Queens of the Stone Age

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2017

Today is April 17, 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.

10. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps; Fleet Foxes – The Crack-Up; Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers; Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory; Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy; Wolf Parade – Cry Cry Cry (7 plays)

It should come to no surprise for our readers the band who inspired our site’s name would crack our Top Ten with our return, though their low placement on the list may raise some eyebrows.  While their return has enough artistic merit to make it more than a simple cash-in on instant nostalgia, Cry Cry Cry lacked the standout songs that marked Wolf Parade’s previous work, with the album seeming to be more competent than anything.  Still, the one-two punch of Dan Boeckner’s “Artificial Life” and Spencer Krug’s “King of Piss and Paper” (reversed for the video) should alleviate the worries of any fans that the Canadian supergroup still has gas left in the tank.

I felt bad for the short people behind me

Wolf Parade, at the Crystal Ballroom

Tyler, the Creator bounced back from a couple of forgettable efforts with an ambitious album that recalls why fans were so impressed with the Odd Future crew back when “Yonkers” first hit, mixing bangers with surprisingly introspective tracks.  We’ll leave the discussion about the lyrical prowess of Vince Staples to others (they never really impressed us that much, but the words aren’t usually our focus), but the beats on Big Fish Theory were a goddamn revelation considering the malaise that seems to be spreading over modern hip-hop these days.  We’re not sure what gets the party going with the kids these days, but bump Vince’s latest on your headphones and you should be set for one heart-pumping adventure.

Much like Dinosaur Jr., another iconic alternative group, Godspeed has shown new life after their return from their prolonged hiatus.  However, as good as their recent albums have been, they seem to be following a similar arc where the third album doesn’t quite have the juice of its two predecessors.  That said, the climax of “Bosses Hang” is exactly what we need these days.

Phoebe is the newcomer to the party, and her delicate debut is perfect for late-night listens.

9. Dieg Cig – Swear I’m Good at This; The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding (8 plays)

What can we say–we love duos.  The mix of the sugar-sweet vocals with the propulsive punk makes Diet Cig a welcome addition to the garage rock revival.  The War on Drugs exceeded our expectations; we had begun to get tired of the band’s style (and had read too many critiques of their sound), so we weren’t exactly pumped for their latest.  However, there are plenty of songs on Understanding which will make the band’s eventual Greatest Hits release.  That said, we pray that on the next album Adam Granduciel learns you can use drum patterns besides ones that hit on 2 and 4.

The War on Drugs, at the Crystal Ballroom

8. Alvvays – Antisocialites; Beck – Colors; LCD Soundsystem – American Dream; Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent (9 plays)

Alvvays went a bit darker with their follow-up to their self-titled debut, and added new textures to their indie-pop sound.  Beck finally released his often-teased follow-up to the Album of the Year winning Morning Phase, and while it seems the rest of the country wasn’t psyched for a return of “fun” Beck, we found this album plenty enjoyable.  Beck may have fussed over individual sounds endlessly before the release of Colors, but repeated listens prove it was well worth the effort.  LCD Soundsystem was another welcome return of indie rock royalty, and though it seems they may have stalled a bit creatively after their wonderful initial three album run, “Call the Police” was worth the price of admission in and of itself (though we wish they could have found a way to include the teaser single “Christmas Will Break Your Heart” on the album).  Protomartyr further honed their sound of post-punk mixed with the ravings of an esoteric college professor.  Relatives was not as initially catchy as The Agent Intellect, so it may discourage new fans, but eventually it hooks your way into your brain–see how the line “She’s just trying to reach you” keeps repeating throughout and how it fits with the themes of the record.  The lyric from the Michigan band of “It’s been leaded by snider men to make profit from the poor” might be the best line from 2017, but it’s the following line I keep repeating in my head: “I don’t want to hear those vile trumpets anymore.”

Protomartyr, at the Doug Fir

7. Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder; The National – Sleep Well Beast (10 plays)

Hug of Thunder might be the most consistent front-to-back record in the BSS catalog, with several songs that are just really damn uplifting.

Broken Social Scene, at the Crystal Ballroom

By contrast, Sleep Well Beast is a step down for The National, but they’ve been on fire since Alligator and you can’t expect them to maintain perfection forever.  The electronic flourishes to the album are a nice touch, and there are several standout songs that will be great additions to the average setlist.  Simply put, the album gets dinged only because it pales in comparison to their recent string of successes.

The National, at the Schnitz

6. Death From Above 1979 – Outrage! Is Now; Queens of the Stone Age – Villains; Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3 (11 plays)

Death From Above officially dropped the “1979” from their name, but it’s going to take us a while to get used to it.  However, we are thrilled that the return to form of The Physical World was no mere fluke, and we’re exceedingly pleased to see the band continue to evolve.  At first, it may seems the album dips in the middle, but after a few times through it becomes clear the forays into sludgier metal riffs are a welcome evolution for the duo (and will help save the stamina of a singing drummer).  Hell, see how easy they make metal look with the hard-hitting opener, “Nomad”.  We may overrate these guys compared to others, but honestly, we have no idea why “Freeze Me” wasn’t a bigger summer hit.

Death From Above, at the Roseland

It took a few times though to get on the same wavelength as QOTSA for their latest, with our initial impression being that a few of the better songs would have worked just fine as Eagles of Death Metal tracks instead.  But once we got lost in the sound and feel of the record, we began to appreciate it more.  Also, “Villains of Circumstance” will be remembered as one of their best ever.

