The Five Songs Amen Dunes Played At The Anthem In DC

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 19, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Touring as the opening act is a bitch, even if it offers a young band exposure.  We’re not sure when or even if Amen Dunes had played D.C. before, but we weren’t going to miss them, even if it meant seeing only a 30-minute set.  After all, Freedom, which came out at the end of March may just be 2018’s best record, and Love, which came out in 2014 ranks high among the best recs of the decade.  So we went to see them at The Anthem.  Let’s view this band, as we did last night, through the prism of the five songs they were allowed to play.

Bedroom Drum, the opening song, was released on 2011’s Through Donkey Jaw and it gives a good preview of the kind of gauzy dream pop Damon McMahon was gearing up to make. Parker Kindred’s drums last night (we assume that’s who was drumming) weren’t muffled, as the drums were on that eight-year old album, and Delicate Steve and McMahon’s strumming invoked Galaxie 500.  It was good to hear McMahon’s voice in the wild, that unique quaver sounding strong after five weeks on the road.  Preserved of course because as the opener you only get 30 minutes to play.

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Blue Rose is one of the highlights of Freedom, a real departure for Amen Dunes after Love.  If the prior album was a gorgeous freak folk outing, a mostly acoustic psychedelic tour de force, “Blue Rose” sounds like it could have been an outtake from David Bowie’s Young Americans, blue-eyed soul from Philadelphia.  McMahon dropped the guitar and just sang, his dance moves about the equivalent of Bowie’s, but his voice gorgeous, as the song is.

L.A. closes out Freedom, and it’s really two songs, a pretty folk song coupled with a less melodic extended meditation.  Live it was truly compelling and we could see what a great band this foursome is, or would be if allowed to stretch out and play a full set.  McMahon is an incredibly compelling singer, and his delicate, sinuous songs get under your skin.

Splits Are Parted was a pleasant surprise, with McMahon introducing this highlight from Love as an offering from that album on the anniversary of its 2014 release.  If you want to understand what all the fuss is about, why someone would shell out the big bucks to scalp a ticket to see this band open for another band, start here.  His voice warbled a bit like Devendra Banhart, an obvious influence on Love.  While Delicate Steve’s guitar work last night didn’t quite bring to the fore that oddly charming counter riff, this was the highlight of the evening.

Believe is perhaps the most conventional rock song of McMahon’s career — the song on Freedom that got us to understand just how grand are his ambitions — and as a closer it showed how close he is to producing music that might actually bring him a mass audience.  It is a beautifully melodic song, and on this one, the combination of Kindred’s drumming and Steve’s lead guitar was utterly enchanting.

And that was it.  No “Miki Dora,” Amen Dunes’ astonishing invocation of the ’60s surf legend, which builds like a wave before crashing to the shore.  They played it Thursday night in Pittsburgh, according to Setlist.com, but not last night in D.C. And that, we’ll admit, was a disappointment.  But like we said, touring as an opening act is a bitch.

Oh yeah, Fleet Foxes also played.

The 2018 D.C. Funk Parade

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 13, 2018 by johnbuckley100

High Heel Race 2018-18

All images Leica SL and 75mm Noctilux

It almost didn’t happen this year, the Funk Parade.  It’s the city’s greatest single day, and if D.C. had not found a way of bringing it back, we’d be poorer for it.  Thankfully a Kickstarter campaign, the persistence of the organizers, and a groundswell of support prevailed.

Herewith an experiment — trying to use the 75mm Noctilux, with its razor thin focal plane, in bright light at a street event.  We see possibilities.

Here’s the funk.

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The Tulip Frenzy, 2018

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 14, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica SL and Noctilux-M 75mm f/1.25 with 10X ND Filter

We missed the peak.  Which is what happens when you choose to go away for a week during the period when the Tulip Frenzy might emerge.  God, what a joy it is to see these friends, even if they are past their prime.

