No Age

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!”

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Review: Viet Cong – Viet Cong

Viet Cong’s self-title debut is one of those records that I find easier to admire than to truly enjoy.  Though Viet Cong is enjoying a serious amount of critical buzz (its Metacritic rating currently sits at 82 with only a typical half-hearted shrug of a review from Rolling Stone dragging down its grade), I find it highly unlikely that the band’s noisy take on early-80’s post-punk will break through to a mass audience in any big way.  At times Viet Cong is a challenging and confrontational album, with the band seemingly taking a defiant approach by avoiding by thismuch a more approachable melody whenever possible.  It’s an album that defies easy conventions, but one that is rewarding with repeated listens; the problem is gaining the will to get to that point.

The album is heavily influenced by post-punk like early Joy Division or Wire with its insistent drumming, melodic bass counterpoint, and off-kilter guitars, but Viet Cong filters these elements through a sheen of Sonic Youth-like noise and the lo-fi experimentation of their disciples.  Whereas a lot of those classic records would employ a common verse-chorus structure, most of the songs on Viet Cong veer through multiple unrelated ideas, with songs stopping on a dime and making a sudden left turn into previously unforeseen musical territory.  For example, a song like “March of Progress” begins with an ambient sonic experiment like you would find on a No Age record, abruptly shifts into an eastern-tinged drone, then concludes by suddenly morphing into a dance-y 4/4 rave-up; none of this makes sense on paper, and the unfamiliar listener will assume that he/she just listened to three separate songs, but Viet Cong finds a connective tissue between the differing styles.

The band’s relentless desire to experiment doesn’t always pay off, but when it does, it does so in a big way.  The first half of Viet Cong can be a struggle to listen to, with slogs like “Bunker Buster” and “Pointless Experience” sounding like homework for a lesson on post-punk: OK, here’s the guitar accenting the off-beats, there’s the drums chugging along, and oh yeah here’s some distant, ethereal haunting vocals overlooking the entire enterprise.  Sure, there are individual moments within each song that are worth noting, but they are enveloped by such dour surroundings that they can be difficult to appreciate.  If you thought Interpol was too brooding for your tastes, then you’re in trouble.

However, the second half of Viet Cong is a monster that should have you overlooking any potential misgivings from the first half.  “Continental Shelf” manages to twist a beach-influenced Surfer Bloodtype riff into something more ominous and foreboding, and it pays off in spades. Bassist Matt Flegel’s vocals alternate between a desperate wail in the mold of a Paul Banks to a more restrained version of Spencer Krug (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Moonface, etc.) in his best performance on the album that shows the band’s exciting potential.  “Silhouettes” is a more frenetic number that amps up the paranoia and makes excellent use of the band’s heavy dose of reverb, the perfect soundtrack for an apocalyptic disco party.

Viet Cong concludes with the eleven-minute epic “Death” and features a stellar drumming performance by Mike Wallace, who expertly deploys an attacking snare riff to build on the unstable mood established by “Silhouettes” before the entire song collapses in a noise-freakout.  That is, the song seemingly collapses–after a false ending, the band seamlessly transitions back into a more furious version of the original song, constantly increasing the speed and tension.  It’s a performance that will leave you figuratively gasping for air, though I imagine in concert the reaction may be more literal.

If Viet Cong can build on the strengths shown on the second half of their debut, then they have a very bright future ahead of them.  I am unsure whether Viet Cong will appeal to anyone outside of post-punk enthusiasts, but for those who appreciate the genre they should enjoy their original spin on its conventions.  At the very least, we should all be able to enjoy the pure unfiltered fury of a song like “Death”.

Best of the Rest: Other Highlights from 2013

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.

EELS – Wonderful, Glorious.  It had begun to seem as if Eels were stuck in a rut, with a trio of dour albums (Hombre LoboEnd TimesTomorrow Morning) that were difficult for even a superfan like me to listen to on an regular basis.  But E switched up the formula a bit and even sounds “happy” with this album.  And the live show for the tour for this album was quite great as well, a kind of variety-show getup with everyone dressed in monochrome tracksuits and sporting the same facial hair.

No Age – An Object.  No Age have always been a band that’s difficult to appreciate on first listen, but even fans of their abrasive sound (whether it be riotous punk rock or feedback-drenched ambient) weren’t sure how to respond to An Object.  In many ways it was built more like an art project than just “the next album from No Age”, and surprisingly it often worked.

Phosphorescent – Muchacho. This country-tinged indie folk album is a real treat to listen to on a relaxing, sunny day, but would still be worth it if it only included the reworking of “Wicked Game” that we didn’t know we needed in 2013 with “The Quotidian Beasts”.

Red Fang – Whales and Leeches.  I always love hearing my favorite hometown metal band, so it was surprising that they didn’t manage to make it onto the official list.  Such is the mysterious ways of The Process.  It seems that touring with Mastodon rubbed off on them a bit, as one could definitely hear their influence on the album (my initial comparison was “Mastodon on amphetamines”, and I think that it still fits).  And good news, Red Fang is still making great music videos.

David Bowie – The Next Day.  Can we just pause a minute and recognize how awesome it is that it’s 2014 and David Bowie can just surprise the world with a damn good album 45 years into his career?  The album isn’t perfect, but there are some songs that would fit comfortably aside the old classics on a Greatest Hits.

