The National

Catching Up On The Week (Nov. 20 Edition)

A few #longreads for the weekend…

This week we have a few articles for your perusal that directly relate to the bands we covered over the past few days.  First, we have two extended profiles on Beach Slang, our new favorite band.  SPIN dives into the band’s biography in detail, while Grantland (R.I.P.) looks at the band in context of modern indie rock.

After reading our review of Everclear’s sold-out show in support of the twentieth anniversary of Sparkle and Fade, be sure to check out this Willamette Week piece which provides details on the making of the album (and covers how Art Alexakis earned a certain reputation around Portland), as well as this interview with Art for The Oregonian.

Finally, settle in and read this lengthy look at the state of The National from Stereogum, including how they ended up pursuing side projects like EL VY and Pfarmers, as well as the work that the band has done in following up Trouble Will Find Me.

Review: EL VY – Return to the Moon

Side-projects are best experienced with an open mind, with little-to-no expectations based on the previous work of its members.  They are often useful for musicians, in that they provide an outlet for previously unused musical ideas or allow them to express different aspects of their personalities, but they can prove disappointing to the audience when the work does not match the quality of previous results.  So while it may be initially tempting to have high hopes for a collaboration between members of The National and Menomena, two of the best bands in indie rock from the past decade, it is probably in the listener’s best interests to approach their work with caution.

Then again, EL VY’s Return to the Moon is a thoroughly enjoyable lark, and fans of the other bands of Brent Knopf and Matt Berninger should find plenty to love with this project.

In many ways, Return to the Moon is a side-project that lives up to the expectations of a supergroup, since in many ways it does sound like a more experimental Menomena record with guest vocals from The National.  Knopf brings the cut-and-paste approach of his former group, offering up hundreds of quick musical ideas over the album’s eleven tracks; careful listeners may be able to pick out variations of the piano riff and acoustic guitar chords from “Wet and Rusting” sprinkled into a couple of tracks.  The music generally sticks to that intimate indie rock style, but there are quick forays into funk and other left-field genres that keeps the listener guessing.

Berninger seems to relish the chance to step outside the seriousness of his regular gig, and reveals a more playful part of his personality.  This is most apparent in the playful and profane “I’m the Man to Be”, which includes a line in the chorus about his “person”.  For the most part, Berninger is content to deliver his vocals with that trademark soothing baritone, which fits in nicely with Knopf’s compositions.

The album tends to lose momentum as it progresses, though the blend of the harder-hitting “Sad Case” and “Happiness, Missouri” is a highlight of the second half.  However, the opening title track is one of the catchiest singles of the year, and had me humming along for the past few weeks, and there are several other pleasant songs that are nearly its equal.

EL VY, Live at the Doug Fir

The show on Tuesday night had the atmosphere of a homecoming, even though it was only EL VY’s second show.  Even the tickets reflected the casual nature of the evening, as it described the group as “a collaboration between The National’s Matt Berninger and Me.”  The “Me” of course refers to local musician Brent Knopf, who has previously delighted Portland music fans with his previous work in Menomena as well as his solo effort as Ramona Falls, and now makes up the other half of this indie rock “supergroup”.  While there were a couple of issues in making the transition from recording project to a functioning live act, they were only minor speed bumps during an otherwise entertaining show.

One of the coolest concert posters ever.

One of the coolest concert posters ever.

The band’s debut album Return to the Moon had only been released on Friday, and I am sure there were many in the crowd that had not been able to listen to it in its entirety before the show (my copy only arrived the afternoon of the show, so I was only able to get through it once).  Nevertheless, the audience remained enthusiastic throughout the night, even if they had no idea what to expect.   The crowd did show their appreciation for the few songs that they did know, with a few even having learned enough of the lyrics to sing along for a bit.  Songs like “Return to the Moon” and “I’m the Man to Be” had an extra pop to them and were highlights of the set, and one could easily see why they were shared in advance of the album.

The tone of the evening was very light and informal, and one could see that Matt enjoyed the break from the usual seriousness associated with his main gig.  Matt had fun with Brent as he spent some time in-between songs trying to diagnose what exactly went wrong for a couple of measures, citing his own inability to remember his cue to sing for one and playfully arguing with Brent about how one of his chords caused him to overshoot on a vocal jump in another (and in the process showing the difference between recording alone to a track and singing with a live group).  But for the most part, everything went as seamless as one could expect from a brand new group playing one of their first shows.

EL VY also enjoyed the opportunity to play with some of their friends, as local musician Ural Thomas joined in to help fill in some of the background vocals he provided on the album, along with opening act Moorea Masa.  But perhaps the best moment of the night was when the group selected an out-of-leftfield cover, the massive Fine Young Cannibals hit “She Drives Me Crazy”.  Matt opted to bring Roland Gift’s falsetto down a couple of octaves, but otherwise the band captured the song perfectly, to the delight of many in the crowd.

