Belying his slacker persona, Nathan Williams has been remarkably busy since the release of the last Wavves album two years ago. Afraid of Heights was one of our favorite records of 2013, and reached the third spot in our inaugural Best Albums list; since then, Williams has formed an electronic side project with his brother (Sweet Valley) and released a collaborative album with Cloud Nothing’s Dylan Baldi (No Life For Me), and after the release of several extra Wavves tracks for various projects, was able to find some time to record a proper follow-up. It seems that by dividing up his attention into pursuing all these different projects has allowed Williams to focus on a singular approach for Wavves, as V is the most streamlined album the band has released in years.
V is a giddy rush, blasting through eleven tracks in half an hour, but by relying on a particular formula leads to some diminishing returns as the album progresses. Each song is amped up to eleven and played at a breakneck speed, and while individually each song is great and could be selected for a single, it can result in a numbing effect when listened to as a whole. The album is missing some of those excellent mid-tempo numbers like “Demon to Lean On” or “Afraid of Heights” from their previous album, or those crazy studio experiments like “Baseball Cards” and “Convertible Balloon” from King of the Beach, both of which helped make for more cohesive records.
However, Williams shows once again that he can write a great hook, as V is absolutely stuffed with earworms that will immediately grab your attention. As fans should expect at this point, all those sunny melodies and cheerful musical background serve as an excellent foil to lyrics that revel in self-loathing, though even in the wake of an apparent breakup the mood is a tad merrier than on Afraid. The group also displays a remarkable capability to create the most artificial sounds possible with traditional rock instruments, and careful listening reveals a wealth of material lurking in the background of each track.
For a band that has a long historywith the letter “v”, it is a fitting gesture to name the group’s fifth album with the Roman Numeral, and the record recaptures the energy of the band’s early years, but with a much better recording budget. V may not reach the heights of its predecessors, but it can serve as a welcome shot of adrenaline or as a palette cleanser after some other more dour and serious records.
Ought just came out with their second album last week, and Sun Coming Down has been greeted with rave reviews so far. For those looking for a taste as to how the new album sounds, the band shared the video to the almost-title track “Sun’s Coming Down” last week.
With the breakthrough success of their album Sunbather still fresh in the minds of critics and fans, Deafheaven’s New Bermuda is set to be one of the most highly anticipated releases of the fall. They should be highly pleased with the release of the song “Come Back”, as it incorporates many of the elements that people loved about Sunbather with some additional metal touches thrown in for good measure.
New Bermuda is not the only big album being released next Friday, as V from Wavves is also coming out on October 2nd. The band shared the wrestling-themed video for the single “Way Too Much” last week, and it should get you pumped.
DIIV released the single “Dopamine” last week from their upcoming album Is The Is Are, and you can take a listen to the driving and infectious jangle-pop track through the band’s SoundCloud page.
For the past few years, I have made listening to King of the Beach a part of my Labor Day festivities, as a gesture to commemorate the last dying gasp of summer. Usually the Wavves album serves as a soundtrack to an actual trip to the beach, but I decided this year to take that trip to the land of those beautiful grey skies only in my mind. However, the celebration did give me the chance to explore what it is exactly that has spurred my love for this album.
There is a key moment in the title track that opens the album that manages to set the tone for the rest of the album. It is the kind of throwaway idea that most listeners would gloss over, but every time I hear it I cannot help but crack up precisely because it is so stupid. After the first chorus (around the :53 mark), the band uses a ridiculous echo effect on the snare drum as the song kicks into the next verse. Though the band deploys other effects throughout the rest of the song, they do not use that drum effect again, giving the impression that this was some sort of studio joke that the band decided to leave in place, regardless of whether any better takes existed.
That little joke sets the mood for the rest of the album, alerting the listener to not take anything seriously. Though songs about weed and surfing should already signal to the audience what kind of album it is, this leaves no doubt that King of the Beach is an irreverent romp. It also shows that even though Nathan Williams was now working in a real studio with money and musicians and everything, the same fun that he had experimenting with lo-fi techniques in his bedroom from the group’s early days would still be a significant part of the band’s sound.
