White Fence’s “For The Recently Found Innocent” Is Tulip Frenzy’s Album of the Decade; Ty Segall Named Artist of the Decade

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2019 by johnbuckley100
White Fence For The Recently Found Innocent

That lowly scrum of slackers who moon about Tulip Frenzy’s Global HQ like the gangsters of the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club were hoping to avoid the debate over the decade’s best album. Things can go terribly wrong when you start such discussions.

Some of the gang’s resistance stems from their admittedly deep knowledge of rock’n’roll history, wherein choosing the best record from the decade not even past calls up Chou En Lai’s response to Henry Kissinger, who asked Chou’s opinion of the French Revolution: “Too early to say.” It was 1972.

Some of us are still squabbling over whether OK Computer or Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space were the best albums of the ’90s. Moreover, with the hindsight of 40 years, can you really pick the ’70’s best album?

Much of the unwillingness to dig in, though, was due to the team’s needing Thanksgiving to get a quorum, set time for debate and invoke cloture. We need a deadline, the looming end o’ year — not to mention all the other glam sites we compete with putting out their lists — to force a determination of which record ranks supreme. Choosing from a ten-year span when we haven’t fully considered the options from the present one seemed, if not quite ass backwards, then at least as unaligned with Cause and Effect as Slothrop’s map of conquests was with the Poisson distribution of fallen V2 rockets.

But then along came Friend of the Site Allen Goldberg who taunted us, in like late October, with Paste or someone’s list of the decade’s finest. While it named many of the right bands (e.g. Thee Oh Sees) it consistently chose the wrong record (e.g. Castlemania). Which prompted a remarkably coherent and efficient response from the Tulip Frenzy editors.

Pool cues, far from being raised in anger, were gently rested on felt. The mid-afternoon guzzling momentarily fell silent. We all got together and, like, talked it out.

One editor suggested, “Let’s just figure out which albums from 2019, if any, should be considered, and throw them into the mix; it’s not like we have to do our whole annual Top 10 list before we can say which ones would make the decadal grade.”

To my surprise, from outta left field came this logical suggestion: since Tulip Frenzy has done an annual Top List each year since 2010, why not look at which records were included and jump-start deliberations by culling from the 90 chosen in each of nine one-year increments?

There was no getting out of it. We would chose the decade’s best… 20 sounds like a good number … albums.

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Before we reveal the list in full, a few words about the decade. 2010 to 2020 was a really great decade for real rock’n’roll.

And yes, we’re painfully aware that rock’n’roll is no longer the common language of our culture. “Popular music” these days contains precious little rock’n’roll (have you seen that horror show which is the Grammies?) If you wanted to be mean, you might even say that Tulip Frenzy — which used to believe it was dedicated to a highly refined subset of “pop music” — is today better defined as passionate supporters of unpopular music. Un-pop. Yep, that’s us.

So we get it. When we publish our list of the 20 best albums of the 2010s, we know it will bear little resemblance to the Best of the ’10s lists from other, less discerning sites. We know it’s quite possible that just as several of the rock critters, if we may even call them that, who put together the list for, say, Rolling Stone may not know any of the bands on our list, we may not know any of the bands on theirs. (Could someone please explain to me who Beyonce is?) Which of us should be more shamed by that development?

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Of the previous five decades in which rock music has been, if not the dominant musical art form, at least pop music’s organizing principle, two 10-year cohorts comprise an unassailable, uncontroversial collection of the Greatest Music of All Time — the ’60s and the ’70s. Yes, a Boomer point of view, but no less true because of it. I mean, these days Millenials play as much music by the Beatles as we do…

One decade — the ‘Aughts, 2000-2009 — barely registers as having a musical personality, but maybe we’re confusing things because we can never settle on what that decade should even be called. Between the rise of neo-psychedelica – bands like First Communion Afterparty, for example — and the incredible Power Pop of The New Pornographers, it was a decade with tasty output. But at this point, Chou En Lai was right: it’s too early to tell whether the ‘Aughts can be seen as a decade of distinction.