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We can’t account for our love of tulips.  Maybe it’s because their advent signals spring in earnest.  The ephemeral appearance.  Their individuality. How they’re a metaphor for financial excess.  The joy they bring to all. Whatever it is, we’re glad they’re here.  Even as by next week they’ll be gone.

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In The Grand Staircase

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 6, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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All images Leica SL with Vario-Elmarit 24-90.

The Grand Staircase is, in geologic and geographic terms, that rising series of canyons from the Grand Canyon in the south up through the Colorado Plateau, including Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks.  In political terms, it most quickly brings to mind Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, under assault by Trump and Zinke and Utah politicians who wish to diminish and despoil its fragile beauty.  In spiritual terms, it’s Red Rock Country, Abbey Country, the most sublime — and fragile — place in the U.S.  Here are some recent images from a journey to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, and the Grand Canyon, laid out the way our journey took us.  Abbey was talking about Arches National Park, northeast of this region, when he declared it the most beautiful place on Earth.  To us, though, all of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona’s Red Rock country fits this bill.

The journey begins in Zion under flat light, continues through Bryce Canyon on a sunny day, heads through the magical slot canyon known as Buckskin Gulch in Vermillion Cliffs, and finishes under mostly grey, flat light in the Grand Canyon.  The images at the end were as the sun went down in Grand Canyon.  Enjoy the journey.

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Snow Day With The 75mm Noctilux

Posted in photography with tags , , on March 21, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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It’s a fun lens, on a day like today.  Using the Leica SL’s 1:1 aspect ratio means that you give up some megapixels, but get to capture images with a different degree of classicism.

As we wrote a few days, the combination of the new 75mm Noctilux and the Leica SL is a marriage made in photography Heaven.

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It has not snowed very much, and it’s very wet snow, but enough fell make me want to see what could be captured in the brief time before the melt.

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We’ve done this in the past with the 50 Noctilux, but my eye is beginning to adjust to the 75 focal distance.  The square format helps.

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The drop off from the in-focus area to what is out of focus, with the corresponding softening in contrast, is like no other lens, including the 50 APO, that we’ve worked with.

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Another big difference between the 75 and 50 Nocti’s is the minimum focusing distance is reduced.  This is not quite like a macro lens, but we do appreciate being able to get closer.

We cannot wait for the Tulip Frenzy…

 

Preliminary Thoughts On The Leica 75mm Noctilux Used With The Leica SL

Posted in Leica Images, photography with tags , , , on March 18, 2018 by johnbuckley100

Nocti 75-16All images Leica Noctilux-M 75mm f/1.25 and Leica SL

In 2012, when Leica released the M9 Monochrom and the 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph, the pairing of camera and lens was considered by many, including me, to be a marriage made in Heaven.  The combination of the digital CCD sensor and extreme resolving power of that modern lens produced pictures that were unequaled until, in May of 2015, Leica upgraded the Monochrom with a CMOS sensor.  Purists complained about the switch from the poetic CCD to the more utilitarian CMOS sensor format, but the big improvement lay in the fact that with CMOS, live-view technology enabled the photographer to use an Electronic Viewfinder, which crude as that first-generation EVF was, enabled images to be captured with a focus precision worthy of the lens.

We also loved using our 50mm Noctilux f/0.95, Leica’s legendary thin focal plane low-light marvel, with the Monochrom.  But in 2015, when Leica released the SL, a mirrorless professional camera with an EVF that many believe to be the finest in use with the 35mm format, new possibilities were opened.  The SL’s EVF made both the 50mm APO and the 50mm Noctilux incredibly easy to get exactly that shot wide open you’d always dreamed of.  We couldn’t imagine a better combination of lens and camera until Leica went and spoiled everything by releasing the 50mm Summilux-SL 50, another low-light marvel that, dammit, made use of the SL’s autofocus.  Suddenly, it became the go-to lens for certain images, because the bokeh was really pleasing, the color rendition was marvelous, and the thin focal plane was completely usable with an autofocus that, while initially slow, was incredibly accurate.  We thought then, that’s it: there couldn’t be a better combination of camera and lens for stationary images.  And then yesterday, my 75 MM Noctilux-M arrived.

