Sleater-Kinney

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2015

Today is April 18, and while the rest of the nation celebrates Tax Day (an extra three days later this year), 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.

The process that is used to determine this list is highly rigorous and hardly scientific.  However, we are still in the process of attempting to patent and trademark The Process, which if you may recall, is simply tallying up the play counts on iTunes for each album.  It has served us well in years past, and a quick glance at our list this year proves that it has worked once again.

Note: Though the list is a Top 10, there are more albums than slots, because we don’t like breaking ties for the same play count.  If you’re really intent on focusing on only 10, I guess take the 10 highest performing albums from the list, but you really shouldn’t limit yourself like that if you can help it.  Also, we have reviews for nearly all of these albums, so for those of you seeking a more detailed analysis all you need to do is click the appropriate tag above.

10. Deaf Wish – Pain; Disasterpeace – It Follows (Score); EL VY – Return to the Moon; HEALTH – Death Magic; Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer; Tobias Jesso Jr. – Goon (7 plays)

A very interesting mix at the bottom of the list, including our token electronic choice as well as our first pick of a film score in this site’s history.  Deaf Wish broke through with one of the best noise-rock albums of the year, showing a surprising amount of depth for such a narrow niche, and EL VY proved that side-projects don’t have to be boring.  The debut album from Tobias Jesso Jr. is the star of this particular slot, as Goon shows that the world may have found a true heir to the rich musical legacy of Harry Nilsson.

9. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment – Surf; Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside; Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy; Vaadat Charigim – Sinking as a Stone; White Reaper – White Reaper Does It Again; Wilco – Star Wars (8 plays)

Another eclectic group at the number nine slot–there’s the ambitious rock opera from Titus Andronicus sharing space with the keep-it-simple garage rock of White Reaper, the joyous jazz-inflected Surf project featuring the exuberant Chance the Rapper sliding up next to the brooding and intense personal meditations of Earl Sweatshirt, and the veteran purveyors of Americana in Wilco sitting comfortably by the Israeli shoegaze group Vaadat Charigim.

8. Blur – The Magic Whip; BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul; Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons to Die II; Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter; Low – Ones and Sixes; Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp (9 plays)

Most people seem to have forgotten that not only did Blur come back this year, but they did so with a brilliant album that recalls their peak during the mid-90’s BritPop era, with the group showing that they learned a few things during their downtime.  Similarly, Low once again suffers through the Spoon Curse of being consistently great, with little love being shown for their latest excellent release.  Waxahatchee broadened her sound to great results this year, while Joanna Gruesome solidified their style.  But it is Ghostface who deserves special recognition this year for releasing two separate fantastic records this year.

7. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color; Foals – What Went Down; Ought – Sun Coming Down; Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love; Viet Cong – Viet Cong (10 plays)

We are glad to welcome back Sleater-Kinney into our lives, as No Cities to Love fits in comfortably with the rest of the other great punk records in their back catalog.  Viet Cong’s debut album and Ought’s second record were challenging post-punk works, but there were enough intriguing elements to be found in both to inspire continued listening.  Alabama Shakes improved immensely from their debut album, showing off a broader range than what had been expected from their previous blues-rock groove.  However, we once again wait for Foals to break through into the mainstream, even though they did their part by releasing this great arena-ready album.

6. Beach Slang – Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us; Modest Mouse – Strangers to Ourselves; Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect (11 plays) 

A lot of people may be surprised by the high ranking of the new Modest Mouse album, but we feel that there was enough on this sprawling effort to reward repeated listens.  While it may not appear as seamless as classics like The Lonesome Crowded West and The Moon & Antarctica, there are several tracks that different eras of fans can enjoy–even the notorious “Pistol” gets better each time you hear it.  Meanwhile, Protomartyr’s brooding post-punk serves as a great contrast to Beach Slang’s exuberant beer-soaked punk.

5. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (12 plays) 

A worthy recipient of many accolades this past year, Kendrick Lamar’s magnum opus brilliantly pushes the boundaries of what many thought hip-hop could do.  It is often a difficult and uncompromising listen, but there are still many joys to be found throughout the album.

4. Bully – Feels Like; Royal Headache – High (13 plays) 

Both of these records are thrilling half-hours-of-power, and frankly I am wondering why they did not receive more publicity.  There were few albums as fun as this duo.

3. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress; Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (14 plays) 

Amazingly enough, Godspeed You! Black Emperor seem to be improving with each new release, with Asunder being possibly their most accessible work yet.  There were few moments as powerful as the climax of “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!” or the bombastic ending of “Piss Crowns are Trebled”.  At the other end of the spectrum, Sufjan Stevens may have finally made us converts with the quietly devastating and deeply personal Carrie & Lowell.

