Titus Andronicus

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2019

Today is April 15, and though circumstances are not what they usually are for this time of year, we here at Rust Is Just Right have decided to brighten your spirits a bit by following tradition and releasing 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 and 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.  Unlike other years, however, we do not recommend spending your stimulus money on these albums, though if you have money to spare consider different ways of supporting your favorite musicians directly.

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

Note: Though the list is a Top 10, there are more albums than slots, because we don’t like breaking ties for the same play count.  If you’re really intent on focusing on only 10, I guess take the 10 highest performing albums from the list, but you really shouldn’t limit yourself like that if you can help it.

10. Danny Brown – uknowhatimsayin¿; Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost–Part 2; Jay Som – Anak Ko; Tyler, the Creator – IGOR; Wilco – Ode to Joy (5 plays)

The mood on Danny Brown’s latest was a bit lighter than his previous album Atrocity Exhibition, but the hooks weren’t quite as memorable this time around.  The second half of the ambitious new work from Foals rocked harder than the first from start to finish, with the fiery “The Runner” and the epic “Neptune” as clear standouts, but the lack of variation made it suffer in comparison.  Jay Som provided some of the best lo-fi indie rock of the year, with nifty and inventive melodies (like the hook in “Devotion”).  Tyler and Wilco both continued the path of their most recent releases to dial it down a notch, both to pleasant results.

9. Big K.R.I.T. – K.R.I.T. Iz Here; Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana; Maxo Kream – Brandon Banks (6 plays)

K.R.I.T. followed up RIJR favorite 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time with a solid effort, but most of the best tracks were already released on EPs the previous year.  Bandana mixed fun coke rap with incisive political cracks and Madlib’s production was in fine form.  Maxo Kream showed off one of the most infectious flows of 2019, which made it easy to revisit the album again and again.

8. Beck – Hyperspace; Operators – Radiant Dawn; Titus Andronicus – An Obelisk (7 plays)

Beck continued to operate in “fun” mode like his previous album Colors, but this time the mood is slightly more relaxed, if a bit sedate.  It’s no surprise that we here at RIJR would love whatever project Dan Boeckner (Da Gawd) is working on at the moment, and we were glad to see him return to the synthpop of Operators.  While we were bigger fans of Patrick Stickles’s foray into more “acoustic” songs with A Productive Cough, we were not going to stop him from lashing out and rocking out once again with the furious An Obelisk.

7. Denzel Curry – ZUU; Mannequin Pussy – Patience (8 plays)

We initially were skeptical of Denzel Curry, but his fiery cover of “Bulls on Parade” converted us into fans, and Curry keeps the energy up on the raucous ZUU.  One shouldn’t assume that Mannequin Pussy is our (by now) token female garage rock choice, because the group showed off chops and ambition that far outstrip that kind of pigeonholing.

6. DIIV – Deceiver; Orville Peck – Pony (9 plays)

Considering Slowdive grabbed the top spot a couple of years ago and My Bloody Valentine’s previous high ranking when they returned before that, it should not be a surprise to find a shoegaze album on the list.  The shock is from DIIV accomplishing the feat–sure, their bouncy, surf-style jangle music skirted around the genre, but we couldn’t have expected them to recreate some of the most unique sounds from the legends of the genre and find cool new ways to use them.  Of course, longtime readers are probably more surprised to see a country album this high up on our list, but Orville is no ordinary cowboy.  However, if there were more artists that could croon like Roy Orbison and back it with gorgeous spare guitar, then maybe we would see more representation from that genre on this list in the future.

5. Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost–Part 1 (10 plays)

We got a sense of the scope of the ambitions Foals had with their first release of the year, and honestly the album could have been fine as a stand-alone.  Not as heavy as their recent efforts, but the band compensated by experimenting with different instruments and tones while also focusing on finding new grooves.  It may have been a little bit more difficult to get into at first, but the efforts pay off.