Queens of the Stone Age, at the Hult Center

RTJ is in a strange position, because the schedule of their leak and official release had them straddling the line between 2016 and 2017 lists, but this feels like the right spot for them (if we included every single listen since its release, it would tie for the top spot).  RTJ3 isn’t as lean as its predecessors, but there’s plenty here that will leave listeners longing to hear the continuing saga of Jamie and Mikey.

Run the Jewels, at the Crystal Ballroom

5. Joey Bada$$ – All-Amerikkkan Bada$$; The xx – I See You (12 plays)

A couple of surprises make it into the top half of the list!  We were not impressed with Joey’s debut, but All-Amerikkan Bada$$ is an impressive step forward, effectively mixing groovy R&B and political hip-hop.

We thought The xx had already begun running out of creativity with the decent Coexist, but it turns out there is still juice left in their minimalist indie rock.  Who knew you could make introverted love songs so danceable?

4. Big K.R.I.T. – 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time (13 plays)

Big K.R.I.T.’s ambitious new record easily slides into the trinity of Wu-Tang Forever and All Eyez on Me on the list of greatest hip-hop double albums.  Though nominally split between his two personalities with the party anthem heavy “Big K.R.I.T.” and the introspective gospel-tinged “Justin Scott”, the album flows just fine as one long piece.  Hell, even the few skits on the album can be listened to more than once!

3. Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound; Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins; Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life (14 plays)

Now here’s a triumvirate you would expect from us.  Japandroids got an early jump on everybody with a January release, which partially explains their high ranking on this list, though we don’t want you to put too much in that disclaimer.  Wild Heart of Life is a half-brilliant, half-decent album, which explains our reluctance to fully commit to any direction in our assessment.  The title track opener is an all-time great for the band, and the run from “Midnight to Morning”, “No Known Drink or Drug”, and “In a Body Like a Grave” finish the album on a rousing note.  It’s the middle songs which sag, though we appreciate them as experimental forays necessary for a duo who wish to have a long career.

Japandroids, at Revolution Hall

Grizzly Bear once again returns with an album that sounds great on headphones, begging for you to pick out more and more details with each listen, all in a style that’s perfect for either driving in the car or listening late at night.

Grizzly Bear, at the Roseland

Cloud Nothings made the most consistently brilliant punk record of the year, and goddammit I hope that band keeps moving on to bigger and better things.

Cloud Nothings, at the Doug Fir

2. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.; Spoon – Hot Thoughts (16 plays)

After the overflowing To Pimp a Butterfly, a record that placed a lot of its emphasis on being a complete album, it seemed Kendrick was coming back with a series of hard-hitting singles–“Humble.” and “DNA.” were huge, aggressive tracks which got everybody fired up for the release.  The initial impression of DAMN. as a series of singles eventually proved to be incorrect, as Kendrick revealed more of the thought process behind the album.  For us, though, the switch was flipped when the “Collector’s Edition” was released, which flipped the tracklisting from back-to-front.  All of a sudden, the album seemed to have a much better flow, and its themes became more readily apparent.

What more can be said about Spoon?  The band is incapable of releasing a less-than-great album at this point, and Hot Thoughts shows off a fun side that had been hiding in the background for a few years at this point.  Britt and the guys walk the tightrope of staying true to their “sound” while not repeating themselves–for example, the funky “Can I Sit Next To You” fits right alongside their early hit “I Turn My Camera On” without it being a rehash.

Spoon, at the McDonald Theater

We love the whole album, but we’re going to keep the somber “I Ain’t the One” and the relevant-to-these-times “Tear It Down” on repeat.

1. Slowdive – Slowdive (17 plays)

The return of My Bloody Valentine may have inspired more ink, but we appreciated the return of the other titans of shoegaze more.  Slowdive fits right in next to Souvlaki and Just for a Day, but doesn’t feel like a mere revival of their early-90’s peak.  The music is as gorgeous as ever, venturing from the delicate haunting vocals in the ballads to the big rush of guitars in the epics.

Slowdive, at the Crystal Ballroom

We’re not sure if we’ll look back in ten years and definitively say we made the right choice on the number one album of 2017, but we’re confident in saying we’ll still love the hell out of this album.

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Over the Weekend (Mar. 30 Edition)

News, videos, and other fun stuff for your possible recovery from Spring Break…

Built To Spill is gearing up for the release of their long-awaited eighth album, Untethered Moon, and they recently posted the video for its first single, “Living Zoo”.  Be sure to read the Noisey interview with Doug Martsch that accompanies it for an insight into what the band has been up to in the past few years and how the current lineup was formed.

Mini Mansions is a new project featuring Michael Shuman, the current bassist from Queens of the Stone Age, and they just released a new video featuring Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys.  Pitchfork has the video and some more background on the shoot, though as the link indicates, it is probably NSFW due to reasons of nudity.  As for the music, the song has the same Gothic vibe that can be found in QOTSA’s groovier work, and is pretty catchy as well.

Death Grips is releasing jenny death, the second half of The Powers That B tomorrow, and it is certainly a different animal from the first half that was shared last year.  Check out the GoPro-type video for the bone-rattling “I Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States”, featuring footage from Zach’s drumstick and MC Ride’s mic.

…And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead shared the video for “Lie Without A Liar” from their recent album IX, depicting a fantastical suburban child warrior.  Or something.

Ad-Rock, subject of a recent GQ profile that we linked to on Friday, stopped by The Tonight Show to discuss his recent movie role as well as his poor appearance.

