The Thermals

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.

Advertisements

Over the Weekend (Oct. 12 Edition)

New music, new videos, and other fun stuff to help you get through the week…

After some rumblings and hints in the past few months, the music press was quick to pounce on the news that Gorillaz are working on material for a new album to be released next year, as per an interview with Jamie Hewlett in DIY.  There was not much more confirmation beyond a simple statement, but fans have long been itching for a follow-up to 2010’s Plastic Beach.

Considering that it was only a few weeks ago that Depression Cherry came out, the news that Beach House is set to release another album this Friday came as a shock to fans and journalists alike.  The duo stressed that Thank Your Lucky Stars is not a B-Sides collection or remnants from previous sessions, but its own full-fledged album.  Stereogum has an interesting piece talking about the various clues that the band had hidden away in their website.

Foals released the video for their song “Give It All” today, and the video is a rather cinematic tale of a a doomed romance.  There is even a director’s cut available with a different ending available.

Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney is releasing his debut solo album Many Moons at the end of the month, and today shared the single “Airport Bar” from the record, a laid-back and easy-going affair that would have fit in quite nicely with the past couple of albums of his main gig.

Low released a video for the gorgeous Ones and Sixes track “Lies”, and the heartbreaking depiction of the struggles of a day laborer is a perfect fit for the melancholic beauty of the song.

“Over the Rainbow” is one of the most popular and recognizable songs of the twentieth century, and PBS takes a look at the composition of the song and how it captured the hearts of so many people.

Hutch Harris of The Thermals talked to Baeble about his entry into the world of standup comedy, and if you follow @thethermals on Twitter, you would not be surprised that the man behind one of the most consistently funny accounts in music has decided to jump into those waters.

In a post that is sure to delight some and anger many more, Deadspin takes a look at fourteen different times that Jay Z has been “owned” by another rapper on one of his tracks, though many of these selections have Jay occupying a guest spot.  We are disappointed that Ja Rule did not make the list.

We have long failed to provide an adequate number of cat videos on this site, and locally Run The Jewels is helping us out in fulfilling our quota.  They have released a ridiculously goofy video for “Oh My Darling (Don’t Meow)” from Meow The Jewels, which should fulfill all your Laser Cats fanfic desires.

Catching Up On The Week (May 1 Edition)

Some #longreads for your May Day weekend celebration…

We here at Rust Is Just Right were more than excited to hear that Titus Andronicus will finally be releasing their new album later this summer, on July 28.  We remember rumblings from early in 2014 from Patrick Stickles about the band’s planned rock opera, and even heard what were supposedly tracks from the project back at their 2013 MusicFestNW performance, so we had been anticipating this announcement for a long time.  Stickles talked to Grantland about the production of the album, and shared the first single as well.

It is the thirtieth anniversary of the seminal album Psychocandy, and The Jesus and Mary Chain are set to embark on a short tour of the US to play their electrifying debut in its entirety.  To help celebrate this occasion, we are linking to not one, but two interviews with the band’s lead singer, Jim Reid, courtesy of Stereogum and Consequence of Sound.

Elsewhere on the Consequence of Sound site, there is a great interview with Justin Boreta of The Glitch Mob where he discusses the significance of Aphex Twin’s …I Care Because You Do.  Not only is it a great dissection of an often-overlooked highlight in Aphex Twin’s impressive discography, but it also shines a light into the electronic scene at the time.

Deadspin has an analysis of Van Morrison’s late-career work, to help fill in the blind spots for those who only know of the legendary singer’s pre-Astral Weeks work.

And finally, Kathy Foster of The Thermals talks to VNYL for their #FirstSpin series about her early experience with vinyl.

The Thermals, Live at Level B with Years and City of Pieces

I woke up this past Saturday morning with absolutely no plans for my weekend, but after a quick perusal of my Facebook feed, the circumstances changed dramatically.  The Thermals posted a flyer for a show they were doing that night at Level B, having decided to make the trip from Portland down to the Capital City to bless us with their presence.  So with the choice now between “doing nothing” and venturing downtown to see one of my favorite bands play an intimate show in my hometown, I easily decided to go with the latter.  Despite a rather sparse showing from my fellow Salemites, the band did their usual excellent work and hopefully had as great a time as I did.

