In “My Regime,” Kelley Stoltz Reigns Supreme

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 18, 2019 by johnbuckley100

This summer, Mrs. Tulip Frenzy and I had an afternoon to kill near the Minneapolis airport, and we decamped to Paisley Park. We ponied up for the Deluxe Tour, and the experience was by turns fascinating and sad. The highlight, I have to say, was being able to play ping pong on Prince’s own table inside one of his two studios. But while I appreciated being able to see the expansive environment in which Prince could make those records he cobbled together with no other musicians, I really was more interested in seeing where New Power Generation and his other amazing backing bands laid down songs like “Cream.” I was interested in where the band played, not Prince all by his lonesome, because Sign O’ The Times and songs like “Shockadelica” notwithstanding, to me, Price was at his best when he was surrounded by others.

Artists who make records by painstakingly recording every instrument have made some pretty great albums. Paul McCartney, Skip Spence, John Fogerty have all, for whatever reason — usually because they were done working with their previous bands — gone this route. We live today in a world in which Kevin Parker, whose Tame Impala exists as a band really only on stage, is heralded for his singular vision. But no one has ever done, or is doing now, what Kelley Stoltz has accomplished, and his new album, My Regime, is at once a remarkable achievement, probably his best record since 2008’s Circular Sounds, and at the same time, just a continuation of the streak of pop gems that he’s cut in his own version of Paisley Park.

Look, I could spend the afternoon embedding links to this site’s previous Stoltz worship. Type “Kelley Stoltz” in the Tulip Frenzy search bar and you’ll see how, for a decade, we have had our mind thoroughly blown not just by the charm and quality of Kelley’s music, but by the phenomenon by which it exists.

Once more into the breach, we exclaim: Kelley Stoltz produces, all by himself, records as sophisticated — and as fun — as Ray Davies fronting Echo and the Bunnymen with David Bowie along for the tour. His music is powered along by first-rate drumming and bass-playing that somehow convey a well-meshed rhythm section that can swing. He adds layers of guitars and keyboards — even harpsichord! — with the enthusiasm and deceptive precision of Jackson Pollock adding paint to a canvas. He writes classically constructed pop songs of amazing variety — heavy emphasis on British Invasion and New Wave — with vocal harmonies that have such pleasing properties, the last time a single singer pulled this off, it was Steve Miller circa Your Saving Grace.

By my rough count, My Regime is Kelley’s 12th proper album, but this doesn’t begin to include the stuff he’s made under assumed names, or the EPs that have on them enough good music to qualify for a Tulip Frenzy Top Ten Album o’ The Year nod. The guy works. I will admit that, since 2010, some of his output has suffered from an over reliance on keyboards and synths, which of course are the crutch upon which Kevin Parker has built his empire. But there has never been an album Kelley’s released under his own name that has not stuck in my interior soundtrack like Gorilla Glue. And My Regime is one of the very best.

I appreciate Brooklyn Vegan recently stating the opener, “Sister,” sounded like a Rolling Stones song that was never made. I wouldn’t have thought of a song so quiet and sweet as a Stones song, but yes, they nailed it, the Keith Richards’ chords and the sax at the end sounds like something the Stones would have slipped onto an early ’80s LP.

The title track might be the song to check out, if you’re Kelley-curious, because the Ric Ocasek-sounding vox notwithstanding, it’s a pretty good exemplar of what you get with Stoltz: four-chord rock that chugs along with keyboard interludes, your head keeping the beat amidst rising panic — “Oh no, the song’s going to end!” I mean, you just know, a minute and a half in, that when the song ends, you’ll be sad. Until a moment later, he restarts the party with “Uh Oh.”

There are plenty of references to Kelley’s touchstone: Echo and Bunnymen, for whom he sometimes plays guitar when they go out on tour. But My Regime is also a departure from at least his work in the back half of this decade because it’s significantly more guitar-focused, which means less emphasis on keyboards floating the melody along. How a single human being could consistently produce albums with this many golden chords, barbed hooks and off-kilter rhythms is beyond my ken, but not my curiosity: I think about Kelley Stoltz and the magic of the music he produces all the time.