Elsewhere on the late night circuit, Modest Mouse became the first band to perform on the newest incarnation of The Late Late Show, now hosted by James Corden, where they performed “Be Brave” from Strangers to Ourselves.

Stereogum has a helpful guide to getting all your “beach” bands straight, which is probably worthy of consultation as the weather gets nicer.  I wonder if they had similar guides when “Deer” and “Wolf” bands were popular.

And finally, enjoy the contributions of this musical dog to some well-known rock songs.  It’s the perfect thing to help kickstart your week.

The Best Concerts of 2014

We do things a little differently around here when it comes to the traditional lists like “Best Albums of the Year”, since we like to take the extra time to see if we may have missed anything.  But we admit we can’t resist the opportunity to look back on other highlights of the year, so it’s the perfect time to create an arbitrary ranking of the best concerts we saw this year. 

Over the course of 2014 we saw a grand total of 32 different concerts (including two separate festivals), giving us close to an average of three different shows a month to see national touring acts.  Considering that we had to travel at least an hour to and from all but one of these shows, allow us to shed our modesty for a second and say that this was quite the accomplishment.  Luckily, not a single concert could be even remotely considered a dud, so it makes narrowing down the list to just ten shows that much harder.  That said, we think that these shows are worthy of special recognition, and we invite you to use the tags to read up on our reviews for each performance.

Cloud Nothings put on a great show, but will have to settle for just outside the top ten.

Cloud Nothings put on a great show, but will have to settle for a spot just outside the top ten.

Honorable Mention for The Thermals playing a show in Salem and making the town seem like a real cool place for once.

10. The Men, live at Dante’s

9. Hamilton Leithauser, live at the Doug Fir

8. The National, live at the Les Schwab Amphitheater

7. Modest Mouse, headlining Project Pabst

6. TV on the Radio, live at the Crystal Ballroom

5. Queens of the Stone Age, live at the Keller Auditorium

4. Beck, live at Edgefield

3. Neutral Milk Hotel, live at the Crystal Ballroom

2. Death From Above 1979, live at the Crystal Ballroom

1. Slowdive, live at the Crystal Ballroom.

It’s no surprise that the top of the list is loaded with reunions, though the exact order goes against what probably would have been predicted at the beginning of the year; the biggest shock remains that shows at the Crystal Ballroom ended up being the venue to house the best shows, though that speaks to the ability of each of those groups to overcome any obstacles that tricky room could toss their way.

Let’s hope that any shows we see in the next year live up to the unbelievable standard that this past year has set!

An Incomplete List of SCARY Music Videos

We here at Rust Is Just Right enjoy the Halloween season, especially since it gives us the perfect reason to indulge in our love of all things horror.  So, of course we’re going to use the holiday as an opportunity to show some of our favorite scary music videos.  We don’t think we have the authority to say that these are the scariest, or that these selections form any definitive list, but we hope you enjoy them in all their terrifying glory.

Before the revival of the zombie craze truly took hold, Phantom Planet made a great video depicting the making of a low-budget zombie horror story for their single “Big Brat”.

I remember jumping for the remote to try and change the channel as quickly as possible once the faces started melting and the shit truly hit the fan when I saw Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” for the first time.

Before Daft Punk won the hearts of the people with Random Access Memories, they had the worst record sales of their career with Human After All.  This may have been partially due to their horrifying video for “Primetime of Your Life”.  Though they more than capably proved their point about the perils of eating disorders, the skeleton motif may have been too effective.

[So that we don’t stress your browser, we’ve got plenty more videos (including a few legitimately terrifying ones) on the next page.]

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Queens of the Stone Age, Live at the Keller Auditorium

It’s become increasingly clear that if you’re going to see a band perform, it’s best to do it in Portland.  Sure, we always have enthusiastic crowds and a ton of great venues, but that’s been the case for years.  What I’m talking about is that special moment that sends you straight to your cell phone to put everyone on blast that “Holy shit, you won’t believe what happened at the **** show!”  Just in the past few months, we’ve seen a Sleater-Kinney “reunion” at a Pearl Jam show, Jim James showing up to do a John Lennon cover with The War On Drugs, and now a surprise reconciliation at Tuesday’s Queens of the Stone Age concert.

I didn't realize most of the new material was in standard tuning

I didn’t realize most of the new material was in standard tuning

Queens kicked things off with a bang, perhaps buoyed by the announcement earlier in the day of their number 2 ranking in RIJR’s Album of the Year rankings, with the raucous “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”.  Few bands would then follow up their opener with their biggest hit, but QOTSA knew that the sold-out crowd didn’t come just to hear the songs they heard from the radio.  That’s what we call confidence, my friends.  After that, “Avon” brought a huge cheer from the fans who remember QOTSA’s self-titled debut with fondness.

The band then went on a run of material from their scintillating new album, …Like Clockwork.  By the end of the night, 80% of the album would be covered, and considering the excellence of the material, nobody minded missing out on a couple of old favorites.  The lead single “My God Is The Sun” serves as an excellent bridge between classic Queens desert-rock and the rest of the new album, with its catchy riffs and rolling drums interspersed with a groovy shaker rhythm.  However, it was what’s in my opinion …Like Clockwork‘s cornerstone “I Appear Missing” that was the highlight of the new material, with its intoxicating and hypnotic Gothic groove that you allow to drag you forward, even though you know it’s probably not a good idea.  The band did a brilliant job of extending the ending, as if caught in a trap with ever-escalating tension, matching the image of a man falling forever and ever from the sky.  As the band brought the volume down, the crowd watched the video screen and there was a moment that you thought perhaps the character would live to see a happy ending, but then the band snapped back with full force and that was the end for Our Hero.  It was but one of many examples of how QOTSA was able to improve on already-fantastic new material.