A personal souvenir from the show

A personal souvenir from the show

Since this is the third time we’ve covered a Thermals show in a year*, we’re not going to spend too much time discussing the intricacies of their set.  The band focused mainly on their most recent album, sprinkling several cuts from Desperate Ground throughout the set, while making sure to cover crowd-favorites from their classic The Body, The Blood, The Machine; a personal highlight was hearing “Power Lies” from the underrated Personal Life make an appearance.  The group has been hard at work writing material for a new album, and I’m glad to say that it looks like there was good reason that I had trouble recognizing a couple of songs, since the setlist confirms new tracks “The Walls” and “I Will Find My Way”.  The new songs definitely did not represent any drastic change in style, and instead fit naturally into the band’s set, which should provide comfort for their fans.

Throughout the show, a reel of “Betty Boop” cartoons was shown by a projector behind the band, seemingly selected at random.  The resulting juxtaposition provided a couple of noteworthy moments**, the highlight being that an Alice in Wonderland-themed episode appeared as the band played their cover of “White Rabbit” in an alarming moment of synchronicity, something that which Hutch himself remarked and Kathy noticed as well.  Though the crowd was not nearly as raucous as they were the last time The Thermals came through town, we were able to convince the band to indulge us with old favorites “Overgrown, Overblown!” and “No Culture Icons” for a mini-encore.  After the show, it was great to see Hutch and Kathy and Westin hang out with the crowd and appear sincerely grateful for those that turned up; hopefully the band will make this a regular gig, though it may help to do a bit more advance notice for a Salem gig.

A view inside of the theater with the ad for the show

A view inside of the theater with the ad for the show

As for the openers, they represented both the old and the new of the Salem scene.  Years (the young folks) performed a set of catchy 90’s-era punk with what I assume is some heavy influence from Pavement, while City of Pieces (the old folks) taught the crowd some lessons on the classics, with a style that was reminiscent of The Cramps with their tinge of psychobilly.  Years could use some seasoning, not necessarily to brush up their chops but to work on their songcraft a bit, yet they probably have a bright future ahead of them.  However, City of Pieces was a blast, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of their sets around town, as their presence assures that it will be a fun night.

*Not only did we see The Thermals play Level B last year, but they were also part of the extensive Project Pabst lineup.

**The selection of cartoons included a rather racist episode made things uncomfortable for those paying attention (though the band was thankfully too busy to notice).

Over the Weekend (Mar. 2 Edition)

News, music videos, and other fun stuff to help kick off your March

It seems like there has been buzz about the new Kanye West album for months now, but the follow-up to Yeezus finally has a name: “So Help Me God”.  New material has been trickling out for some time now, and today the studio version of the club-friendly “All Day” was released, with an accompanying video to which we will link but not embed because of a certain amount of nudity that may not be welcome in all work establishments (Update: the video has been pulled).

Our favorite video of the week is Action Bronson’s “Actin Crazy”, which mashes up a ridiculous CGI video with a behind-the-scenes look at the making of said goofy video.

Alabama Shakes stopped by Saturday Night Live this weekend in preparation for the April 21 release of Sound & Color.  “Don’t Wanna Fight” was a nice little peppy funk number, but the standout performance was the electric “Gimme All Your Love”.

It wouldn’t be a Monday if we didn’t have random lists, so here’s SPIN ranking every single Oscar Winner for Best Original Song and here’s Loudwire’s list of the 10 Best Stone Temple Pilots songs, which includes just about every song you would hear from them on modern rock radio, with the welcome addition of “Down” from the long-neglected album No. 4 (though I would have hoped they could have found a spot for the closing ballad “Atlanta”).

Followers of The Thermals on Twitter have long known that singer/guitarist Hutch Harris is a funny guy, but they still may have been surprised by his recent forays into stand-up comedy.  Hutch talks to Splitsider about his longtime interest in the form and the difference in performing comedy versus on-stage as part of a band.  But don’t despair Thermals fans, Hutch hasn’t ditched his regular gig yet, and the band is working on a new album as we speak.