Look, by now I’ve either persuaded you to listen or I haven’t. And the comeback to my hundreds of sentences written in the man’s behalf is, surely, yeah, you’re a fan, we get it. The proper word might be disciple.

I’m just betting that if ever I have time to kill at SFO, and there’s a tour of Kelley Stoltz’s studio, I’ll find a place far more worthy of his genius than Paisley Park is of Prince’s. I’d be happy to live in a world where Kelley’s regime was intact and he was the master of all he surveyed. And I would love to see how he plays ping pong all by himself.

The 50th Anniversary Edition of “Abbey Road” Is Astonishing, Not Because We’ve Grown Old But Because It Hasn’t

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 28, 2019 by johnbuckley100

So Giles Martin has done it again, hand cleaning the grime of 50 years off the Sistine Chapel. It’s incredibly emotional to listen to this perfected version of Abbey Road, not only because we have been listening to this music since it was released, but because of how it holds up and signifies artists at the top of their game working to achieve perfection before dissolving.

It is is frankly astonishing to think that Abbey Road was released a half century ago, not because we’ve grown old but because it hasn’t. Rock music, as an art form, should not have the staying power it has had, but because its conventions have taken such root in the culture, an album like this — a band like the Beatles — can sound all at once like the heralds of a distant past and utterly of the moment.

Two or three guitars, bass and drums, three- and four-part harmonies, no band to this day has done it better, which is why Rob Sheffield’s Dreaming The Beatles, released in 2017, is correct when he claims that the Beatles are, today, more popular than they were at the peak of Beatlemania.

Even though it isn’t the dominant musical form the way it was for 30 or 40 years, rock’n’roll music today connect fathers with sons, and mothers with daughters precisely inverted from the way, when I was a child in the 1960s, my parents’ love of Big Band music and Sinatra was a turnoff, a dividing line between us. The Beatles are the connecting thread, and this new and vastly improved listening experience of the 50th Anniversary version of Abbey Road proves why.

It’s sad to listen to, just as last year’s perfected release of the White Album was. Listening to the Beatles is like seeing the hand of God as it is withdrawn. Why did they have to go away? There’s a world of pain in the many dimensions of that thought.

We all know the story by now, how the Beatles, after squabbling through parts of the White Album sessions and then full on during the making of what became Let It Be regrouped, just weeks after the sessions for that album were completed, to make a proper record as a band, the conscious and unconscious thinking being to go out on a high. And they pulled it off.

The only thing we have in our culture that’s remotely similar is Bowie’s Blackstar, the final album he released days before dying, knowing precisely what he was doing. But that’s a decent album we won’t be listening to 50 years from now.

Oh, sure there are throughout history examples of artists struggling to finish their last painting or the final chapter in their book. But what the Beatles did in the studio in 1969 was such a powerful culmination, such a massive effort to go out on a high note, that it bowls us over all these years later.

“You’ve got to carry that weight a long time” was the near final refrain, and they’ve done it. Carrying the weight, in some cases posthumously, with a little help from their friend George Martin’s genius son Giles.

Listening to this incredible release — hearing on “The End” both Ringo’s drum solo and then the lineup of McCartney, Harrison and Lennon, in that order, playing their guitar solos — is to touch a nerve, to revisit the pain of the Beatles breakup all that time ago. We’re so glad to hear it, though, through the headphones of the modern era. In this remarkably pristine state, Giles Martin’s ballsy overruling of his father’s sensibility to produce an album that sounds this good is like a miracle we deserve for the pain of living in the current epoch.

It’s no wonder the Beatles today are the world’s most popular band. No one has ever done it better, nor likely ever will.

Inside The Volcano: A Journey to the Icelandic Highlands

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 28, 2019 by johnbuckley100

All images Leica SL and the three Vario-Elmarit SL zoom lenses. Higher resolution versions of these images can be found at, and purchased from, JohnBuckleyInBlackandWhiteandColor.com, and you can follow me on Instagram @ tulip_frenzy.