4. The National – I Am Easy to Find (11 plays)

Oh wow, what a surprise–RIJR loves an album from The National!  However, the relatively low placement may throw some of our loyal readers for a loop.  Much like the rest of their catalog, it takes several listens for I Am Easy to Find to get nested and settled in your head, but again like the rest of their catalog, the effort is worth it.  The inclusion of guest vocals from a variety of women helps the album stand out in their discography, and their contributions provide an excellent counterpoint to Berninger’s sonorous baritone.  In the end, a sagging middle section blunts the momentum of an otherwise excellent addition to the band’s discography, but we guarantee you will love hearing these songs live.

3. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (12 plays)

We never got the chance to dive into the excellent work of the Silver Jews, but that was beginning to change with the release of David Berman’s new project Purple Mountains.  We once again had his trademark imagery and wordplay, but this time with a fuller and more expansive backing band.  Unfortunately the album was forever marked by Berman’s subsequent suicide a few weeks after its release, and it remains almost impossible to listen to this beautiful masterpiece without that knowledge hanging in the air.  Still, David was up front and blunt about his struggles, and we are all the better for him describing them to us in such vivid detail.  Somehow, lines like “All the suffering gets done by the ones we leave behind” become even more poignant with every passing day.

2. Bon Iver  – i,i (14 plays)

This was the year we became full-fledged acolytes to the Bon Iver experience and are ready to spread the gospel of Justin Vernon and Co.’s genius.  Their latest can best be described as a synthesis of their previous work–you have the experimentalist aspects of 22, A Million mixed with the 80s soft jazz/synth sounds of bon iver, bon iver with the classic falsetto seen in For Emma, Forever Ago.  The ability of the group to use a cut-and-paste approach (and then recreate them live) continues to amaze us, and has led to some incredible results.

1. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (16 plays)

We have long been champions of Sharon Van Etten, and we were immensely overjoyed to see her put together one of the finest albums top-to-bottom of recent years, followed by tours that saw her playing far bigger venues than ever before (moving up from the cozy confines of the Doug Fir to selling out the Crystal Ballroom is quite the jump, which was quickly followed up by opening for Bon Iver on their arena tour).  The music may have shifted from traditional guitar-based singer-songwriter styles to a more electronics-heavy approach, but none of the magic was lost.  Remind Me Tomorrow is an incredibly dense and layered record, and listeners will pick out wonderful new details each time through.  But what still remains is Sharon’s incredible voice, as well as her captivating and exemplary lyrics, wringing out incredible emotion from every note.  Just about every song deserves its own full-post write-up, but we’ll leave you with our pick for song of the year, “Seventeen”.

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.

Over the Weekend (Oct. 19 Edition)

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

We here at Rust Is Just Right are extremely excited to hear that one of our favorite all-time bands, The Besnard Lakes, are set to release some new music in the near future.  The band is set to release a full album on January 22 (A Coliseum Complex Museum) as well as an EP in less than a month, with The Golden Lion coming out on November 13.  The group also released a video of their recent performance of “The Golden Lion” at Pop Montreal, with a 17-piece band helping fill out the sound.  The song itself seems to be a continuation of the mid-tempo orchestral rock direction the band started with Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO, but who knows what the rest of the EP or LP will sound like.

This afternoon, Titus Andronicus released the latest video from The Most Lamentable Tragedy, for the song “No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant”.  The video has a strong DIY feel, and is no doubt inspired by a lot of old school rap videos.

Hot Chip also released a video today, as they posted a 80’s-inspired video for their cover of “Dancing In The Dark”.  Take note that the song seamlessly transitions into another cover, with the band slipping into their version of “All My Friends” at around the five-minute mark.

And finally, this is probably more a sports post than a music post, but we think you may find it educational nonetheless.  The Classical has a preview of the upcoming NBA season, with each team’s prediction summed up with lyrics from punk legends the Minutemen.