And finally, we regret that we weren’t able to post this video when it happened last week, but frankly it has taken this much time just to process what happened: Jimmy Kimmel had Warren G perform his classic “Regulate” with help from Kenny G.  I’m speechless.

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 (Nov. 10 Edition)

New music, videos, and other fun as we prepare for “Foo Fighters Week”…

The Foo Fighters are released their eighth studio album today, Sonic Highways, and we’ll be running features on the band all week long.  To help get you into the spirit, SPIN has provided a ranking of all 147 Foo Fighters songs, including covers and soundtrack selections.  As with all lists, this one has its fair share of faults, including a weird affinity for the band’s weakest effort (Echoes, Silence, Patience, & Grace), dismissal of some of their best recent work in Wasting Light, and an unfortunate-but-expected disdain for tracks from One By One, and ranks “Hey, Johnny Park!” at least thirty spots too low.  On the other hand, it does provide the proper reverence for deep cuts like “A320” and “February Stars”, so we’ll take the good with the bad.  And though we have most of these Foo Fighters singles, including several obscure ones, this list did inform us of the existence of this performance with Serj Tankian of the Dead Kennedys’ classic, “Holiday In Cambodia”.

Aphex Twin recently sat down for an extensive interview with Dan Noyze, and not only that, provided a number of outtakes and and fragments made during the making of Syro.

Hutch Harris from local favorites The Thermals sat down with Late Night Action recently, and talked about subjects including the band’s early recording methods as well as the band’s personal involvement with their merchandise.  It’s always fun to listen to Hutch, so watch when you can.

Here’s an excellent list of “Songs You’ll Never Hear on a Sufjan Stevens Album”.

We’ve mentioned Interpol guitarist Daniel Kessler’s upcoming side-project before, but now we have a bit more info about Big Noble.  They’ve also provided a video of one of their songs, which is a nice combination of Kessler’s crystalline guitar with intriguing soundscapes.

Mark Ronson is going to be the musical guest on SNL in a couple of weeks, and to get an idea of where he’s at, he recently released one of the songs he wrote with Tame Imapala’s Kevin Parker, and the result is something that sounds a bit like MGMT.

We’re looking forward to the second album from Father John Misty, since Fear Fun was such an excellent debut; plus we need an additional enticement to go see Josh Tillman’s stage show once again.  I Love You, Honeybear will be released next February, but last week FJM performed on Letterman the new track “Bored In The USA”, and it was fantastic.

Cults performed in Austin, and Pitchfork was there.  That should be enough to get you to click the link.

And because we’ve spent the entire weekend pondering the philosophical conundrum that comes with “too many cooks”, we’ll ride that out the rest of the week and post the video here.

Project Pabst 2014 Recap

We gave recaps for a couple of the bonus shows that came courtesy of Project Pabst, and now it’s time to give some thoughts on the main event itself.  Overall, it was a pretty fantastic experience, feeding off the successful aspects of MusicFestNW with an even better lineup and nicer weather (the sun was shining just the same, but with none of that unpleasant August heat).    If this becomes an annual event, we’ll welcome it with open arms, but it’ll be hard to top this debut.

The mascot for Project Pabst and Scotland's national animal.

The mascot for Project Pabst and Scotland’s national animal.

I’ve lived for over 15 years in Oregon and have spent time in Portland on countless occasions, but this festival marked the first time I had poked around the South Waterfront.  It’s an area that the city has thrown a bunch of money at for redevelopment, but for some reason a few towers of condos haven’t spurred people to come down and spend money in that area.  And if you look closely at the gravel pit from the photo above, you can see why.  That said, parking was convenient enough (for ten dollars) and public transport ran smoothly, so clearly this spot should be able to handle an influx of hipsters as necessary.

Violent Femmes up on the stage.

Violent Femmes up on the stage.

Since I had to make the hour drive up each day, I skipped a couple of unfamiliar acts, but made sure to at least catch an old favorite, the Violent Femmes.  Though I came in half-way through and probably missed alternative radio staples like “Blister in the Sun” and “Add it Up”, I did get to enjoy “Gone Daddy Gone”, “Country Death Song”, and “Black Girls”.  The group showed why they would be a blast at festivals, engaging with the crowd with great jokes and keeping things fun and loose.  They may be basically a nostalgia act at this point, but no one should be complaining.

