Waxahatchee

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.

Review: Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp

Every week, I grow more and more convinced that the 90’s will never die.  Even if the music of the era will never dominate the airwaves like it did in its heyday, personally I feel it’s a good thing that there will forever be an undercurrent that will think getting a couple of friends together to bang out something with a few simple guitar chords with a few clever lyrics over the top is a great idea.  Though this gives the listener a basic idea of the DIY aesthetic of the album, it is but an oversimplification of what makes Waxahatchee’s new album Ivy Tripp such an engaging listen.

Waxahatchee first captured the attention of critics and listeners with Cerulean Salt, a charming lo-fi take on folk with a bit of a punk attitude that functioned more or less as a Katie Crutchfield solo album.  With Ivy Tripp, Crutchfield keeps the lo-fi spirit alive, but for the first time Waxahatchee feels more like the effort of a full-fledged group.  The band maintains a loose, low-stakes feel with much of the music, with the slightly off-time bass and off-kilter drums on “<“ providing a perfect example, or the breezy, easygoing ballad “Summer of Love”, a simple acoustic ode to a companion whose identity is revealed with a barking cameo at the end.

There are other moments where the group snaps into focus, like the mid-90’s indie rock throwback “Under a Rock”, with its bass countermelodies and drum fills lining up perfectly with the song’s big hooks.  Waxahatchee also shines when it steps out of their comfort zone and explores unfamiliar territory, as in the slow groove of “Air” or the spare “Breathless”, with its simple, distorted synth melody accented by the occasional feedback-tinged guitar divebomb.  Ivy Tripp effectively switches between these styles, keeping the listener’s attention throughout without ever sounding the least bit disjointed.

 

Ivy Tripp is an excellent step forward for Waxahatchee, as it reminds listeners of the highlights of Cerulean Salt while pushing forward into new musical directions.  This time around, Waxahatchee maintains their DIY spirit, but wraps that feeling up in a package filled with big hooks that encourages repeated listens.  Ivy Tripp may evoke nostalgic sentiments from a couple of decades ago, but Waxahatchee puts their own unique stamp on it that the album never sounds like a 90’s jukebox of indie rock’s greatest hits.

Catching Up On The Week (Apr. 3 Edition)

Some #longreads as you prepare for April showers…

If you’re in the part of the country where the gradual shift into spring has begun, with all of its resultant precipitation (as captured in the above line), you may be feeling a little bummed.  However, you should not despair that it’s not safe to lounge around outside quite yet; instead, head to the garage and start working on that album you always said you would make.  The AV Club has a primer on garage rock bands to help provide you with the necessary inspiration.

Or if there is too much crap cluttering up your garage, you can head to the basement and record down there.  Stereogum has a piece celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the lo-fi classic Alien Lanes from Guided By Voices to give you a blueprint.  If GBV can crank out 28 songs for this album, then you can manage to at least write one song, right?

Perhaps you still need help in finding a particular sound.  Then I recommend reading this essay from frontman William DuVall of the reunited version of Alice In Chains, wherein he discusses the pivotal songs that shaped his guitar playing.  He has some great suggestions, including this classic.

One of the big releases this week was Death Cab For Cutie’s Kintsugi, and to help provide some background on the album you can read this SPIN interview with the band.  For those of you wishing to dive into the back catalog of the group, lead singer Ben Gibbard provides a roadmap with this Vulture piece that details his favorite songs from each record.

Finally, Pitchfork has profiles on two wildly different artists, one with rapper Earl Sweatshirt and the other with Katie Crutchfield, who performs lo-fi rock as Waxahatchee, while Rolling Stone introduces its readers to Thundercat, who was one of the creative forces behind Kendrick Lamar’s latest album.

Over the Weekend (Jan. 12 Edition)

Videos, live performances, lists, and general news as we determine the superior “O” state once and for all…

We left a ton of material on the table for today’s post, and with the flurry of news this morning our roundup is even more overstuffed than usual.  So let’s dive right in with the surprise release of the music video for the Beastie Boys track “Too Many Rappers”, featuring Nas in both audio and visual form.  While it’s sad to remember that Hot Sauce Committee Part Two will be the last album we ever hear from the Beasties, but it’s certainly great to have some more footage of the crew having fun together.

