Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Covered: “Since U Been Gone”

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.

After reading all these articles about the omnipresent-yet-invisible songwriter Max Martin, as well as seeing Tokyo Police Club perform a version of the song, I have now thought about the song “Since U Been Gone” far more in the past few weeks than at any other point previously in my life.  It is definitely one of the modern pop songs that bothers me the least, though that is in no small part due to the fact that I was able to avoid hearing it repeated ad nauseam during its initial lifespan.  The fact that it is also a well-constructed song also works in its favor, with a great dynamic contrast between the soft verses and loud chorus, as well as that big hook in that memorable chorus melody.  There must be a reason why indie rock fans would cop to liking this song…

Oh yeah, that reason would be because Martin in fact looked to indie rock for songwriting inspiration.  Not only did he co-opt that trademark Pixies loud/soft contrast, but he reworked a previous hit song, “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  He even admits this was his intention.  From The Atlantic, paraphrasing from John Seabrook’s recent book, The Song Machine:

They are listening, reportedly, to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps”—an infectious love song, at least by indie-rock standards. Martin is being driven crazy by the song’s chorus, however, which drops in intensity from the verse. Dr. Luke says, “Why don’t we do that, but put a big chorus on it?” He reworks a guitar riff from the song and creates Kelly Clarkson’s breakout hit, “Since U Been Gone.”

It is hilarious that Martin misunderstands that the drop in intensity was an intentional maneuver on the part of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and helped strengthen the impact of the lyrics.  In a nutshell, that explains the difference between the approaches to songwriting in pop and indie rock–why be subtle when you can shout your intentions at the top of your lungs?  In this case, both ways worked.

But we should give kudos to Ted Leo for spotting the similarities between the two songs years before it was confirmed, and smoothly blending the two into a seamless whole.  The “Since U Been Gone/Maps” mash-up ends up being a good primer for the Ted Leo novice, as it shows both his vocal range and guitar chops (even with a minor flub at the end of the bridge taken into consideration), which helps elevate the cover above the standard “fans playing a favorite song in their bedroom” that can be found all over YouTube.  And it is proof once again that Ted Leo is the fucking coolest dude on the planet.

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Over the Weekend (Dec. 22 Edition)

Some videos and lists and other fun stuff as you continue to put off Christmas shopping…

Last week we said farewell to one of our favorite late night comedy shows with the end of The Colbert Report, but that wasn’t the only great program that finished its run last week.  The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson was underrated for the entirety of its run, as few could match the creativity and anarchic spirit of its host.  Craig ended things with a bang on his last show, and it was nice to see this tribute at the top of his show.  Here’s the official video, though it’s missing an excellent second half as seen in this link.

The “Bang Your Drum” performance was an excellent followup to the latest rendition of the annual holiday tradition of Darlene Love performing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home”) on The Late Show with David Letterman.  Of course, what really takes the performance to another level is the bari sax solo, but all the musicians are worthy of praise.

Once again, we have even more lists for your consultation.  Cokemachineglow has multiple lists for top albums, and then there are best videos lists from Vulture, PASTE, and Buzzfeed.  While there are several good selections, I’m surprised to see the absence of our personal pick for best music video of 2014, the haunting “Story 2” from clipping.

Song Exploder has an excellent interview with members of The National, who discuss the creation of “Sea of Love” for Trouble Will Find Me.  They really go deep into the making of the song, so all those budding songwriters out there should take note.

In a bit of unsurprising news, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are “on a bit of a hiatus” according to Karen O.  But it sounds like it’s just down time and not anything signalling the end of the band, which is great.

The Replacements have released some new music, and to say it’s different than what you would expect would be an understatement.  Pitchfork has the link to the 25 minute jazz improve piece “Poke Me In My Cage”.

Daniel Kessler from Interpol’s side project Big Noble just released their first music video, providing a visual accompaniment to the soundscape “Stay Gold”.

And a melancholy farewell to Joe Cocker, who possessed one of the great voices in rock history.  His cover of “With A Little Help From My Friends” was a huge part of my childhood, and I’m sure millions of others could say the same thing.

Covered: “Modern Romance”

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.

Recently we’ve linked to a multiple articles that discuss New York’s place in recent music history, including one that took a look back at the “rock revival” spearheaded by NYC groups at the turn of the century.  While many of the bands that initially tasted a bit of success (or at least caught a couple of weeks of intense buzz) have long since faded in our memories, there are bands that have endured to become respected elder statesmen and albums that have since become modern classics.  One such record is the debut album from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell.

The album is known for capturing the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s incendiary garage-punk of which only a select few had seen glances with their early EPs and their fiery live performances.  Fever to Tell is filled with all sorts of beautiful noise and anarchic glee, with singer Karen O expertly toeing the line between playfulness and pure sleaze, shattering normal stereotypes about gender and their resultant expectations with lines like “Boy, you just a stupid bitch and girl, you just a no-good dick.”  The band deservedly broke through into the mainstream with the gorgeous ballad “Maps”, which bucked the traditional YYY formula and showed another side to the band, namely one of vulnerability.  But album closer “Modern Romance” takes this shift a step further–after the brash shot of defiance that was “Y Control”, the band retreats with a declaration of existential ennui.  The weary resignation of the song captures the hangover after the raging party that was the rest of the party, and while it is difficult to accept, its placement at the end of the album indicates at least the band recognizes its existence.  The song is built on a monotonous yet hypnotic simple guitar riff (and an expertly deployed sleigh bell), as Karen O laments over the top with the fact that, try as we might, “there is no modern romance.”  On its surface, it may appear depressing, but somehow the band is able in its performance to convey a sort of rebelliousness, that while things as they exist may be awful, there is still the chance at change.