Over many years visiting Yellowstone, I’ve marveled at how large the caldera is, how much time is spent traveling within the parameters of an ancient super-volcano that last erupted 640,000 years ago. Across large portions of the 3-million acre National Park, you can see the faint outline of the volcano all around you, even as smaller craters house geysers and fumaroles.

This grounding helped prepare me for a journey of eight days, along with a group of photographers under the aegis of the Leica Store Miami, to some of the most picturesque and amazing quadrants of Iceland. Much of it was spent the Highlands, often inside a massive caldera.

Bruarfoss

You start, of course, by traveling from Reykjavik through land that almost instantly has breathtaking water features. Bruarfoss was not on our original agenda, but a member of our group made the request to go on the six-mile roundtrip hike to see these falls, and I’m so glad we did. Less than 90 minutes from the capital, we had our tripods set up, jaws nearly agape at the color of the water.

I’d been practicing long-exposure photography with 6- and 10-stop Neutral Density filters, and while I’ve always been less than perfectly enamored of the landscape-photography ideal of slowed-down ribbons of water, I’m pretty glad I got with the program.

Kerlingarfjöll

We headed miles away through dusty badlands, similar in topography to Utah or southern Idaho, wending our way up into the Highlands to the section known as Kerlingarfjöll. Unfortunately, the light departed behind clouds literally just as we got there. But walking up and down steep ridges as thermal spots leaked sulfurous clouds made for some interesting photographic possibilities.

That first night on the road, we stayed at a nearby fairly primitive hotel with quite decent food and hot water. What more could one need after an amazing introduction to the wild and sublime elements of Iceland? And we had just begun.

The light was fickle again the next morning, but the sights as we left Kerlingarfjöll were just as stunning.

The image of the Gyrfoss waterfall below was taken at 0.3 of a second so as to capture its power, its anger, rather than to smooth it all out with a longer exposure.

Gyrfoss

We reversed yesterday’s course back down from this portion of the Highlands across parched topography familiar to those who frequent the altiplano of the Colorado Plateau, punctuated by rivers and waterfalls. We had avoided the massive Gullfoss on the way in — it has the power of Niagara, and almost as many visitors — but now we took the time to walk down into it, fortunately, just as the sun came out. It’s amazing.

Gullfoss

Because we were traveling with a knowledgeable local photographer, Brynjar Agústsson, and a very able driver in a powerful red bus that could leap tall rivers in a single accelerated burst, we weren’t locked into seeing only the most popular, easily accessible waterfalls. We could head into the Highlands once again with access to some of the most amazing sights I’d ever seen, or had the privilege to photograph.

That evening, we went to Sigoldugljufur, the so-called Canyon of Tears, and as the sun set, we counted 18 visible waterfalls. The only photo I’d previously seen of it was taken at sunrise, but sunset was, if less dramatic, at least more easily able to be captured with benefit of a graduated ND filter; the light was fairly constant between sky and canyon floor. And yes, while made blurry by a slow exposure, the water really is that color.

Sigoldugljufur

The next morning we set off toward Landmannalaugar, the heart the Highlands, and on the way there, the wind picked up and began to howl. The sandy surface produced so much dust it didn’t take long for one of my lenses to cease working. But while en route, we saw a heard of sheep on what looked like Mars, and it was magic.

On our return that afternoon, the dust storm was so severe — a steady 60-mph wind with higher gusts darkening the sky and getting grit into surface crevices — our evening plans to return to a crater lake for sunset was put off. Fortunately, Brynjar reached into his magic bag of local waterfalls and produced what you see below. For the first time, though, the gale force winds were at our backs threatening to push us and our tripods into the abyss. Once again, the water really was this color.

The next morning brought no respite from the wind and we were seeming prisoners of the dormitory-like hotel we were in. Until Brynjar and the trip’s leaders thought to bring us to a valley far below the windy surface, which was so nice, we deemed it Paradise. Of course the sun came out while we hiked down into it.