While the sun was pleasant for the audience, Red Fang would best be enjoyed in a grey thunderstorm.

While the sun was pleasant for the audience, Red Fang would best be enjoyed in a grey thunderstorm.

It’s always a blast to see these hometown heavy metal heroes, but Red Fang really brought it at this festival.  I’ve seen the band headline numerous shows around town, and for the first time the band had a proper mix, at an outdoor festival of all places.  Both guitars and vocals came in clearly and at the right volume, and it made it easier to enjoy crowd favorites like “Wires”, “Prehistoric Dog”, and “Blood Like Cream”.  It was the perfect soundtrack for driving around and committing some misdemeanors (and maybe a felony or two), but luckily no one actually took up that challenge.

Phosphorescent with some breezy jams

Phosphorescent with some breezy jams

I enjoyed Phosphorescent’s 2013 album Muchacho quite a bit, so I was eager to see Matthew Houck and his friends perform live.  He kicked things off with the best track off that album, “The Quotidian Beasts”, and it did not disappoint–the song builds off Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” chord progression to provide ample space for gorgeous and thrilling solos.  The mood was pretty chill for the most part, which was perfect for the afternoon, but the band was able to keep the momentum going even through some of the ballad-filled lulls.

I assure you, those ants are Tears for Fears

I assure you, those ants are Tears for Fears

We took a break during Rocket from the Crypt’s set, partly because I can never forgive the band for not being Rocket from the Tombs, and sampled some of the foodcarts and the free “PBRcade”.  Being originally from Louisiana, if someone is offering a Muffuletta sandwich you’re goddamn right I’m going to order one, and even if it wasn’t great, it’s better than most options.

Tears for Fears were an unconventional headliner that made a lot of people scratch their heads (as they explained, they were a last-minute replacement for Kate Bush (yes, this was a joke)), but the crowd definitely seem to appreciate it.  The instrumentation was pretty spare, allowing a lot of space in the music, and probably could have benefited from some additional backup vocals.  They stunned the audience with an aching cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” (even if it failed to include the best part of the song as some would argue), then proceeded to capture the hearts of the hipsters in attendance with an Arcade Fire song.  I checked out at this point to get across town for Built to Spill, but as I exited they launched into “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, so I hung out a bit right outside to hear one of the best songs of the 80’s live.

Speedy Ortiz keepin' the dream of the 90's alive

Speedy Ortiz keepin’ the dream of the 90’s alive

I was glad to catch the end of Speedy Ortiz’s set, since Major Arcana was one of my favorites from last year.  They draw from some of the best parts of Pavement and the early grunge era to write crunchy, meandering (in a good way) alt-rock, and while they could improve on their stage presence a bit, it was good to hear some noise.

The Thermals up on the main stage, and deservedly so.

The Thermals up on the main stage, and deservedly so.

The Thermals are the true hometown heroes, and they proved it with their blistering 45-minute set that tore up the main stage.  Granted, it was still early in the day and the crowd was a little sparse given their considerable effort, but the band played with a furious intensity that only let up when Hutch had to confront a bee on his microphone.  It’s always a treasure when the band throws in some tracks from Fuckin’ A in with the classics from The Body, The Blood, The Machine.

Shabazz Palaces rockin' the laptops and drums.

Shabazz Palaces rockin’ the laptops and drums.

Shabazz Palaces were a change-up from the rock-heavy lineup, and while it was nice to have some hip-hop, the duo’s set was a bit monotonous.  Sure, it was groovy for a bit, but there wasn’t much shape to their set, and it was hard for the newcomer to really latch on to the music.

GZA taught Portland the finer points of astrophysics

GZA taught Portland the finer points of astrophysics

GZA thrilled the crowd with not only a performance of Liquid Swords but also by tossing in some Wu-Tang classics, with plenty in the crowd ready on-hand to provide some of the missing parts.  Liquid Swords can be a difficult album to get into, but with the help of an excellent backing funk band GZA was really able to get the songs to pop and come alive.

