M83

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2016

Today is April 18, 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.  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. Alcest – Kodama; Angel Olsen – My Woman; A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service; Bon Iver – 22, A Million; Pity Sex – White Hot Moon; Summer Cannibals – Full of It (7 plays)

Garage rock is still a dominant trend in indie circles these days, and Summer Cannibals with their fiery energy and Pity Sex with their peppy melodies represent the best of the scene.  As for Tribe, who knows what was more surprising–that the group reunited or that its comeback effort was so good, able to call back to their 90’s heyday without sounding like retreads.  Many have pointed out the influence that Alcest has had on Deafheaven (frontman Neige even appeared on the latter’s groundbreaking Sunbather for a spoken-word contribution), and it looks like the tables have turned–after going in a softer direction in Shelter, Alcest brought some edge back (and a few shouts) to their melodic mix of shoegaze and metal.  Bon Iver continues to experiment with loops and vocal effects (in the vein of his work in Volcano Choir) moving further and further away from the delicate acoustic of For Emma, Forever Ago; however, the result is still some gorgeously moving music.  Angel Olsen was one of the artists that we picked up on after reading year-end lists, and we quickly became fans of her versatility, with an album that ranges from classic retro numbers to sweeping epics.

9. Chance the Rapper – Colouring Book; Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression (8 plays)

If you were looking for inspiration or a quick pick-me-up, the best place to look last year was the ebullient Chance the Rapper.  His mix of gospel and hip-hop helped create some of the best songs from last year, but the album as a whole seemed to run a little to long.  Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age helped Iggy Pop stun audiences and critic with a great comeback album, mining the sounds of Pop’s landmark solo efforts Lust For Life and The Idiot.  The new songs mixed seamlessly with the classic material when they were out on tour, and together they put together one of the best shows we saw last year.

8. Dinosaur Jr. – Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not; Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine; Mitski – Puberty 2; Parquet Courts – Human Performance (9 plays) 

With their latest, Dinosaur Jr. has now put together more great albums in their reunion years (four) than in their original golden era (three-ish).  Parquet Courts rebounded with an album that stood up to repeated listens much better than the at-times grating Sunbathing Animal, and songs like “Berlin Got Blurry” stuck with us long after the fact.  Hamilton Leithauser formally teamed up with Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend) for his second solo effort (after collaborating on a couple of tracks for Black Hours), with the result being a record that effectively matched Hamilton’s remarkable and unique voice with doo-wop, old country, and soft ballads.  Mitski was another find from the critics lists, and we only wished we had come across her inventive explorations of identity and depression sooner.

7. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition; Deftones – Gore; M83 – Junk (10 plays)

We continue to be amazed at the ability of the Deftones to continually put out great new records in a genre where bands can quickly grow stale; perhaps more impressive was how Gore did not have any big singles but was still able to hold your attention from beginning to end.  A lot of people dismissed Junk when it first came out, but we quickly grew to love it once we realized the truth in the title; the complaints about the sequencing of the album have some merit, but we enjoyed the detours into what seemed like theme songs from lost 80’s French TV shows.  Plus, Anthony Gonzalez deserves all the credit in the world for his ability to use a Steve Vai guitar solo effectively.  Danny Brown’s voice can grate on people, but if you can accept his B-Real-style vocals, then it’s easier to plumb into one of the most musically adventurous hip-hop albums in years.

6. The Besnard Lakes – A Coliseum Complex Museum; Radiohead – A Moon-Shaped Pool; The Thermals – We Disappear (11 plays)

This is the part of the list where old favorites take up residence.  The latest from the Besnard Lakes was a bit of a disappointment, though it ends on an incredible high note that makes one wonder why they didn’t build the whole album out of this song.  Radiohead returned with a much better version of what they previously attempted with the forgettable The King of Limbs, though the best song from the sessions comes only on the deluxe edition (the rejected version of their theme to Spectre).  However, we don’t need any caveats to explain how The Thermals ended up this high on the list, as we enjoyed how they were able to meld the better parts of their recent work (the energy of Desperate Ground, the insight and thoughtfulness of Personal Life).

5. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial; Operators – Blue Wave (12 plays)

Come for the lo-fi guitar rocks, stay for the incisive wit and deep explorations of the young psyche with Car Seat Headrest.  Teens of Denial is an album that grows with each listen, and amazingly never feels as long as its 70-minute runtime.  Dan Boeckner never lets us down, and we were big fans of his latest side-project Operators, which brightens the sound of his previous drum-machine and guitars outfit Handsome Furs.  The man effortlessly comes up with great melodies, and the new wave keyboards are a nice touch.

4. LVL UP – Return to Love (13 plays) 

We were excited to find a new band that apparently loves the classic Elephant 6 sound as much as we do, with the song “Hidden Driver” especially reminding us of On Avery Island-era Neutral Milk Hotel.  However, the band switches between three different songwriters, and the result is a more varied record that one might expect, though all hitting in that sweet spot of classic alternative/indie rock.

