In The Foreground, The World’s Greatest BLT Sandwich

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 28, 2016 by johnbuckley100

A few miles down the Leigh Lake trail, Grand Teton National Park, and a sandwich made on a Wild Flour Bakery’s bagel.  It doesn’t get better than this.

Leigh Lake 3

Morgan Delt’s “Phase Zero” Is The Best Psych Album Of 2016

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on August 28, 2016 by johnbuckley100

a3191513484_10

When Bill Doss passed away in 2012, we despaired of ever again hearing an album that blew our mind quite the way Music From The Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle by The Olivia Tremor Control did when we first heard it 20 years ago.  But then earlier this summer, the mysterious Morgan Delt released “I Don’t Wanna See What’s Happening Outside,” which leads off his second album, Phase Zero, and if it’s possible to get the same rush the second time through, yep, this song did it.

Here’s everything we know about “Morgan Delt”: that’s not his real name, his eponymous first album was every bit as weird as a typical Olivia Tremor Control outing, he works as a graphic designer in California, Sub Pop were wise enough to lock him in a studio all by himself, and he’s playing September 20th at DC9 in the Nation’s Capital. Oh, and Phase Zero is a gorgeous, weird, melodic, inventive, soothing, trippy self-produced album in which he plays all the instruments.

“I Don’t Wanna See What’s Happening Outside” really does begin like a lost OTC track, and then fades into the boss “The System Of 1000 Lies,” like the best psychedelic album of your amped-up dreams.  The album is mostly those strangely treated six-string guitars, some keyboards for texture, and yeah, underneath it all, we suppose, are bass and drums, but think of this essentially as a longhaired guy singing gorgeously over slow and meandering highly electrified guitar lines, while floaters cross your vision and all solid walls have finely limned colors bleating and tricking your olfactory nerve ends.

We invoke, of course, the Elephant 6 bands, of which OTC was simply our (second) favorite (after the Apples In Stereo), but there is another, important reference point here, and it’s the trio of cross-indexed records made in the mid-70s by Cluster, Eno, and Harmonia (which consisted of the two guys in Cluster plus a guitarist genius pal.)  Their mostly instrumental early German electronica platters have been pulsing across our earbuds for many, many years, but never so intensively as in the last year when a deluge of Cluster and Harmonia recs became available to the non-Teutonic world, and yes, seems like Mr. Delt has been snuffling up these tracks for a long time too.

By the time the most excellent Phase Zero hits “Some Sunsick Day,” we are deeply into Eno’s “On Some Faraway Beach,” and we’re ready to come back to reality, weary, changed, a little emotionally wrought, no longer hearing through our nose and seeing through our ears, but satisfied that we’ve seen God, and his name is Morgan Delt.

 

It’s So Hot In DC, This Is The Only Answer

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 13, 2016 by johnbuckley100

IceCreamMan (1 of 1)

On Thee Oh Sees’ “A Weird Exits,” It’s Time To Take John Dwyer Seriously

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 13, 2016 by johnbuckley100

cf-080cover_1024x1024

By my count, Thee Oh Sees have released eight albums since 2010, not including greatest hits and rarities.  Even with John Dwyer backed by different incarnations of the band, what Thee Oh Sees’ albums have all had in common is a balance between joyous, thrashing punk rock that transports you to a crowded club heaving with spilled beer and dance sweat and these quieter songs, sometimes instrumentals, that make you go, “Well, that’s pretty.”  On A Weird Exits, the twin strains are in perfect equipoise, the jams offset by much more carefully plotted compositions.  And it makes us realize that it is time to take John Dwyer seriously.

Sure, albums like Floating Coffin and Putrifiers II have loomed large on Tulip Frenzy’s Top 10 Lists over the past half-decade, and you really haven’t lived ’til you’ve seen Thee Oh Sees play live, but with A Weird Exits, it’s time to tell the world: living amongst us, right now, is a deity capable of miracles.  “Plastic Plant” may be a perfect exemplar of Dwyer’s rock’n’roll genius, the double-drum set up calmly rolling along as he sings in a quiet falsetto, before his guitar just crushes it, the ebb and flow between the delicate passages and nuclear war the greatest formula since Black Francis was doing something like this with the Pixies all those years ago.  It’s easy to understand a song like this, or “Dead Man’s Gun,” or the frantic”Gelatinous Cube” were all created for the stage, with Dwyer carving out space to sing sweetly between tsunamis of sound.  So far so good, no need to plea the point that Thee Oh Sees are probably the most exciting live band playing these days.  This is settled fact, stare decicis, things every skateboarder in San Francisco is taught in 4th grade.