Titus Andronicus, Live at Mississippi Studios

It may have taken a few years longer than we would have liked, but Titus Andronicus finally returned to Portland as headliners on Friday night for a thrilling set in the intimate confines of Mississippi Studios.  Fresh off the heels of the release of their sprawling rock-opera The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Patrick Stickles & Co. delivered a spirited set to an energetic crowd, seamlessly weaving songs from across their four albums into a series of mini-epics.  The band left the audience so amped up by the end that a trip to one of Oregon’s brand new legal dispensaries was probably necessary, though there were probably only a few that needed such an excuse to indulge.

Classy marquee inside the venue

Classy marquee inside the venue.

After a brief explanation as to why the group made an exception to their policy of performing all-ages show, frontman Patrick Stickles began the night with a solemn version of “Upon Viewing Brueghel’s ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus'” backed by a mournful keyboard, then effortlessly segued into a spirited full-band version of the similarly-titled and locale-appropriate “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus”, setting the tone for the rest of the night.  Perhaps inspired by the format of their most recent release, the group blended songs from throughout their career into unpredictable but brilliant suites.  Stickles made sure to spotlight guitarist Adam Reich and give him kudos for his “Pearl Jam-like” ability in constructing the setlist.  For those unfamiliar with the reference, it is heady praise indeed.

The band found the right mix between professional and loose, able to knock out such difficult maneuvers as a dual tapping-solo guitar attack for “A More Perfect Union” while also avoiding any stiffness from attempting to pull off these complex tricks, and just letting mistakes slide by–as referenced by Stickles, who said he didn’t need to hear any more of his guitar in the monitors so he could ignore any flubs.  The audience ate up both the old and new material, with many singing along to songs from Tragedy, though the response to early tracks like “Albert Camus” and “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ” generated the fiercest reaction.  The recent legalization of commercial sale of marijuana also prompted a short speech on the “evils” of pot, and spurred a spirited take on “Tried to Quit Smoking”–only to pull a fast one a couple of songs later by throwing in a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35”, to which everyone sang along to the memorable chorus of “Everybody must get stoned.”

Deciding on an encore song.

Deciding on an encore song.

After a furious finish with “Dimed Out”, the crowd was able to goad the band into a quick encore, despite the show pushing well past midnight at this point.  Eventually, as a nod to both the baseball playoffs and their upcoming trip into the Great White North, the crew indulged the crowd with an enthusiastic take on Neil Young’s “Walk On”, before ending the night with “I Saw Her Standing There” from The Beatles.  Though it would be difficult to beat what we witnessed, here’s a suggestion for the guys if they need a Portland-specific cover for their next trip into town (which will hopefully be as soon as possible): you can’t go wrong with anything from the Wipers.

Catching Up On The Week (Oct. 2 Edition)

Some #longreads for your weekend reading pleasure…

We have now reached the point that the music press is holding celebrations for 15th anniversaries, but when it comes to albums like Radiohead’s Kid A, we do not mind indulging in that kind of silliness.  Rob Sheffield has an appreciative essay of the now-legendary record for Rolling Stone and Steven Hyden of Grantland explains how years before the innovative release of In Rainbows that Radiohead was already on the cutting edge of music and technology, with the band streaming the album weeks before its physical release.

The other major topic of the week is Max Martin, one of several Scandinavian musicians who are responsible for most of the pop hits that have infiltrated the airwaves for the past fifteen years.  The New Yorker looks at the man himself, The Atlantic takes a look at the pop-songwriting-manufacturing process, and Consequence of Sound takes a look at Martin’s career in a more easily digestible listicle form complete with video highlights.

While Martin may be helping to create a monopoly in some respects in the field of pop music, GarageBand has been said to have a more democratizing effect on the creation of music in general.  Pitchfork has a longform piece on the effects of the software.