I am certain that this post represents more thought and effort than what into tossing in that silly effect, but sometimes dumb jokes pay off.
We are entirely against the idea of playing the song “Friday I’m in Love” on any day except Friday, though we may have to make an exception for Yo La Tengo’s pleasant take The Cure’s classic for their new covers album Stuff Like That There, especially for its hilarious music video that is perfect for any Monday.
Pitchfork has a handy guide to a list of the best books of the 33 1/3 series, which allows writers to examine classic albums through a variety of perspectives. We can vouch for the excellence of the entry on In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and one of these days we will pick up a few more selections.
King Tuff wrote the best T. Rex song you’ve heard in decades with “Black Moon Spell”, the title track off of their recent album, and for five minutes the listener is transported back to the early-70’s and the heyday of glam rock. It was one of the best singles of 2014, and while the rest of Black Moon Spell doesn’t quite reach the heights of its opener, the record still has its charms. Kyle Thomas (aka King Tuff himself) shows a knack for writing fun and infectious melodies that are quick and to the point, and knocks out dozens of memorable fuzzed-out guitar lines that will rattle around in your mind long after the record has finished playing.
I first heard King Tuff when they opened for Wavves on their Afraid of Heights tour, and one can easily see how those two groups could find common ground, as they share an irreverent attitude and a commitment to stoned-out rock. King Tuff ingratiated themselves with the crowd that night with displays of both their humor and musicianship, and I made a note to keep an eye on them for the future. “Black Moon Spell” made the effort worthwhile, as I quickly fell into the spell of its captivating groove, with its memorably hypnotic riff that brilliantly plays around the contours of its chord progression. It may not be high art, but goddammit does it ever rock, and most of the album follows that template.
Most will point to the obvious inspirations of Diamond Dogs-era Bowie and the aforementioned T. Rex, but it is the unexpected influence of another generation that helps make Black Moon Spell sound fresh enough for modern audiences, that of mid-90’s indie rock. King Tuff filters the touchstones of glam-rock through the lens of the Elephant 6 sound, namely the psychedelic pop experimentation of The Apples In Stereo and the Olivia Tremor Control. The bright and sunny attitude that is prevalent throughout the album immediately recalls Robert Schneider and his group, while elements as diverse as the lo-fi “I Love You Ugly” and the quick sound collage from the mesmerizing ballad “Staircase of Diamonds” bring to mind memories of the latter band, with King Tuff’s vocals emphasizing the melodic sides of both bands.
King Tuff’s approach of glam-via-the-garage makes helps make Black Moon Spell an intriguing and often-exciting album, but it does drag a bit in spots, even with most songs racing by at around two minutes apiece. The album sags a bit toward the end, which is why this recommendation is being published months after its initial release; though many of the songs are not intended to leave much of a lasting impression, a lot of the songs after the mid-way point end up being rather disposable and probably should have been excised. However, even these tracks grow on you after multiple listens, so even this minor caveat should not discourage you from throwing on some face paint rocking some platform shoes with King Tuff, at least for forty minutes or so.
Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original. If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before.
Dirty Projectors broke through in a big way in 2009 with their release Bitte Orca; though the album didn’t sell that many copies (which, let’s be honest, was to be expected, considering the experimental nature of their work as well as the decline in sales across the music industry overall), it garnered a massive amount of praise and ended up on countless Best Of lists. At the very least, it earned the group substantial buzz and a placement on the strangest triple-bill I’ve ever seen–playing Madison Square Garden with Wavves and headliner Phoenix (plus a special appearance from Daft Punk(!)). I will never forget looking across the arena that night and seeing thousands of faces that were alternately bewildered by the complex time signatures and odd vocal inflections of the group or merely bored by the lack of instantly-accessible melodies and wondering when those guys with that one song they really liked were going to show up.
“Stillness Is The Move” was a highlight of Bitte Orca for many fans, even if it strayed a bit from the usual Dirty Projectors formula (as much as there is such a “formula”). Dave Longstreth’s yelps don’t make an appearance on this track, as the group’s three female vocalists (Amber Coffman, Angel Deradoorian, and Haley Dekle) provide the harmonies, though his intricate and unique guitar style makes a distinct impression. The guitar is paired with a glitchy upper-register bass part which helps provide a skittering counterpoint; though the two parts have two markedly different rhythmic patterns, they somehow fit together in a pleasing groove. But the true power of the song is the gorgeous interweaving melodies of the vocals, which will have you humming along long after the track is over.