But there’s an entirely different side to Thee Oh Sees, and it goes way beyond what Dwyer does with his offbeat guitar tunings, his strange scales, his chirps and rave ups.  On “Jammed Entrance,” the way the double drums begin while the double-tracked guitar noodles along before the instrumental gets going, it’s jazz, man; this is something Miles Davis would have sampled, and not the other way around.

Which leads us to the two songs that end the album, bluesy, gorgeous compositions, a reminder of that other side of Dwyer. “Crawl Out From The Fall Out” has a minor-key undertow and — as some of his coolest songs have in the past — utilizes a Kronos Quartetesque strings arrangement, and it makes you sit up and listen, even though it’s a quiet song, not a trademark garage-psych groove.  Beautiful, beautiful music.  And then rather than follow it up with a rocker, the closer, “The Axis,” sounds like Stevie Winwood jamming with Procol Harem.  Well.  In just a 30-minute snippet of time, such a short interlude in your life, John Dwyer has taken us from the most exciting garage rock of the epoch to deep, moving contemplation.  The guy has it all, including originality.  A Weird Exits, its title rendered ambiguous by the extra “s”, is not only the best Oh Sees album since Floating Coffin, it should be that album that makes audiences of all stripes sit up and notice.

It’s time to take John Dwyer seriously.

 

Above The Cape Of Good Hope

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 6, 2016 by johnbuckley100

Friends enjoying their moment in the Southern-most tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope,  on this day in 2014.

Above The Cape

Cheena’s “Spend The Night With…” Will Keep You Up ‘Til Dawn

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 6, 2016 by johnbuckley100

cheena-album-cover

Some time ago, the advance word on the Strokes was that they were a classic New York band, ready to take on the mantle of forebears like the Dolls, Television, and the Velvet Underground.  That as it turns out, the Strokes kinda sucked made us permanently wary of all hyped entrants in the “New York band” insta-mythmaking.  As Mike Bloomberg mighta said, I lived in New York during the CBs days, and I know a con when I hear one.

It’s true that the Brooklyn bands emerging over the past 10 years, collectively and in many cases individually, rival the output of New York in the late ’70s, with a breadth and heterogeneity that reflects a city this large, diverse, and great.  And just as in the CBGB days, when it was Blondie that had the first real hit while bands like the Fleshtones, dBs, and Individuals went overlooked, the fact that The National became Brooklyn’s arena rockers while the Amen Dunes, Woods, and Parquet Courts simply released the epoch’s best records seems about par for the course.

So when we first heard about Cheena, and the comparisons invoked were to the New York Dolls and Richard Hell and the Voidoids, our bullshit detector went up.  And then we listened to “Car,” the first single off Spend The Night With…, and we immediately muttered “sonofabitch” under our quickening breath, for sure enough, this is a band as dingy as the mens room at TR3, as real as waiting in subzero temps to get into the Mudd Club, as tasty as the egg cream at Dave’s on Canal.

Comprised of vets from various New York bands, Cheena sound like what woulda happened if the Flamin’ Groovies had played “Slow Death” at the Mercer Arts Center, opening for the Dolls in 1972 just before the roof collapsed. With a sound comprised of muddy vocals and a persistent, “Silver Train” slide guitar, Spend The Night With… is never not fun.  There is nothing profound about Cheena, and they don’t try to be anything more than that band that plugs in while beer gets guzzled and you cross that threshold where you know you’ll have to call in sick to your job. This is late-night Downtown music for the City That Never Sleeps.  Download this album and you won’t want to either.