3. The Avalanches – Wildflower (14 plays)

Another comeback album that a lot of people seemed to have forgotten, we immediately fell in love with Wildflower.  Yes, Since I Left You is now a classic in some circles, but this was another brilliant mix of countless samples and original music that we kept revisiting over and over again.  Also, we might argue that “Because I’m Me” was the song of last summer and of many summers to come.

2. Preoccupations – Preoccupations (15 plays)

We initially were underwhelmed by the announced name change, but we were much more impressed by this sophomore effort from this Canadian foursome.  The band built on the promise of the second half of Viet Cong and released a post-punk masterpiece.  This time the centerpiece of the album comes right in the middle, with the epic three-part “Memory”; the middle section with Dan Boeckner might be some of the most gorgeous music we heard all of last year.

1. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years (17 plays)

We still believe that LOSE should be considered the band’s masterpiece, but we became serious fans of the band’s followup to that incredible album after repeated plays in our car.  It may be a step back in terms of ambition, but there are plenty of hooks throughout the record, and you may find yourself humming different songs each day of the week.  The band is still capable of packing an emotional punch as well, and the layers reveal themselves after multiple listens.  At the end of the day, this is the album we always would default to when deciding what to play, and that may be as good a reason as any to make it our album of the year.

Enough With the Fucking Arcade Fire, Already

One of our primary goals here at Rust Is Just Right is to provide an alternative to a lot of the dismissive snark that is the hallmark of a lot of contemporary music criticism these days.  We believe that in a world that’s overflowing with great music, it’s better to analyze and promote what’s worth listening to instead of attempting to tear down what’s already popular.  Sure, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation of writing something bitingly clever about a band that we don’t like, but it’s not really going to accomplish all that much.  Besides, it’s not our place to decry other people’s tastes.  If you enjoy something, we’re in no place to tell you why you’re wrong–life is simply too short and awful to take away any such joy like that.

Given those parameters, this editorial may seem to run counter to that mission.  Yes, we are going to slag on Arcade Fire, but that’s not the main purpose of this piece.  No, our qualms are with the breathless adulation and coverage that the band receives on an infuriatingly and consistent basis, and how Arcade Fire has somehow in the past decade became shorthand for what’s “good” in “indie rock”.  This unabashed love of the band has frustratingly led to the ridiculous need that many publications and writers to shoehorn a mention of “Arcade Fire” in pieces that are completely irrelevant to the group.

First, we’ll lay all our cards on the table and explain why we don’t like the band in the first place.  Well…Eels wrote a superior album about coping with the deaths of close family members, Pavement did a much better job of writing seemingly-tuneless melodies, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor along with Broken Social Scene did a far better job of simply being a collective of Canadian musicians.  Hell, even the cover of Funeral is infuriating, since it comes off as a rip-off of the art associated with Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea–shit, it even has the same goddamn font that NMH used.  The art just screams “WE REALLY LIKE NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL AND WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT WE’RE COOL LIKE THAT!”  If you want more substantial criticism (beyond this standard rock-critic trope of accusing a group of being derivative of all these other influences), it boils down to the fact that their music is boring, they can’t sing, and have never written an insightful lyric.  They wrote a two-chord song, and they couldn’t figure out how to do it in a key that was in the range of their singer–LCD Soundsystem managed to do that, and came up with one of the greatest songs of the decade despite James Murphy’s limited vocal abilities.  This is a band that ruins their one decent moment, the song “Wake Up”, with an abrupt and inexplicable shift into fucking “Walking On Sunshine”.

Perhaps my frustration with the band can best be explained by their presence in the film “Her”.  It’s an absolutely amazing film and further cements in my mind that Spike Jonze is a true genius, and I was glad that he won an Oscar for his work.  However, I had significant issues with the score.  There was one key scene where the OS “Samantha” composes her own music, and we in the audience here it played back.  It’s twinkly piano music that sounds pleasant on the surface, even if it has no real melodic ideas, and sounds like something an entity with limited knowledge of songwriting would create.  Which seems to fit the idea of a computer attempting a human behavior and approximating that behavior except…it was frustratingly obvious that the piano was played by a human, since the rhythms were wildly imprecise and fingers were lingering too long on certain notes and making the notes stick together and therefore ruining the illusion.  That’s Arcade Fire in a nutshell: humans attempting to mimic machines which are trying to pass off as humans, and failing miserably.