She may be remembered more for her antics inside an elevator with her sister and brother-in-law last year, but there was a time where Solange attempted to step outside of Beyonce’s shadow by launching a music career of her own. Though we seem to be coming closer everyday to becoming ruled politically by a coupleofdynasties, the public has been less accepting of nepotism in the music industry for the most part, and as a result few remember Solange’s brief career. If Solange is remembered at all, it’s generally as a punchline.
However, there was one brief shining moment to her career that is worth revisiting, and that is her cover of “Stillness Is The Move.” Solange displays great vocal dexterity in her handling of the song’s complex melodies, allowing her to show off her range and musicality. It’s an impressive display of musicianship in its own right, but the true power of her cover is how it develops and embellishes the strengths of the original. The cover emphasizes the deep rhythmic groove, showing that hiding underneath all the usual indie rock trappings there was a soulful R&B song; though it’s hardly definitive evidence, a quick look at the way the singers dance in the original music video helps confirm this assertion. The interweaving guitar and bass parts in the original may interact with each other in an elaborate manner, but they’re actually held together by a simple drum groove that drives the song.
Additionally, Solange’s vocals help illustrate the technical achievements of the original. Subsequent listens revealed how the trio was able to bounce around difficult intervals and odd rhythmic accents with ease, which I had glossed over initially. With that in mind, I can’t say that Solange’s version is the superior one, though she does a great job of making it her own, but that it’s still an excellent performance because of the way that it found new qualities in the original that had previously been overlooked.
Today is April 15, and while the rest of the nation celebrates Tax Day, we here at Rust Is Just Right choose this occasion to release our Best Albums of the Year list. To be technical, this is our first such list since the site was launched only a few months ago, but this is a practice that I’ve personally done for a few years now. There are a few of reasons for this: 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) I get the chance to analyze other lists to pick up on albums that somehow escaped my 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. That said, it is in the process of being patented and trademarked, so I can say that it’s not simply a look at my iTunes playcount for the year. Actually, that is what it is exactly, but I’ll choose to believe in your good faith that you won’t steal The Process. On to the list!
Note: Though the list is a Top 10, there are more albums than slots, because I 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.
We already have a surprise courtesy of The Process, as I didn’t think that Mosquito would perform so well. The first single “Sacrilege” had me really excited for the album, but there was no other song that really matched its heights. It was a bit of a letdown after the great It’s Blitz!, so my response to it may be harsher than it should be. The Terror on the other hand was a new high point for The Flaming Lips; with the band involved in so many projects and gimmicks, there were legitimate fears that the creative well may have been running a bit dry, but the Lips responded with an album that showed that even after 30 years the band still has new directions to explore. Long known for their happy outlook on life, the band channeled inner turmoil (Steve Drozd’s relapse, Wayne Coyne’s separation from his partner) and created a dark, disturbing album that often plays like an hour-long version of the horrifying “Frankie Teardrop”, incorporating new elements like krautrock influences and drum machines. The only reason it’s not higher on the list is you really need to prepare yourself to handle the despair that is prevalent throughout the album (though there are moments of pure beauty). With Th!!!er, !!! may have won Album Name of the Year, but they also back it up with some of the best songs of their career. I’m a sucker for their dance-punk style, and I highly recommend seeing these guys live. It’s fun to see a bunch of people who normally don’t dance groove to songs like “One Girl/One Boy”.
9). (7 plays) Foals – Holy Fire; The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law; Low – The Invisible Way; Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks; Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold; Pearl Jam – Lightning Bolt; Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels.
Normally, I would say that Pearl Jam exists outside the scope of “lists”, but one cannot argue with The Process. I haven’t delved deep into my love of the band since starting this site, so for those of you unfamiliar with my passion for the band, I’ll try to sum it up like this: I’ve been to hundreds of shows over the years, and when people ask me for my all-time greatest concerts, I tell them there’s a Pearl Jam list and a non-Pearl Jam list.