2. Deafheaven – New Bermuda (16 plays)  

Deafheaven successfully met the challenge of following up their genre-bending breakthrough album Sunbather, returning with the powerful, if more conventional, New Bermuda.  However, the amazing thing about this album is that not only does it stand on its own, it somehow enhances their previous work; each listen of New Bermuda inspires an additional listen of Sunbather, and somehow that album gets better every time we hear it.  Still, New Bermuda stands on its own as a brilliant album, with each of its five tracks jockeying for position as best song on the record.

1. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (17 plays) 

We had a feeling at the beginning of last year that Father John Misty would place high in our list, but even we were surprised that our favorite shaman ended up in the top slot.  I Love You, Honeybear is a gorgeously lush record, filled with swelling strings and ebullient horns, but there is a dark undercurrent lurking below much of the album.  The record works on both a superficial level and with a more critical approach, which helps explain its surprising ranking.  But in the end, it is just a damn good record, and we cannot wait to see one of modern rock’s great showman return to Oregon later this year.

Catching Up On The Week (Mar. 6 Edition)

In preparation for the beginning of daylight savings time, a shortened list of #longreads…

Not too many articles to catch up on this week, but this interview from The Talks with Black Francis of the Pixies was interesting, as he discusses the evolution of underground culture, his emotions and moods during the songwriting process, and his new painting hobby.

By now everyone is familiar with mp3s, but not all understand the process of compression that creates these sound files.  Vox provides an overview of the compression process and cites the more detailed work of Ryan MaGuire.

The AV Club provides an extensive look at Prince’s 1980 album Dirty Mind, a record that often gets lost in the shuffle when discussing his extensive discography.

And finally Pitchfork offers up the experience of first-time Sleater-Kinney concert-goers as well as a plea to listen to more music without consideration of its context, arguing that it is easier to enjoy songs without knowledge of all that excess baggage.

Over the Weekend (Feb. 23 Edition)

New music, new videos, and other fun stuff as you prepare for when the revolution comes

Holy shit guys, we’re actually going to get a new Blur record!  Damon Albarn has apparently found some time in between his three hundred musical projects to record an album with his old mates, as The Magic Whip will be released here in the States on April 28.  As an appetizer, here’s the bizarre lyric video for the weird new song “Go Out”.

Normally, we would have this new video occupy our lead spot–after all, it includes not only a song from one of the best albums of the year so far, but also features some of our favorite television characters as well.  However, it’s not everyday that Blur announces a new album, so the Bob’s Burgers-themed video for Sleater-Kinney’s “A New Wave” gets the second slot, but it should make you happy nonetheless.

NPR has a couple of new albums streaming on their site that are worth sharing: first, Swervedriver returns for their first record in nearly twenty years with I Wasn’t Born To Lose You, and then there’s Of Montreal offering up Aureate Gloom for your pleasure.

Father John Misty stopped by The Strombo Show, and during that appearance he covered the Leonard Cohen classic “Bird on the Wire”.  It’s a bit jarring at first to hear the song without Cohen’s trademark baritone, but Joshua Tillman still makes a fine version.

Death Cab For Cutie have shared another new track from Kintsugi, which will be out by the end of March, called “No Room in Frame”.

Vox takes a look at Eric Malmi’s attempt to determine the Best Rapper Alive by looking at the use of assonant rhyme.  As with most data-intensive looks at creative endeavors, take it with a grain of salt.

And finally, have some fun as the satirical website Clickhole asks the question “How Well Do You Know The Lyrics to Radiohead’s ‘Creep’?” with their ridiculous quiz.

Catching Up On The Week (Jan. 30 Edition)

Some #longreads as you scramble for something to do in the hours leading up to the “Big Game”

“Vinyl or CD’s?” is an argument that has raged on for decades, and the shifting fortunes of both formats in the last few years has inspired numerous articles promoting one side over the other.  LA Weekly has an extensive and informative piece on the debate, providing a history of the creation of the technology as well as insights into the music recording process to help support the claim that compact discs do in fact “sound better.”  That should be good news to record companies, who apparently view the recent surge in vinyl sales as “just a fad” even if there are reasons to believe this isn’t the case.*

We mentioned earlier this week that Sundance saw the premiere of the new Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck, and because our love for Nirvana has barely diminished over the years, multiple publications from a variety of  backgrounds have pieces on director Brett Morgen and his film, including Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and The Daily Beast.

