Mastodon

Review: Deafheaven – New Bermuda

Now this is how you follow up a masterpiece.  With New Bermuda, Deafheaven have matched the brilliance of their universally-beloved album Sunbather, and have created another record filled with thrilling, triumphant climaxes and breathtakingly gorgeous moments that show the power and diversity of metal as a genre.  New Bermuda works both as a cohesive whole as well as five fantastic individual tracks, as each listen prompts me to proclaim a new track as my definitive favorite.

To answer the first question that is on every non-metalhead’s mind when it comes to Deafheaven: yes, George Clarke still employs that banshee-yelling technique on every song.  In fact, the vocals are a bit more prominent in the mix than they were on Sunbather, but they might be an even better fit with the accompanying music on New Bermuda.  At the same time, while Clarke’s delivery is as harsh as ever, his “diction” has become clearer, with individual phrases easier to parse than before–to this day, the only phrase I can pick out from Sunbather is the line “I want to dream” from “Dream House”, and that was only after several listens and a careful look at the lyric sheet.  In other words, those turned off by this facet of Deafheaven’s sound are unlikely to be converted with New Bermuda, but those who appreciate/have made peace with it will have no problem.

While there are still several moments where Deafheaven incorporates elements of shoegaze into their black metal style, New Bermuda finds the band adding more concepts from traditional metal into their songs.  Whereas Sunbather was characterized by brick walls of guitars creating dense chords with shifting, underlying melodies, New Bermuda often focuses more on riff-based songwriting and single-note solos.  In terms of the tone and complexity of these riffs, the band finds a spot where early-Metallica and late-System of a Down meet, evoking Leviathan-era Mastodon as well with their furious churning nature.  In addition to the fantastic work from guitarist Kerry McCoy, who adds a wah-inflected solo and subtle slidework to his repertoire, drummer Dan Tracy shines once again with his furious but precise work behind the kit, alternating between blastbeats and more subtle grooves.

The post-rock interludes that distinguished Sunbather from other metal records are now integrated into the songs themselves, as they often dissolve into beautiful instrumental passages marked by guitars drenched in reverb and delay (among other effects) atop subtle, rolling drums.  These moments go beyond the usual Explosions in the Sky comparisons and recall some of the more lyrical moments of Slowdive, an intersection of post-rock and shoegaze that is especially evident in the outro to “Come Back”.  There is only one noticeable Godspeed-like field recording this time, a brief and cryptic snippet of a traffic announcement warning about the closure of the George Washington Bridge.

There is no single moment that approaches transcendence, as they were able to accomplish with “Dream House” and “The Pecan Tree” on Sunbather, but New Bermuda as an album is every bit as equal.  It is crazy that this is as close to criticism as I can get for this record, but New Bermuda is that much of an accomplishment.  Deafheaven have now firmly established themselves as one of the most important groups of the current era, and have laid the groundwork for a long and fruitful career.

Best of the Rest: Other Highlights from 2014

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.

In Remembrance of Isaiah “Ikey” Owens

Unfortunately, the music world suffered a great loss with the unexpected death of keyboardist Isaiah “Ikey” Owens earlier this week.  Like many fans, I first heard of Ikey when the formation of The Mars Volta was announced.  Back then, once we consoled ourselves after the disintegration of At the Drive-In, we eagerly looked forward to the next project of Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.  Once it was revealed that they were adding a keyboard player in to that mix, as well as bringing in ringers like Flea and John Frusciante, we were intrigued as to what the final product would be.

Ikey often brought a subtle presence to the songs, with his contributions often difficult to distinguish at first due to the bombastic nature of many of the guitar arrangements.  But careful listens that many of the melodies and textures were Ikey’s, and his keyboard playing was an integral part of the overall Mars Volta sound.  And even from behind his rows of keyboards and organs, Ikey was an engaging stage presence who would always grab your attention; for instance, when I think of the “Inertiatic ESP” video, it’s his headbobs and glissandos that I remember first.

After working with The Mars Volta for years, he eventually joined up with Jack White in his “Buzzards” all-star backing band, and anyone who has had the fortune of seeing Jack’s solo shows these past few years knows just how special that lineup is.  It was while on tour in Mexico with Jack White that Ikey’s unfortunate death occurred, and out of respect for him that the rest of White’s tour dates in the country have been cancelled.

