Summer Cannibals

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2016

Today is April 18, 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.  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. Alcest – Kodama; Angel Olsen – My Woman; A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service; Bon Iver – 22, A Million; Pity Sex – White Hot Moon; Summer Cannibals – Full of It (7 plays)

Garage rock is still a dominant trend in indie circles these days, and Summer Cannibals with their fiery energy and Pity Sex with their peppy melodies represent the best of the scene.  As for Tribe, who knows what was more surprising–that the group reunited or that its comeback effort was so good, able to call back to their 90’s heyday without sounding like retreads.  Many have pointed out the influence that Alcest has had on Deafheaven (frontman Neige even appeared on the latter’s groundbreaking Sunbather for a spoken-word contribution), and it looks like the tables have turned–after going in a softer direction in Shelter, Alcest brought some edge back (and a few shouts) to their melodic mix of shoegaze and metal.  Bon Iver continues to experiment with loops and vocal effects (in the vein of his work in Volcano Choir) moving further and further away from the delicate acoustic of For Emma, Forever Ago; however, the result is still some gorgeously moving music.  Angel Olsen was one of the artists that we picked up on after reading year-end lists, and we quickly became fans of her versatility, with an album that ranges from classic retro numbers to sweeping epics.

9. Chance the Rapper – Colouring Book; Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression (8 plays)

If you were looking for inspiration or a quick pick-me-up, the best place to look last year was the ebullient Chance the Rapper.  His mix of gospel and hip-hop helped create some of the best songs from last year, but the album as a whole seemed to run a little to long.  Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age helped Iggy Pop stun audiences and critic with a great comeback album, mining the sounds of Pop’s landmark solo efforts Lust For Life and The Idiot.  The new songs mixed seamlessly with the classic material when they were out on tour, and together they put together one of the best shows we saw last year.

8. Dinosaur Jr. – Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not; Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine; Mitski – Puberty 2; Parquet Courts – Human Performance (9 plays) 

With their latest, Dinosaur Jr. has now put together more great albums in their reunion years (four) than in their original golden era (three-ish).  Parquet Courts rebounded with an album that stood up to repeated listens much better than the at-times grating Sunbathing Animal, and songs like “Berlin Got Blurry” stuck with us long after the fact.  Hamilton Leithauser formally teamed up with Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend) for his second solo effort (after collaborating on a couple of tracks for Black Hours), with the result being a record that effectively matched Hamilton’s remarkable and unique voice with doo-wop, old country, and soft ballads.  Mitski was another find from the critics lists, and we only wished we had come across her inventive explorations of identity and depression sooner.

7. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition; Deftones – Gore; M83 – Junk (10 plays)

We continue to be amazed at the ability of the Deftones to continually put out great new records in a genre where bands can quickly grow stale; perhaps more impressive was how Gore did not have any big singles but was still able to hold your attention from beginning to end.  A lot of people dismissed Junk when it first came out, but we quickly grew to love it once we realized the truth in the title; the complaints about the sequencing of the album have some merit, but we enjoyed the detours into what seemed like theme songs from lost 80’s French TV shows.  Plus, Anthony Gonzalez deserves all the credit in the world for his ability to use a Steve Vai guitar solo effectively.  Danny Brown’s voice can grate on people, but if you can accept his B-Real-style vocals, then it’s easier to plumb into one of the most musically adventurous hip-hop albums in years.

6. The Besnard Lakes – A Coliseum Complex Museum; Radiohead – A Moon-Shaped Pool; The Thermals – We Disappear (11 plays)

This is the part of the list where old favorites take up residence.  The latest from the Besnard Lakes was a bit of a disappointment, though it ends on an incredible high note that makes one wonder why they didn’t build the whole album out of this song.  Radiohead returned with a much better version of what they previously attempted with the forgettable The King of Limbs, though the best song from the sessions comes only on the deluxe edition (the rejected version of their theme to Spectre).  However, we don’t need any caveats to explain how The Thermals ended up this high on the list, as we enjoyed how they were able to meld the better parts of their recent work (the energy of Desperate Ground, the insight and thoughtfulness of Personal Life).

5. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial; Operators – Blue Wave (12 plays)

Come for the lo-fi guitar rocks, stay for the incisive wit and deep explorations of the young psyche with Car Seat Headrest.  Teens of Denial is an album that grows with each listen, and amazingly never feels as long as its 70-minute runtime.  Dan Boeckner never lets us down, and we were big fans of his latest side-project Operators, which brightens the sound of his previous drum-machine and guitars outfit Handsome Furs.  The man effortlessly comes up with great melodies, and the new wave keyboards are a nice touch.

4. LVL UP – Return to Love (13 plays) 

We were excited to find a new band that apparently loves the classic Elephant 6 sound as much as we do, with the song “Hidden Driver” especially reminding us of On Avery Island-era Neutral Milk Hotel.  However, the band switches between three different songwriters, and the result is a more varied record that one might expect, though all hitting in that sweet spot of classic alternative/indie rock.

