Due to the global pandemic, there was a disruption to “The Process” in constructing our annual best-of list for the year. However, we still wanted to recognize that music was in fact released during these difficult times, and sometimes it was even quite good. So once again, for the purposes of our records (and your shopping list), here are our favorite albums from the past year.
10. Idles – Ultra Mono; EOB – Earth
9. Wolf Parade – Thin Mind; Moaning – Uneasy Laughter
8. Fleet Foxes – SHORE; Muzz – Muzz
7. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters; Cults – Host; Deftones – Ohms
6. Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud; Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
5. Pearl Jam – Gigaton; Hum – Inlet; The Strokes – The New Abnormal
4. X – Alphabetland; Washed Out – Purple Noon
3. Run the Jewels – RTJ4; Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today
Today is April 17, 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.
10. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps; Fleet Foxes – The Crack-Up; Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers; Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory; Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy; Wolf Parade – Cry Cry Cry (7 plays)
It should come to no surprise for our readers the band who inspired our site’s name would crack our Top Ten with our return, though their low placement on the list may raise some eyebrows. While their return has enough artistic merit to make it more than a simple cash-in on instant nostalgia, Cry Cry Cry lacked the standout songs that marked Wolf Parade’s previous work, with the album seeming to be more competent than anything. Still, the one-two punch of Dan Boeckner’s “Artificial Life” and Spencer Krug’s “King of Piss and Paper” (reversed for the video) should alleviate the worries of any fans that the Canadian supergroup still has gas left in the tank.
Wolf Parade, at the Crystal Ballroom
Tyler, the Creator bounced back from a couple of forgettable efforts with an ambitious album that recalls why fans were so impressed with the Odd Future crew back when “Yonkers” first hit, mixing bangers with surprisingly introspective tracks. We’ll leave the discussion about the lyrical prowess of Vince Staples to others (they never really impressed us that much, but the words aren’t usually our focus), but the beats on Big Fish Theory were a goddamn revelation considering the malaise that seems to be spreading over modern hip-hop these days. We’re not sure what gets the party going with the kids these days, but bump Vince’s latest on your headphones and you should be set for one heart-pumping adventure.
Much like Dinosaur Jr., another iconic alternative group, Godspeed has shown new life after their return from their prolonged hiatus. However, as good as their recent albums have been, they seem to be following a similar arc where the third album doesn’t quite have the juice of its two predecessors. That said, the climax of “Bosses Hang” is exactly what we need these days.
9. Dieg Cig – Swear I’m Good at This; The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding (8 plays)
What can we say–we love duos. The mix of the sugar-sweet vocals with the propulsive punk makes Diet Cig a welcome addition to the garage rock revival. The War on Drugs exceeded our expectations; we had begun to get tired of the band’s style (and had read too many critiques of their sound), so we weren’t exactly pumped for their latest. However, there are plenty of songs on Understanding which will make the band’s eventual Greatest Hits release. That said, we pray that on the next album Adam Granduciel learns you can use drum patterns besides ones that hit on 2 and 4.
The War on Drugs, at the Crystal Ballroom
8. Alvvays – Antisocialites; Beck – Colors; LCD Soundsystem – American Dream; Protomartyr – Relatives in Descent (9 plays)
Alvvays went a bit darker with their follow-up to their self-titled debut, and added new textures to their indie-pop sound. Beck finally released his often-teased follow-up to the Album of the Year winning Morning Phase, and while it seems the rest of the country wasn’t psyched for a return of “fun” Beck, we found this album plenty enjoyable. Beck may have fussed over individual sounds endlessly before the release of Colors, but repeated listens prove it was well worth the effort. LCD Soundsystem was another welcome return of indie rock royalty, and though it seems they may have stalled a bit creatively after their wonderful initial three album run, “Call the Police” was worth the price of admission in and of itself (though we wish they could have found a way to include the teaser single “Christmas Will Break Your Heart” on the album). Protomartyr further honed their sound of post-punk mixed with the ravings of an esoteric college professor. Relatives was not as initially catchy as The Agent Intellect, so it may discourage new fans, but eventually it hooks your way into your brain–see how the line “She’s just trying to reach you” keeps repeating throughout and how it fits with the themes of the record. The lyric from the Michigan band of “It’s been leaded by snider men to make profit from the poor” might be the best line from 2017, but it’s the following line I keep repeating in my head: “I don’t want to hear those vile trumpets anymore.”