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Yes, when word that Leica was releasing a lens that had a shorter minimum focal distance than the 50mm Noctilux and, nine years after that version of the Noctilux was released, it also claimed to have a variety of other improvements, we were intrigued but not sold.  And then we thought it through.  We are fortunate to have both the 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph, that manual focus gem mentioned in the first paragraph, and the SL-50mm Summilux.  Why did we actually still need the *50mm* Noctilux?  Moreover, if we traded that Nocti in, as well as our 75mm APO-Summicron — a lens we loved but seldom used — we could get within striking distance of the very expensive 75mm Noctilux.  And so we traded in our 50mm Noctilux and 75mm APO-Summicron and waited, somewhat impatiently, for the new 75mm Noctilux to arrive.

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First impressions of this lens, when used with with the Leica SL, are that it is every bit the match of that 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph and Monochrom combination.  And, it makes for the ultimate Noctilux experience because it actualizes the Nocti into what it is supposed to be: the paradigm of selective focus, achievable through actually being able to focus on what you have in mind.

Yes, this is a specialty lens.  You won’t use it every day.  It is pretty much a one-trick pony. It may not be ideal — given its size and weight — with the M10.  But it feels perfectly balanced and not too heavy with the Leica SL.  And given that camera’s gorgeous EVF and precision focusing using the magnification button, you can get shots previously only dreamed about with a Noctilux.  For example, in the picture below I was focusing on the bird’s eye.  You may not be able to see it here, but honest, the bird’s eye is, on my computer screen, captured in pinpoint focus.

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Yesterday, I had time only to take the lens out on some errands but it immediately impressed me, in combination with the SL, for how easy it was to get the focus I wanted, as well as for the incredibly gorgeous drop off between the in-focus plane and the out-of-focus area.  Below, I focused on the technician’s eyelashes.

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I was pleasantly surprised by how little color fringing there was, especially compared to the 50mm Noctilux.  Today, when I took it to the National Cathedral, it was a joy to use in bright sunshine, taking advantage of the SL’s electronic shutter.  (We can’t wait to get an ND filter to use with this.)

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Over emphasis on bokeh is an adolescent vice.  You use the Noctilux for special effects.  One of the things that makes it so seductive, though, is the way it can be used to to create relatively abstract images in certain situations.

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The lens performs as if it had an Apochromatic blending of red, green, and blue colors.  But it also seems like it is going to be a very special lens for black and white photos.

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We will have to get accustomed to the 75mm focal length, as 50mm or 35mm are our standard.  But once we’ve gotten the hang of it, we can see many uses for this special lens.

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For Leica users, and especially those who have struggled over the years with getting the image they wanted from their Noctilux in use with digital Ms, trust us when we say that our ratio of images taken where the focus was spot on was like no previous experience we’ve had.  The SL EVF, the magnification tool, and the 75 Noctilux work perfectly in combination, even when taking into account the significantly smaller focal plane of the 75 when compared to the 50.  (We have read that the focal plane at minimum focal distance is 8cm, compared to the 50’s 20cm.  That’s a big difference!)

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Nearly six years ago, we thought that Leica had produced the greatest combination of camera and lens, the Platonic ideal.  With the Leica SL and the new 75mm Noctilux, we think they have surpassed their prior performance.

NOTE: We have some updated images of the 75 Noctilux in use with the Leica SL here.

 

With New Albums By Ty Segall, Calexico, The Liminanas, and Candace, 2018 Is Off To A Helluva Start

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on March 12, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Ty Segall: Freedom’s Goblin

We’re not sure exactly why we’ve been so lackadaisical about reviewing Freedom’s Goblin, but we think it’s cuz we’ve been enjoying it so much we haven’t wanted to spoil things.  For this is the album that Ty has promised since approximately 2011, when Goodbye Bread, simple song structures and all, announced the arrival of a genuine rock tyro who would someday do Big Things.  That day, friends, that day is here.