In other anniversary news, this week marks the twentieth anniversary of Oasis’s mammoth album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, and Stereogum puts the album into historical context.  It has always been my preferred Oasis record, namely for the fact that it includes the shameless Beatles rip-off “Don’t Look Back In Anger”, one of my favorite songs of the 90’s.  I will never forget the moment when I saw an entire crowd of people join a street musician in a London tube station sing this song, with not a single person young or old forgetting a line.

We shared with you one remembrance of Wolf Parade’s Apologies to the Queen Mary last week, and we have another piece for you on one of our favorite albums.  Observer offers a behind-the-scenes look at the album, with several stories explaining the meanings and creations of each track.

As for us, we will be catching Titus Andronicus performing at Mississippi Studios tonight, and in preparation for our review you may want to check out the extensive profile of the band courtesy of SPIN.

Review: Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

If there was a musician that ever defined the term “his reach exceeds his grasp”, it is Patrick Stickles.  But goddammit, that is partly why I love his band Titus Andronicus so much.*  As a rule, double albums are bloated, overstuffed affairs, and rock operas are doubly so, and The Most Lamentable Tragedy fulfills those expectations accordingly.  But Stickles has poured his heart and his soul into this epic production, and has the requisite amount of chops to prevent the whole album from falling apart.  For that alone he should be commended; the good news is that Stickles should be praised not only for the audacity of the entire enterprise, but for writing several songs that rank among the band’s best work.

It is best to look at The Most Lamentable Tragedy as an attempt to rewrite the band’s entire history to this point.  Not only are there several callbacks to each of the band’s previous albums (for instance, there is the continuation of the “No Future” series that dates back to their debutThe Airing of Grievances, there is also second act closer “More Perfect Union” which refers to The Monitor‘s opener “A More Perfect Union”, and “Mr. E. Mann” which bears an obvious relationship with “(I Am The) Electric Man” as well as “I’m Going Insane” with “Titus Andronicus vs. the Absurd Universe (3rd Round KO)” from Local Business), but the narrative of the opera recasts many of the struggles that Stickles tackled before.  Even the rock opera concept is an extension of the Relationship as Civil War metaphor that defined the concept album The Monitor, which many regard as the band’s greatest work to date.  One does not have to be intimately familiar with the complete history of Titus Andronicus to enjoy the album, but as is the case with the many historical references and literary allusions that are sprinkled throughout the record, it certainly helps.

One should be fully prepared for the sprawling affair that is The Most Lamentable Tragedy just by glancing at the packaging, since the sticker announces it is a “29 song, 93 minute” opus, but even that simple declaration is playing a bit fast and loose with the facts–many of the tracks are seemingly arbitrarily cut up, and the album contains multiple “songs” of pure silence, including a seven minute “Intermission”.  The term “rock opera” also should serve as a huge warning sign, as the album suffers many of the same issues that plague previous attempts at the form, namely songs that are heavier on plot than hooks and drama rather than melody.  However, when Stickles indulges his most grandiose instincts, he creates some of the album’s finest moments, such as in the orchestral sweep of “More Perfect Union”.  When was the last time you heard a bass clarinet in a punk song?

There are other standouts that will easily become highlights of future Titus Andronicus shows, from the furiously energetic “Dimed Out” and “Lookalike”/”I Lost My Mind” combo to the multi-part epic “(S)HE SAID/(S)HE SAID”.  Another sure to be crowd favorite is the boisterous sing-along “Come On, Siobhán”, which in a change of pace for Titus recalls the Midwestern sounds of John Cougar Mellencamp instead of the standard Jersey influence of The Boss.  There are enough great Titus Andronicus songs scattered throughout the record that one is tempted to separate the wheat from the chaff and stuff it onto a disc with a fifty-minute runtime instead, but that would fly in the face of the entire point of the album.  It is a sprawling mess because manic depression is indeed a frustrating mess.  The Most Lamentable Tragedy is what it is, flaws and all.

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.