Protomartyr, at the Doug Fir
7. Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder; The National – Sleep Well Beast (10 plays)
Hug of Thunder might be the most consistent front-to-back record in the BSS catalog, with several songs that are just really damn uplifting.
Broken Social Scene, at the Crystal Ballroom
By contrast, Sleep Well Beast is a step down for The National, but they’ve been on fire since Alligator and you can’t expect them to maintain perfection forever. The electronic flourishes to the album are a nice touch, and there are several standout songs that will be great additions to the average setlist. Simply put, the album gets dinged only because it pales in comparison to their recent string of successes.
The National, at the Schnitz
6. Death From Above 1979 – Outrage! Is Now; Queens of the Stone Age – Villains; Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3 (11 plays)
Death From Above officially dropped the “1979” from their name, but it’s going to take us a while to get used to it. However, we are thrilled that the return to form of The Physical World was no mere fluke, and we’re exceedingly pleased to see the band continue to evolve. At first, it may seems the album dips in the middle, but after a few times through it becomes clear the forays into sludgier metal riffs are a welcome evolution for the duo (and will help save the stamina of a singing drummer). Hell, see how easy they make metal look with the hard-hitting opener, “Nomad”. We may overrate these guys compared to others, but honestly, we have no idea why “Freeze Me” wasn’t a bigger summer hit.
Death From Above, at the Roseland
It took a few times though to get on the same wavelength as QOTSA for their latest, with our initial impression being that a few of the better songs would have worked just fine as Eagles of Death Metal tracks instead. But once we got lost in the sound and feel of the record, we began to appreciate it more. Also, “Villains of Circumstance” will be remembered as one of their best ever.
Queens of the Stone Age, at the Hult Center
RTJ is in a strange position, because the schedule of their leak and official release had them straddling the line between 2016 and 2017 lists, but this feels like the right spot for them (if we included every single listen since its release, it would tie for the top spot). RTJ3 isn’t as lean as its predecessors, but there’s plenty here that will leave listeners longing to hear the continuing saga of Jamie and Mikey.
Run the Jewels, at the Crystal Ballroom
5. Joey Bada$$ – All-Amerikkkan Bada$$; The xx – I See You (12 plays)
A couple of surprises make it into the top half of the list! We were not impressed with Joey’s debut, but All-Amerikkan Bada$$ is an impressive step forward, effectively mixing groovy R&B and political hip-hop.
We thought The xx had already begun running out of creativity with the decent Coexist, but it turns out there is still juice left in their minimalist indie rock. Who knew you could make introverted love songs so danceable?
4. Big K.R.I.T. – 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time (13 plays)
Big K.R.I.T.’s ambitious new record easily slides into the trinity of Wu-Tang Forever and All Eyez on Me on the list of greatest hip-hop double albums. Though nominally split between his two personalities with the party anthem heavy “Big K.R.I.T.” and the introspective gospel-tinged “Justin Scott”, the album flows just fine as one long piece. Hell, even the few skits on the album can be listened to more than once!
3. Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound; Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins; Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life (14 plays)
Now here’s a triumvirate you would expect from us. Japandroids got an early jump on everybody with a January release, which partially explains their high ranking on this list, though we don’t want you to put too much in that disclaimer. Wild Heart of Life is a half-brilliant, half-decent album, which explains our reluctance to fully commit to any direction in our assessment. The title track opener is an all-time great for the band, and the run from “Midnight to Morning”, “No Known Drink or Drug”, and “In a Body Like a Grave” finish the album on a rousing note. It’s the middle songs which sag, though we appreciate them as experimental forays necessary for a duo who wish to have a long career.