2016’s Ty Segall gave a hint of what was just about to come, combining in a single L.P. all the joys we’ve come to associate with Ty over the years: patented fuzz punk, great songwriting and singing, some acoustic standouts, and even long experiments that harkened to the halcyon days of album rock (talking about you, Sticky Fingers.) Freedom’s Goblin is a quantum leap beyond anything Segall has ever done.

We’ve read comparisons to The Beatles, that little band’s so-called White Album, and they’re not far off.  For over the course of a double album, we get a virtuosic display of songwriting that stretches definitions even as the album locks in our sense of Segall as among the two or three most compelling forces in music this decade.  We get classic Segall rockers (“When Mommy Kills You,” “She,” “Shoot You Up,” “5 Feet Tall”), melodic acoustic marvels (“My Ladies On Fire,” “You Say All The Nice Things,” “I’m Free”),  but also experimental overtures making full use of Mikal Cronin’s incredible No Wave sax and arranging (“Rain,” “Alta,” “Prison,” “Talking,” and “The Main Pretender.”)  And his cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Everyone’s A Winner” not only calls to mind another artist who could record albums by himself or with a killer band — Prince — it reminds us of that great Dan Ingram line from the heyday of WABC’s playing disco hits: “That song’s so dirty it left a stain on our speaker.”

By moving to a band approach that makes full use of Cronin, Charles Moothart, and other musicians, Segall is free to relax and simply make the greatest record of his distinguished career.  He seems to have grown in parallel to Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer, a rocks’n’roll artist who, contending with today’s very different terms and conditions, is making music that easily competes with the best work of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’90s.  That we can mention Segall in the same breath as The Beatles is possibly the best thing about the otherwise benighted age we live in.

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Calexico: The Thread That Keeps Us

One reason we haven’t written much in 2018 is because Ty Segall’s not the only artist to offer up, early in the new year, a double album that ranks as a career best.  A contender for the best album of the ‘Aughts was Calexico’s Carried To Dust, but we admit that we haven’t found their albums in the ’10s as achieving that high standard.  With The Thread That Keeps Us, Calexico reasserts themselves as marvels of melodic alt.pop that takes its cues from the Colorado River drainage into Mexico.

Joey Burns and John Convertino took their band on a road trip to the Pacific Coast to record this new one, but it still sounds like they’re playing at a house party on some spring evening deep in the saguaro forests near Tucson. Mexicali brass underscore the best songs played by an expanded combo. This is a very political album, for how could it not be when we live under a regime that has declared war on the very concept of honoring the Estados Unidos’ ties to our cultural equals south of the Rio Grande?

Calexico’s patented miracle concoction of strong songwriting, beautiful singing, and cross-cultural  grace has never sounded better than it does on The Thread That Keeps Us.

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The Liminanas: Shadow People

It’s the connection to Anton Newcombe that first turned us onto the best garage band in Perpignon, France.  The Liminanas have come a long way from early albums that showcased Italian film music even as they sounded like Newcombe’s Brian Jonestown Massacre.  The song “Shadow People” was released on the E.P. “Istanbul Is Sleepy” last November, and thankfully the E.P.’s title song, sung by Anton, is also included in this early 2018 highlight.

It’s rare that band that has to rely, for the most part, on outside guests singing can both entertain and convey a sense of unity.  But in the Liminanas, and with Shadow People, we have an act that holds our attention and esteem.

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Candace: New Future

A few years ago, when we were deep down the rabbit hole of listening to Minneapolis bands that, one way or another, had ties to First Communion Afterparty, a Twin City tipster told us we should check out Is/Is.  That band of young women changed their name  (for obvious reasons) to Candace, as well as their locale, following acts like the Shins to Portland.  New Future is their first full-length album, and we can’t stop listening to it. Yes, there will be comparisons to Chastity Belt, but Candace are much better musicians.  At times harkening to the world Dean Wareham inhabits — Galazie 500, Luna — and at other moments seeming like some Dream Pop confection, this is a debut album filled with melody and hooks. Whether or not Candace’s future is new, it is certainly bright.

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