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.
YG – Still Brazy
This would be a memorable album even if it didn’t include the future national anthem of the United States, “FDT.”
Wilco – Schmilco
A delicate album that seems tossed-off now, but future Wilco fans will enjoy as a secret gem.
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth
The token country album, but its status as one that even indie kids would enjoy is earned, even beyond the touching cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.”
PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
Forgotten too soon (or worse, seen as a disappointment), this was a strong album from one of rock’s most consistent artists.
Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow
It didn’t measure up to their debut, but there’s still gold in their shoegaze-meets-hard rock sound.
The Last Shadow Puppets – Everything You’ve Come To Expect
Not quite as strong as their debut, but it was a treat to see Alex Turner’s side-project return once again
Gojira – Magma
I saw these guys open up for Mastodon, and instantly became a fan.
DIIV – Is The Is Are
They pretty much play only one song, but it’s a good one.
Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
Just when it seemed like the creative well was running dry, Death Grips find new nuance in their abrasive sound.
David Bowie – Blackstar
Goddamn, who knew he had this in his backpocket the entire time? Bowie was still capable of musical surprises, like this futuro-jazz album, up until the end.
Dame D.O.L.L.A. – The Letter O
Damian Lillard is easily the best rapper in NBA history (and in all of professional sports), but really his talent is better than everything that sentence implies.
Clipping. – Splendor and Misery
Daveed Diggs got mass recognition for his role in “Hamilton,” but a lot of fans would prefer he stick to his day job. A great sci-fi hip-hop concept album.
Bleached – Welcome the Worms
One of the strongest garage rock albums during the current wave of the genre.
Also Worthy of Praise
Yuck – Stranger Things, Band of Horses – Why Are You OK, Wire – Nocturnal Koreans, Banks & Steelz – Anything But Words, Joy Formidable – Hitch
All Albums That Were Considered
In the interests of full disclosure, here are all the other 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 Men – Devil Music, Kanye West – The Life of Pablo, Beyonce – Lemonade, Frank Ocean – Blonde, Red Fang – Only Ghosts, Teenage Fanclub – Here, Anderson .Paak – Malibu, Beach Slang – A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, Tim Hecker – Love Streams, Adrian Younge – Something About April II, A Giant Dog – Pile, Walter Martin – Arts & Leisure, Andrew Bird – Are You Serious, Bloc Party – Hymns, Holy Fuck – Congrats, Pixies – Head Carrier, Yung – A Youthful Dream, Dandy Warhols – Distortland, Pinegrove – Cardinal, of Montreal – Innocence Reaches, Savages – Adore Life, Hot Hot Heat – Hot Hot Heat, DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will Fall, Deerhoof – The Magic, Woods – City Sun Eater in the River of Light, Tindersticks – The Waiting Room, White Lung – Paradise, Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
We are slowly beginning to see a revival of the shoegaze genre, though to this point it was only members of the original movement that were bringing back the swirling guitars and lush soundscapes. Legendary pioneers My Bloody Valentine began the charge with their release of m b v, the long-awaited follow-up to the classic Loveless, followed by the triumphant return of Slowdive, and continuing this year with a brand new album from Swervedriver and a newly-reunited Ride. There have been several acts that have incorporated elements of shoegaze into their own sound since the genre’s heyday, but few bands fully embraced the style. We had to look halfway around the world, but it is safe to say we finally found such a group with Israel’s Vaadat Charigim.
Unlike Nothing, which incorporated elements of metal into their version of shoegaze, Vaadat Charigim’s sound is a more direct descendant of the genre’s original practitioners. Vaadat Charigim’s closest counterpart is Slowdive, as they emphasize melody and ethereal guitars on Sinking as a Stone, though propulsive drums reminiscent of Ride poke through the mix at key moments, like on the single “Ein Li Makom”. Like other shoegaze albums, it is nearly impossible to listen to Sinking as a Stone at too high a volume, allowing for a more pleasurable experience as one searches through the haze and picks various details from the wall of sound; Sinking also benefits from modern recording techniques and mastering, so it is not as much of a chore to sift through the music as it was back in the 90’s.
Vaadat Charigim sings exclusively in their native language of Hebrew, so lyrical content will not be a primary concern for most American listeners. Instead, most will be focused on the lush music marked by dreamy textures, with the vocals fitting in perfectly as an additional instrument to the mix. The fact that the group can create such intricate and dense soundscapes with only three people is astounding. For the most part, the band keeps the ambiance relatively light, allowing the listener to get lost in the music, but closer “Hashiamum Shokea” shows what the band can do when it adds in a bit of distortion.
It may be a difficult task to actually get your hands on this album (we had to wait several weeks for Amazon to ship it, and they had a limited supply to begin with), but it is easily worth the effort. There will be few experiences as pleasurable as spending around forty-five minutes getting lost in Vaddat Charigim’s elaborately cultivated soundscapes.
Today is April 15, and while the rest of the nation celebrates Tax Day, we here at Rust Is Just Right choose this occasion to 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/gives them an added checklist when they head out to their local record stores this weekend for Record Store Day.
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 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. Alvvays – Alvvays; Aphex Twin – Syro; Nothing – Guilty of Everything; Real Estate – Atlas (8 plays)
Alvvays and Nothing edge themselves onto the list with fantastic debut albums, the former being a sublime beach-pop record and the latter finding an intriguing mix between shoegaze and metal. Real Estate’s latest would make a great companion album to the Alvvays record on any future trip to the coast, with the band further refining their laid-back, easy-going vibe with some of their most tightly-constructed songs of their career, like “Talking Backwards” and “Crimes”. The only reason why Aphex Twin’s fantastic comeback effort is so low on the list is that we in general do not spend much time listening to electronica; otherwise, it would have ended up much higher on our list.
9. Beck – Morning Phase; Ought – More Than Any Other Day; Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal; Solids – Blame Confusion (9 plays)
We never grew to love Sunbathing Animal in the same way that we did Light Up Gold, so its inclusion on the list is mainly due to our insistence on trying to gain a greater appreciation through repeated listens; that said, it did have its moments, like “Dear Ramona” and “Instant Disassembly”, that we would love to hear the next time they roll through the Northwest. Ought’s debut album is the perfect example of why we delay the publication of our list, since their fascinating debut did not come onto our radar until after we saw it on another year-end list, and it soon became one of our favorites with its intriguing take on garage rock and post-punk. We jumped in early on the Solids bandwagon, and were pleased to see that the duo’s fuzz-rock had some staying power over the course of the year. And we hope that Beck is as proud of his showing on our list as he is of the Grammy that he got for his gorgeous new album.
8. The Antlers – Familiars; Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else; Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE (10 plays)
Cymbals Eat Guitars surprised a lot of people with the leap forward that they took on LOSE, an ambitious, anthemic guitar rock masterpiece. Cloud Nothings somehow came back with an even rawer record than Attack on Memory, and in the process became more of a cohesive group, with the furious drumming being a noteworthy highlight. As for The Antlers, this is becoming old hat for them, because they once again delivered an incredible record, this time meditating on reconciling the internal struggle, dressed up in hauntingly gorgeous hooks.
7. Fucked Up – Glass Boys; Sharon Van Etten – Are We There? (11 plays)
We may have been in the minority with our disappointment in David Comes to Life, but Fucked Up more than made up for it with the punchy Glass Boys. As for Sharon Van Etten, she continues to find the perfect balance between the pain and sadness of her lyrics and the beauty of her music.
6. The Black Keys – Turn Blue (13 plays)
Though there is probably a sizable contingent of people who are tired of The Black Keys at this point, we are not in that subset. Turn Blue was the right step after the arena-rock of El Camino, and we love it when they collaborate with Danger Mouse. Also, the guitar solos in “The Weight of Love” were probably the year’s best.
5. Interpol – El Pintor; Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2 (14 plays)
After their disappointing self-titled album and the polarizing Our Love to Admire, Interpol gave itself a needed shot in the arm with El Pintor. Though on paper it seems that dropping the band’s “secret weapon” Carlos D. was a bad idea, Paul Banks comfortably assumed those duties and seemed to reinvigorate the rest of the band with their strongest effort since Antics. Run The Jewels proved that sequels can improve upon the originals, with Killer Mike throwing down some of the best verses of his career.
4. TV on the Radio – Seeds; The War on Drugs – Lost In The Dream (15 plays)
A lot of critics seemed to have slept on Seeds, but any visit to see TV on the Radio on their latest tour should quiet any doubts that people had about the band. It is an album about finding strength through loss, and the band crafted some of its best songs in the wake of the loss of bass player Gerard Smith. The War on Drugs improved upon their initial breakthrough Slave Ambient by shaping their soundscapes into more cohesive “songs”, but the album is still a delight to listen to with the headphones cranked up to listen to all the different sonic details.
3. Hamilton Leithauser – Black Hours; Peter Matthew Bauer – Liberation!; Spoon – They Want My Soul (17 plays)
It is fitting that two of the solo albums from one of our favorite bands would end up in a tie; though we mourn the apparent loss of The Walkmen, we should rejoice that we have been blessed with multiple excellent albums already. Each captured distinct parts of their previous band’s sound–Hamilton’s penchant for vintage sounds, Peter with the charming raggedness of their music. Spoon once again proved that they are the most consistently brilliant band in indie rock for the past 15 years, as They Want My Soul effectively captures the band’s past sound as well as finds new ways to innovate, with songs like “New York Kiss” and “Outlier”.
2. The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits (19 plays)
This is perhaps the best example of the peculiarities of The Process, as the placement of Tomorrow’s Hits was partially inflated by just how much fun it is to drive around playing this record. The band looked backwards for inspiration, re-configuring the sound of a bar band from the 70’s to create one of the most entertaining records of the year. The Men have been busy throughout their career, releasing five records and five years, so we should probably be expecting a sixth record soon.
1. Death From Above 1979 – The Physical World (23 plays)
We have been in love with this album since the second we heard the opening notes of “Trainwreck 1979”. Death From Above 1979 made the most of the ten years off since their debut, finding the perfect balance between recreating the magic of their early work while moving ahead into new and exciting directions. You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine still holds up hundreds of years later, and The Physical World looks like it will repeat the same feat. The band still has the same ferocious energy as when they first burst on the scene, but it is clear that both Sebastien and Jesse have improved as musicians, finding new ways to create original music through the simple tools of bass and drums (with the occasional synth). Hopefully we do not have to wait another ten years for the next step.
That wasn’t the only memorable performance from Letterman last week, as Interpol did such a great job with “All The Rage Back Home” that it prompted Letterman to continually ask if he could join the band.
There’s a Deafheaven side-project that is definitely worth checking out, if the first single is any indication. Creepers features Dan Tracy, whose drumwork on Sunbather helped make that album one of the best of 2013 as well as touring guitarist Shiv Mehra, and they have an album coming out October 28. “Stuck” reminds me a bit of the Nothing album that came out earlier this year, so if it was the shouting vocals of Deafheaven that turned you off that band, that’s definitely should not be an issue with this release.
Metal is a genre that strangely enough, considering its dynamics and intensity, can lend itself to stagnancy and inertia. The problem is that sometimes no matter how theatrical and ferocious (or if you’re so inclined, fast and furious), it ends up just an echo of the same tricks that you’ve heard numerous times before. It’s the kind of feeling you might be familiar with after watching generic summer blockbusters year after year. The mere act of showing an explosion on a screen is not enough to sustain even passing interest for some people (for fuck’s sake, Michael Bay–how could you make giant robots fighting each other so boring?!).
So when a band uses Metal not as an endpoint, but as a pivot into a new direction, I’ll take notice. Guilty of Everything, the debut album of Nothing, does exactly that. Nothing combines the power and heaviness of metal with the vocals and lush textures of shoegaze. Yes, you read that correctly. True, other bands have been able to mix loud and soft dynamics, intertwining gorgeous vocals with thundering guitars and crashing drums before Nothing, but not necessarily to this extent. The Deftones have made a career of this, and thankfully have seemed to have influenced a new generation of bands.
Deafheaven received a lot of deserved acclaim last year by mixing black metal with elements of shoegaze and post-rock, and Nothing follows a similar approach, though perhaps working in reverse. The vocals are incomprehensible on both albums, but while Deafheaven goes in the loud direction with shrieks and howls, Nothing relies on the traditional shoegaze style of breathy vocals buried within the haze of guitars. The tempos and drumbeats on Guilty of Everything also are more in line with traditional shoegaze and rock, though I advise against making any assumptions based purely on that description. In one of the best moments on the album, Nothing recalls the epic breakdown from the Sigur Rós song “Popplagið”, as the drums go nuts underneath a gorgeous wall of guitars in the last two minutes of “B&E”.
The mixture between metal and shoegaze doesn’t always work, but when it does, like in “Somersault” and the title track, Nothing produces some of the most gorgeous music you’ll hear this year. The heaviness of the guitars combined with the whispery vocals that despite the inherent tension have an almost intoxicating effect, and it’s amazing that instead of working against each other that they blend so seamlessly. And while you’re enjoying the music, it’s worth reading up on the unusual story of the band.