NPR has streams for two highly-anticipated new albums available this week.  First, there’s the long-awaited return of critical darlings and Pacific Northwest favorites Sleater-Kinney, who are releasing their first album in ten years next week with No Cities to Love.  Then there’s the self-titled debut of Viet Cong, who have garnered a ridiculous amount of buzz among various indie blogs in the past couple of months.  I don’t yet have the same enthusiasm, though it may take a few more listens of their noisy guitar rock to convince me.

Ghostface Killah seemingly never stops working, because after releasing his solo album 36 Seasons last month (and appearing on The Wu-Tang Clan’s A Better Tomorrow), he’s set to release another album next month.  This time it’s a collaboration with BADBADNOTGOOD, with their record Sour Soul set to be released February 17.  Their latest track, “Ray Gun”, features a guest spot from DOOM and has a nice grimy funk feel, complemented by some gorgeous strings.  Stereogum has more information, including links to previously released tracks, for your perusal.

There’s also a trio of album releases that were announced this morning.  Death Cab For Cutie is releasing Kintsugi on March 31st and will be their first album “without” founding guitarist Chris Walla, who while no longer a member of the band still has a presence on the album.  Sufjan Stevens is releasing Carrie & Lowell on the same day, which we can take as further proof that the “50 States” project is dead.  And Waxahatchee will be releasing Ivy Tripp on April 7th, and you should probably click the link because Pitchfork has helpfully included the new track “Air”.  We were big fans of her previous album Cerulean Salt, and while this sounds a bit more polished than that lo-fi classic, sounding like a stripped-down Joy Formidable is something we can support.

It’s disappointing that a once-vibrant genre as Country has become just a bunch of homogenized pablum, and worse yet is the fact that every year it continues to get worse.  The genre has just  become Nickelback with a half-assed over-enunciated Southern accent, and that’s a damn shame.  The thing is, consumers are at least partly to blame, since as The Atlantic points out, uniformity is what sells.

Last week featured some great musical guests on the Late Night shows, including performances from such RIJR favorites The War On Drugs (who performed the epic “An Ocean In Between The Waves” on The Tonight Show) and Parquet Courts delivering a dynamite version of “Bodies Made of” on Letterman, a song that initially sounds like a poor choice for the national stage until it gets to its epic breakdown.  But the standout of the week was Foxygen and Star Power performing “How Can You Really” on The Late Show, which prompted an enthusiastic response from Dave himself.

We here at Rust Is Just Right are always down for hearing more from Spoon, so we are pleased to share their appearance on Austin City Limits over the weekend as well as their guest spot on Sound Opinions.  We’ll see if we can go the rest of the week without mentioning them, but don’t bet on it.

And finally, a couple of fun lists that can either be used as a discovery tool or merely as argument fodder.  Stereogum has a list of “30 Essential Post-Rock” songs which along with usual suspects Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Rós, and Explosions in the Sky includes several other bands that may not be as well known, though this may partially be due to a broad definition of “post-rock”.  You can have an argument about that specific topic as well as the following list from Complex, which goes through each year since 1979 to anoint “The Best Rapper Alive”.

Best of the Rest: Other Highlights from 2013

Even with our expanded Best-Of list courtesy of The Process, there were still a ton of great albums released last year that were worthy of recognition.  Since we here at Rust Is Just Right are big believers in spreading all good music, we’re going to put a spotlight on some other great records that you may have overlooked from the past year.

EELS – Wonderful, Glorious.  It had begun to seem as if Eels were stuck in a rut, with a trio of dour albums (Hombre LoboEnd TimesTomorrow Morning) that were difficult for even a superfan like me to listen to on an regular basis.  But E switched up the formula a bit and even sounds “happy” with this album.  And the live show for the tour for this album was quite great as well, a kind of variety-show getup with everyone dressed in monochrome tracksuits and sporting the same facial hair.

No Age – An Object.  No Age have always been a band that’s difficult to appreciate on first listen, but even fans of their abrasive sound (whether it be riotous punk rock or feedback-drenched ambient) weren’t sure how to respond to An Object.  In many ways it was built more like an art project than just “the next album from No Age”, and surprisingly it often worked.

Phosphorescent – Muchacho. This country-tinged indie folk album is a real treat to listen to on a relaxing, sunny day, but would still be worth it if it only included the reworking of “Wicked Game” that we didn’t know we needed in 2013 with “The Quotidian Beasts”.

Red Fang – Whales and Leeches.  I always love hearing my favorite hometown metal band, so it was surprising that they didn’t manage to make it onto the official list.  Such is the mysterious ways of The Process.  It seems that touring with Mastodon rubbed off on them a bit, as one could definitely hear their influence on the album (my initial comparison was “Mastodon on amphetamines”, and I think that it still fits).  And good news, Red Fang is still making great music videos.

David Bowie – The Next Day.  Can we just pause a minute and recognize how awesome it is that it’s 2014 and David Bowie can just surprise the world with a damn good album 45 years into his career?  The album isn’t perfect, but there are some songs that would fit comfortably aside the old classics on a Greatest Hits.

Los Campesinos! – No Blues.  I keep telling everyone to go to one of their shows because it’ll probably be the most fun you’ll have all year, and I’ll continue to do so.  No Blues sees the band continuing with the mature sound from Hello, Sadness but with a slightly more positive outlook.

Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady.  It’s hard to keep track of the narrative about robots and revolution, but the music is fantastic.  Seeing her perform with OutKast was one of the highlights of Coachella.

The Knife – Shaking the Habitual.  I hadn’t understood the love that some people had for this band until I heard this album.  It’s bizarre, but I like it.

Death Grips – Government Plates.  Who knew we hadn’t heard the last from Death Grips?  My favorite part is that when I downloaded the album, it was automatically tagged as “Rock & Roll”.  If you are unfamiliar with their music, well…

Also Worthy of Praise

Speedy Ortiz – Major Arcana; Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt; Ghostface Killah – Twelve Reasons to Die; Moonface – Julia With Blue Jeans On; Tim Hecker – Virgins; Neko Case –  The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You; Washed Out – Paracosm.

All Albums That Were Considered

Here’s a list of the albums that I listened to last year, in full.  Most of these were quite good and worthy of repeated listens, but they just couldn’t crack the previous lists.  And I’m not going to do something like say the new albums from The Strokes or Black Rebel Motorcycle Club were complete garbage, because that wouldn’t be nice.

Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest; Daft Punk – Random Access Memories; Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze; The Strokes – Comedown Machine; Surfer Blood – Pythons; Atoms for Peace – Amok; Ducktails – The Flower Lane; Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Specter at the Feast; British Sea Power – Machineries of Joy; The Dismemberment Plan – Uncanney Valley; M.I.A. – Matangi; Palms – Palms; Phoenix – Bankrupt!; Cold War Kids – Dear Miss Lonelyhearts; Deerhunter – Monomania; Jake Bugg – Shangri-La; Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God; MGMT – MGMT; Mudhoney – Vanishing Point; Yo la Tengo – Fade; Beach Fossils – Clash the Truth; Fitz & The Tantrums – More Than Just a Dream; Alice in Chains – The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here; The Appleseed Cast – Illumination Ritual; Chelsea Light Moving – Chelsea Light Moving; Darkside – Psychic; The Dear Hunter – Migrant; Dr. Dog – B-Room; How to Destroy Angels – Welcome Oblivion; Kavinsky – OutRun; Major Lazer – Free the Universe; Of Montreal – Lousy With Sylvianbriar; Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven; Ra Ra Riot – Beta Love; Talib Kweli – Prisoner of Conscious; Tyler, the Creator – Wolf; Typhoon – White Lighter; Baths – Obsidian.