Japandroids, at Revolution Hall
Grizzly Bear once again returns with an album that sounds great on headphones, begging for you to pick out more and more details with each listen, all in a style that’s perfect for either driving in the car or listening late at night.
Grizzly Bear, at the Roseland
Cloud Nothings made the most consistently brilliant punk record of the year, and goddammit I hope that band keeps moving on to bigger and better things.
After the overflowing To Pimp a Butterfly, a record that placed a lot of its emphasis on being a complete album, it seemed Kendrick was coming back with a series of hard-hitting singles–“Humble.” and “DNA.” were huge, aggressive tracks which got everybody fired up for the release. The initial impression of DAMN. as a series of singles eventually proved to be incorrect, as Kendrick revealed more of the thought process behind the album. For us, though, the switch was flipped when the “Collector’s Edition” was released, which flipped the tracklisting from back-to-front. All of a sudden, the album seemed to have a much better flow, and its themes became more readily apparent.
What more can be said about Spoon? The band is incapable of releasing a less-than-great album at this point, and Hot Thoughts shows off a fun side that had been hiding in the background for a few years at this point. Britt and the guys walk the tightrope of staying true to their “sound” while not repeating themselves–for example, the funky “Can I Sit Next To You” fits right alongside their early hit “I Turn My Camera On” without it being a rehash.
Spoon, at the McDonald Theater
We love the whole album, but we’re going to keep the somber “I Ain’t the One” and the relevant-to-these-times “Tear It Down” on repeat.
1. Slowdive – Slowdive (17 plays)
The return of My Bloody Valentine may have inspired more ink, but we appreciated the return of the other titans of shoegaze more. Slowdive fits right in next to Souvlaki and Just for a Day, but doesn’t feel like a mere revival of their early-90’s peak. The music is as gorgeous as ever, venturing from the delicate haunting vocals in the ballads to the big rush of guitars in the epics.
Slowdive, at the Crystal Ballroom
We’re not sure if we’ll look back in ten years and definitively say we made the right choice on the number one album of 2017, but we’re confident in saying we’ll still love the hell out of this album.
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.
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.
Some #longreads as you enjoy the cool autumn weather…
This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the release of Wolf Parade’s Apologies to the Queen Mary, and considering we named this site after a lyric from the album, we think this is a rather significant milestone. Even after hundreds and hundreds of spins, the album still captivates our attention and remains one of our favorites. We may write our own appreciation in the future, but for now, feel free to read Stereogum’s appreciation of this classic album.
Rust Is Just Right is not a very large operation, so we may overlook some albums when they are first released. However, when we eventually catch up and listen to some of these records, we are not going to let the fact that we are ten months behind stop us from writing a review. The point of all this introductory nonsense is to explain why we are reviewing the debut album from Ought in February of 2015 even though it was released in April of 2014, but the only necessary reason should be that More Than Any Other Day is a fantastic rock record that electrifies the listener with both its furious energy and its thought-provoking experimentalism.
The quickest description that I could use to describe Ought’s sound is “Alec Ounsworth fronting a Fugazi-inspired punk band”, but as you should expect, relying on the reductionist rock-crit namedrop cliche does not paint a full picture. Tim Beeler’s vocals do mostly recall Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, but that doesn’t cover the spectrum of emotions and contortions that his voice undergoes to match the twists and turns of the music. For instance, Beeler’s use of dynamics in songs like “Clarity!” bring to mind the theatrics of the Violent Femmes, and that dramatic touch helps create a memorable, slow-burning epic. He may not have the the most extensive vocal range, but his speak-sing style is effectively used in a song like “Around Again”, as when the band stops and Beeler asks “Why is it you can’t stare into the sun but you can stick your head into a bucket of water and breathe in deep?”