As for the others, I’ll offer a few quick thoughts. Foals have been underrated for a while now, and by my calculations “My Number” should have been as big a summer hit as “Get Lucky”. The Joy Formidable put on one of the best shows I saw last year, and I’m a big fan of how the sweetness of the vocals contrast with the heaviness of the music, but all done in a very melodic way. There wasn’t a big hit like “Whirring” on this album, but “This Ladder Is Ours” should have been. Nine Inch Nails returned with a very good comeback album–I loved the incorporation of more minimalist ideas, which made it an exceedingly interesting dance record. And it’s amazing that Low once again produced an amazing album, and I hardly saw any mention of it on the year-end lists. Invisible Way saw the band returning to the more delicate sounds pre-Drums and Guns, but it was definitely not a simple rehash.
Light Up Gold is a perfect example of reason number two up above, as I heard nothing about this album before I saw it on a few year-end lists. This catchy and too-smart-for-probably-its-own-good soon became a go-to in my car stereo. You have to love a band that makes the point that “Socrates died in the fucking gutter.”
As for Run The Jewels, I’ll say this: it’s hard to believe that one of the best albums of the year was given away for free earlier this year. And it received a small fraction of the attention of Magna Carta Holy Grail.
8). (8 plays) Franz Ferdinand – Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action; Kanye West – Yeezus; The Thermals – Desperate Ground.
I was glad to see Franz Ferdinand return from hiatus alive and kicking. After some experimentation with Tonight, the band decided to go back to their old sound and play to their own strengths–a lot of good, hook-filled rock songs (for the record, I was a fan of Tonight, but hey, I understand the calculus). The Thermals made a similar return to their roots: after the reflective Personal Life, the band decided to keep the songs short and the tempos fast, with the furious Desperate Ground.
Vampire Weekend got a lot of credit for their show of maturity on their third album, and a lot of it is deserved–Modern Vampires is an excellent rumination on love and faith. That said, it wasn’t as great a leap as some critics made it out to be; I thought that Contra showed that the band was creative enough to find a way to connect their niche sound with other genres and still remain true to their identity. So while this is a very good album, it’s not quite the “Album of the Year”.
I’m much more surprised about the latest album from Sigur Rós. I found Valtari to be a real low point, an album that often struggled to find any semblance of creativity or inspiration, and it just seemed like an ambient mess. So when the band released Kveikur so quickly after Valtari, I was pretty skeptical. But holy shit, this sounds like a band reborn. It’s a much more aggressive album, an adjective that is rarely associated with the band, and bears some (dare I say?) metal influences.
5). (11 plays) Arctic Monkeys – AM; The Besnard Lakes – Until in Excess, Imperceptible UFO.
The instant I heard “Do I Wanna Know?”, I knew I would love this album; I just didn’t know that it would turn out to revive their career here in the States. It’s a huge improvement over the good-but-unmemorable Suck It And See and the completely forgettable Humbug, and it wins my coveted award of “Night Driver of the Year”.
I’ve been a longtime fan of The Besnard Lakes, a band far more deserving of some of the plaudits that another Canadian band whose absence you may notice from this list. If there were actual justice in this world, they’d be headlining arenas, but I’m glad I get to see them perform spellbinding sets in tiny venues like the Doug Fir. I initially was not impressed with the new album, mainly because I had been hoping that they could use some of the huge hooks from Roaring Night and hopefully catapult into the mainstream; but once I accepted the album for what it was, I was able to appreciate the subtle melodies and beautiful atmosphere.
4). (12 plays) Deafheaven – Sunbather; My Bloody Valentine – m b v.
My Bloody Valentine shocked the world when they announced that they were immediately releasing their long-awaited follow-up to Loveless. Servers were in a constant state of crashing as music buffs around the world rushed to download the album, but eventually we all got our copy. Was it worth the over two-decade wait? If you based it on trash like “Nothing Is”, then you would say no, but then you hear the gorgeous “Only Tomorrow” with its monumental guitar solo, and all is forgiven, because you are reminded that while there are thousands of bands that were inspired by them, there is truly only one My Bloody Valentine.