The lighting makes it seem so dramatic.

The lighting makes it seem so dramatic.

Opening act Hibou were quite impressive, veering from the quiet and languid music that recalled Deerhunter to more epic, bombastic rock that would fit in perfectly fine at an arena and not a basement club.  Moorea Masa has a beautiful voice, and the delicate harmonies that she produced with her fellow vocalists brought to mind a female version of Fleet Foxes.  I am looking forward to seeing both of these acts swing through town again.

Over the Weekend (Sept. 14 Edition)

New music, videos, and other news to help you kick off the week…

This week we have quite a few videos to share, and not much else, so it should be pretty easy for our readers to have fun while expending a minimum of effort.  First, we recommend that fans of The Black Keys take a look at The Arcs, the latest side-project from Dan Auerbach.  The new group recently released their album Yours, Dreamily… and last week put out a psychedelic video for their song “Outta My Mind”, which recalls the recent work of Dan’s main gig, if a little more playful in tone.

Speaking of side-projects, Matt Berninger (frontman of The National) and Brent Knopf (Ramona Falls, formerly of Menomena) have joined forces to record as EL VY, and the results they have shared so far are interesting to say the least.  Their album Return to the Moon is not set to be released until October 30, but for now enjoy Matt having some fun in SoCal with the slinky “I’m The Man To Be”.

Albert Hammond, Jr. of The Strokes is promoting his third solo album, Momentary Masters, and for the video of “Caught By My Shadow” he pays a bit of homage to The Seventh Seal with his chess battle with death.  However, viewers are unlikely to confuse it with the Bergman classic, considering Hammond’s version involves way more special effects.

If you are still in the mood for something strange, be sure to watch Viet Cong’s latest video from their self-titled debut, “Bunker Buster”, which features some bizarre visuals and a sci-fi storyline.

The premiere of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert was the biggest news in entertainment last week, and among the memorable moments from the show’s first week was this amazing performance by Kendrick Lamar of a medley of songs from To Pimp a Butterfly.  Be sure also to tune in on Tuesday night, when Run the Jewels are set to perform with TV on the Radio.

Apparently The Decemberists were even more productive during their hiatus, as in addition to this year’s What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, the band is set to release the EP Florasongs on October 9.  The band gives a taste of what to expect with the song “Why Would I Now?”

And finally, if you are looking for something to satisfy your desire for lists, you might check SPIN’s look back to 1995 with their list of “The 95 Best Alternative Rock Songs of 1995”.

Catching Up On The Week (Apr. 17 Edition)

Some #longreads as you prepare yourself for Record Store Day…

It should be obvious that we here at Rust Is Just Right love record stores, and so it would seem to follow that we would appreciate the “Record Store Day” celebration.  However, as the “holiday” has grown in recent years, we have begun to realize that the success of the promotion can be a double-edged sword for the very businesses it was meant to protect: a sudden influx of sales can be good, but it means little to these stores if these sales do not create regular customers, and the emphasis on special releases has the problem of crowding out vinyl production, with limited edition records for established artists taking up space initially earmarked for truly independent bands.  Pitchfork has a piece that breaks down in more detail the ambivalent feelings that Record Store Day has generated.

It may sound counterintuitive at first, but the thesis of this Stereogum essay makes more sense the more you think about it–Brian Wilson certainly had an impact on the creation of punk rock.  Elsewhere on the site, the Anniversary Machine takes a look at the tenth anniversary of Alligator from The National, which marked a significant turning point for the band.  The best point made in the article is that despite what some detractors may say, there is a real evolution from Alligator to the present day in The National’s sound.

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is awarding Kanye West with an honorary degree, and FADER has an interview with the president and dean of the school explaining their decision.  Though it has generated a mild amount of heat among a minority of students and some alumni, it is an easily defensible choice, as explained in the piece.

An ugly spat has been brewing between Black Sabbath and drummer Bill Ward, and it has spilled over into the public sphere this week.  Rolling Stone has an interview with Ward explaining the origins of the dispute and the band’s current situation.

The highly-anticipated second album from Alabama Shakes will be released on Tuesday, and Consequence of Sound talked to frontwoman Brittany Howard about Sound & Color as well as the band’s rise to fame.

Finally, Cuepoint has a fantastic piece courtesy of Bethlehem Shoals on the legacy of Percy Sledge, who should be remembered for more than his mammoth hit “When A Man Loves A Woman.”

Over the Weekend (Apr. 6 Edition)

New videos and other fun stuff as you fill in the hours around the NCAA championship game…

Lots of new songs and videos to get through this week, so let’s get straight to the action.  After announcing a North American tour and releasing a new track (the groovy epic “Let It Happen”), Tame Impala has finally revealed some details about their followup to the fantastic Lonerism.  The album Currents will be available later this year, and to help celebrate the news the band released another track, the slow-burning “‘Cause I’m A Man”.