The ’90s were, surprisingly, as great as the ’60s and the ’70s. Fully two-thirds of the music I listen to today was either made in or sprang from the ’90s. So many artists were either in their early glory — Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dandy Warhols, Luna — or in peak form, cf. Bob Dylan, Fugazi, R.E.M., Nirvana, Spiritualized, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Whiskeytown, P.J. Harvey, Blur, Oasis, Jesus and Mary Chain, the Mekons, Matthew Sweet, Prince, Iggy Pop, Tom Petty, and I could go on. One could happily go to a Desert Isle with a ’90s-programmed juke box and foreswear all rescuing.

At the same time I know we can all agree that the ’80s sucked. Some of it was technical — the simultaneous advent of the CD and the adoption of synthesizers everywhere led to precious few albums that are today even listenable. Even in a decade in which R.E.M., U2 and the Pixies ruled the roost, so few albums sound good, it’s hard to spend time there. But the problems were more than technical, more than just the brittle transition from analog vinyl to digital CDs.

The ’80s reflected the tide going out to sea, taking the Clash and Gang of Four and Joy Division and Wire — all the great late ’70s bands — with it. Even though stalwarts like Lou Reed, the Replacements, Prince, Robyn Hitchcock, Galaxie 500, Sonic Youth, and early on, Bowie and the Stones all produced memorable ’80s albums, as decades go, it was a loser.

So where does all this leave us ranking the 2010s? Honestly, pretty high. Maybe not quite up there with ’90s, but ahead of the ’80s for sure, and about a furlong in front of its preceding ‘Aughts.

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The decade that began on New Year’s Day 2010 was driven by a handful of musicians about whom only a small portion of the world has ever heard. You and I — yes, you Bub — we all listen to Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Tim Presley/White Fence, and Kelley Stoltz. To us, this cast of characters was as influential in making the 2010s a great musical decade as Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone were in making the ’60s great. They played a role as important as what Brian Eno, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Joe Strummer, Tom Verlaine, Lou Reed, and David Byrne did in the ’70s. And none of them ever has or — gotta admit it — likely will ever headline at Wembley Stadium or even Coachella.

But rock’n’roll in the ’10s was amazing, and if you want to give credit where it’s due, let’s just go ahead and name Ty Segall Artist of the Decade. I count 13 solo albums, two albums with the Ty Segall Band, one with Mikal Cronin, two with White Fence (Tim Presley), and I can’t even keep up with Fuzz, Gøggs, and all the other offshoots.

Even if we were scoring him based only on his own output, I’d put Ty ahead of his only two competitors — John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees and Kelley Stoltz. But Ty’s impact can be felt on the generosity behind his producing first albums by Wand, Feels and Shannon Lay. And there are more I just can’t remember. For those of us in the rec room at Tulip Frenzy, it was an easy decision. We think the greatest music of a pretty great decade somehow ties back, if you’ll pardon the expression, to Ty Segall.

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With no further blathering here’s the list, in typical Casey Kasem reverse order:

The 20 Best Albums of the 2010s were:

20. Calexico Algiers (2012)

19. The Vaselines Sex With An Ex (2010)

18. Wire Change Becomes Us (2013)

17. Alejandro Escovedo Burn Something Beautiful (2016)

16. Parquet Courts. Sunbathing Animal (2014)

15. The New Pornographers Together (2010)

14. The Brian Jonestown Massacre Mini Album Thingy Wingy (2015)

13. Capsula In The Land of the Silver Sun (2011)

12. Robyn Hitchcock Robyn Hitchcock (2017)

11. Kelley Stoltz My Regime (2019)

10. Wand Laughing Matter (2019)

9. Ty Segall Freedom’s Goblin (2018)

8. PJ Harvey Let England Shake (2011)

7. Amen Dunes Love (2014)

6. Courtney Barnett The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas (2014)

5. Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)

4. First Communion Afterparty Earth – Heat – Sound (2013)

3. Woods Bend Beyond (2012)

2. Thee Oh Sees Floating Coffin (2013)

1. White Fence For The Recently Found Innocent (2014)

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I probably should just leave you here, preferably with a budget to go buy these as vinyl albums so you can sit in your rec room discovering them in your own way. But let me help you out just a bit.