Los Campesinos! – No Blues.  I keep telling everyone to go to one of their shows because it’ll probably be the most fun you’ll have all year, and I’ll continue to do so.  No Blues sees the band continuing with the mature sound from Hello, Sadness but with a slightly more positive outlook.

Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady.  It’s hard to keep track of the narrative about robots and revolution, but the music is fantastic.  Seeing her perform with OutKast was one of the highlights of Coachella.

The Knife – Shaking the Habitual.  I hadn’t understood the love that some people had for this band until I heard this album.  It’s bizarre, but I like it.

Death Grips – Government Plates.  Who knew we hadn’t heard the last from Death Grips?  My favorite part is that when I downloaded the album, it was automatically tagged as “Rock & Roll”.  If you are unfamiliar with their music, well…

Also Worthy of Praise

Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana; Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt; Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons to Die; Moonface – Julia With Blue Jeans On; Tim Hecker – Virgins; Neko Case –  The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You; Washed Out – Paracosm.

All Albums That Were Considered

Here’s a list of the albums that I listened to last year, in full.  Most of these were quite good and worthy of repeated listens, but they just couldn’t crack the previous lists.  And I’m not going to do something like say the new albums from The Strokes or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club were complete garbage, because that wouldn’t be nice.

Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest; Daft Punk – Random Access Memories; Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze; The Strokes – Comedown Machine; Surfer Blood – Pythons; Atoms for Peace – Amok; Ducktails – The Flower Lane; Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Specter at the Feast; British Sea Power – Machineries of Joy; The Dismemberment Plan – Uncanney Valley; M.I.A. – Matangi; Palms – Palms; Phoenix – Bankrupt!; Cold War Kids – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts; Deerhunter – Monomania; Jake Bugg – Shangri-La; Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God; MGMT – MGMT; Mudhoney – Vanishing Point; Yo la Tengo – Fade; Beach Fossils – Clash the Truth; Fitz & The Tantrums – More Than Just a Dream; Alice in Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here; The Appleseed Cast – Illumination Ritual; Chelsea Light Moving – Chelsea Light Moving; Darkside – Psychic; The Dear Hunter – Migrant; Dr. Dog – B-Room; How to Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion; Kavinsky – OutRun; Major Lazer – Free the Universe; Of Montreal – Lousy With Sylvianbriar; Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven; Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love; Talib Kweli – Prisoner of Conscious; Tyler, the Creator – Wolf; Typhoon – White Lighter; Baths – Obsidian.

Review: Solids – Blame Confusion

I’ve had a fascination with two-person bands for some time now, and I count many of them among my favorites.  It’s great to see bands like The White Stripes, Death From Above 1979, and The Black Keys attain success over the years and inspire others to start making music even if they can’t find a bass player (or in the case of DFA 1979, stick with the bass and abandon the guitar).  I’ve considered some theories as to why these two-person groups work so well.  One possibility is that it may be that it’s easier to reach consensus as to which musical direction to take with two people (though the lack of a third mediating party may be the reason why after the initial spark of incredible inventiveness these partnerships tend to fizzle out, Local H being a notable exception (though there was a lineup change at one point)).  Another might be that, as I’ve heard Jack White explain, that imposing certain limits allows creativity to flourish.  One can be paralyzed by infinite possibilities, so by setting boundaries you at least are able to realize your limits.  And once you know your limits, you can focus attention on challenging them.  It’s in those attempts to challenge that great music can result, as seen with bands like Japandroids and No Age.

I mention those two bands in particular, because they seem to be the most significant inspirations behind the debut album Blame Confusion from another two-man group, Solids.  Solids follow in the footsteps of their Canadian brethren Japandroids by focusing on energetic, driving rock songs with a guitar that seamlessly blends rhythm chords and inventive leads.  The haziness of the vocals and general attitude bring to mind No Age, though Solids don’t take any of their trademark left turn forays into ambient noise.  The result is a lot of distortion, a lot of riffs, and a lot of fun.

Solids definitely did a great job in choosing their influences, but the question remains if they add anything to the equation themselves.  I’ll give a group a listen if they remind me of some of my other favorite bands, but in order for me to keep listening to their album, they need to offer something up themselves, or else I’m going back to the tried-and-true.  Fortunately, Solids seems to have pulled off this task.  I find myself singing along to the great lead melodies, usually making up my own words because a lot of the vocals are pretty indecipherable.  I’ve read more than a few comparisons to Dinosaur Jr, which makes a certain amount of sense especially considering the guitar tones on the record, but you won’t find any of J. Mascis’s trademark solos on Blame Confusion.  That’s not to diminish the guitar playing on the record at all–there are ton of great riffs to be found.  The drums also do a great job of driving the beat when needed (like in “Traces”) or providing a rhythmic counterpoint to the caterwauling guitar.  And sometimes it helps when Solids throws in the traits of another band to the mix, like …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead in “Cold Hands”.

Blame Confusion is a very good debut, and it’s easy to see that it would be a lot of fun to see Solids live.  I’ll definitely be looking forward to seeing what these guys do next, and hopefully we’ll see an artistic leap forward like the Japandroids did with Celebration Rock.

*Note: In a perfect bit of symmetry, famous two-man band Suicide came up on my iTunes as I was writing this review.  So this review comes courtesy of their 1977 performance live at CBGB’s.