As the band neared the end of their main set, Josh Home dedicated Rated R‘s “Better Living Through Chemistry” to “his brother from a fucked-up mother”, former bandmate Nick Oliveri.  Nick played bass with the opening band, Moistboyz (who also featured another QOTSA collaborator in Mickey Melchiondo (aka Dean Ween)), and it was good to see further confirmation that he and Josh had patched things up.  The song itself was a perfect distillation of the greatness of Queens, and was one of the most mind-blowing performances that I could remember; in many ways, it was an inversion of many standard rock tropes, with epic breakdowns and solos.  Queens capped off the first part of the evening with the excellent “Go With the Flow”, leaving the crowd breathless but wanting more.

An amazing show even from these ridiculous seats.

An amazing show even from these ridiculous seats.

The band returned for their encore with the haunting “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”, featuring Josh behind the piano.  As the roadies wheeled away the extra piano, a familiar guitar riff came on, and the crowd went apeshit as they heard the opening to “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire.”  Josh then brought Nick out on stage and handed him a mic, and Portland then witnessed Nick perform with Queens of the Stone Age for the first time in ten years as the crowd lost their shit a second time.  “Gimme toro, gimme some more!!!”  The band ended the evening with the live favorite “A Song For The Dead”, officially making it worth the wait since the band’s last stop in Portland several years ago.  And considering Josh’s lively interactions with the crowd and the several bits of praise he had for Portland (“You got yourselves a cool town…fuck it, you’re the best.”), hopefully we’ll be seeing him again soon.

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2013

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.  To be technical, this is our first such list since the site was launched only a few months ago, but this is a practice that I’ve personally done for a few years now.  There are a few of reasons for this: 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) I get the chance to analyze other lists to pick up on albums that somehow escaped my 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.  That said, it is in the process of being patented and trademarked, so I can say that it’s not simply a look at my iTunes playcount for the year.  Actually, that is what it is exactly, but I’ll choose to believe in your good faith that you won’t steal The Process.  On to the list!

Note: Though the list is a Top 10, there are more albums than slots, because I 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). (6 plays) The Flaming Lips – The Terror!!! – Thr!!!erYeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito.

We already have a surprise courtesy of The Process, as I didn’t think that Mosquito would perform so well.  The first single “Sacrilege” had me really excited for the album, but there was no other song that really matched its heights.  It was a bit of a letdown after the great It’s Blitz!, so my response to it may be harsher than it should be.  The Terror on the other hand was a new high point for The Flaming Lips; with the band involved in so many projects and gimmicks, there were legitimate fears that the creative well may have been running a bit dry, but the Lips responded with an album that  showed that even after 30 years the band still has new directions to explore.  Long known for their happy outlook on life, the band channeled inner turmoil (Steve Drozd’s relapse, Wayne Coyne’s separation from his partner) and created a dark, disturbing album that often plays like an hour-long version of the horrifying “Frankie Teardrop”, incorporating new elements like krautrock influences and drum machines.  The only reason it’s not higher on the list is you really need to prepare yourself to handle the despair that is prevalent throughout the album (though there are moments of pure beauty).  With Th!!!er, !!! may have won Album Name of the Year, but they also back it up with some of the best songs of their career.  I’m a sucker for their dance-punk style, and I highly recommend seeing these guys live.  It’s fun to see a bunch of people who normally don’t dance groove to songs like “One Girl/One Boy”.

9). (7 plays) Foals – Holy FireThe Joy Formidable – Wolf’s LawLow – The Invisible WayNine Inch Nails – Hesitation MarksParquet Courts – Light Up GoldPearl Jam – Lightning BoltRun the Jewels – Run the Jewels.

Normally, I would say that Pearl Jam exists outside the scope of “lists”, but one cannot argue with The Process.  I haven’t delved deep into my love of the band since starting this site, so for those of you unfamiliar with my passion for the band, I’ll try to sum it up like this: I’ve been to hundreds of shows over the years, and when people ask me for my all-time greatest concerts, I tell them there’s a Pearl Jam list and a non-Pearl Jam list.

As for the others, I’ll offer a few quick thoughts.  Foals have been underrated for a while now, and by my calculations “My Number” should have been as big a summer hit as “Get Lucky”.  The Joy Formidable put on one of the best shows I saw last year, and I’m a big fan of how the sweetness of the vocals contrast with the heaviness of the music, but all done in a very melodic way.  There wasn’t a big hit like “Whirring” on this album, but “This Ladder Is Ours” should have been.  Nine Inch Nails returned with a very good comeback album–I loved the incorporation of more minimalist ideas, which made it an exceedingly interesting dance record.  And it’s amazing that Low once again produced an amazing album, and I hardly saw any mention of it on the year-end lists.  Invisible Way saw the band returning to the more delicate sounds pre-Drums and Guns, but it was definitely not a simple rehash.

Light Up Gold is a perfect example of reason number two up above, as I heard nothing about this album before I saw it on a few year-end lists.  This catchy and too-smart-for-probably-its-own-good soon became a go-to in my car stereo.  You have to love a band that makes the point that “Socrates died in the fucking gutter.”