After a visit to an authentic Viking village, we were essentially confined to quarters overnight. But the next day was epic — a drive from the Highlands to the sea, through the most spectacular county yet. I’ll post below photos that reflect our journey, pausing to set up the finale. You’ll understand how staggeringly beautiful this day was, along the stops we made to climb hillsides for pictures. Most importantly, think of the entire journey as inside the caldera, inside a massive volcano, like an expanded trip to Yellowstone with thermal activity and visible craters a subset of the larger volcanic terrain.

The pictures above give a sense of how we traveled — on a one-lane dirt road crossing rivers without bridges. At the far end of the photo directly above, we entered a valley from which we could see the enormous glacier that sits at the top of the eastern portion of the Highlands, and then after crossing the river several times — the last time with an impossible-seeming gulf between us and the distant shore — we rose up through steep hills on an almost nonexistent road to come face-to-face with what was, across the valley, an enormous waterfall.

Ófaerufoss

Ófaerufoss is the tallest waterfall in Iceland, and the distance from camera to falls is so great it seems dwarfed. I’ve no idea how far away that is, but certainly more than two miles. As the sun fell, the valley itself was one of the coolest things imaginable, a fitting end to an extraordinary day.

We made our way to the coast, and a more modern hotel in an actual town, and when we got there, the gale-force wind had receded. The next morning brought us to an extraordinary canyon.

Skaftárhreppur

Skaftárhreppur seems like it could have been in Kauai, another volcanic island, with its carved contours and lush green flank. We were now close to the glacier that sits like a threatening cap to the region, and as we proceeded on our journey, were told about the nearby volcano that, 200-years earlier, had proved more toxic than any in the planet’s history. At last we came to the lagoon where the ice flows from calved blocks off the glacier begin to float toward the sea and I came across the most extraordinary sight imaginable.

A Thai Buddhist monk was there – it wasn’t an apparition, he really was there — and while the ND filter I had on flattened the blue of the water and ice, I still treasure this picture, the sheer weirdness of the juxtaposition of a monk in robes at Jökulsárlón.

That evening we returned for the Blue Hour and the ice flow was magnificent.

By now, I was getting the hang of long-exposure photography, with the middle image above shot without filter, but at ISO 100, f/10 and an exposure of 1.6 seconds. I love what the camera captured.

The next morning we went to nearby Diamond Beach to catch the ice flows as they break into chunks and hit the shore.

We’d been up early — 4:15 a.m. departure from the hotel — and so we went back for a nap.

By early afternoon, we headed to Stoknes, one of the most spectacular beaches in Iceland, with dramatic black sand and a peak at the end. But the clouds rolled in, and the only image I care to share is one from the dunes.

On our final day’s drive back to Reykjavík, we stopped at an amazing cluster of structures, abandoned it seemed.

It was spooky, being amidst these abandoned farm buildings with their sod roofs. You could certainly see why whomever first settled here wanted to do so, given the twin waterfalls coming down from behind the structures and the view looking out.

We had one more planned stop. Just beyond Vik, we wanted to capture the famed Three Sisters, those rock formations in the water one often sees in black and white. But the viewpoint we went to also would allow us to see puffins, the only wildlife other than sheep we would have seen on our eight-day journey. Alas, we were met with 90-mph winds — no, really — and had to do the drunken hurricane walk to get to a position where we could get any images at all. Thank Heaven for Optical Image Stabilization and high ISOs, for there is no way I otherwise could have taken the image below with a 90-280 zoom lens.

It was an extraordinary journey, inside the volcano and back to the sea. I am grateful to the Leica Store Miami for having put together this Photo Adventure, as they called it, and for the good-natured crew who met the call and traveled, hours each day, in our bus up and down mountains and across rivers. This is, of course, a curated subset of the roughly 100 GBs of photos I took, and entire categories of images are missing — the glaciers, much of the morning at the ice beach, etc. But these are images I’m pleased with, and willing to share.

For a different take go to this site’s sister — JohnBuckleyInBlackandWhiteandColor.com. And follow tulip_frenzy on Instagram.