Modest Mouse putting an exclamation point on a great weekend.

Modest Mouse putting an exclamation point on a great weekend.

We had seen Modest Mouse a few months earlier as they started touring once again, and while that was a fine show, it was nothing compared to how tight the group was for this performance.  Holy shit, this may have been their best show yet, featuring such highlights as “Night on the Sun”, “Broke”, and “Doin’ the Cockroach”.  The group at this point has evolved so much over the years, transitioning from a power trio into what seems to be an 8-or-so piece in its current incarnation, with dual percussionists (as has been the norm since Good News) and multi-instrumentalists handling horns and strings.  With its revolving-door-like lineup, it can often appear to be some sort of musician welfare program, and I say that with the best of intentions.

On Sunday night, after a brief delay at the start (it was fitting that Modest Mouse was the only band unable to start on time the whole day), the band effortlessly ran through their extensive catalog with nary a hiccup, beginning with “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes”, which in a nice bit of symmetry was the final song of the encore from the time we saw them back in May.  The band easily moved throughout their extensive catalog, capturing both the big hits and the rare gems alike.  As mentioned above, the rare early single “Night on the Sun” was especially memorable, with Isaac putting his gruff delivery to good use and firing off some especially wicked solos.  Though Isaac was battling a cold, the audience wouldn’t have noticed if it wasn’t for his announcement, but it did lead to one of his many funny anecdotes during the show; at one point he claimed to be bad at the “in-between song banter”, but anyone who’s been to a Modest Mouse show knows that’s far from the case.

The encore ended with an especially stirring rendition of “The World At Large”, augmented by a coda which made excellent use of the full band with horns and strings helping deliver extra power to that gorgeous instrumental ending.  The finale of “The Good Times Are Killing Me” provided the perfect conclusion to a festival put on by a beer company, with audience engaging in a gregarious sing-along with the band as the lights flipped back on.

* * *

For the most part, the crowds at the festival were excellent, though I want to make special mention of the audience at this last performance.  I’ve been to hundreds of shows over the years, and I’d never encountered a larger group of pure assholes than the ones that were ostensibly there to be “entertained” by Modest Mouse.  If you’re heading out to grab beer while the band is performing a rarity like “Night on the Sun”, then maybe you should just ditch the show entirely and go get wasted out in Old Town; believe me, the pisswater available at the show was not worth the trouble.  It was infuriating to see people just try to force themselves through groups of people when there were clearer paths available that were also easy to spot.  At one point, a bro tried to barrel through, pushing into me but armed with an excuse that “hey man, let me through, I’m carrying wine, so I gotta be careful.”  If you’re concerned about the safety of your wine, then maybe you shouldn’t be attempting to bulldoze multiple people as they’re dancing along to “Doin’ the Cockroach”.  It was just an unrelenting stream of assholes constantly behaving in this manner, and it nearly ruined an otherwise perfect ending.  Considering that the rest of the festival went off without a hitch, perhaps in the future they should consider cutting off alcohol sales before the last act, similar to how they’ll cut sales late in a baseball or football game.  Other than that, it was a total success.

Feats of Strength: The Thermals

The Thermals are returning home to Portland this weekend for the inaugural Project Pabst festival, and as always we’re psyched for the opportunity to see one of our hometown favorites* in action once again.  With that in mind, we’ve decided to take this opportunity to briefly discuss one of our favorite albums from the last decade, The Body, the Blood, the Machine.  A furious blast of righteous fury aimed directly at an oppressive political establishment, The Body, the Blood, the Machine stands as one of the few concept albums whose execution matches its ambition.  Its narrative revolves around a couple fleeing the clutches of a fascist, theocratic government, and though it could easily devolve into a mere screed that ultimately bores the listener, the album never fails to consistently engage the listener, both with its incisive lyrics and its ever-propulsive music.