Of course, considering the great talent of Ikey, other groups were eager to hire him as a guest musician.  A quick glance at his guest appearances on Wikipedia indicate that artists from a wide variety of genres respected his skills, including El-P, Saul Williams, and Mastodon.  Truly, the world lost a great musician.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 29 Edition)

Some videos and news as you recover from a weekend overrun by beer advertisements

Tweedy released the Nick Offerman-directed video for “Low Key” last week, and it should lift your spirits up as you kick off your week because it’s hilarious and filled with a lot of great cameos.  See how many you can spot, and be sure to watch until the end when the “twist” of who is actually in charge of the record industry is revealed.

I’ve read that this year is the “Year of the Booty”, but I think that’s bullshit, because every year is the “Year of the Booty”.  Even so, I was not expecting to see quite this amount of posterior-shaking in a Mastodon video, until I remembered that they were from Atlanta.  Here’s their new video, “The Motherload”, which should not be watched at your place of employment.

“Twice as Hard” seems an odd choice for a follow-up single to “All the Rage Back Home”, but it inspired Paul Banks to film this boxing-focused video for the El Pintor closer.  The track has grown on me with repeated listens, and in my mind seems to be an improvement over the similar closer “The Lighthouse”.

Not only has Death From Above 1979 returned with a brilliant second album, but they are also the subject of a documentary about their rise and years apart.  The trailer definitely has me pumped.

The Mid-Year Reassessment; Or, “We Should Probably Mention These Albums”

Our primary goal here at Rust Is Just Right is to spread the love of good music, generally through a careful and informed examination of precisely what makes certain music “good”.  We like to think we’ve done a fairly good job of this, through detailed album and live reviews as well as features like “Feats of Strength”.  But even with our best efforts, we haven’t been able to share all the great music we’ve heard so far this year.  So, we’re going to put a twist on a standard practice of most other music publications: instead of posting a Best of the Year (So Far) list, we’re going to list albums that we love but for some reason or another haven’t given the proper attention.

Albums from bands that deserve more recognition, but this wasn’t the one that would put them over the top:

Tokyo Police Club – Forcefield

We Are Scientists – TV en Francais

Album from a band that we didn’t really appreciate before, but really liked their new stuff

Wye Oak – Shriek

Great album from a band where we know the drummer

Slow Bird – Chrysalis

Great Hip-Hop albums we love, but we really suck at writing about Hip-Hop

Atmosphere – Southsiders

The Roots – …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin

Great Heavy Metal album we love, but we really suck at writing about Heavy Metal

Mastodon – Once More ‘Round the Sun

Album that we meant to review as part of a larger feature, but haven’t yet

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Only Run

Album that is so great that we’re kicking ourselves for not writing about it sooner

Sun Kil Moon – Benji

Over the Weekend (June 16 Edition)

Now that we’re all properly psyched up after the US victory over Ghana in the World Cup, let’s get to some cool videos

Our favorite news from last week, which we mentioned on our Tumblr, was the announcement that Death From Above 1979 will finally record a follow-up to their stunning debut You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine.  I’ve listened to this album hundreds of times since its release (and the handful of oddball EPs and singles to help complete the short catalog), and it never gets old.  The Tumblr post has the video of one of the coolest late night performances you’ll ever see, with the band performing on Conan with a special guest who arrives halfway through the song, so check that out.  We’ll see if this song makes the new album:

Speaking of Conan, Jack White visited his show last week, and SPIN has the link to their extended interview, plus a funny bit where Conan had interns stand-in for Jack White and his band during rehearsal.

Mastodon released a video for their single “High Road”, and this one features some LARPers in a fierce battle.

The first few minutes of the new Elliott Smith biopic have been released and are available for viewing; I’m linking to the Pitchfork announcement because it also includes a link to their extensive oral history on Elliott, which is definitely worth reading if you have the time.

And finally, Ray & Ramora shot a fun video for their cover of Pavement’s “Gold Soundz” which features a bunch of cool random cameos, including Kim Gordon, Jeff Goldblum, and Stephen Malkmus himself.  As for the cover itself, it’s an interesting pop take on the song that works pretty well.

Mastodon, Live at the Roseland

I would say that with most shows that I go to that I have an encyclopedic knowledge (or something approximating that standard) of the band I’m about to see.  I expect to know the title of each song that I hear instantaneously, and probably a few facts about it as well.  However, that is not always the case.

Exiting the show

Exiting the show

I’ve been listening to Mastodon ever since I heard that they were releasing a concept album about Moby Dick.  I decided that right then and there, that I needed to purchase this record because 1). The band’s name was Mastodon; 2). They wrote an album called Leviathan; and 3). It was a concept album about Moby Dick.  It really does not get more metal than that.  And to think,  ten years later, it’s probably only the third-most ridiculous thing they’ve done.