3. The Avalanches – Wildflower (14 plays)

Another comeback album that a lot of people seemed to have forgotten, we immediately fell in love with Wildflower.  Yes, Since I Left You is now a classic in some circles, but this was another brilliant mix of countless samples and original music that we kept revisiting over and over again.  Also, we might argue that “Because I’m Me” was the song of last summer and of many summers to come.

2. Preoccupations – Preoccupations (15 plays)

We initially were underwhelmed by the announced name change, but we were much more impressed by this sophomore effort from this Canadian foursome.  The band built on the promise of the second half of Viet Cong and released a post-punk masterpiece.  This time the centerpiece of the album comes right in the middle, with the epic three-part “Memory”; the middle section with Dan Boeckner might be some of the most gorgeous music we heard all of last year.

1. Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years (17 plays)

We still believe that LOSE should be considered the band’s masterpiece, but we became serious fans of the band’s followup to that incredible album after repeated plays in our car.  It may be a step back in terms of ambition, but there are plenty of hooks throughout the record, and you may find yourself humming different songs each day of the week.  The band is still capable of packing an emotional punch as well, and the layers reveal themselves after multiple listens.  At the end of the day, this is the album we always would default to when deciding what to play, and that may be as good a reason as any to make it our album of the year.

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The War On Drugs, Live at the Crystal Ballroom

It’s only been a few short months since we last saw The War On Drugs live in Portland, and the upgrade in venue from the Wonder to the Crystal matches their surging popularity over the course of this year.  When we last saw them, the band had just released their latest album Lost In The Dream to stellar reviews and they seemed poised to break through into the mainstream; eight months later, as Lost starts appearing at the top of everyone’s lists for album of the year and the band has a bona fide radio hit with “Red Eyes” (which by kicking off KNRK’s “December to Remember” series of concerts last night confirmed), it’s clear that The War On Drugs have arrived.  And just as they did back in the spring, the band came through with a spirited set that left an even larger audience buzzing.

Thanks to the bizarre layout mandated by the OLCC, a solid dead-center shot for this pic.

Thanks to the bizarre layout mandated by the OLCC, a solid dead-center shot for this pic.

After months of touring, the band’s setlist is a well-oiled machine: a strong natural flow has developed between the ballads and uptempo material, and the transitions between songs have now been smoothed over to minimize the delay for tuning and pedal adjustments.  As to be expected, material from Lost In The Dream dominated the setlist, with eight of the ten tracks represented (only the instrumental “The Haunting Idle” and the dirge-like “Suffering” failed to make the cut).  The peppy “Burning” made for a strong opener and set the mood, but it took the opening clicks of “Under the Pressure” for the crowd to begin making some real noise.  That was nothing however in comparison to their response to “An Ocean in Between the Waves”, which due in no small part to its extended solos received a generous applause and some hollers.

It’s clear that despite the affection the crowd had for the band and the new album, it didn’t inspire most of them to go back and pick up the early material, as cuts from Wagonwheel Blues and Slave Ambient were met with only the occasional cheer.  It was during these songs that The War On Drugs fell victim to the Crystal Ballroom Curse, as the overlapping of several effects pedals and similar-ranged instruments created a dense morass that made it hard to distinguish what was being played, even beyond the hazy effect intended by the material.  “These Arms Like Boulders” and “Come to the City” are gorgeous songs if you are familiar with them, but to the uninitiated can seem like mush, though the latter benefited from some nifty drumming that caught the eye of the crowd.  As many who have been to shows at the Crystal can attest, you need a top-notch sound man handling the mix or else everything can turn to crap.

Tuning up amid the haze; fog machine was working overtime

Tuning up amid the haze; fog machine was working overtime

Adam Granduciel kept the evening friendly with his crowd banter, talking about his love of Portland and how he was looking forward to seeing the Blazers play the next night at home (and he endeared himself to the crowd when some folks tried to correct him about the new name of the arena by saying, “It will always be the Rose Garden to me.”)  It didn’t seem at all like the band was weary from touring consistently for nine months, but instead that they had just hit their stride and were generally appreciative of getting to play another show.  The show still felt fresh, even if it was a similar script playing out each night.  As one would expect, “Red Eyes” had the crowd going nuts, but as it happened at the Wonder, “Eyes to the Wind” was the true highlight, with the fans giving that performance a hearty cheer to end the main set.  The encore left the casual fans a bit cold, but since they had heard what they came to hear, they couldn’t complain; meanwhile, I enjoyed going crazy at hearing “Baby Missiles” and its infectious beat once again.  And that was enough to help make the walk out the door seem twenty degrees warmer than the one coming in.

As for the opener, Summer Cannibals delivered a killer set of garage-influenced punk, a bit of a more harder-edged version of the Dum Dum Girls.  We had caught them earlier this year when they were the first openers for The Thermals down in Salem, but at least this time we were able to track them down and actually get their album.  We’ll see if it’s as good as their live show.