As a companion to our recent review of the fantastic new Sleater-Kinney album No Cities to Love, you may want to read this extensive feature on Carrie Brownstein for Consequence of Sound’s quarterly literary magazine FACES.

Do not adjust your flickering screen: Rust Is Just Right is recommending that you read an interview with Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit.  Stereogum has a fascinating discussion with the guitarist that shows his good humor and self-awareness of his place in music, and Borland provides an interesting perspective of the business and how bands operate.

And finally, Pitchfork has a couple of worthwhile pieces from “The Pitch”, both relating to leaks: the first analyzes the quest to determine whether or not the SoundCloud leak of unreleased Aphex Twin material was genuine, while the second examines the history of digital album leaks from the past two decades.

Review: Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love

Though this is difficult to hear, every year we get more evidence that it may be a good idea to break up your band for a decade, even if they are at their creative peak.  Last year, Death From Above 1979 came back and wowed us with the stellar The Physical World; the year before that saw the surprisingly wonderful return of My Bloody Valentine; and then there is Dinosaur Jr., who have released three excellent albums after the reunion of their original lineup after nearly twenty years apart.  Sleater-Kinney has pulled off the same trick with the excellent No Cities To Love, a furious and catchy album that is both an artistic step forward as well as a classic example of the trademark S-K sound.

The frenetic “Price Tag” kicks off the album, pairing an off-kilter looping Sleater-Kinney riff typical of their early years with ferociously political lyrics; not since the heyday of Rage Against The Machine have we heard a song that targets economic inequity and middle-class complacence.  “Fangless” follows and throws a bit of a curveball with its mixture of funk rhythms and new-wave guitars, as well as featuring a prominent bass counterpart that was previously a rarity in light of S-K’s usual twin-guitar attack.  The track is indicative of the kind of musical adventurousness found throughout No Cities To Love as well as what makes the album so much fun.

No Cities To Love features some of the best hooks of Sleater-Kinney’s career, including the peppy title track and the bouncy “Hey Darling”; the descending chorus melody in the latter immediately brings to mind something Ted Leo and the Pharmacists would have concocted circa Hearts of Oak.  “A New Wave” has some fun with the bass riff from Nirvana’s “Love Buzz”  before shifting into a sing-song chorus that makes perfect use of the unique vocal harmonies of Brownstein and Tucker.

Sleater-Kinney has been a band that has long been beloved by critics and pushed by their most passionate fans as all-time greats, but rarely have I ever felt that this type of hype was fully justified.  I’ve certainly have enjoyed their albums over the years (after overcoming an initial reluctance due to their unconventional vocals) and recognize the impact that the group has had musically and culturally over the years (they have been arguably as far-reaching in their influence as Pavement in the past couple of decades), yet never had them break into my regular rotation nor would put them in that upper echelon of groups.  However, even considering Sleater-Kinney’s excellent discography as a whole, No Cities To Love is a cut above, and will certainly invite not only repeated listens but end-of-the-year list consideration.  Not bad for a January album.

Over the Weekend (Jan. 26 Edition)

News, videos, and other fun stuff as you remember once again which is the better coast

The Sundance Film Festival is in full swing right now, and one of the films garnering the most buzz right now is the documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, and Esquire provides a rundown of some of the things that they’ve learned.

Interpol released the video for their latest single “Everything Is Wrong”, which provides an amusing look at the way the band possibly spends their day in preparation for an evening show.  I’m just happy that they’ve chosen one of the best tracks from El Pintor as their next single.

The ladies from the hilarious show “Broad City” sat down with the members of Sleater-Kinney at an NPR event, and luckily there was video of the conversation.  After watching that, feel free to dive into this SPIN ranking of all 109 Sleater-Kinney songs.

To help commemorate the 30th anniversary of the seminal album Psychocandy, the Jesus and Mary Chain have announced a brief U.S. tour.  Combined with the fact that Slowdive has confirmed that they are working on new music (!!!!!) should prove definitively that we are in the new golden age of shoegaze.

Viet Cong has some fun with Pitchfork’s “Guest List” feature.  For the record, we are in full agreement that “Heroes” absolutely needs the “dolphins can swim” verse.

And finally, Death Cab For Cutie has released the first single off the upcoming album Kintsugi, and it’s called “Black Sun”.  It’s an interesting new direction for the band, though initial fan opinion seems to split.