There was amazing consensus among the editors that the White Fence album — Tim Presley’s brilliant tour through British Invasion and ’60s psychedelica, with only Ty Segall, natch, accompanying him (on drums) — was the odds on best record of the decade. Of all the records here, this is the one that, we are confident, will hold up longer than the French Revolution.

One could have named any number of albums by John Dwyer as high on this list, whether put out under the moniker of Thee Oh Sees, Oh Sees, OCS, or whatevs. But Floating Coffin was his best album of an amazing decade. Here’s a band that started out as a folky duo, soon became the funnest punk band in the land, and these days sounds like Miles Davis leading Hawkwind. Floating Coffin is the very best of their mid-period punk’n’melodic chaos.

Woods has taken a step back of late, but they released four amazing albums in a row and Bend Beyond is the best, earthy, tuneful Upstate music recorded in Brooklyn, or was it the other way around? Note: this was the last album in which Kevin Morby played bass. Yes, Kevin Morby.

We never thought we’d hear a third First Communion Afterparty album, but this most exciting psychedelic band of the ‘Aughts managed to have a record released from the grave. By the time EarthHeat – Sound came out in 2013, ace Minneapolis bandleader Liam Watkins was on to his next ‘un, Driftwood Pyre, whose one and only album so far was amazing. But this one was really special. I happen to think First Communion Afterparty was the most amazing left-field entrant of the Century To Date — go find this album. Like, today.

Radiohead’s second album of the decade was… Radiohead’s best album of the decade. ‘Nuff said.

We know that people have gone nuts over Courtney Barnett’s first “proper” album, but really, it was the suturing together of her two E.P.s into A Sea of Split Peas that introduced her to me in 2014, a year before anyone Stateside was grokking on her, and it’s still her best work.

When we heard Amen Dunes in 2014, we could hardly believe how great and weird they are, or more accurately, he is. Damon McMahon’s reach for prime time with 2018’s Freedom was wonderful, but Love, its predecessor, is a desert island album. It is so weird! Even as it’s straightforward freak folk marrying, say, Devendra Banhart with Brian Eno. Love this rec!

PJ Harvey‘s Let England Shake was a work of power and delicacy, a vibrantly intelligent work, and we love it. The year it came out, we gave the Tulip Frenzy Top 10 honors to Radiohead’s King of Limbs. That’s a great album, but we should have given the honors to Harvey’s memorable invocation of — of all things — World War I.

Ty Segall put out a LOT OF MUSIC in the 2010s. Freedom’s Goblin, a double album with his touring band, including especially Mikal Cronin, is worthy of the great double albums from days of yore. It is his Electric Ladyland or Quadrophenia. A major work by a major artist, the Tulip Frenzy Artist o’ da Decade. It is also, if you’ve yet to discover him, a great entry point as it has it all — punk rock, No Wave skronk, Beatles-esque folk, even a fun detour into “The Loner”-era Neil Young. Did we mention it begins with an homage to his dog?

We can’t tell you whether Wand or Kelley Stoltz will be accorded the soon-to-be-announced 2019 Tulip Frenzy Album o’ The Year. So we clustered them together. Wand is now the most impressive band playing on the planet. With comparisons to Radiohead, you know that Wand’s making great music. Laughing Matter is brilliant.

Not to be outdone, Kelley Stoltz put out the single best album of his amazingly consistent, astonishingly creative career — and My Regime shows how far he has grown from his earlier work, about half of which could have been included on this list of the decade’s best.

The redoubtable Robyn Hitchcock must have known he was putting out his single greatest album of a long and stellar career — a journey in which he has, and I’m serious, written more good songs than anyone but Bob Dylan — because this was the only album in which his name suffices for the title.