I’ve enjoyed listening to Leviathan over the years, and have dutifully bought each subsequent release, but I can’t say that I truly understand their music.  In many ways, listening to Mastodon has mirrored my attempts to read Gravity’s Rainbow–the individual sentences make sense (the riffs), and I get the idea of the general story (the album as a whole), but fuck me if I know what’s happening from paragraph-to-paragraph (the songs).  So, generally my impressions of Mastodon go from “that’s a sick riff/drumfill” to “that was a really intense experience”.  It would be pure luck if I could identify a song as it were playing, for the most part.

I'm pretty sure the lighting indicates this was a "Leviathan" track

I’m pretty sure the lighting indicates this was a “Leviathan” track

Therefore, I’m not the best source for Mastodon fans who want to hear about the band as they kicked off their most recent tour in Portland, in anticipation of the release of their upcoming album Once More ‘Round the Sun.  I can tell you these things for certain: the band was incredibly tight, with Brent Hinds’s solos and Brann Dailor’s drumming being specific standouts, and it was incredibly loud.  The vocals were buried deep in the mix for each vocalist, but I’d argue they were probably not the most important part of each song.  The set was a pretty even mix of material from each album, and featured a couple of new tracks as well: “High Road”, which I immediately recognized (especially with Brann’s Ozzy-ish vocals in the chorus), and “Chimes at Midnight”, which I did not.

The main takeaway I’d say is that Mastodon fans should be excited to once again see them on tour, and novices shouldn’t be afraid to witness a spectacle of amazing musicianship.  In other words, I was glad to get my metal on once again, even if it was on a Tuesday night.

Catching Up On The Week With Special Guest Copyright Law (Feb. 28 Edition)

A few quick links you may have missed this week and worthy of your time this weekend

I’m always interested in the intersection of music and the law, and considering I spent three years and a fortune for the privilege of receiving a sheet of paper that says “Juris Doctor”, I would hope that there would be at least one thing from my chosen profession that I should enjoy.  So I was excited to read an article discussing yet another lawsuit over sampling, with this one concerning Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids”, and not only because I’m a fan of the song.

Most sampling lawsuits concern an area of copyright law known as “fair use”, which allows certain reproductions that otherwise might be considered infringements in certain limited circumstances, using a balancing test of four factors.  Discussions about fair use are one of the more entertaining parts of copyright law, but unfortunately for most participants there have been several areas that haven’t been settled.  One concept that is still being debated is what is considered “transformative”, which addresses the “purpose and character of the use” component.  Changing the pitch or adding distortion can often be a huge change to a piece of music, so I would be more liberal in my assessment of the transformative question.  In addition, the article mentions a new proposed system that would seek to prevent the hassle of most of these lawsuits by instituting a compulsory licence system.  I’ll definitely spend some time this weekend reading up on that suggestion.

There was recently another development in the area of “fair use”, where an Australian company reached a settlement with a Harvard Law professor who used a clip from Phoenix’s “Lisztomania” for a lesson on on “fair use” posted on YouTube.  It seems to have been a clear attempt at steamrolling potential violators by the label holding the copyright, because the purpose was clearly educational and would be determined to be “fair use” by a court.  The label admitted as much, and thankfully also paid the professor’s legal fees (though I am generally loath to cheer on anything from that particular institution, I am glad for this particular result).

Just your neighborhood studio

Just your neighborhood studio

In a little bit of news, Stereogum has a look at the recording process behind the new Mastodon album.  Glad to see that it’s been smooth sailing for one of the most original bands in the metal scene today.

I know readers of this site are probably a bit Beck’ed out at this point, but if for some reason that’s not the case, SPIN has put online their cover feature from 1994 after the release of Mellow Gold.

I normally wouldn’t link to anything featuring Bill O’Reilly, but if you want to see a clueless argument against rap music, he’s a good source to follow.

Consider this quote:

O’Reilly argued it’s a problem when young black boys idolize “these guys with the hats on backwards” and “terrible rap lyrics” and drug use, and told Jarrett Obama has the power to “reverse the peer pressure.”

If you omit the word “rap”, Bill just provided a description of popular music from the last 50 years.  Congratulations Bill, glad to see you’re putting that Harvard degree to good use.

Finally, I’ve got a little bit of reading of my own to do this weekend.  There’s a Stereogum feature that goes in-depth into the My Morning Jacket “One Big Holiday” festival, and “extensive” doesn’t begin to describe it.  It’s been an open tab for nearly a week now, and considering how much of a fan of the band I am, I still intend to read it.  I’ll probably do so while downloading the shows from the festival.