“A Pillar of Salt” illustrates the ability of the band perfectly.  Lyrically, it’s the most straightforward depiction of the actual storyline, detailing exactly how the young couple is escaping the clutches of the authoritarian regime, capturing the tyrannical nature of the regime and also the perilous nature of the family’s quest for freedom.  Musically, it’s the perfect example of what “pop-punk” should aspire to be–catchy melodies but backed by razor-sharp playing that doesn’t lack for any edge.  One of my favorite accomplishments as a music director back when I worked in radio was playing this song and receiving direct feedback from our listeners about how much they loved the song.  It was rare for us to get phone calls from listeners, but for “A Pillar of Salt” we got several calls from listeners who wanted to know who the band was that played this song and requesting that we play it more often.  It was nice having my instincts confirmed as I shepherded the song from the specialty show into a new music showcase and eventually into regular rotation, that a band that didn’t get a big push nationally was actually really good and that listeners actually wanted to hear them.  Hopefully those listeners took the initiative and bought the album as well, because “A Pillar of Salt” was definitely not the only highlight of the album.

“Returning to the Fold” appears right after “Pillar” on the album, and though it veers in a different direction by slowing the tempo a bit, it eventually reveals itself to be another high point and would become a fan-favorite, who enjoy stomping along with its big chorus and singing at the top of their longs brilliant lines like “I can’t believe I got so far with a head so empty.”  Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the songs, I want you to listen to the intros and first verses of each songs carefully, paying attention to the guitar.  You should be able to notice that…the two songs have the exact same chord progression.  Even with the different tempos, it should be obvious now, especially after I’ve pointed it out.

Now, considering the connective thread that runs throughout the album, this clearly isn’t an example of a band repeating the same tired old ideas, but is instead obviously intentional, especially since the two songs appear back-to-back.  And then it becomes clearer that there are deeper connections between the two songs, such as the fact that the first revolves around escaping, while the second talks about “returning to the fold”.  In fact, the fact that the slower song is the one detailing the return mirrors the reaction of what would occur in real life–there would be a frantic attempt at escape, but when caught, the family would trudge back home, in no way eager to come back.  It’s subtle musical and thematic connections such as this which help set The Body, the Blood, the Machine from other concept albums, and help it succeed where so many others failed before.

*Ed. Note: We don’t want to slight any of the other great Portland bands that we love, including Red Fang, who are set to perform at Project Pabst as well.  Just as parents aren’t asked to choose favorites among their children, we don’t want to do the same with our local bands.  We love a lot of them.

Over the Weekend (Aug. 11 Edition)

Videos, rare tracks, and lists to help get your week started…

We here at Rust Is Just Right love Red Fang, aka Portland’s Greatest Metal Band, and especially enjoy their goofy music videos.  Their latest for “The Meadows”, which is found on a free new EP, is pretty simple: the band dresses up in some of their best suits and spends the budget for their video on a big feast, often shooting in slow motion.  The video ends at what is probably my favorite pizzeria in Portland, so at least it has that going for it.

Speaking of favorite Portland bands, The Thermals posted a video this morning from their KEXP performance a few years back, playing a B-Side I hadn’t heard before called “I Can’t Let Go”.  Judging from the time of the video and the style, it sounds like it’s from the Personal Life era.

The Flaming Lips side-project Electric Würms (where Steven Drozd takes over frontman duties and Wayne Coyne moves to the background) released two new songs today from their upcoming EP, Musik Die Shwer zu Twerk.  You can find “The Bat” over on Bilboard, while NPR has “I Could Only See Clouds”.  If you want a quick summation of their sound, it’s along the lines of their recent album The Terror, but even trippier.

Foo Fighters uploaded a quick teaser video last week for their upcoming album, and this morning released the full details about the release of Sonic Highways.  The number “8” is prominently featured in the materials (even adding up the digits of the running time of 44 minutes).  The coolest bit of news is that the LP version includes nine covers, including one for each city in which the album is recording (biting an idea that I had for my own band, but considering we never toured, I’m okay with giving Dave Grohl the credit).

Rolling Stone has a fun list with the Buzzfeedian title of “20 Insanely Great David Bowie Songs Only Hardcore Fans Know”; personally, I’m quite a big fan of most of Bowie’s catalog, but I know just how deep some people’s obsession with the man can be, so I’m taking this to be a learning experience.

And finally, The New Pornographers stopped by The Current Studio in Minneapolis and played a handful of songs, which you can check out right here.