My Morning Jacket continues to leak out new songs from their upcoming album The Waterfall, sharing the ballad “Spring (Among the Living)” last week.  My immediate reaction was to say that it is a more dramatic version of “Victory Dance” from Circuital, but with a seriously ripping guitar solo.

Kendrick Lamar is doing the rounds in promoting his album, which involves things like talking to MTV about the origins of the album title to doing radio interviews discussing how he did the Tupac interview that closes To Pimp a Butterfly, as well as announcing his engagement (congrats, btw).  Kendrick also released the music video for the new album’s latest single, “King Kunta”, which features a performance in his hometown of Compton.

The National have shared a previously unreleased track from the Trouble Will Find Me sessions, a song called “Sunshine On My Back” that features Sharon Van Etten on vocals.  The band explained in a Facebook post various options for people to purchase the track.

Most of us were not able to make it down to Austin for SXSW this year, but NPR is doing us a real solid favor by hosting video of TV on the Radio’s performance at the festival.

Legendary punk rockers Refused announced a new tour last week, this time emphasizing smaller venues.  If you are unaware how much we love the band, you should take note that the header photo that graces this site comes from their reunion show at the Roseland from a few years ago.  Unfortunately, though it would have been amazing to see them perform at the Doug Fir, tickets sold out in about two seconds, so it is unlikely RIJR will be able to review the show.

Maybe our inability to purchase tickets was due to the fact that we forgot to post the latest Run The Jewels video.  Killer Mike and El-P released the video to the fantastic “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” which features a memorable appearance from Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha.  Enjoy the symbolism.

And finally, watch another one of those “let’s see what today’s teenagers know about the 90’s” videos.  This one has kids listen to various 90’s songs, and for the most part they didn’t do too badly.  I can forgive these guys for not knowing Ace of Base or how the non-rockers were unfamiliar with Tool’s “Sober”, but it pains me that so few knew who Coolio was or could identify Green Day’s first big hit.

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas, from everyone here at Rust Is Just Right!  We’ll celebrate this holiday the same way we do all the others–with way too much food and indie rock!

Once again, The National has collaborated with Bob’s Burgers to produce a new carol for the holiday canon, this time branching out into Christmas music.  It’s delicate and way-too-serious in a goofy-sort-of-way, which is exactly what we’d expect from this partnership.  We hope that for those of you celebrating today that you make this a small part of your festivities, and for those of you who aren’t, that it at least puts a smile on your face.

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!

Over the Weekend (Dec. 22 Edition)

Some videos and lists and other fun stuff as you continue to put off Christmas shopping…

Last week we said farewell to one of our favorite late night comedy shows with the end of The Colbert Report, but that wasn’t the only great program that finished its run last week.  The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson was underrated for the entirety of its run, as few could match the creativity and anarchic spirit of its host.  Craig ended things with a bang on his last show, and it was nice to see this tribute at the top of his show.  Here’s the official video, though it’s missing an excellent second half as seen in this link.

The “Bang Your Drum” performance was an excellent followup to the latest rendition of the annual holiday tradition of Darlene Love performing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home”) on The Late Show with David Letterman.  Of course, what really takes the performance to another level is the bari sax solo, but all the musicians are worthy of praise.

Once again, we have even more lists for your consultation.  Cokemachineglow has multiple lists for top albums, and then there are best videos lists from Vulture, PASTE, and Buzzfeed.  While there are several good selections, I’m surprised to see the absence of our personal pick for best music video of 2014, the haunting “Story 2” from clipping.

Song Exploder has an excellent interview with members of The National, who discuss the creation of “Sea of Love” for Trouble Will Find Me.  They really go deep into the making of the song, so all those budding songwriters out there should take note.

In a bit of unsurprising news, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are “on a bit of a hiatus” according to Karen O.  But it sounds like it’s just down time and not anything signalling the end of the band, which is great.

The Replacements have released some new music, and to say it’s different than what you would expect would be an understatement.  Pitchfork has the link to the 25 minute jazz improve piece “Poke Me In My Cage”.

Daniel Kessler from Interpol’s side project Big Noble just released their first music video, providing a visual accompaniment to the soundscape “Stay Gold”.

And a melancholy farewell to Joe Cocker, who possessed one of the great voices in rock history.  His cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends” was a huge part of my childhood, and I’m sure millions of others could say the same thing.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, from everyone here at Rust Is Just Right!  We’ll celebrate this holiday the same way we do all the others–with way too much food and indie rock!

That’s the second time there was a collaboration between The National and Bob’s Burgers, and since that’s the better video it’s grabbing the top spot.  But we’re feeling generous, so we’ll share the band’s cover of an original song from the show, giving the holiday all the necessary gravitas it deserves.

Sing these songs with your family, and you’re sure to have a wonderful day!