An Appreciation Of The Leica SL By A Confirmed Leica M Photographer

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 11, 2016 by johnbuckley100

SL Example-3Leica SL with 50mm Noctilux f/0.95

I am a Leica M photographer, a rangefinder devotee, certain in the paradoxical belief that the very limitations inherent in using an M are the reason why so many images taken with one often look magical. The lack of autofocus and long lenses, for example, lock M users out of certain photographic categories — sports photography, some wildlife photography, various types of landscape photography. Yet in the hands of a practiced M user — and the history of photography is, of course, heavily weighted toward M users — there are things an M photographer can achieve (in both its film and, for the past 10 years, digital incarnations) that users of SLRs, DSLRs, and even modern mirrorless miracles cannot.

But these beliefs didn’t stop me, in April, from eagerly buying a Leica SL, a mirrorless camera with autofocus that arrived with an impressive 24-90mm zoom lens.  You see, even as my approach to photography, which reflects the fact that for much of the year I live in a big city, is principally applied to street photography in color, and since the introduction, in 2012, of the Leica Monochrom, in black and white as well, I spend time each summer in the Greater Yellowstone region of the American West, and landscape photography in and around Jackson Hole is what first motivated me to buy a Leica M7 back in 2002.

Back then, I had been looking for a camera that could return me to the simplicity of Pentax cameras I’d used as a teenager, or the Olympus OM-1 I’d used in my early 20s, and the only system that promised delivery of both the essentials of photography and great optics seemed to be an M.  (It is true that for a few years, until the M8 digital camera was delivered in November 2006, I also used a Leica Digilux 2, which I find very much the precursor to the Leica SL.  But we are getting ahead of the story.)

In 2014, I was fortunate enough to go with my family on a safari in Botswana.  Even with the Leica M-240 now enabling, through a kludge of an adaptor and external EVF, the ability to use long lenses, the images that meant the most to me upon my return were those taken with a Monochrom and a 90mm Summicron lens.  Sitting in the back of an open-air Land Rover while lions and leopards were wandering nearby, I was extremely limited, compared to my son using a Canon D6 and a good zoom lens. But the pictures I came back with seemed to prove my thesis that the very limitations of a Leica force one to take pictures that ultimately look different from the “typical” pictures one expects from a given situation.  That the “shortcomings” of the M paradoxically, perhaps, can lead to a different form of art.

TF Lion Portrait

Leica Monochrom (version 1) with 90mm Apo-Summicron-ASPH

Nonetheless, I returned from that trip vowing I would, if fortunate enough to ever return on safari, purchase a Leica S, probably used, given how expensive they are.  I hankered to be able to do things that one could not do with an M: use long lenses natively, use zoom lenses, be certain that, in a professional situation, I could bring home the goods.  I remember thinking, last summer, about my son’s upcoming graduation from high school and wondering if, given certain situations, I might miss photos because I was changing lenses, or fiddling with manual focus.

And then last October Leica announced the SL, and the reviews were glowing, and it seemed to meet multiple desires.  It would take all of my manual-focus M lenses, including the Noctilux.  The autofocus zoom lens available at the time of release, while heavy and large, sounded amazing, as did the EVF, which received raves.  In April I bought one, and I have been using it, alongside my MP-240 and Monochrom-246, ever since.  I’ve learned a lot in the past few months — about the SL, about my appreciation of Ms, about the M’s limitations, weaknesses, and genius, and about photography itself.  I have been using the SL on an extended stay in Jackson Hole, and what follows is a summation of learnings from the past few months, told through pictures and writing, that I hope expands on the strict limitations of a product review.

The picture that leads off this post was chosen because, since 2012, I have loved taking my Monochroms to various public gardens in DC, often with the Noctilux and, since the release of Monochrom-246 last May, with an external viewfinder that helps render the notoriously hard-to-focus Nocti more consistently effective.  Within days of owning the SL, I came to a quick conclusion: using it with the Noctilux for the kind of dreamy, classic still photography I love is dramatically easier and in many ways superior to using an M in these situations.  Put differently, the Monochrom has only one advantage over the SL in most normal-light situations: size. (I believe it has an advantage over the SL, and probably every other camera, in its gorgeous high ISO performance.)

SL Example-2

Leica SL and Noctilux f/0.95

Because of the EVF, the robust, malleable files, the magnification in manual focus that, since the firmware upgrade in May, is now so easy to access, the Leica SL is simply a superior camera to take along with you if you wish to use a Noctilux and size and weight are not an issue.