Argentine-spawned, Bilbao-housed punk rock magicians Capsula have released a lot of good music since 2005 — this was the best of a good lot. It is a delight to hear a trio play with such abandon — and never give up the hooks or melody.

While the decade’s output by Anton Newcombe can best be found sprinkled across singles, E.P.s, and albums, we chose the 34-minute long Mini Album Thingy Wingy to represent the Brian Jonestown Massacre because, yeah, it was his/their best album.

Five more to go? Sheesh. Okay, the New Pornographers released four great albums in the decade and, yup, this’n’s the best. Hard to choose the best Parquet Courts album — a band so good that now young tyros like Bodega are walking in their shoes — but we think we have. Alejandro Escovedo can still crush it, and with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, he did. Wire may be from the ’70s, but when I saw them a couple of years ago, all the younger musicians in the audience were grinning, and this record takes songs actually written in 1979 (and released then as a bad, messy album) and properly records them in a 2013 studio. Kurt Cobain-faves The Vaselines walked out of Glaswegian history to record two wonderful 2010s albums, but I chose Sex With An Ex because of the sheer thrill it gave me to have them return. Finally, Calexico has given all of us at Tulip Frenzy World HQ much joy when we’ve seen them live, but this is the album of theirs that we play in full.

Stay tuned for the upcoming Tulip Frenzy 10 Best Albums of 2019 list, circa Thanksgiving. Once we’ve recovered from writing this…

On Marrakech and Street Photography: A Photo Essay

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2019 by johnbuckley100
All images Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron, Version IV

This being an unusually lucky year for travel opportunities, I recently went to Marrakech and spent several days in and around the Medina, the old city with its warren of narrow passageways giving way to pedestrian squares. I had read about the difficulties of taking photos in the Moroccan street, of the active hostility of people to having their picture taken. My response was to travel with the compact Leica M10 rangefinder and a 25-year old lens, the 35mm Summicron, which is small and unobtrusive, and to shoot “from the hip,” camera held in the palm of my hand and raised to the eye only when taking pictures of inanimate objects.

I’ll tell you more about how I took the pictures posted here, but I also want to get into the why of it, into what it means to be a privileged Westerner who, against the wishes of the people whose lives he’s capturing would go ahead and take their picture. First, let’s set the scene.

The old city is punctuated with palaces and museums, among the most beautiful of which is the Dar El Bacha with its incredible tile work and architecture.

These images show off the legendary King of Bokeh, Leica’s last pre-Aspherical 35mm f/2 lens before the Summicron Asph was introduced in the late 1990s. Wide open, the out-of-focus areas drop off quickly, and to my eye pleasurably, even as it can be softer at the edges and corners than a modern, Aspherical lens. All of the above images were taken the conventional way, with the camera lifted to my eye. As were the two pictures below — the first (actually taken with the 75mm Noctilux) because the beautiful waiter didn’t object to her picture being taken, the second because I was far enough away that the father and daughter looking at the exhibition didn’t see me taking their picture.

Out in the street, though, it was a different matter. I walked casually with the camera at stomach level, ISO high enough to support an f/5.6 – 8 exposure, focus set to the hyperfocal distance of approximately 25 feet, and took pictures of people in the Medina’s full cacophony of sounds and riot of smells, the motorcycles pushing through, the donkey carts trying to get by. It was, as they say, a target-rich environment. Over several days wandering through the Medina, only occasionally did I raise the camera to my eye, and only a few times was I called out for taking a picture.

When you take pictures of people who don’t want their picture taken, what are you doing? Susan Sontag and others have written about the power relationship between the photographer and his subjects, between the observer and the observed. This imbalance exists even in your home city among people of comparable class and stature. But an American going, camera in hand, to a city like Marrakech turns up the amp to 11.