Catching Up On The Week (Jan. 16 Edition)

A few #longreads as you prepare for the new year to begin in earnest…

Amid a crowded field of new releases next week, the long-awaited return of Sleater-Kinney stands out from the rest as indie rock fans welcome the return of the beloved 90’s band.  So it’s no surprise that the band is getting write-ups in most music publications this week, including Pitchfork, Grantland, and Nylon.  We’re probably missing other tributes as well, but we’ll try to make up for it by linking to their performance on Letterman last night.

Another new release that we can’t wait to hear comes from another Pacific NW favorite, as The Decemberists return next week with What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.  The Oregonian looks at how the band helped shape the Portland music scene over the past fifteen years, which while giving the city a new national profile also riles up some locals, as evidenced by a few of the comments.

One upcoming new release that we’ve neglected to mention before is the latest record from Belle and Sebastian.  In order to rectify this, here is Pitchfork’s insightful musical influence feature “5-10-15-20” with the band’s leader, Stuart Murdoch.

Diffuser is taking a look at “The Roots of Indie”, and their latest installment examines the history of the Violent Femmes, one of the most unique successes in rock history.

And finally, a small dose of light scientific reading for your weekend, as NPR takes a look at why some cultures respond to musical cues in different ways.

Over the Weekend (Jan. 12 Edition)

Videos, live performances, lists, and general news as we determine the superior “O” state once and for all…

We left a ton of material on the table for today’s post, and with the flurry of news this morning our roundup is even more overstuffed than usual.  So let’s dive right in with the surprise release of the music video for the Beastie Boys track “Too Many Rappers”, featuring Nas in both audio and visual form.  While it’s sad to remember that Hot Sauce Committee Part Two will be the last album we ever hear from the Beasties, but it’s certainly great to have some more footage of the crew having fun together.

NPR has streams for two highly-anticipated new albums available this week.  First, there’s the long-awaited return of critical darlings and Pacific Northwest favorites Sleater-Kinney, who are releasing their first album in ten years next week with No Cities to Love.  Then there’s the self-titled debut of Viet Cong, who have garnered a ridiculous amount of buzz among various indie blogs in the past couple of months.  I don’t yet have the same enthusiasm, though it may take a few more listens of their noisy guitar rock to convince me.

Ghostface Killah seemingly never stops working, because after releasing his solo album 36 Seasons last month (and appearing on The Wu-Tang Clan’s A Better Tomorrow), he’s set to release another album next month.  This time it’s a collaboration with BADBADNOTGOOD, with their record Sour Soul set to be released February 17.  Their latest track, “Ray Gun”, features a guest spot from DOOM and has a nice grimy funk feel, complemented by some gorgeous strings.  Stereogum has more information, including links to previously released tracks, for your perusal.

There’s also a trio of album releases that were announced this morning.  Death Cab For Cutie is releasing Kintsugi on March 31st and will be their first album “without” founding guitarist Chris Walla, who while no longer a member of the band still has a presence on the album.  Sufjan Stevens is releasing Carrie & Lowell on the same day, which we can take as further proof that the “50 States” project is dead.  And Waxahatchee will be releasing Ivy Tripp on April 7th, and you should probably click the link because Pitchfork has helpfully included the new track “Air”.  We were big fans of her previous album Cerulean Salt, and while this sounds a bit more polished than that lo-fi classic, sounding like a stripped-down Joy Formidable is something we can support.

It’s disappointing that a once-vibrant genre as Country has become just a bunch of homogenized pablum, and worse yet is the fact that every year it continues to get worse.  The genre has just  become Nickelback with a half-assed over-enunciated Southern accent, and that’s a damn shame.  The thing is, consumers are at least partly to blame, since as The Atlantic points out, uniformity is what sells.

Last week featured some great musical guests on the Late Night shows, including performances from such RIJR favorites The War On Drugs (who performed the epic “An Ocean In Between The Waves” on The Tonight Show) and Parquet Courts delivering a dynamite version of “Bodies Made of” on Letterman, a song that initially sounds like a poor choice for the national stage until it gets to its epic breakdown.  But the standout of the week was Foxygen and Star Power performing “How Can You Really” on The Late Show, which prompted an enthusiastic response from Dave himself.

We here at Rust Is Just Right are always down for hearing more from Spoon, so we are pleased to share their appearance on Austin City Limits over the weekend as well as their guest spot on Sound Opinions.  We’ll see if we can go the rest of the week without mentioning them, but don’t bet on it.

And finally, a couple of fun lists that can either be used as a discovery tool or merely as argument fodder.  Stereogum has a list of “30 Essential Post-Rock” songs which along with usual suspects Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Rós, and Explosions in the Sky includes several other bands that may not be as well known, though this may partially be due to a broad definition of “post-rock”.  You can have an argument about that specific topic as well as the following list from Complex, which goes through each year since 1979 to anoint “The Best Rapper Alive”.

Over the Weekend (Oct. 20 Edition)

Who knew the middle of October would be filled with tons of new videos and news to report?

Thurston Moore’s new album The Best Day comes out tomorrow, but today he released the Halloween-appropriate video for the track “Speak to the Wild”.  Once you’ve collected yourself after watching it, be sure to check out his introspective interviews with The Guardian and Salon.  Of course, you may want to check out the NPR stream of the album as you do so, which we linked to last week.

However, the biggest news of the day is the confirmation that Sleater-Kinney is reuniting.  Early reports of their new box set that’s being released included a new single with the date “1/20/15”, and today the band confirmed that they will release their new album No Cities To Love on that date.  In the Line of Best Fit link you will also see the lyric video for new single “Bury Our Friends”, a tracklist, and a list of tour dates.  There’s no Portland date listed yet, but considering we witnessed their final show and their first “reunion” onstage with Pearl Jam, we can probably assume one will be added in the future.

Interpol released the video for El Pintor‘s “My Desire” today, and the grimy video also is appropriate for the season, filling the screen with plenty of the band’s trademark red and black.

Damon Albarn announced that he’s getting ready to get Gorillaz going again, with hopefully a 2016 release in the future, sure to please many fans of the side-project.  However, it’s another group of his that I’m personally more excited to hear about, and that’s the fact that apparently The Good, The Bad, & The Queen was not a one-off effort, and that a new album from the band is written and ready to be recorded.

TV on the Radio is getting ready to release their new album Seeds, and last night the band played the previously unreleased “Could You”.

Pond, the side project from a couple of members of Tame Impala, are set to release their second album, and have released a new video.

Foo Fighters were on Letterman all of last week, and Consequence of Sound has done a good job of cataloging not only the various musical performances (many of which include legendary guests), but also the various comedic skits that the band did for the show.  The band premiered their new single “Something From Nothing” last week on the show, and today released a fancy lyric/performance video for the song, featuring guitarist Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick.  The song itself takes a while to build, and I’m not entirely sure the effort was worth it, but its emphatic chorus is sure to impress many fans.

And finally, be sure to check out the comic strip Pearls Before Swine and their musical take on the legendary “Who’s on First?” routine.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 2 Edition)

New music and videos for your recovery from the Labor Day Weekend…

Peter Matthew Bauer released the video for “You Are The Chapel”, the majestic closer to his stellar debut album.  It’s a mix of both performance and lyric video, with a slight twist on the latter as you’ll see:

Spoon did a “Secret Show” for MySpace, and the site has posted their performance of “The Rent I Pay”.  The direct link has been pretty spotty, so if necessary, check out the band’s Facebook page for an alternate link; and if they upload more, we’ll be sure to send you over that way.

There are two new albums that will be released next week that we have our eyes on, and you can listen to their streams now in preparation.  Death From Above 1979’s The Physical World is streaming on iTunes, and NPR has had a stream available for Interpol’s El Pintor since last week.  For more discussion of El Pintor, Gigwise has a series of interviews with the band as well as an exclusive documentary covering the making of the new album.

Those aren’t the only albums coming out next week; Better Than Ezra was one of the bands that I loved from my youth, and not only are they still kicking, they have a new release next week with All Together Now.  Billboard is hosting a stream if you want to check it out.

And now, a look at some art: Gigwise has pictures of the cool accompanying art for the new Aphex Twin album Syro, and Paste Magazine talks to Josh Graham, the artist behind the projections used by Soundgarden for their recent tour with Nine Inch Nails.

Faith No More is releasing its first new album in 18 years, according to an interview that Rolling Stone conducted with bassist Bill Gould.  And while there is no confirmation of a Sleater-Kinney reunion, Sub Pop is releasing a massive boxset of remastered versions of their previous studio albums.

Frontman for The Strokes Julian Casablancas is set to release another solo album called Tyranny in a couple of weeks, and just released “Human Sadness” as its first single, a rather unorthodox choice considering it’s an 11-minute song.

TV on the Radio provided more information for their new album today, announcing that Seeds will be released on November 18, and also provided a list of tour dates for the fall.  Also, the band posted the first single “Happy Idiot”, complete with lyric video.

Didn’t get the chance to catch Kanye West on his latest tour?  SPIN has the link to his performance for the Made In America festival this weekend, where he performed in both LA and Philadelphia.