TV on the Radio, whom we praised effusively for their brilliant new album Seeds, recorded a cover of “Modern Romance” from their fellow compatriots in the New York rock-revival scene for their New Health Rock single soon after the release of Fever to Tell.  It’s a solemn performance, and those unfamiliar with the original would have little reason to believe it was a cover, as it’s dressed up in a lot of the production that is a TV on the Radio trademark (namely the gentle electronic drumbeat, the hazy atmospherics, and the various squiggly beeps, which combined with the soulful vocals help capture a lot of the early TVOTR sound).  However, despite the delicate vocal performance, the band doesn’t really capture any of the pathos of the original, and otherwise is unable to do enough to put a personal stamp on the song to answer the question of why record a cover, either than as a tribute of admiration.  It’s a respectable performance, but because of a lack of a perceptible intimate connection with the material it never really rises above an intriguing novelty; in other words, for TVOTR completists it is worth enough to track down the rare EP, but it’s not enough to stand side-by-side with the original.

An Incomplete List of SCARY Music Videos

We here at Rust Is Just Right enjoy the Halloween season, especially since it gives us the perfect reason to indulge in our love of all things horror.  So, of course we’re going to use the holiday as an opportunity to show some of our favorite scary music videos.  We don’t think we have the authority to say that these are the scariest, or that these selections form any definitive list, but we hope you enjoy them in all their terrifying glory.

Before the revival of the zombie craze truly took hold, Phantom Planet made a great video depicting the making of a low-budget zombie horror story for their single “Big Brat”.

I remember jumping for the remote to try and change the channel as quickly as possible once the faces started melting and the shit truly hit the fan when I saw Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” for the first time.

Before Daft Punk won the hearts of the people with Random Access Memories, they had the worst record sales of their career with Human After All.  This may have been partially due to their horrifying video for “Primetime of Your Life”.  Though they more than capably proved their point about the perils of eating disorders, the skeleton motif may have been too effective.

[So that we don’t stress your browser, we’ve got plenty more videos (including a few legitimately terrifying ones) on the next page.]

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Over the Weekend (July 28 Edition)

New videos perfect for a lazy summer day and more…

Karen O released a video for “Rapt” from her upcoming solo release, Crush Songs.  The song is a delicate lo-fi bitter ode to love, while the video sees Karen O floating underwater.  That should be enough to intrigue you.

This weekend saw an unexpected collaboration, as Jack White popped up at a Beck concert, and White joined in for classics like “Loser”, “Pay No Mind”, and “Where It’s At”.  The video at Pitchfork gives an incomplete view of what happened, but the glimpses that we see make it seem like a fantastic partnership.  Their respective tours mirror each other a bit, so perhaps this we’ll be only the first example of a possible union.

And we’re sure most of you saw how the internet had fun with Jack White enjoying himself at a Cubs game last week, and SPIN did their part by comparing how much fun Eddie Vedder had with the Cubs last week as well.

Check out this solo acoustic performance from Adam Granduciel of The War On Drugs, performing “An Ocean In Between The Waves.”  The performance shows that even without all the gauzy synths and hazy atmospherics of the album recording, it’s a damn good song that’s still extremely powerful.

The group clipping. has gotten a lot of attention for its experimental take on rap and for being one of the few hip-hop acts on Sub Pop, and they had the music world buzzing last week with their latest video, for “Story 2”.  The song is a harrowing tale of a father’s returning home to find a tragedy has occurred at his house, with the style and flow changing as the terror increases once the father realizes what happened.  The video follows the same storyline, though it’s shot to show only the father’s lower body, which makes it all the more unsettling.  It’s probably one of the best videos you’ll see this year.

And last week saw the 25th anniversary of the seminal album Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys, and Uproxx celebrated with the video of their performance on “Soul Train”.  Not only that, but Rolling Stone reported that a mural dedicated to the guys will be shown at the location memorialized by the album cover.  The RS article now includes a link showing the mural.

Rust Is Just Right’s Best Albums of 2013

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.

10). (6 plays) The Flaming Lips – The Terror!!! – Thr!!!erYeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito.

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 FireThe Joy Formidable – Wolf’s LawLow – The Invisible WayNine Inch Nails – Hesitation MarksParquet Courts – Light Up GoldPearl Jam – Lightning BoltRun 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 ActionKanye West – YeezusThe 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.

I’m sure Yeezus was the most analyzed album of the year, so my opinion shouldn’t add much to the conversation.  I think Lou Reed did an excellent job in explaining its genius, so you should probably take his word for it.  I will say that one of the things I enjoy most about Kanye records is that it always seems like we’re listening in on a therapy session, because he seems free to let his thoughts roam unfiltered.  I also love a person that embraces the dichotomy of the sacred and the profane; who else would follow a great line “close your eyes and let the word paint a thousand pictures” with “one good girl is worth a thousand bitches”?  The man knows exactly what he’s doing: “After all these long-ass verses, I’m tired, you’re tired.  Jesus wept.

7). (9 plays) The Men – New MoonSigur Rós – KveikurVampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the CityVolcano Choir – RepaveYuck – Glow & Behold.

We had an extensive piece already on Yuck, so we won’t rehash it here.  Volcano Choir is proof that Justin Vernon knows what he’s doing and that he doesn’t need the “Bon Iver” name to make great music.  The Men will continue to put great, solid rock albums from now until eternity it seems like; throwing in some classic rock and Americana touches like they did on New Moon just helps expand their sound.

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.

6). (10 plays) Cults – StaticSavages – Silence Yourself.

We had an extensive piece already on Cults, so we won’t rehash it here.  Savages end up with the highest-ranked debut on this chart, as I found their revival of post-punk thrilling, a brilliant mix of Joy Division and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

5). (11 plays) Arctic Monkeys – AMThe 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 – SunbatherMy 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 – ...Like Clockwork.

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.