As for Run The Jewels, I’ll say this: it’s hard to believe that one of the best albums of the year was given away for free earlier this year.  And it received a small fraction of the attention of Magna Carta Holy Grail.

8). (8 plays) Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right ActionKanye West – YeezusThe Thermals – Desperate Ground.

I was glad to see Franz Ferdinand return from hiatus alive and kicking.  After some experimentation with Tonight, the band decided to go back to their old sound and play to their own strengths–a lot of good, hook-filled rock songs (for the record, I was a fan of Tonight, but hey, I understand the calculus).  The Thermals made a similar return to their roots: after the reflective Personal Life, the band decided to keep the songs short and the tempos fast, with the furious Desperate Ground.

I’m sure Yeezus was the most analyzed album of the year, so my opinion shouldn’t add much to the conversation.  I think Lou Reed did an excellent job in explaining its genius, so you should probably take his word for it.  I will say that one of the things I enjoy most about Kanye records is that it always seems like we’re listening in on a therapy session, because he seems free to let his thoughts roam unfiltered.  I also love a person that embraces the dichotomy of the sacred and the profane; who else would follow a great line “close your eyes and let the word paint a thousand pictures” with “one good girl is worth a thousand bitches”?  The man knows exactly what he’s doing: “After all these long-ass verses, I’m tired, you’re tired.  Jesus wept.

7). (9 plays) The Men – New MoonSigur Rós – KveikurVampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the CityVolcano Choir – RepaveYuck – Glow & Behold.

We had an extensive piece already on Yuck, so we won’t rehash it here.  Volcano Choir is proof that Justin Vernon knows what he’s doing and that he doesn’t need the “Bon Iver” name to make great music.  The Men will continue to put great, solid rock albums from now until eternity it seems like; throwing in some classic rock and Americana touches like they did on New Moon just helps expand their sound.

Vampire Weekend got a lot of credit for their show of maturity on their third album, and a lot of it is deserved–Modern Vampires is an excellent rumination on love and faith.  That said, it wasn’t as great a leap as some critics made it out to be; I thought that Contra showed that the band was creative enough to find a way to connect their niche sound with other genres and still remain true to their identity.  So while this is a very good album, it’s not quite the “Album of the Year”.

I’m much more surprised about the latest album from Sigur Rós.  I found Valtari to be a real low point, an album that often struggled to find any semblance of creativity or inspiration, and it just seemed like an ambient mess.  So when the band released Kveikur so quickly after Valtari, I was pretty skeptical.  But holy shit, this sounds like a band reborn.  It’s a much more aggressive album, an adjective that is rarely associated with the band, and bears some (dare I say?) metal influences.

6). (10 plays) Cults – StaticSavages – Silence Yourself.

We had an extensive piece already on Cults, so we won’t rehash it here.  Savages end up with the highest-ranked debut on this chart, as I found their revival of post-punk thrilling, a brilliant mix of Joy Division and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

5). (11 plays) Arctic Monkeys – AMThe Besnard Lakes – Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO.

The instant I heard “Do I Wanna Know?”, I knew I would love this album; I just didn’t know that it would turn out to revive their career here in the States.  It’s a huge improvement over the good-but-unmemorable Suck It And See and the completely forgettable Humbug, and it wins my coveted award of “Night Driver of the Year”.

I’ve been a longtime fan of The Besnard Lakes, a band far more deserving of some of the plaudits that another Canadian band whose absence you may notice from this list.  If there were actual justice in this world, they’d be headlining arenas, but I’m glad I get to see them perform spellbinding sets in tiny venues like the Doug Fir.  I initially was not impressed with the new album, mainly because I had been hoping that they could use some of the huge hooks from Roaring Night and hopefully catapult into the mainstream; but once I accepted the album for what it was, I was able to appreciate the subtle melodies and beautiful atmosphere.

4). (12 plays) Deafheaven – SunbatherMy Bloody Valentine – m b v.

My Bloody Valentine shocked the world when they announced that they were immediately releasing their long-awaited follow-up to Loveless.  Servers were in a constant state of crashing as music buffs around the world rushed to download the album, but eventually we all got our copy.  Was it worth the over two-decade wait?  If you based it on trash like “Nothing Is”, then you would say no, but then you hear the gorgeous “Only Tomorrow” with its monumental guitar solo, and all is forgiven, because you are reminded that while there are thousands of bands that were inspired by them, there is truly only one My Bloody Valentine.

Sunbather might be the most surprising album on my list, because while there is a lot of heavy metal that I do enjoy, it’s usually not of the black metal variety.  However, Deafheaven uses the banshee wail-type vocals to their advantage, as they blend in with the walls of guitar.  If I had my preference, it wouldn’t be the style I choose, if only because it becomes hard to distinguish what are actually some pretty decent lyrics (an exchange like “‘I’m dying.’  ‘Is it blissful?’  ‘It’s like a dream.’  ‘I want to dream.'” read great on the page, but impossible to pick out when sung).  That said, the actual music is pretty goddamn brilliant.  I’m going to explore them in a future Feats of Strength, but I’ll say that the last half of “The Pecan Tree” was probably the best music I heard all year, but to understand its full brilliance you need to hear the 55 minutes of brutality that came before it.

3. (16 plays) Wavves – Afraid of Heights.

Wavves received the best press and sales of their career with King of the Beach, and to follow it up they release an album filled with cynicism and paranoia and plain old depression.  But they made it fun as hell.  I have to give a lot of respect who released a single that got actual radio airplay whose chorus is “Holding a gun to my head, so send me an angel; or bury me deeply instead, with demons to lean on”.  And they played it on Letterman.

2. (17 plays) Queens of the Stone Age – ...Like Clockwork.

This one of the best albums of QOTSA’s career, and that’s saying something since they’ve released several classic albums already.  It’s a brilliant mix of their desert rock with gothic horror.  It’s hard for me to think of much more to say than that, because I’m still bitter thinking how not one person on the AV Club staff gave this album a single vote.

1. (20 plays) The National – Trouble Will Find Me.

In the end, the list was topped off by what I would have predicted at the beginning of the year, but when I first listened to Trouble Will Find Me this was not a foregone conclusion.  But like other albums from The National before it, what initially sounded like a shapeless bore gradually revealed its subtle strength and beauty.  Melodies become more apparent, and dynamics become more evident; often it’s not drastic loud-soft contrast, but a gradual intensity that builds throughout in a song.  Each listen brings about a new favorite; first it was “Sea of Love”, then it was “Pink Rabbits” followed by “Don’t Swallow the Cap”.  Lately, it’s been “Graceless”, a powerful look at attempts to shake the melancholy stemming from a past relationship, filled with great lines like “God loves everybody–don’t remind me” and “all of my thoughts of you: bullets through rotten fruit.”  After a few listens, you notice things like the shift halfway between “graceless” and “grace” that occurs in the lyrics, and the gradual buildup of intensity in Matt Berninger’s voice as he powers through the song.  It’s perfect that an album that rewards multiple listens takes the top spot.

Over the Weekend (Apr. 14 Edition)

Tomorrow is a big day for Rust Is Just Right, because we’ll be releasing our long-awaited list of the Best Albums of 2013.  We’ll explain why we chose that particular day for the big reveal tomorrow, but just be content knowing that the day will finally be here.  Meanwhile we have a selection of videos to help you ease into the week.

Last week, Queens of the Stone Age released a music video of their latest single, “Smooth Sailing”, featuring Josh Homme on a wild night of partying with a group of businessmen.  As the old saying goes, beware of what karaoke may bring.  Now’s a good time to familiarize yourself with the song and the rest of …Like Clockwork, because we’ll have a review of their live show later this week, and QOTSA will certainly make an appearance in tomorrow’s Best Of list.  You could check out their performance at Coachella from this past weekend as well; Pitchfork has their performance as well as many others, so they’re worth checking out.

Eels also released a music video last week for “Mistakes of My Youth”, the lead single from the upcoming album The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett.  The full album is also available for streaming on YouTube, ahead of its release date next week on the 22nd.  It seems the band has stepped back from the happier, livelier sound of Wonderful, Glorious to a more delicate, winsome sound that E has favored on recent albums, but long-time fans of the band should be pleased.

Atmosphere just released a music video for “Kanye West”, their latest single from their upcoming album Southsiders.  It’s a fun Bonnie & Clyde story, with an unexpected couple, with a cameo from Slug as a cashier.

Yesterday saw an unexpected release from the Deftones, as they released a track from the Eros sessions in memory of their departed bassist, Chi Cheng, who died a year ago on Sunday.  “Smile” was the first song we’ve heard from the sessions, which were put on hold after Cheng had gone into a coma after a car accident.  Though Chino Moreno had himself posted the song, the record label took it down because of copyright issues; we’ll see how long the link I’ve posted lasts.

We also got a brand new track today from The Black Keys, who posted the title track to their upcoming release Turn Blue today.  It’s a groovy ballad, reminiscent in my mind of their cover of “Never Gonna Give You Up” and featuring that trademark Danger Mouse bass.

And finally we have Sigur Rós performing a cover of the song “The Rains of Castamere” for the Game of Thrones soundtrack.  While the song is nice, I get a bigger kick out of the band dressed up in costume for the show itself.  I can’t wait to catch that scene when it airs.

Catching Up On The Week (Mar. 14 Edition)

Aeon has a great article exploring the psychological underpinnings of our appreciation of music, specifically discussing the key that repetition plays in our unconscious love.  The article analyzes how the mere act of repetition has a specific psychological effect on our brains, and it can essentially even create the illusion of “music”, even though if we were removed from the process we would not give that objective determination.  It then goes on to discuss the significance of “rituals” and how music mirrors this concept, and their impact on our brains.  I find these scientific explorations fascinating, and I highly recommend reading it–I’m sure I unintentionally bungled some observations and that my imprecise language may have obscured some of the true results.  That said, the article still needs to explain how it could be that Krautrock is not the dominant musical genre of our time.

Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age (and many, many other bands) recently did a video where he answered questions from fans, covering such topics as his band’s treatment at the Grammys and the recent dispute with other members of Kyuss over the use of the band’s name.  It’s always fun to hear Josh pontificate, so it’s well worth a listen.

Repetition

Repetition

If you follow our Tumblr, you know we’re at the very least intrigued by Neil Young’s new digital music service “Pono”.   We’re not entirely convinced about its necessity, and to that end we’re looking into posting a discussion with an engineer experienced in the field of acoustics to discuss the technological merits of the service.  But we’ll save the technical mumbo-jumbo for another day–here, you could read an article from The Quietus with some bullshit about the “iPod culture”.  Here’s a frightening quote:

“The spontaneous practice of iPod users then comes to very closely resemble the model developed by researchers working for the Muzak Corporation in the mid-twentieth century.”

A much more enjoyable discussion of music culture comes from the latest entry in the AV Club’s series on punk rock in the 90’s (“Fear of a Punk Decade”), which discusses the impact of different labels on the decade’s sounds.  It looks at the rise of several independent labels, including some that had the impact of major labels (Epitaph and Dischord for example), and the mutual relationship between bands and their labels.

Switching gears, The Oregonian takes a look at the significance of a good van for the touring indie act.  It’s difficult to realize the various struggles that bands have to go through especially with things we take for granted like our own vehicles.

And finally, Wye Oak has a discussion with SPIN about their new album Shriek.  In this interview, they discuss lyrical themes, the move away from guitars for this album, and their (slightly) relaxed touring schedule.  Wye Oak is a band that that is pretty powerful live, though their albums haven’t translated in the same way; we’ll see if that’s the case for Shriek.

A SXSW (P)Review

The big news this week is of course the SXSW Festival, and you’re probably tired of hearing the same stories about the festival over and over.*  They usually follow one of two tropes, and it doesn’t matter which, because they’re both terrible: either the “all of your favorite bands are having a blast here in the LIVE MUSIC CAPITAL OF THE WORLD” or “it sucks now that SXSW has totally sold out, man” (annoying coming from either an Austinite or a music industry lackey, for different but totally valid reasons).  Here’s what you should know: 1) None of your favorite bands, if they are in Austin, TX this week, are having a blast because it’s now a requirement that anyone with new music coming out has to stop by and play crowded bars that haven’t seen an inspection since 1998, and 2) Nobody cares that the festival was awesome before anyone heard about it.

*I’m making a couple of assumptions here: that you like music (why else would you be here, unless you were really into cartography, I guess) and that you have at least enough of a passing interest in music/news that you are aware that there is a festival called “South by Southwest” (SXSW for short) and have seen at least one mention of this gigantic festival.  I would think that these assumptions didn’t need to be stated for the record, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Don't believe everything that you read.

Don’t believe everything that you read.

That said, there are tons of pieces out there attempting to provide a preview of this year’s particular incarnation of SXSW, and they’re all fighting for your eyes and clicks.  That means I have to come up with my own original approach, and I think I found the right hook: I’ll be reviewing my previous trip to SXSW in order to give you an idea of what to expect.  Because history repeats itself, and time is a flat circle.

I was lucky enough to attend the festival in 2011, when it lined up perfectly with my Spring Break from law school.  With my sister already in town for grad school, I had a floor for crashing and the toughest part of the trip figured out (a previous attempt to attend the festival back in 2007 when I was still working in radio fell apart because of that detail).  It sure seemed to be a better idea than sleeping in each day until noon and then waiting three hours in line for a Shake Shack burger–now I would sleep in each day until noon and then wait three hours to watch some of my favorite bands (because let’s be honest–I wasn’t going to work on my thesis in either scenario).  I looked forward to a week of sunshine, music, and cheap/crappy beer, instead of a week of cold, traffic, and expensive/crappy beer.

The thing that’s hard to realize about SXSW until you’re there is just how many bands are there, and they’re all playing venues that they would otherwise have no business playing in, whether it be a downward or upward shift in fortune.  Queens of the Stone Age playing in a converted auto-body garage?  Um, if you say so.  Some Brazilian surfer-punk zydeco hybrid band playing a packed two-story bar?  Yeah, you’ll never hear of them again (I think their name started with a ‘Z’), but for a brief moment they were a Next Big Thing at this festival.  You truly can’t comprehend the sheer number of bands.  My one souvenir from the festival was a t-shirt that listed “all” of the bands that played.  I took it out during the course of writing this as a reference to help jog my memory of what bands I saw, but it’s practically worthless in that regard because the half-point font makes reading impossible.  And and all these bands are playing in any possible space that they can find.

They even had a singing saw, but they couldn't play a Neutral Milk Hotel cover?

They even had a singing saw, but they couldn’t play a Neutral Milk Hotel cover?

So to people who are fans of “music” as a concept, this all sounds wonderful; to sane people, not so much.  You walk down Sixth Street, beer in hand, (or as I call it, Bourbon Street Lite) and  hear through the air the strains of 30 different bands playing packed, ramshackle bars.  Oh what glory it is to be alive, as the streets are filled with the sound of music!  Of course, if you’re able to actually pick out through the cacophony that sounds great or at the very least interesting, good luck in trying to actually make it into the venue.  This is something that a normal, sane person would enjoy, but SXSW makes this task very difficult indeed.

SXSW is of course famous for the long lines at its venues.  Of course, as a ridiculously popular festival, it’s to be expected.  However, I thought I had purchased a proverbial golden ticket: the wristband.  A couple of hundred bucks up front, and I had bestowed upon my hand the promise of “access” to nearly all shows without paying additional cover charges and the ability to skip lines.  As anyone who’s been to Disneyland knows, this is truly the only way to travel.  And it’s true, you CAN skip ahead of the lines…well at least part of the lines.  What I didn’t know is that SXSW had created an additional supertier with “badges”.  Those were the people that actually had access and so on–you know, what you thought you were getting with the wristband.  In the end, you realize that your purchase of a wristband was the equivalent of pulling into the gas station and selecting the “Plus” nozzle–additional dollars down the drain, with no real noticeable difference in product.

That means your dreams of seeing someone like Bad Brains were pretty much gone.  You thought you could make it into the shack where Death From Above 1979 had a surprise reunion?  Only one possible reaction.  If you’re aiming to see Queens of the Stone Age put on a show at midnight, well you better get to the venue at 7 and watch random crap for five hours, because there’s no way you’re going to be let back in.  It’s tough shit for the badgeless.

Kim Crowdsurfs

Kim Crowdsurfs

That means your dreams of bouncing from show to show are pretty much shot to shit, no matter how willing you are to zig-zag around town.  You are now forced to plan your time judiciously.  And you were hoping that there was not going to be any homework on this trip–I mean, if i was going to think at all this week, shouldn’t it have been in the course of completing my thesis?  These are not the kinds of reflections that I should be having on Spring Break.  Instead, I’m having to do calculations of “is this band popular enough that I can go see them with minimal hassle, but if there is a line, do I really want to see them?”  At this point, I’m about five seconds away from dumping all relevant information into Excel spreadsheets.

Travel 2000 miles to remind yourself of home

Travel 2000 miles to remind yourself of home

For those looking for the best way to see multiple bands, the lawn parties are really the best way to go.  It amazed me that I traveled a couple thousand miles to see a lawn party hosted by the record store that was across the street from me in New York, but Other Music had a great lineup, and offered a bonus attraction for avoiding the terrible Texas heat: shade.  It’s not the most intimate setting, but I was able to see Low, Ted Leo, and !!! all at the same place, and in relative comfort.  And if I wasn’t so restless, I could’ve seen future favorites of mine Sharon Van Etten and Cults as well.

Lawn party is the way to go, for multiple reasons

Lawn party is the way to go, for multiple reasons

The calculus homework that I did before truly came in handy during the night, when it was more of a crapshoot to determine which shows I could get in.  And here’s my advice: you know those buzz bands that you think you’re so cool for hearing about in the days before the festival?  You’re not special.  There are thousands of other people at this festival that read Pitchfork, SPIN, AV Club, FILTER, and whatever other random music press there is out there.  Hell, a lot of them read specific SXSW previews, so there’s no way that you have a chance of getting into the Toro Y Moi show that’s being held in a 50 person dive.  Unless of course you have a badge, as I mentioned above, but if you’re reading this I’m guessing you don’t.  So that means having to aim slightly lower than the hippest, buzziest bands.  And sometimes, this works very well.  I was able to catch The Antlers perform an NPR showcase that proved that Burst Apart would be a fantastic follow-up to Hospice.  I was able to watch Tapes ‘n Tapes, years after their initial breakthrough, put on a great show and convince me to give them another shot and purchase their third album (and afterwards ate some absolutely kickass Korean BBQ tacos).  And I was able to witness Cloud Nothings blow the roof off a bar as they blistered through material, and showed signs of their potential before Attack On Memory was released.  Plus, I got to hear Dylan Baldi in the last instance ask the crowd if anyone had a place where they could crash, because they just drove down from Ohio with no real plan.  I hope someone picked up the slack.

Cloud Nothings tear roof off of roofless bar

Cloud Nothings tear roof off of roofless bar

I keep emphasizing the crowds, and there’s a good reason.  I’m not claustrophobic by any means, but Andy Richter has the right idea.  Every place is absolutely jammed with people, fire codes be damned (and honestly, if they were strictly enforced, you’d just be pissed that you couldn’t get in to watch the show).  And not only that, these are some of the dipshittiest people that you’ve ever seen.  I cracked that Sixth Street was “Bourbon Street Lite” above, and that’s really the attitude that the seeming majority of festival-goers take–they’re not in Austin for a great music festival, there in town as a substitute for Cancun or New Orleans, hoping to have A FUCKING BLAST, YO!  As a result, I overheard some of the absolute most inane shit possible while spending hours in lines over the course of the week, and I have to be thankful that I can’t remember anything specific.

Which leads me to my next piece of advice: bring a friend.  Of course, it’s always fun to share the experience with someone else, but I’ve managed to go solo to several shows without any problem.  But when you’re stuck in lines for hours on end, it’s best to have someone else with which to engage, or else you will have to endure only in your head what seems like a lifetime of bullshit.  It’s not pleasant.

This is even more awesome, knowing this is outside of Odd Future

This is even more awesome, knowing this is outside of Odd Future

In the end, is it all worth it?  I did get a chance to do things like stand five feet away and see …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead play a hometown show at one in the morning, see random old guys jamming on guitar outside an Odd Future show, and see The Strokes for the first time as fireworks exploded over the Austin skyline during “Last Nite”.  I also saw a ton of forgettable bands and people consistently make such asses of themselves that it would seem to be a productive use of my team to merely weep for the future of humanity.  But in the end, it was probably a fair trade-off–all I missed was a Shake Shack burger (which I’m now told exists in Austin) and a Godspeed You! Black Emperor concert that I had purchased tickets for months earlier.  And I didn’t work on my thesis, but we all know I wasn’t going to work on it anyway.

Anyway, for those who don’t care about history and are here for some advice, here we go, in list form:

1. Bring a friend.  This makes the boredom and idiots tolerable.

2. Buy a badge.  Being rich and important is a good idea for most things in life, SXSW included.

3. Have a plan.  You’re not going to see everything you want.  You’re barely going to see half of what you want.  Deal with it.

4. Find the Korean BBQ Taco truck.  That was delicious.

5. Texas beer sucks.  I didn’t mention this earlier, but just know ahead of time.  Know that the best thing you’ll buy is some off-brand cerveza at the taverna next to the gas station.

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