What I wanted to do was to make pictures that conveyed a reality that neither I nor many of the people who would see the pictures — you — have ready access to. It’s a conceit that what I was going for was art — though it’s always an intent — rather than mere tourism snapshots. As with all street photographers, I was focused upon taking pictures without asking permission of the subjects, and in fact had equipment and a technique deliberately designed to keep people from knowing I was “taking their picture” (which under these circumstances is a loaded phrase.) I’m not a documentarian or a photo journalist, and I’m also not an in-your-face, Bruce Gilden-style bully; the photographers I most admire are the humanists — Sebastiao Salgado, Alex Webb, Rui Palha — the people who care about other human beings and use their camera to tell their story even as they allow them — the subject — to provide the art through their interactions, movement and activity. But was that what I was doing in the streets of Marrakech?

Each of the pictures above were met with some protest, including the visibly raised arm of the shopkeeper in the bottom right. (I brought the camera to my eye for that one, thinking I was far enough away to do so unobserved, and only later saw the the shopkeeper’s discomfort.) In a favorite image made there, the local Surete protecting a palace let it be known in no uncertain terms that I should cease and desist. And in so doing, they made the picture!

As a privileged visitor, you make assumptions. I assume that part of the reason why people in Marrakech don’t want their picture taken is that we foreign tourists are invaders in their community. Even though the local economy is dependent upon tourism, tourists don’t have the moral “right” to take their picture without their permission, which they’re unwilling to give. The Moroccans try to preserve their personal rights and autonomy even as, for hundreds of years, Unbelievers — in some cases, colonial subjugators — have tromped clumsily through their neighborhoods. Moreover, Muslims have a religious edict against human and animal images, against a human representing things invented by Allah alone. A street photographer from the U.S. enters the Medina with a history as complex as the culture he or she wants to turn into two-dimensional pictures.

And yet, one of the things we all do when visiting an exotic location is try taking home with us some visual representation of it, a remembrance and relic of the visit. A century of film cameras, the economy of Rochester, New York and at least some portion of the current mobile phone economy has ebbed and flowed on this marketed presumption.

Perhaps street photography of the sort I was attempting can be justified by its knowingness, its flouting of the subject’s desires by subterfuge. Perhaps it’s deliberateness ennobled what otherwise would be seen as callous indifference to people’s autonomy. Even under this rationale — and I’m aware that’s what it is, a justification — what I was doing was still the act of a privileged Westerner who, against their wishes, made pictures while ignoring the subjects’ rights, their dignity. Because I could — at the end of the day, I was less likely to be punched for taking someone’s picture in Marrakech than I would be in streets of D.C. where I live.

But if my motives were driven by artistic purpose, wasn’t it okay? Don’t artists have superseding rights? Or is it all just exploitation, the pressing of a power relationship that at its core is my ability, as a Westerner, to afford to come to a place like this with an expensive camera hidden in my hand?

I wrestled with these thoughts. But I didn’t stop taking pictures.

I have never spent days on end shooting from the hip, but I quickly learned to capture, if not the perfectly framed shot, at least one that had authenticity and the sacred quality of the observed living in innocence, unaware their picture was being taken.

Pictures can be made with poignancy, with respect. The element of humanist, Family of Man universality could enter into the equation. The exotic could be captured with the excitement inherent in traveling far from our homes. And every once in a while I would capture something that I deemed really special.

Widening the frame a bit: a brilliant and brave street photographer like Mark Cohen can shoot incredible photographs of his fellow citizens in the risky intimacy of a small city like Scranton, but for many of us, going to a place far from home, camera in hand, relieves us of fear and inhibition. Our passport lets us take pictures we wouldn’t dream of taking in our city’s streets.

Even unleashed in the street, I punctuated my photography with more formal captures of the architecture and art, the scene, the tourist’s bounty.

It’s an incredibly beautiful city, in its alternating rough but delicate way, but still, pictures devoid of people are not what I love. This is not what gets me going. This is what gets me going.

Taking pictures of inanimate objects, whether in landscape photography or just capturing a beautiful tile floor, is dependent on light, on weather, on simply being there, on showing up, far more than on action and incident. Joel Meyerowitz, who is both a brilliant street photographer and a documentarian of moments dependent on light, not action, talks about taking “tough pictures.” Inherent in this is the notion that street photography has an admirable, testing degree of difficulty, that finding the kismet in human interaction is where the treasure lies.