Sunbather might be the most surprising album on my list, because while there is a lot of heavy metal that I do enjoy, it’s usually not of the black metal variety. However, Deafheaven uses the banshee wail-type vocals to their advantage, as they blend in with the walls of guitar. If I had my preference, it wouldn’t be the style I choose, if only because it becomes hard to distinguish what are actually some pretty decent lyrics (an exchange like “‘I’m dying.’ ‘Is it blissful?’ ‘It’s like a dream.’ ‘I want to dream.'” read great on the page, but impossible to pick out when sung). That said, the actual music is pretty goddamn brilliant. I’m going to explore them in a future Feats of Strength, but I’ll say that the last half of “The Pecan Tree” was probably the best music I heard all year, but to understand its full brilliance you need to hear the 55 minutes of brutality that came before it.
3. (16 plays) Wavves – Afraid of Heights.
Wavves received the best press and sales of their career with King of the Beach, and to follow it up they release an album filled with cynicism and paranoia and plain old depression. But they made it fun as hell. I have to give a lot of respect who released a single that got actual radio airplay whose chorus is “Holding a gun to my head, so send me an angel; or bury me deeply instead, with demons to lean on”. And they played it on Letterman.
2. (17 plays) Queens of the Stone Age – ...LikeClockwork.
This one of the best albums of QOTSA’s career, and that’s saying something since they’ve released several classic albums already. It’s a brilliant mix of their desert rock with gothic horror. It’s hard for me to think of much more to say than that, because I’m still bitter thinking how not one person on the AV Club staff gave this album a single vote.
1. (20 plays) The National – Trouble Will Find Me.
In the end, the list was topped off by what I would have predicted at the beginning of the year, but when I first listened to Trouble Will Find Me this was not a foregone conclusion. But like other albums from The National before it, what initially sounded like a shapeless bore gradually revealed its subtle strength and beauty. Melodies become more apparent, and dynamics become more evident; often it’s not drastic loud-soft contrast, but a gradual intensity that builds throughout in a song. Each listen brings about a new favorite; first it was “Sea of Love”, then it was “Pink Rabbits” followed by “Don’t Swallow the Cap”. Lately, it’s been “Graceless”, a powerful look at attempts to shake the melancholy stemming from a past relationship, filled with great lines like “God loves everybody–don’t remind me” and “all of my thoughts of you: bullets through rotten fruit.” After a few listens, you notice things like the shift halfway between “graceless” and “grace” that occurs in the lyrics, and the gradual buildup of intensity in Matt Berninger’s voice as he powers through the song. It’s perfect that an album that rewards multiple listens takes the top spot.
We have a few #longreads and some new music news for you this weekend, so if you didn’t have plans, you’re now in luck.
First, we got a bit of a surprise today when The Antlers posted a quick clip on YouTube that seems like a teaser for an announcement for an upcoming new album. There’s not much to go on, besides a solemn instrumental, some band footage, and a final quote of “soon.”, but this is exciting nonetheless. If you don’t feel the same way, then you need to spend your weekend finding a copy of Hospice, one of the most heart-breakingly beautiful albums of the past decade, and Burst Apart, their more-than-worthy followup so you can get into the proper mindset.
Beck is continuing to open up and talk in the wake of the release of Morning Phase, and FILTER did a great piece on him. We learn for instance that unfortunately there were a couple of albums that were lost, so we were never able to hear the original followups to Odelay and Sea Change as they were intended. We also get some insight into his creative process over the years, like how old ideas are shaped into new songs. And we also get a bit more information about the planned new album that hopefully will be released by the end of the year.
Finally, there’s a lot for all the Cloud Nothings fans out there. We’re eagerly anticipating the release of Here and Nowhere Else next week, but apparently that’s not the only new music we’ll be hearing from Dylan Baldi. Cloud Nothings and Wavves decided to collaborate, and it looks like we may soon hear the fruits of their labor (with the additional help of Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend as well, it seems). The band also gave a quick description of their early shows to Clash Magazine, who interviewed several artists including Los Campesinos! about their first gigs. And finally, Pitchfork did an extensive profile of the band, which should have you fully prepared for their release on Tuesday.