ve got another blistering attack from Cloud Nothings, mixing some of the rawness of Attack on Memory with the catchiness of their most recent work, a solid follow up to our Album of the Year (Wide Awake!) from Parquet Courts, and a Deafheaven record for those who don’t really like the screaming (so, like a typical Alcest album). At this point though, we love the screams, so we appreciate the few chances we get to hear them on this record–which is why the climax of the closer “Mombasa” is on the short list for “Best Musical Moments of the Year”; but we understand the desire to diversify the setlist (and save the voice for future releases).

6. Turnstile – Glow On; Vince Staples – Vince Staples. (9 plays) We got downbeat Vince this time around, which matches the rest of our favorite hip-hop releases from the past year, but the songs themselves weren’t downers. Turnstile is probably the best of the post-genre rock bands going right now, and at their best they sound like a version of At the Drive-In with all the kinks straightened-out–with all the good and bad that description implies. But we do appreciate the diversity in sound, and the songs got catchier each time we listened to the album.

5. The War on Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore. (10 plays) These days the band infuriates us objectively, yet we can’t stop listening to their albums despite our complaints. We can keep asking why can’t they institute some degree of rhythmic diversity (please just play song that isn’t just straight eighth notes), or feel some degree of being cheated as they mine even more 80s soft-rock radio hits into their sound (we are pretty positive the backing drum track (minus the solo) from “In the Air Tonight” is used at some point), and we feel there really can’t be anyone who can dance to “Desolation Row”, at least not well, but fuck it. It still sounds good, and the solos still rip, and we want to play the songs again and again.

4. Illuminati Hotties – Let Me Do One More. (11 plays) We loved our hip-hop downbeat, but our indie rock catchy and full of hooks. And few albums were as packed with hooks as this one–we challenge you to listen to “Pool Hopping” or “Cheap Shoes” without bobbing your head or tapping your fingers or just totally cutting loose. It’s impossible.

3. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee. (12 plays). This album has something for everyone, but it’s still a cohesive vision. And again, catchy as hell. You’ll dance, you’ll cry, and you’ll love every minute of it. And the guitar solo in “Posing for Cars” that closes the album will have you wishing for more (or pushing repeat–a convenient solution to your problem).

2. Dinosaur Jr. – Sweep It Into Space. (13 plays) Look, we understand your skepticism–this late-career album which didn’t get much buzz is not your typical album-of-the-year candidate. But J, Lou, and Murph put together a set of all-killer/no-filler tunes to constitute probably the most consistent album of their legendary careers, with Lou’s usual two contributions easily rank as some of his best work with the group. Sure you get your usual fill of fiery solos from the Guitar Wizard himself, but it’s the melodies and hooks that will keep you coming back to this album.

1. Pom Pom Squad – Death of a Cheerleader. (14 plays) Simply put, we could not stop listening to this album once we picked it up. All it took was the vocal melody from the first chorus, and we were hooked. Deceptively simple garage rock sprinkled in with the appropriate amount of tender ballads (including a cover of the classic “Crimson and Clover”), this album is a 30 minute blast that gives you a sugar rush but keeps your attention with each subsequent listen. We simply can’t stop raving about it, and can’t wait for their follow-up.

Oh, and for fun, here’s Pom Pom Squad with their cover of Nada Surf’s “Popular”.

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2018

Today is April 15, and while the rest of the nation trudges through another Tax Day, 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. Black Panther: The Album; Earl Sweatshirt – Some Rap Songs; Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance; Lucy Dacus – Historian; Nipsey Hussle – Victory Lap; Ought – Room Inside the World; Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs; Sleep – The Sciences (8 plays)

Against all odds,  we somehow once again agree with at least one of the “Best Album” choices from the Grammys with our inclusion of the Kendrick Lamar-assembled soundtrack to Black Panther.  Its inclusion was a surprise to us, but the Kendrick/SIA mega-hit “All the Stars” helped make this solid compilation one of the more memorable soundtracks to be released in years.  Another surprise was Ought’s latest release, which zigged when we expected it to zag–we were anticipating a return to their hard-hitting debut,  but instead it was an album marked by its ballads, most notably the show-stopping “Desire”.  Earl Sweatshirt returns with his latest venture into the avant-garde, eschewing choruses and hooks for the enigmatic Some Rap Songs.  Idles created one of the hardest-hitting albums of the year with the politically-influenced post-punk Joy, bringing to mind a British working class version of Protomartyr.  Lucy Dacus created some of the most gorgeously epic indie rock this year, unafraid to play with dynamics and mix her lovely voice with music that shifts from the tranquil to the anthemic.  Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever brought the chill factor, recalling a laid-back Real Estate kind of vibe, but with a bit more pep and greater variety to their overall sound.  Sleep seem intent to prove how Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality is the greatest album of all time, and considering the results, we are not inclined to argue.  As for Nipsey, his inclusion on this list is bittersweet because of his recent murder, but hopefully more people will seek out his music (and benefit his family–he owned all his masters).

9. Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino; Beach House – 7; Black Thought – Streams of Thought Vol. 1, Vol. 2; Vince Staples – FM! (9 plays)

We were puzzled by the backlash to the latest Arctic Monkeys album, which we believed followed the same trajectory as their mainstream-breakthrough AM without being a shameless imitation; maybe we just appreciated their retro/futuristic lounge style more than most.  We initially felt 7 was an unremarkable addition to the Beach House catalog, but subsequent listens revealed a greater depth to their trademark synthpop sound.  Black Thought released two EPs this past year, and depending on the day we might switch our favorite, though we more often end to lean to the more energetic Vol. 2.  For FM!, Vince Staples made the perfect soundtrack for a summer cookout, and even the skits are still able to blend seamlessly after multiple listens.

8. Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy; Moaning – Moaning (10 plays)

Will Toledo dipped back into his past for his follow-up to RIJR favorite Teens of Denial, reworking his early work Twin Fantasy.  Fans of his hypersensitive attention to lyrical detail and his appreciation for classic indie rock tropes should be pleased with the results, though like Teens, it takes a few listens to appreciate the craft.  Moaning is a new group that decided to put a more lively spin on the current revival of shoegaze, and the result is some of the catchiest songs of the year.

7. Hookworms – Microshift; Cloud Nothings – Last Building Burning (11 plays)

If you were looking for a more rock-inclined version of LCD Soundsystem, then Hookworms provided the perfect album for you.  It is impossible to not get fired up after listening to opener “Negative Space”, and the album never lets up.  After cleaning up their sound and sanding down some of the edges for Life Without Sound, Cloud Nothings get back to basics and blow out their amps again for the furious Last Building Burning.

6. Mitski – Be the Cowboy (12 plays)

We loved Puberty 2, and Mitski continues her hot streak with her new album.  Mitski gets to the point quickly in each of the fourteen songs here, dispensing with conventional verse/chorus/verse structures and getting the message across around two minutes for each song.  Mitski does not necessarily switch between different genres; it would be more accurate to say she explores the limits of the various styles one can find within the larger umbrella of “indie music”, from the swelling “Geyser” to the effervescent “Nobody” to the gentle closer “Two Slow Dancers.”

5. Fixtures – Trust Yourself I Guess [EP]; No Age – Snares Like a Haircut (13 plays)

A link from Twitter led me to this Bandcamp release from Fixtures, and it did not take long for me to get sucked into its irresistible hooks.  If you aren’t humming by the end of “On Tape” or “Remember Who I’m Looking For”, then you might need to schedule an appointment with your local ENT specialist.  No Age returned from a long layoff showing no signs of rust (no pun intended), and were able to compose an album that effectively summed up the sounds they explored in their previous experimental works.  We also love the title, which we learned is a reference to how much like a haircut, one can usually pick out what era a song comes from simply by the way the snare drum is recorded.

4. Preoccupations – New Material; Spiritualized – And Nothing Hurt (14 plays)

We continue to be impressed by the evolution of Preoccupations, who have now settled into a gothic post-punk sound.  We said it the first time we heard it, but we are glad to confirm that “Disarray” is the best song we heard this year.  Take note of the different time signatures employed by the guitar, bass, and drums, as they shift in and out of sync with each other in a perfect illustration of the title.

And Nothing Hurt is another wonderfully gorgeous space rock opus from Jason Pierce’s Spiritualized project.  As one may expect, repeated listens reveal brilliant sonic details, and soon you will be picking up the various random instruments that help fill out the sound.  Amazingly enough, most of the album was recorded in Pierce’s bedroom, though with the extent of the orchestration and the depth of the overall sound it would be easy to assume it was done instead in a giant studio.

3. Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer; Pusha T – DAYTONA (15 plays)

Considering we named his album I Love You, Honeybear our favorite album of 2015, you would be correct to assume we were disappointed with Joshua Tillman’s follow-up, Pure Comedy, which we found overlong and way too much of a chore to listen to all the way through, so much so it did not come close to appearing on our 2017 list.  However, FJM redeemed himself with the much tighter God’s Favorite Customer.  The bite has returned to the lyrics, but more importantly, it is an infinitely more interesting album from a musical perspective, filled with memorable melodies.

Pusha T once again delivers a batch of coke raps, but the wordplay on this quick-hitter is among his best work, and Kanye provides his best production work in years.  DAYTONA was at the forefront of the switch to shorter works, with its 7 tracks clocking in at 21 minutes, leaving the listener wanting more and never wearing out its welcome.

2. Deafheaven – Ordinary Corrupt Human Love (16 plays)

Deafheaven broke out with the genre-defying Sunbather, and then followed up their shoegaze-meets-black metal classic with an emphasis on their heavier roots with New Bermuda.  It seems this was a move made in response to concern about proving the group’s metallic bona fides, and while we loved both albums, it seems the audience expectations weighed heavily on the band.  With Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, Deafheaven threw out those expectations and indulged their inner muses, and the result is easily their most fun album to date.  If you were hesitant to dip into their work before, this might be the album for you.  It even features some actual singing at points!

1. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake! (17 plays)

We were initially weary when tracks from Wide Awake! began to be released, as we could not find a common thread between any of them–one of the singles was even a stitched together combination (“Almost Had to Start a Fight/In and Out of Patience”) that did not make much sense by itself.  However, the disparate styles explored by the band made sense within the context of the album.  Perfect for the streaming age, Wide Awake! seems perfect for shuffling, even though one track leads into the next through almost the entirety of the album.

There are several reasons why Wide Awake! is our favorite album of the year, including the overt nod to Pavement (their most obvious comparison) with “Mardi Gras Beads” (that somehow also seems to be influenced by The Walkmen), to the infinitely catchy “Tenderness”, to the goofy title track, which effectively parodies the current movement to appear “woke” even if it means sacrificing depth–which led to the surreal moment of the band performing the song on Ellen.  But it’s understandable–goddamn, that bass groove is infectious.

But the band is not just smart-asses looking for piss-takes.  The opener “Total Football” is the best summation of the group’s approach, with insightful lyrics and hooks galore.  And in this time of great division, we can all agree with the song’s final words: “And fuck Tom Brady!”