There are no decisive moments taking pictures of tile on a Marrakesh palace’s floor, ah, but just outside in the street something might be happening. Weegee’s dictum was “F/8 and be there,” emphasizing the showing up, the getting out there. “Out there” being defined as the street, where things happen. Things happen out there because that’s where the people are.

When Joel Meyerowitz co-authored Bystander: A History of Street Photography, I don’t think his title meant the photographer is a bystander, at least not in the way we use that term to refer to someone who does nothing. Who lets life go on without him. Because the photographer very much does something. Whether he takes the picture, as Garry Winogrand famously said, to see “what something will look like photographed,” or for some other, possibly deeper motivation, the street photographer is intimately engaged in the scene, even as he remains distant from it. For me, that’s an intense way of being, a way of genuinely connecting with my surroundings — and a greater motivation to go somewhere than simply “being there.”

Back in Marrakesh, there were moments when it all came together. The first picture on this post is an example of the Medina in perfect street photographer’s dream light.

The photo below is the kind of image that really keeps me going. The kismet of the parts assembling themselves in front of the camera lens, the practice and skill of having the camera ready to go at close to the right settings — well, it’s why I show up, f/8 or whatever.

I may not have perfectly nailed the focus on the little Moroccan boy responding to the European girl in the tiara, but that’s okay. (As Winogrand also said, photography is incredibly forgiving — you can botch the focus and still get the picture.) The action of the mother — what is she doing? — and all the unknown elements contained in this short story are the kinds of things that as a photographer I live for.

I really don’t know what’s going on in this picture — I was too busy snapping the shutter. I remember standing in the foyer on my way out of a small store in a small town outside of Marrakech where crafts are made by a collective of artisans and seeing, first, the blue transom light, and next, some action in the street. I instinctively brought the camera to my eye. My settings were what I had most recently used on the street — approximately f/8, ISO 400, probably 1/250th of a second (I’ll check the metadata later to see.) All I know is that in capturing this incident in which Europe meets Africa/Christianity meets Islam, two children engage though a mother intervenes, the full story is unknown and gone in a split second. It is … the reason to carry a camera. To be ready, you have to be comfortable making pictures of people, permission given or not.

On the last day of our trip, we went to the village of Aghmat, for the Friday morning market. It was agreed among our friends that others would keep their cameras down and I’d wander through shooting from the hip as unobtrusively as possible. I’d share with our friends whatever pictures I took, but they wouldn’t trigger a reaction by everyone holding up their iPhones.

Looking at these pictures, I’m reminded of the roots of tableau painting, the cast of characters arranged by the artist to tell some story out of the workings of a given day. In street photography, the artist is, well, a bystander, without the power to choreograph movements. It’s joyful to see just what the camera can record in what Daido Moriyama referred to as “fossils of light and time.”

To me, these photos capture life in all its pungency and primal interaction. And as the trip finished, I was glad to have come to a place deemed hostile to street photography, not because it made me hone my skills but because it made me think. About what matters in picture making.

I adore landscape photography (scroll down and see the images from a trip to Iceland in August), but know that a big part of my satisfaction in taking a good landscape photograph is that to do so, I had to hike to some sublime location. Martin Parr says one thing that prevents people from becoming good photographers is… laziness. F/8 and for Godsake be there. Street photography is a little different in that it requires more than simply being there. You must be attuned to movement in the street, to subtle incidents, to the mood of people, not just the quality of light.

I was grateful to go up into the mountains and be able to take this picture in the calm late morning light in a tiny village that housed a Berber Museum run by the same people who run Marrakech’s lovely House of Photography.

I was glad on our final morning to take a photograph of the fountain in our small hotel with its lush flowers in the water. Most of all, I was grateful to have come to Marrakech, an intriguing, fascinating city reputed to be hostile to street photography and be able to walk away with some images that I hope others besides me will find hard to forget.

John Buckley’s Instagram is @tulip_frenzy

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?

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