Ty Segall’s “First Taste” Is Simply Delicious

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 5, 2019 by johnbuckley100

Adding by subtracting, Ty Segall’s First Taste has a maximalist sound even though there’s not a single electric guitar played on it. What we have instead are Oh Sees-sounding double drums, mandolin and bouzoukis, and erstwhile wingman Mikal Cronin’s No Wave horn bleats cooking up a stew that, from first taste to last, satisfies the soul.

After twelve albums under his own name, three in the last year alone, is the notion of creating a rec without his trademark guitar just a gimmick? Here’s the official Tulip Frenzy take, based on late night debate and deep contemplation:

Many years ago, the novelist Walter Abish wrote Alphabetical Africa. This was an entire novel based on a concept of limitation: Chapter One was composed entirely of words beginning with the letter A, Chapter Two introduced words beginning with B, and so on until by Chapter 26 he had the whole alphabet at his disposal, only to limit himself, letter by letter, chapter by chapter, until he returned to just A in Chapter 52. That’s a gimmick! Pretty cool one – Abish pulled it off — but a gimmick nonetheless.

Ty’s playing with bouzoukis, double drums, multiple horns, mandolins and keyboards BUT NOT AN ELECTRIC GUITAR isn’t a gimmick or a limitation. In fact, this is his most maximalist album ever — and also, we must say, one of his very best.

Since the eponymous Ty Segall 18 months ago, the young genius has put out albums with White Fence, Gøng, and God knows who else, but he’s also produced, in Freedom’s Goblin, his first ever Tulip Frenzy Album o’ the Year, not to mention, earlier in 2019,, an incredible Steve Albini-produced live album (Deformed Lobes.) Ty was already free of expectations and limitations. He is producing consistently great work, without any need to play the role of guitar hero. He can do whatever the fuck he wants, even an album without a guitar lick. And of course he pulls it off.

In the past 18 months, he has produced songs that can be likened to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Santana, James White and the Blacks/Contortions, and Neil Young, to name a few. On the guitar-less First Taste, we detect notes of the Mekons (the bouzouki rock), the Brian Jonestown Massacre (the sitar rock of the amazing “Radio”), and Thee Oh Sees, oh, everywhere. But it’s all Ty, plus his chums Charles Moothart (who co-drums with Ty,) and the aforementioned Cronin.

His palate is as broad as his palette. And his talent is nearly immeasurable. If for some bizarre reason — you’ve been held captive in the trunk of a car, you are just now returning from dog sledding to the North Pole — your exposure to Ty Segall has been limited, take a taste. The first one’s free. And I bet you can’t just eat one.

In Rui Palha’s Lisbon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 7, 2019 by johnbuckley100
All images Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summilux FLE.
John Buckley’s Instagram is @tulip_frenzy.
His photo site is John Buckley In Black and White and Color.

There are very few photographers who have as complete a grasp of, or association with, a single city as Rui Palha has with Lisbon. Sure, many of HC-B’s images of Paris are what first come to mind when you think of him, but Cartier-Bresson was equally associated with Mexico, China, Spain, even New York. Rui has pictures from other places besides Lisbon, but to those who follow the world’s preeminent street photographers, Rui Palha is Lisbon.

Rui Palha in his element.

He’s a joyful, engaging task master, curious what his new friend is interested in before heading to various neighborhoods, clear at the outset that he expects to see, and critique, his work.

Lisbon, we learn, is a city of hills and textures, stairs covered in graffiti, squares inlaid with patterned stone, street car tracks that reflect the afternoon light, pigeons everywhere, buildings festooned with tile. Though its literature is rich, there is to Lisbon an air of Garcia Marquez, of magical realism within portions that have seen better days, even as Rui would take me to places that are modernist and futuristic. It has a Metro and a station designed by Calatrava, and the possibilities for picture making are endless. Why, a master such as Rui could create a world from these possibilities. Could I?

If, as Rui prefers, you choose your background for the image first (another thing he has in common with HC-B), waiting for people to come on stage, as it were, there are neighborhoods in Lisbon like few others, and his work shows he knows them all. He’ll gladly take the Metro or drive through neighborhoods filled with people, but lacking the required stage setting, he moves on. Like all street photographers, he wants people in his images, but people alone aren’t enough, and in Lisbon, you don’t have to settle for any background less than the ideal.

Friends have left tickets for him at the Metallica show that night, but he doesn’t really want to go. He takes me near the site of the Metallica show anyway, to that area of the city with its Calatrava-designed train station, modern and mysterious with interesting possibilities for photos. It’s magical, the possibilities for photos in Rui Palha’s Lisbon. Ancient and modern, textured and streamlined, dark and light.

There are some cities made beautiful in prior centuries that rest on their laurels. Lisbon is not content to leave things as they were, to simply preserve under aspic what was built in the halcyon days of empire. It’s a charming, living city still in formation from the center to the docks. A culturally rich milieu, with book stores for readers and thinkers whose imagination is not limited by living in a comparatively small country on the water’s edge of bigger empires, of Europe.

On this day, as Rui takes a new friend around, he keeps a Leica Q suspended on his upper body by a small leather half-case and straps, but it’s only later that we see that, even as he so casually lifts his camera to his eyes to take pictures, he really is a master. My pictures below are pretty good; Rui’s version of the same scene — even granting that he knew just where to stand — is breathtaking.

A gentleman comes up to him. “Are you Rui Palha?” He knows him for what he is, Lisbon’s finest chronicler of the street. As it turns out, the man who greets him is one of Lisbon’s finest painters, and they had never before met.

Rui Palha is a poet in the camera sensor’s etching of black and white. He’s quite vigorous despite a back that is sore, leading the occasional photo workshops, including one this past March for the Leica Store Miami. (Hint: keep an eye on that calendar.) The next day, prominent photographers from Spain are coming to greet him over coffee, for if you are a street photographer, and coming to Lisbon, Rui looms like a giant, the man with the keys to his city.

Late in the day, in the bright sunshine and tourist ambiance of Chiado, we prepare to part. “Make sure you show me your five best pictures,” he says, and then reconsiders. “No, ten. Send me ten to look at.”

A maker of gorgeous images in a gorgeous city, and one of the nicest, most generous people you will ever meet.

Here are a dozen images, Rui, and an extra one of you in your element. How’d I do, my friend?

The Alhambra by Night and Day: A Photo Essay

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on July 2, 2019 by johnbuckley100
All color images Leica M10; all black and white images Leica Monochrom

As everyone living in the continent he sailed to knows by heart, in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Less well known to some of us is that, in that same year, the Christian Reconquista of Spain was completed upon the defeat of the last Moorish sultan. The Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella was peacefully handed the keys to the Alhambra, which the Nasrid emirs of Granada had built over the previous centuries. It remains the greatest example of Moorish architecture in Spain. We found it captivating.

Today, the Alhambra is the second-most visited attraction in Europe, even as it is limited to fewer than 9000 tickets each day. Having now spent time in both the Andalusian blast furnace of a June day and on an absolutely sweltering evening, it’s easy to understand why. What follows is meant to be neither an historical summary nor a visual tour, but simply a series of photos from both excursions, some in color, some in black and white, showcasing what was, to us, one of the most amazing places we’ve ever visited.

Visiting the Alhambra today is not like going to a Mayan ruin or Angkor Wat. It’s not like going to the Taj Mahal. It feels alive — from its gardens in the vast Generalife, to its fountains and ever-present flowing water. You can feel the presence of the magnificent Nasrid artisans and craftsmen who rendered the walls with poetry. One remains grateful for the wisdom of the later Christian kings who — contrary to their treatment of the Aztec and Maya — respectfully preserved the culture that came before them.

The three Nasrid palaces, as well as the hillside summer palace over the Generalife, look out onto Granada, from which the Alhambra was a separate royal town. The distance from the modern city isn’t far, but it’s a separate world. Visiting with hundreds of others at the same time leaves no space for contemplation, and it was too hot to imagine doing this anyway. But if ever there were a place about which one could say he felt transported to another time, it’s the Alhambra.

It’s exceedingly hard for a photographer to maneuver for position among the crowds and find a shot. Capturing the delicacy of the craftsmanship seems almost futile, but over the two different tours, we were able to take a number of pictures worth keeping.

There is such a blend of styles apparent over the transition from one palace to the next, it remains a miracle of sorts that neither Ferdinand and Isabella — the latter of whom chose to be buried here, before her surviving husband moved her to their mausoleum in Granada below — nor their heir Charles V obliterated the palaces they conquered. While there was a long period of disrepair, and at one point Napoleon trained his cannons on it, more than 500 years later, the Alhambra is preserved. In fact, you can visualize Moorish architecture as a beautiful undercoating to all of Andalusian culture, making it special even in a broader Southern European territory not lacking for cultural delights.

It’s hard to say which element within the interlocking palaces will stay with us the longest. The various ceilings of the Hall of the Abenerrajes, the last palace to be built before the Nasrid’s collapse, deserve monumental status in their own right.

We left in early evening and had just enough time to make it across to the Albaicin to look back upon the Alhambra in the fading sunlight. It’s a magical place.

We’re grateful to Blanca Espigares Rooney of Tours by Locals, who was our friendly and erudite guide for our group’s night visit, and in fact, her family were among those who have lived in the Alhambra over the past century. Thanks also to Maria Garcia of Viator who managed to conduct a 4:30 PM tour on the hottest of days navigating the gardens to keep us cool.

The Proper Ornaments’ “6 Lenins” is the Perfect Soundtrack for a Rainy Afternoon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2019 by johnbuckley100

I have a tricky cast of mind that, when listening to an album, always wonders about its antecedents, about the bands and records that have influenced what I’m hearing. The Proper Ornament’s gorgeous new 6 Lenins provokes the opposite thought process: I can imagine members of the Feelies, Woods, Kevin Morby, even Anton Newcombe listening through headphones, grinning from ear to ear.

Because I came to the band originally after having fallen in love with Ultimate Painting’s 2016 album Dusk, and having learned that James Hoare went back and forth between the two bands, it was hard to know which was the main act and which the side project.

But maybe that was never the right way to think of things. Maybe the right way to think of it is that James Hoare and Jack Cooper had a quiet if propulsive jangle pop band called Ultimate Painting, while James Hoare and Maximo Celada Claps have a delicate jangle pop band called The Proper Ornaments. And while Ultimate Painting broke up in 2018 after having completed a third, now seemingly discarded album, and Jack Cooper has recently formed the interesting Modern Nature with, among others Aaron Neveu of the aforementioned Woods, there is simply a fluid collection of bands with overlapping musicians, and all of them are producing incredible work.

We mentioned the Feelies and Woods in the first paragraph, but The Proper Ornaments seem like proper Englishmen, their delicate approach invoking Nick Drake as much as the Velvet Underground. And it should be said, while Ultimate Painting’s last record had a keeper in “Song for Brian Jones,” and Hoare extends that tribute on the new one to a “Song for John Lennon,” it may help everyone keep track of the music’s taxonomy by simply saying Hoare operates in a very distinguished tradition of melodic British songwriters. Maybe 6 Lenins really was meant to be called 6 Lennons and if there are that many, I have no quarrel thinking of James Hoare as one of them.

There’s one more name to drop here, and it’s Jim Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain, in that Hoare seems to understand, as Reid always has, that Lou Reid — no relation! — was one of the prettiest songwriters around. Now, when you listen to all of 6 Lenins it is possible you’ll yearn for the loud guitar squall of William, the other Reid brother in the JAMC. Yet when I listen to the album’s closer, “In the Garden,” I am filled with the knowledge that, obscure though these bands may be — hard as you may have to search to get information on Ultimate Painting and The Proper Ornaments — this collection of musicians, together and separately, are producing as important a body of work over a compressed period of time as any more famous major acts are doing elsewhere, or have done so over time.

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