Tulip Frenzy 2016-3

Leica SL and Noctilux f/0.95

There is a reason my blog is called Tulip Frenzy and my photo site is called TulipFrenzyPhotography: I have this weird love of tulips and for 15 years have been shooting them with various Ms and, mostly, the Noctilux.  This year, though, I learned that it was so much easier to take the SL along — in the rain, since it’s weather sealed, or on sunny days — because the EVF, in these situations, is a marvel.

But when I went out into the streets of D.C. to photograph its best annual event, The Funk Parade, I had zero desire to take along the big, heavy SL. I took my small, subtle, amazing Monochrom, and the pictures captured were, I believe, the better for it.

Funk Parade 2016Leica Monochrom-246 and 35mm Summilux.

And when I went out on the street to take pictures of The Capital Pride Parade, the camera I took with me was my MP-240.  Why? Because it is small, discreet, less threatening to people, and renders colors wonderfully.

Pride 2016-11Leica MP-240 and 35mm Summilux

But having come out West for a few weeks, with all three cameras in tow, I really wanted to get a sense of the SL’s magic in those situations where its capabilities could be tested, without regard to its size and weight.  I had long since concluded that it is ergonomically brilliant, well designed, and delivers fantastic files/images.  Of course, on our first full day here, my wife and I went for an evening walk along the Snake River, and because it was a casual stroll, not a photographic expedition, I took along my M.

Evening WalkLeica MP-240 and 50mm APO-Summicron-ASPH

Now, the SL could easily have taken that picture, and possibly it would have been even better.  But the M is small and easy to carry on a walk, and capable of taking such good pictures, in many situations, one does not yearn for the SL’s capabilities: fast autofocus, ability to use zooms, etc.  It’s why the M has been my camera of choice for a decade and a half.

Having said that, being in a small town with lots and lots of tourists carrying cameras, I found it less of an issue to take the SL, with the Noctilux affixed, into Jackson for the evening “Shoot Out” staged for visitors.  The image below might easily have been taken by an M, but manual focusing of Leica lenses on the SL is so intuitive and quick, that if you can use it, why wouldn’t you?

SL ReviewLeica SL and Noctilux f/0.95

In fact, when it came time for Jackson’s 4th of July parade — an event I have photographed for 15 years with Ms — I took along my SL and was stunned at how easy it was to shoot like all the other photographers with their Canons and Nikons, their autofocus and zoom lenses; that the priesthood of M photography, pure and noble as it may be, sure can be a chore, in some situations, when those with zooms and autofocus are so effortlessly having fun.Parade WinnerLeica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90mm 

I likely never would have gotten that picture with an M — I probably would have struggled to decide even which lens to use, and then having made the decision, would have been limited by the decision. I long ago traded in both the WATE and MATE — the M wide-angle and medium-angle “zooms” — because I wasn’t using them, given the superiority of Leica primes.  But here I was, zooming to the right focal length, focusing instantaneously, and emerging with fun pictures.

SL Review-3Leica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90

The picture above could easily have been taken with an M, but again, in a situation where you are comfortably able to carry the bigger SL with its large, excellent zoom, it proves to be an pretty incredible camera and, most importantly, provides a great photographic experience.

Lamar Sunset 1

Leica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90

My wife and I, along with friends, traveled up to Yellowstone, and for the first time, the Ms pretty much sat in the bag.  The quality of the SL images are so good, the Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90, f/2.8-4 lens is so satisfying, it was all I needed, or wanted to use. The files produced — like the Monochrom’s – come out looking flat, but they can be so well manipulated, even tortured, in Lightroom, that if I had any doubts, by day two of our trip it was clear: in these situations, the virtues of the SL outshine the virtues of the M.  One finds the ease of use, and the flexibility, in a situation where size and weight are not an issue to tip the scales in favor of using the SL.

SL Review-8Looking for the Bear: Leica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90

While it was easy to use my 70-200 R lens with adaptors, and did so in situations where the length was called for, I used the incredible Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90 pretty much the whole time we were in Yellowstone. Being able to frame the image according to focal length needed is a blessing, as is having a zoom as sharp as most Leica primes. And for a sense of what this camera and lens can do in certain situations, you might like to take a brief detour here.