For the most part, it hasn’t been an issue and aside from their presence in an otherwise magnificent film, I’ve been able to avoid Arcade Fire rather easily.  It doesn’t take much to avoid clicking links like “Watch Arcade Fire’s 25 Best ‘Reflektor’ Tour Cover Songs”, even if those links appear everywhere and on multiple sites.  No, the true problem is when the band makes a random appearance in an article that has absolutely nothing to do with them, as illustrated in this review.  Pitchfork’s review of M83’s re-release of their first three albums marked the moment when we officially reached Peak Music Critic Insufferability, as the reviewer attempted to describe M83’s style with this statement: “Arcade Fire are perhaps a better touchpoint for their overall approach: lead with emotions telegraphed big and wide enough to fill a stadium, and let the guitars and synthesizers fall into place around them.”

Now, let that sink in for a second.  Not only is it ridiculous to compare the music of the two bands (since no one who has ever listened to both bands would find a connection beyond “these are two acts that create sounds”–just listen to that video above and explain how it resembles Arcade Fire in any fashion), note that the connection between the two seems to be…that the two groups are both emotive.  This assertion that somehow Arcade Fire was the first group to emphasize emotion in some capacity in their music is completely insane (especially in an era where “emo” was huge) and demonstrates the myopia that afflicts a generation of rock critics in which in order to convey that a musician is “serious” that it must be compared to this one band.  To further underscore how clumsily the point is made in the review, note that the comparison to Arcade Fire is immediately dropped and no further mention is made in the rest of the review.

However, the most ridiculous aspect of the comparison is just simple chronology.  M83’s first two albums were released before Funeral, while their third was released a couple of months after.  Unless those crazy Canadians can bend the rules of time and space, it can be definitively stated that they had absolutely no effect on the French electronic duo.  If you’re dead-set on making some sort of comparison, perhaps another article can be written about how M83 influenced Arcade Fire, but why bother.  I mean, this is a great song that displays subtlety and mastery of melody–something that is difficult to find in an Arcade Fire song.

That’s not the only irrelevant mention of Arcade Fire I encountered this month–in a review of Death From Above 1979’s new album, I learned that apparently we started measuring time in terms of Arcade Fire album releases in the past decade.  To be fair, that isn’t the worst problem with that ridiculous review (which includes gems like finding out that Wolfmother was apparently a dance-punk band), but it once again points to the annoying habit that many rock critics employ of needlessly dropping references to Arcade Fire.  DFA1979 are as bad a comparison as M83 in terms of music, but why the hell should that matter?

These are all symptoms of the general problem of giving Arcade Fire way too much credit than they deserve.  In this feature, we see the band get praise for…incorporating “whoas” in a song, as if having an instrumental swell accompanied by a wordless chorus was a fucking revolutionary act (just one year later, we would see a much better example of this technique from My Morning Jacket).  Arcade Fire somehow also gets credit for “having an auxiliary floor-tom for intermittent bashing” when Radiohead had a hit the previous year doing exactly that (and to great effect).  Even the most diehard Arcade Fire fan has to admit that Radiohead is a much more influential band.  Besides, has this been a real trend?  Sure, White Rabbits used it to great effect on “Percussion Gun” and it helped get people to listen to their fantastic album It’s Frightening, but for fuck’s sake, it isn’t worth tricking me into clicking a link for a goddamn Imagine Dragons video.  More than anything, it just seemed like an excuse for this poor excuse for a Canadian collective to employ extra people to play random percussion, seemingly ripping off Slipknot of all bands (hey, I knew I forgot another random influence of Arcade Fire).

Arcade Fire fans, I mean you no harm.  But please, if you end up working as music critics, please refrain from constantly mentioning your favorite band.  It reflects poorly on all of us.

Catching Up On The Week (Aug. 29 Edition)

Some #longreads for your Labor Day weekend and pieces to look over in between college football games…

As you may have noticed, we are eagerly anticipating El Pintor, the new album from Interpol.  To help you feel the same excitement, we have interviews both old and new.  Under the Radar posted a piece from 2002 when the band was fresh off their classic debut Turn On The Bright Lights, while Rolling Stone talks to the band as they return in 2014.

The AV Club sets their sights on The Stooges’ legendary album Raw Power for their Permanent Records feature, and that fact alone should spur you to read it.  Elsewhere on the site, various writers discuss songs they love despite cringe-worthy lyrics.  I personally take issue with the first selection of “Conversation 16” by The National, whose lyrics I actually enjoy–the shock that comes from the drastic change in tone quickly turns to amusement, and I always enjoy cracking up when listening to the purposefully humorous chorus.

Pitchfork has an in-depth interview with Anthony Gonzalez, the mastermind behind M83, who discusses his early years as the group’s first three albums are getting reissued.  If you’re only familiar with the group because of “Midnight City” and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, I suggest you pick up these albums when you have the chance because they’re just as gorgeous, though with less of an 80’s influence (which to some may be preferable).

And finally, have some fun with Stereogum as they rank AC/DC’s albums and look back on the twentieth anniversary of Oasis’s Definitely Maybe.  I personally was first introduced to Oasis with their follow-up (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, but for many people their debut still represents the pinnacle of the band’s career.