Musically speaking, Ought blurs the line between punk and post-punk, and in the process does an excellent job of making the lives of critics that much more difficult–in other words, it is not as easy to define the distinction as it is with, say, Viet Cong. Ought often does engage in the full-fledged fury of a more traditional punk band, but they still allow room for experimental sonic elements that makes it hard to pin down to a single genre. Consider the catchy and frenetic “The Weather Song”, which veers from a jittery verse into frenzied finish that is reminiscent of Wolf Parade (especially with the unusual presence of keyboards), as well as “Forgiveness”, whose use of a violin as a drone adds in a touch of the Velvet Underground to the band’s sound. I am unsure what is more impressive: the fact that from song to song, it is almost impossible to pin down where Ought will go next, yet the band switches gears in a way that doesn’t give the listener whiplash, or the fact that despite the fact one can spot all these diverse influences rather easily, the band organically incorporates these elements into their sound so well that one cannot pin the “copycat” label on them.
Though only eight songs long, More Than Any Other Day is a dense but rewarding album that reveals itself on multiple listens. Initially, the most striking element of “Today, More Than Any Other Day” is probably its dramatic tempo and stylistic shifts. Then you may notice the odd lines of “I am excited to go grocery shopping. And today, more than any other day, I am prepared to make the decision between 2% and whole milk” that is referenced in many reviews, but you go back and see that it’s not merely a non sequitur but in fact a riff on the previous line that “I am excited to feel the Milk of Human Kindness”, either an allusion to Macbeth or the Caribou album, and now you have to reconsider how all these elements fit together. The good news is that the album is so great that it is worth the extra effort.
We’re going to take things a little easy today; the weather has just been too nice outside to spend time typing away on laptops, even if it’s about something that we love like music. So we’re going to do a quick piece that isn’t a true “Feats of Strength”, but we’re just going to talk about a moment in a song that we really really really like.
Almost a year ago to the day, Pitchfork ran a feature in which they asked their writers to give stories about particular moments in their favorite songs. I felt that this was a really well-executed piece, and enjoyed reading each of their stories. The anecdote about a unique performance of The Flaming Lips’ “The Abandoned Hospital Ship” was an especially memorable one, and it is definitely worth reading so you get the backstory behind this electrifying moment.
There is no reason why Pitchfork should have all the fun, so I am picking up on their cue and writing about a specific moment in one of my favorite songs, “I’ll Believe In Anything”. It should be no surprise that we here at Rust Is Just Rightare big fans of Wolf Parade, considering we were inspired to name our site after one of their lyrics. Their debut Apologies to the Queen Mary is one of the greatest albums of the 00’s, and the climactic run of the trio of “Shine a Light”, “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts”, and “I’ll Believe In Anything” in the middle of the record matches that the peak of any record since then.
“I’ll Believe In Anything” has a nice stately feel that comes across as almost like a gentle gallop, a sensation that’s matched by the Barry Lyndon-esque setting for the video. The song is punctuated by huge snare hits that accentuate each beat, constantly pushing the music forward as Spencer Krug sings elliptical lyrics about “taking you where nobody knows you and nobody gives a damn.” After a couple of rounds of verses and choruses, the song truly begins to develop with the bridge at about the 2 minute mark, as Spencer begins to list the various things that he can take or give away. At 2:10, the bassline on the keyboard jumps down an octave, giving an added weight to the next set of lines as Spencer doesn’t let up in his singing, continuing to build momentum. It is at this point where there is a subtle shift, a moment where Spencer demands the listener’s attention: “Look at the trees, look at my face, look at a place far away from here.” He lets that moment hang in the air for a second, and then the band explodes behind him.
I’ve listened to this song hundreds of times, and this specific moment has never failed to give me chills. Depending on the circumstances, it can have an even greater impact–I regularly jog to this album, and often this song will come on just as I’m reaching the top of a hill, and I can take a quick moment to actually act out the lyrics and survey the scene around me. There is something to Krug’s particular directions given in the lyrics, which shifts the focus of the audience’s eyes from nature, to humanity, and then beyond, possibly to the future that helps enhance the effect of the song’s climax. Eyes are actually an important motif in the song: the line “give me your eyes, I need sunshine” is repeated throughout as a sort of mantra, which is a wonderfully eloquent way of asking for someone for the necessary help to brighten up your day. This early repeated line helps establish an image in the listener’s mind and gives the latter lyrics of the bridge an added significance. The result is a truly memorable moment whose power never fades, even after hundreds and hundreds of listens.
Spoon fans had been waiting for years for a follow-up to Transference, eager to see if they could continue an unprecedented hot streak of excellent albums, and they finally got a clue this week that the wait may soon be over. The cover photo of their Facebook page was updated yesterday with the cryptic message “SPOON R.I.P. JUNE 10”, indicating that something will be released in less than two weeks, whether it be a single or an entire album. The announcement of a new album is not surprising, considering the band had announced tour dates beginning this summer, though the sudden timing sure is. Considering I am one of the fans that I mentioned above, this is exciting news indeed.
With that in mind, I thought it was an excellent time to shine the spotlight on Spoon for our “Covered” feature. One of my all-time favorite songs, “Me and the Bean” from the brilliant Girls Can Tell is actually a cover, though I’ve had trouble tracking down the original over the years since Sidehackers were a small local band. Spoon has also been known to do a ripping version of the Rolling Stones’ gem “Rocks Off”, but for tonight it only gets a secondary mention.
I’m highlighting Spoon’s cover of Wolf Parade’s “Modern World” because it’s always great to see one great indie band recognize the talent of another great indie band. “Modern World” tends to get lost in the shuffle when discussing Apologies to the Queen Mary, especially considering the apex of the “Shine A Light”-“Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts”-“I’ll Believe in Anything” triumvirate, so for Spoon to choose the song indicates that they had more than a passing familiarity with Wolf Parade, and that they were actually fans. I’ll also remember that in one of their first performances of the cover on that particular tour (if not for the first performance) they had Dan Boeckner from Wolf Parade join Spoon for the cover, and I was just a few blocks away missing out (it’s ok, I saw Spoon later on during the tour, it all worked out). As for the technical part of the actual cover, it’s faithful to the original, and it’s amazing how easily the song fits into the Spoon oeuvre; there are subtle touches specific to Spoon that are clearer after multiple listens (most notably, the simple drum beat accented by a shaker (similar to the one used for “Don’t You Evah”) and the little guitar lead that Britt uses to end the song), but otherwise it’s fairly similar to the Wolf Parade version.
“Modern World” was an excellent complement to Apologies‘ opener “You Are A Runner And I Am My Father’s Son”, setting up the dichotomy of the Dan Boeckner/Spencer Krug relationship (Dan sings “Modern World”, Spencer sings “Runner”). It has a stripped-down sound especially compared to “Runner”, utilizing slightly twangy acoustic guitars instead of gaudy synths, though when the keyboard enters the song it’s for a distinctive and memorable solo. The persistent driving beat of the song matches the depressingly cynical take on modern life (“Modern World, don’t ask why, cause Modern World, we build things high”,”Modern World, I’m not pleased to meet you; you just bring me down.”). There’s really no other song on the album that matches its withdrawn mood, which helps it stand out.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the cover is that it lead to a musical collaboration between Britt Daniel from Spoon and Dan, a new group called Divine Fits. The album that they created A Thing Called Divine Fits provided an intriguing amalgamation of elements from both of their previous groups, and is well worth checking out. that said, as good as the album is, it could never beat the best work of either’s previous bands. So once again, we wait patiently for the release of the newest Spoon LP, and hopefully Wolf Parade returns from its hiatus soon as well.