SL Review-7

Leica SL with Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90

We went up out of Yellowstone onto the Beartooth Highway, an amazing, high-altitude road between Cooke City and Red Lodge, Montana.  A year ago, I had taken what I thought were great images there with my Monochrom-246.  But by now I’d learned how good are the black and white conversions one can get out of the SL, and there really was no need to use either M on this part of the trip.

SL Review-5Leica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90

The level of detail captured by the combination of camera and lens is, even when handheld, as fine to my eye as many Medium Format images.

Schwabachers Sunset Instagram Beartooth

Leica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90

In tough, variable light, given the ability you have to get the most out of the files, the SL is, I believe, a really amazing landscape camera.

SL Review-6Leica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90

But lest you think I am ready to chuck the Ms and become a full-time SL user, here’s one downside to the SL, and it is a big one.  I was reminded, via a thread in the Leica User Forum, that Leica’s promotional copy, when the camera was introduced, stated this:

The Leica SL is the world’s first camera conceived for professional photography to feature an electronic viewfinder. With a latency time below the threshold of perception and a resolution of 4.4 million pixels, this EyeRes viewfinder developed especially for the Leica SL offers an entirely new visual experience. As its image can be electronically brightened, the EyeRes viewfinder is superior to optical viewfinders in low or unfavorable light.

While, in general, the EVF is remarkably good, and they’re not wrong about using it in low light, I found that in a number of situations while shooting in the bright light/high contrast of the American West in summer, I actually could not see what was being rendered in the shadows.  Here’s an example, from the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway that runs between Cooke City and Cody, WY.

SL Review-9Leica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90

When I leaned as far over as I could to take that image of the gorge through Mother Earth, I literally could not see the water.  The EVF was thrown by the bright-ish sky to an extent that the area below was completely dark.  Not just a little bit dark, but really dark.

All Guest WelcomeLeica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90

When we returned to Jackson Hole and were surprised to find a mama moose and her twins parked outside our house, I snapped away and got many good pictures.  Having such a capable zoom lens was a blessing.  But in the picture above, I had to take on faith that I could get shadow detail out of the bottom half of the picture, because as I looked through the EVF, the image was dark.

This is a significant flaw in an otherwise incredible system.  Yes, I know, as an M user who has not spent time with EVFs, this flaw is common to all systems.  Yet, in their promotional copy, Leica clearly says one can adjust the brightness of the EVF.  You can’t.  There are various workarounds, and you can just trust the shadow detail is there.  But this is a downside one never has with an M and its optical viewfinder.

Yes, with the SL I could finally sneak inside the house, run upstairs, and in a few seconds take the below picture, without having to grab an 90mm and with fumbling hands swap it out from whatever standard lens I might be traveling with, even as the moose stepped out of the picture.

SL Review-11

Leica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90

That’s a big deal: its effortless, easy ability to deliver the goods. This camera has many strengths, and is an incredible system that is complementary to the M.  If one can afford it, having both an M and an SL is a great and flexible combination.   For an M user, the focusing of the Noctilux and other fast M lenses on the SL is remarkable.  And with autofocus zooms and, eventually, long lenses, we now can get engaged in action photography.  The SL is intelligently designed with the ability to program the buttons you want to have call up the features you need at just the right moment, from switching ISO to Exposure Compensation.  It is a pretty remarkable tool, especially appreciated by someone who has spent so long in the defiantly different world of M photography.

The Vario-Elmarit-SL has won me over: it renders colors as well as the 75 Summicron, and is almost as sharp as the best M primes — in any event, it does the job that a longtime Leica user can expect of the company’s glass.

The Leica SL will never replace my M.  I can’t wait for the successor to the M-240, even if I now know I will use it just a little less often than I use my SL.  I can’t imagine taking the SL into city streets for the kind of discreet photography one can access through an M.  I can’t imagine, for example, traveling with an SL to Paris.  But at the same time, when it comes to going out for an evening here in Wyoming, trying to take advantage of the photographic bounties, yeah, as the picture below will tell you, I am very happy that Leica has produced in the SL a first-rate mirrorless system.

Schwabachers Sunset Instagram

Leica SL and Vario-Elmarit-SL 24-90

On Twitter: @johnbuckley100

On Instagram: tulip_frenzy

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 625 other followers

%d bloggers like this: