Concluding “D.C. Under Quarantine: A Visual Diary”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 9, 2020 by johnbuckley100

All images Leica SL2, with the 24-90 or 16-35 Vario-Elmarit lenses

It was eight weeks ago yesterday that the partners at the Washington, D.C. firm in which I work told our team that, for the foreseeable future, we would conduct business from home. In the office lobby where we had assembled everyone — in contravention of social distancing rules we would all soon learn — people exhibited a combination of relief, fear and a little bit of excitement at the adventure ahead of us. I told people that we would be apart for “at least the next two weeks.” That seems almost funny now.

Yesterday, Mayor Bowser — proving to be far more concerned about the safety of her citizens than the man in the big white house on 18 acres in the city center — let us know our indefinite lockdown still has some time on the clock.

Keeping a city of 700,000 at home while a pandemic rages is a hard thing to do, especially as the calendar has moved from the late winter cold through Washington’s genuinely epic spring season. We’ve been good about social distancing, Mrs. Tulip Frenzy and I, but as early as March 18th, I began walking around the city — often at dawn or at sunset, after working from home — embarked on a photo project. My goal has been to capture D.C. under quarantine, but in a very specific way we will get to in a moment. Aside from the initial reportage cited above, I have updated this project here once. Today — perhaps fittingly, a blustery, cold day that seems like the clock has been reset to mid-March — I bring it to a conclusion.

The project I embarked on two months ago was to capture the weirdness and beauty of Washington under wraps during its most beautiful season. I probably would have used my Leica SL2 to capture the Tulip Frenzy, and after it, the Azalea Frenzy, but when in the city, as readers of this site know, I am partial to black & white photography — to street photography that reflects the sublime grit of urban life. Under the lockdown, I was, if not shut off from the streets — in which I’d have to keep far greater distance from other people than I’d like — then at least encouraged to stay home, to stay in my Northwest DC neighborhood. And to the extent I went to public spaces, the quadrant I kept in was the D.C. that tourists inhabit — the Mall, the Georgetown waterfront, the Kennedy Center. White D.C. Safe D.C. Perhaps not coincidentally, the city’s most picturesque parts.

Which led to this inversion of my life, and approach. The approach I take when living not in the city but out West — early morning and sunset landscapes — was grafted onto my experience here, and I began to shoot urban landscapes with an emphasis on how beautiful the environment is, flowers in bloom, people mostly absent. It was different and thrilling. At first.

I began looking at the city from new angles, in new ways. And as I posted images on Instagram (@tulip_frenzy), I learned that in the lockdown, many of my friends were spending more time on Insta than usual, and posting color pictures of our city in bloom was cheering people up. And so, for a while there, it seemed I had a purpose — which you need during a lockdown! I resigned myself to deviate from the kind of photography I typically do when at home in D.C., in part due tocircumstances, in part as a social service. Or such was the rationale. My non-work hours were given over to driving to the Mall or other locations and going on walks, camera in hand, in search of good light. The earlier posts linked to above capture that journey. This final collection shows how late April and May progressed.

For a while there, it rained a lot, and one night I went out to see what I could find. I started by going to Ben’s Chili Bowl, on a deserted U Street, the night that Congress voted to replenish funds for the Paycheck Protection Program. Ben’s, a D.C. institution that has brought people together in a racially divided city for 60 years, was reportedly in dire straits, having been shut out of the first round of federal funds. It seemed outrageous that Congress was appropriating trillions of dollars, and yet an institution like Ben’s was dying for lack of access to it.

To drive through D.C. streets on a rainy spring evening with virtually no one visible — pedestrian or motorist — was passing strange. The drive to Capitol Hill was eerie.

At the Capitol, a lone staffer emerged in the rain hours after the vote to fund the PPP (which, happily, as it turned out, was able to provide Ben’s a lifeline.)

On my way home that night, I drove near my office and saw a sight that made me pull over and jump out with my camera. A man who seemed to be having difficulty staying upright peddled a bike in wobbly loops in front of the closed Tiffany’s jewelry store on 10th Street. It was too alluring not to try capturing it, which imperfectly I did.

As time progressed, more and more people came out during the daylight hours. Wisconsin Avenue was far more crowded with cars each passing day. I would drive to pick up my salad from the SweetGreen, usually listening to reports on the radio about the hellish conditions in New York, where people were dying by the hundreds. The journey which in March had seemed like I was the only soul braving such adventures, now had actual traffic. In the evening, when I’d go out with camera in hand, people were exulting in the spring weather.

Of course they were; it was springtime in Washington, which is to say, springtime in America’s most beautiful city in that season. And they had been — all of us had been — cooped up for weeks.

And yet, as the federal response from the White House faltered until they just seemed to give up… and guidance on social distancing and wearing masks seemed to be contradicted every day… until that crescendo of derp in which the president urged us to shoot up Clorox, even in D.C., there were signs that people weren’t taking seriously what needed to be done.

And then came the flyover by the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds, a welcome entertainment and a lovely thanks to the medical workers, but catnip for luring people out in the kinds of crowds we weren’t supposed to be in.

While my photography is decidedly not aimed at finding the visual juxtapositions and humor that are hallmarks of artists like Elliot Erwitt, Pentti Samhallatti or Craig Semetko, perhaps my favorite image from the entire project is this one below, in which the bird clearly did not get the memo about which direction air traffic control was sending those lucky enough to have wings.

I continued going out, camera in hand, taking pictures of our city under glorious light and bizarre circumstances.

As time went on, though — and it became ever more clear that the lockdown wasn’t for a short spell, but would likely continue into summer — I began missing my beloved Leica Monochrom, and the ability to take pictures in black & white. Mentally, although perhaps not in practice, I began to rebel against the self-imposed prohibition against street photography, because by definition it meant being in contact with people. One night I went to the Key Bridge and took landscape photos up and down the river at sunset.

The moon was coming up over the bend in the Potomac in front of the Kennedy Center. And to the Northwest, the Potomac flowed under the spires of Georgetown University. It was breathtaking, honestly, crossing the bridge as traffic went by, a few hundred feet above the river, staring at the scene below.

A short while later, as I walked back up into Georgetown’s empty streets where I’d parked my car, I took a photo that reminded me of the kinds of pictures I missed taking.

Earlier that day, Peter Fetterman — the great L.A.-based gallerist who has been posting images from his collection since the lockdown began there — had emailed the black & white image Willy Ronis took in 1934 of Rue Muller à Montmartre. It was foggy and mysterious and it made me think of the Exorcist Steps, so I walked over to them just as that woman above was ascending. This seemed like the photography I should be doing.

It has been a strange couple of months, and a highlight has been capturing these urban landscapes in a city I love. But I’ve decided to end the project here, on a high note, and get back to taking photographs in black & white. I wish everyone good health as we get through the pandemic. I’m going to continue taking pictures, just not part of this formal project of capturing DC Under Quarantine, as I’ve called it. It’s fitting that the last picture posted here would be of the U.S. Capitol on a beautiful evening, as the first picture in this project was of the Washington Monument at dawn. A beautiful city. A strange set of circumstances. Please stay well.

The full gallery of John Buckley’s images documenting D.C. under the Covid-19 pandemic can be found here. His Instagram feed is found @tulip_frenzy

Update To “D.C. Under Quarantine: A Visual Diary”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on April 18, 2020 by johnbuckley100
All images Leica SL2, daily feed @tulip_frenzy on Instagram

In the second half of March, I began to visually document the Nation’s Capital under the soft quarantine imposed by our mayor after Covid-19 began to spread. It was, at first, a suggestion we stay home, and my office depopulated in advance of the more restrictive order that came a short time later. Mindful of safety, and taking precautions, I still went out, often early, sometimes at dusk, to try capturing D.C. in its prettiest season, and to document life under quarantine.

I became as highly attentive to weather forecasts and the times the sun would rise and set as my wife and I are when we’re out West, and color landscape photography in a mountain valley, not street photography in the city we live in most of the year, is the objective.

The city was, at is always is in spring, amazingly beautiful, as the tulip frenzy progressed to Easter. It was eery to go on walks and see virtually no one, the citizens of the capital city having gotten the message to stay home even as the White House flopped around in incompetence and indecision. I found I was oddly suited for the absence of direct human contact, and the conversion of my urban street photography into something akin to urban landscape photography.

On bright and sunny days, people would go out, but fewer of them, and with masks. Runners along the Mall seemed stunned that, in what typically is our city’s busiest tourist season, there was no one there.

I remembered, from college, seeing that 1950’s horror movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still, and it was like that. You could stand in the middle of the tourist corridors and see just the occasional bike rider.

I get a paycheck, and being at home was perfectly comfortable, but I found myself overwhelmed with sadness as the economy flatlined, and people suddenly lost work, and those essential employees had to risk their lives to go to work.

Do you see the guard above? She probably considered herself lucky to have work to go to, but I remember standing there for a long time, my head a jumble of emotional calculations, sad that she was in our city’s most beautiful museum without the usual run of schoolchildren there on Spring Break visits, happy that she seemed safe, with no one around her. It was a bewildering, emotional, upside down moment, typical of the world under the Coronavirus lockdown. Everything is upside down.

Just the birds were out, as in a typical spring morning. But there was nothing typical about this, and one had to look at things in a new, unfamiliar way.

And then came a magical few evenings when the Pink Moon rose, a super moon, and we rushed to capture it on an empty National Mall.

The moon itself was gorgeous, and as it lifted into the sky, it was so bright it was really hard to capture. It really did cast the sky in pink light. I remember standing there, amazed, and thinking of Nick Drake, whose album Pink Moon tugs at our heart, and when we got home, we learned that even as the moon had risen, John Prine had died of Coronavirus.

The next night, we went down to the Mall, again to try capturing the moon, and on our way, over Constitution Gardens, got a distant glimpse of the Lincoln Memorial in the Blue Hour, and everything was right in the world. We once again brought our tripod, but the pictures we took of the moon paled in comparison to one of the few pictures we’ve captured of what I would deem a street scene, as the bicyclists below on the left side of the image stayed still long enough for a two-second exposure to capture everything, the image I will keep for life as the best depiction of the unbelievable beauty of being in Washington during this horrible period.

I kept going out at dawn and dusk, though I felt my spirit flagging. It was hard to keep thinking of where I might want to position myself to take pictures. It seemed incredibly artificial to be capturing images of pristine, official, privileged DC and ignore all the sections of the city where people actually live. In brief forays into the city’s urban streets, however, I was pretty stunned to see people clustering, some with masks, many not, and it seemed far better to stay in my socially distant world, driving or walking to take pictures where people were few and far between.

Easter came, and the city bloomed, as it usually does at Easter time. But time began to hang heavily as we started our fifth week of working from home.

Walking with a camera in hand remained the essential psychological outlet, but the sense of unreality began to intensify. And all the while, walking from our home or car, after a day spent working, was a reminder of how many people were in absolute bewilderment of sudden joblessness, or, in New York, the horror of the pandemic raging all around them. D.C. officials kept talking about the future peak in cases, but in the city’s Northwest Quadrant, it all seemed far away.

The Earth still stood still, but our stomach churned and head jangled from the blasts of sheer insanity emanating just a short distance away in the White House briefing room. It was hard to reconcile this peaceful, gorgeous city with the unfathomable craziness of the President lashing out at governors fighting the pandemic, at the Supreme Court sending people out to vote in Wisconsin amidst a plague.

Ah, but by now the Azalea Frenzy had hit our backyard, and weather warmed, at least briefly.

We remembered how our documentation of D.C. under quarantine had begun under a cold March sunrise at the Lincoln Memorial, and by now, even as people kept their distance, things were warm, spring was here, and of course our spirits lifted. People were out on the Mall, but appropriately — we had masks on, for the most part, and there was enough space between us and the runners to be able to continue walking comfortably. How long this will go on, and what happens when the weather gets even warmer, we don’t know. For now, as our quarantine continues and news comes that at least New York is past its peak, spring continues, and we look up.

To be continued…

John Buckley’s daily feed of images on Instagram can be found @tulip_frenzy. For the full set of images, head over to our sister site, John Buckley in Black and White and Color.

The Proper Ornaments, Waxahatchee and Arbouretum Comprise Our Lockdown New Music Playlist

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on April 10, 2020 by johnbuckley100

Punk rock should not be your soundtrack for the lockdown. We are playing a lot of Miles Davis, Cluster & Eno, and Philip Glass. To get through being cooped up at home, the springtime view out the window reassuringly normal even as our dreams reveal turmoil, you need music that is at once complex and beautiful, that gives our minds something to hang on to without elevating our blood pressure. We have some recommendations.

For nearly 40 years, when we’ve been in a certain mood, the artist who has filled the bill is Nick Drake, and it of course makes perfect sense that this past week saw a pink moon — a Pink Moon! But there was only one Nick Drake, and he left us Pink Moon and not a whole lot else before his tragic exit. Which leaves us needing… well, here are three albums released in recent weeks that all fit the bill.

It seems like only yesterday but it was actually last May that the Proper Ornaments gave us the brilliant 6 Lenins. Tulip Frenzy ranked it the 7th best album of 2019, and our admiration for it has only increased since. James Hoare and co.’s new record, Mission Bells, is so of-the-moment, playing it seems like it could be a live stream from his own lockdown studio in London.

If, to continue our Nick Drake theme, one could enact a rating system for how closely an album tracks melodic brilliance, quiet authority and mid-tempo thrills, we’d give this record four Pink Moons. We said at the time that 6 Lenins was music for a rainy day, and that we could imagine Woods, the Feelies, Anton Newcomb and Kevin Morby being fans. Mission Bells is music for extended home arrest, and we expand our universe of comparisons for an album that makes us think of the Velvet Underground, David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, the Perfect Disaster, White Fence and, of course, Hoare’s previous band, Ultimate Painting. If you are a fan of melodic British pop music, and who isn’t, this one just might see you through the miserable weeks ahead.

We’ve liked Katie Crutchfield’s Waxahatchee alter ego since 2013’s Cerulean Salt. We’ve admired her music even when it morphed into 2017’s Out in the Storm, which sounded more like an update to Juliana Hatfield’s late ’80s power pop than the quirky Southern gothic rock that grabbed us in the first place. On Saint Cloud, though, she’s put it all together. It’s an album that bears comparison to Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which even schoolchildren know got four stars from Christgau and comparisons to Born To Run. Crutchfield has a sweet voice, and she really understands both pop songwriting dynamics and how to pace an album. We put this one on, pretty loud, we have to say, when we wish to think of glasses half full, to remember springtimes when we could go anywhere and hang with, like, people. Lest this read like the album is comprised of upbeat pop music — it is certainly bright and melodic — it’s not, you know, Taylor Swift. It’s just an album that never lets you see Crutchfield sweat as she powers through a nearly perfect run of great songs, Americana in the best use of the word. Somewhere we imagine Tom Petty smiling, even as Lucinda Williams, uncrowned, sighs.

Baltimore’s Arbouretum has done the seemingly impossible. Over the eight songs on Let It All In, as beguiling a record as has ever come out of Charm City, they make us think of artists as different as CSN&Y and Can. From the beautiful folk rock of “How Deep It Goes” to the Krautrock of the title track, it’s clear this is a band that, nine albums and nearly two decades in, have learned a trick or two. They get special points in our book for enlisting Hans Chew to play piano on “High Water Song.” Wilco-level musicianship and imagination coupled with respect for the British folk formalism of Fairport Convention makes for a brisk experience, but honestly, given what we all are going trough, this album is a tonic for our troubled times.

D.C. Under Quarantine: A Visual Diary

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 28, 2020 by johnbuckley100
John Buckley’s Instagram is @tulip_frenzy; All images taken with the Leica SL2

I took my last black and white photograph before the soft quarantine began on March 9th. I actually went to a concert in a small club along the D.C. Wharf, because Wire — a favorite band for more than 40 years — are always worth it, and I was armed with hand sanitizer and instructions on social distancing. Still, though… my last outing, and what was I thinking?

Later that week, we announced to our office employees that we would work from home until the Coronavirus abated, or at least until the risks had diminished. A few days later, before sunrise, I went down to the Lincoln Memorial for MonumentHenge, that wonderful moment when the sun rises and shines directly on Lincoln’s face. It was dark when I parked my car. The guards were out in front of the State Department, but no one else was around, save for those dedicated workers, God bless ‘em, showing up before sunrise at the Federal Reserve.

The markets were in chaos, and people were beginning to die. But elsewhere, not here in this Washington, not yet. We were told to stay home, except surely you go out and walk in the morning, before sunrise, to take pictures. Washington, as always, was beautiful.

Later that same day, when teleworking, our new odd reality, had subsided, I returned to the cherry blossoms before the crowds arrived, as they did in force that weekend. There was a woman taking an iPhone photograph while she kneeled by the water, a mask on her face. It seemed emblematic of the moment.

Within days of taking that picture, the National Guard was shutting down access to the Mall, and those of us who live here were shamed, put in the same irresponsible category as college kid revelers on the beaches of Florida.

I kept going out — at sunrise, in the evenings — but carefully so, when people were distant. Photographs I posted on Instagram were, I was told, cheering my friends up, and I decided to keep at it, Leica SL2 in hand, shooting in color.

I’m going to keep doing this as often as I can, as we get through this terrible moment. There may be a time when I can’t go out, for a variety of reasons. Until then I intend — carefully — to amble along, camera in hand, a flaneur, an urban landscape photographer, intent on staying six feet or more from anyone I see. Robert Capa once said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” He died taking pictures. I’ll keep my distance.

You can see the progression of time by the blossoms, and as I write this, the tulips are out. One day I saw a couple dancing outside of the Kennedy Center, and I completely understood what was going on: they needed to get out of the house. They weren’t the irresponsible who couldn’t keep their social distance. You can tell they dance together from their shoes.

It is an awful moment in the life of our planet, our country, and soon, no doubt, my beloved D.C. Think of this, then, as a visual diary of the way things were as the sun kept rising each morning, but the progression of the pandemic kept us away from work, and one another.

I don’t know how long I’ll keep the associated gallery up on johnbuckleyinblackandwhiteandcolor.com. I’ll probably stop posting these color pictures when we get the all-clear sign, if ever we do, that we can go back to work in an office. For now, enjoy these fossils of light and time, as Moriyama might call them. I hope they both brighten your day and serve as a visual diary of Washington, D.C. in the time of the Coronavirus. Consider this a work in progress…

To follow this visual journal, go to our sister site, John Buckley in Black and White and Color.

Dream Combo: The Leica M10 on the Streets (and Beaches) of Miami

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on February 29, 2020 by johnbuckley100
All photos Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux

On the last day of the Obama Administration, my Leica M10 arrived in Washington. I remember sharing anxiety with the good folks at the Leica Store DC about whether it would be delivered before the cordon went up around downtown blocks in preparation for a certain person’s inauguration. There were two silver linings to Trump’s inauguration: the Womens’ March which followed dwarfed the crowds at his fete, and was the greatest outpouring of civic protest I’d ever witnessed, and I was able to capture it with the Leica M10, which in so many ways is the perfect camera for street photography.

Flash forward to late February and my wife and I had a weekend trip planned to visit a friend in Miami Beach. I had a newfound embarrassment of riches to choose from when it came to bringing a camera, for the Leica SL2 was released November and I’d been working with the third generation Monochrom since January. Readers of this space will remember I had recalibrated what kind of camera could work for street photography, since the Leica SL2, with the smaller Summicron SL lenses and a nifty little Sigma 45mm, f/2.8 lens could make it seem — well, almost — like I could walk around with the invisibility of an M. And while Miami promised bright colors, isn’t the perfect answer to that confounding expectations by carrying the excellent new Monochrom?

I wisely came to my senses and brought along the M10, and I’m glad I did. While the new Monochrom surpasses it in the size of its sensor (41 mp vs. 24), and the SL2 is in a class of its own, both in terms of a 47 megapixel sensor and amazing color handling, the Leica M10 is as perfect an M camera as ever existed, and using it one could shoot from the hip, in crowds, with nary an eyebrow raised. Well, maybe one eyebrow raised.

We are intimately familiar with the M10 because it has lived in our hands in walks around our city, although over the past year, I suppose, I have carried a Monochrom more often. As a photographer I have what some might call a problem, though I can’t quite see it that way: I am equally in love with black and white and color photography. Obviously, when carrying any digital camera other than the Monochrom, once can have it either way, and carrying the M10 last weekend, I was glad to be able to process some images in black and white, for that’s how I saw them when I took them.

The M10, we already knew, is versatile and discrete, but spending the weekend with it reaffirmed what we believed from the moment we clutched its lithe body in January 2017: it really is a perfect street camera. Using the hyperfocal distance, and having practiced just enough walking through crowds with the camera held as flat as possible at the bottom of my chest, keeping eye contact with people even as I surprise them by pressing the shutter, most of the time you can get away with taking people’s picture without them freaking out. Though, of course, sometimes you get caught.

If ever there were a combination of camera and city that worked perfectly, it is the M10 and Miami. Sure, HC-B’s Leica iii and Paris in the 30s was a pretty good combo too, and Rui Palha owns Lisbon with his Leica Q. But given how bright and colorful Miami is, how big are the crowds along the beach and in the Wynwood Arts District with its famous graffiti walls, the city and camera combine like rice and beans. In certain moments, when a monochrome image is best, the image can be living poetry. Shooting the M10 in Miami is the Platonic ideal of Leica photography.

Of course it makes sense that what is widely believed to be the most successful seller of Leica cameras in America — the Leica Store Miami — is in Coral Gables. Fans of destination photo workshops take note: this is an ideal city to participate in one, and happily David Farkas, Kirsten Vignes, Peter Dooling and the legendary Josh Lehrer continuously play host with such genius photographers as Arthur Meyerson and even Alex Webb using the Leica Store as their hub.

Miami is a feast for the eyes, especially northern eyes weary of winter with bodies in need of Vitamin D. How much camera does one need, under these circumstances? There are rumors that Leica is planning on upping the megapixels in the M10 while retaining that edition, perhaps calling it the M10R.

One doesn’t really need more megapixels for street photography. Landscape, sure. But street photography? Not so much. We look forward to future winter visits to colorful Miami, with the perfect street camera in hand. For now at least, that remains the Leica M10.

On Leica’s M10 Monochrom, And The Apogee Of Digital Black and White Photography

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 26, 2020 by johnbuckley100
Leica M10 Monochrom, 28mm Summicron

It has been a long time, but I can still remember the smell of the dark room, the odd feeling of being suffused in red light even as a print lay soaking in solution. I don’t miss processing black and white images, the chemical reek, the wrinkled fingertips, because fortunately digital photography makes it almost effortless to convert an image from color to black and white. And yet, since 2012, there has been another way of taking monochrome images. From the first moment Leica announced the Monochrom, which takes only black and white pictures, its purity appealed to me. It literally changed my life as a photographer.

I took the picture above the first day I laid my hands on what has become known as the M9 Monochrom, released in September 2012. For those who followed my journey using the original Monochrom – a journey so profound I wrote about it at several junctures — you may remember what a joy it was when the Monochrom was updated in April 2015 to what became known as the M Monochrom. Some Monochrom shooters resisted that transition, but I didn’t — I embraced the M Monochrom. Over time it became my favorite camera.

Those two cameras opened up an unforeseen dimension in my passion for photography. It’s not simply that the images each produced, coupled with Leica’s glorious lenses, rekindled my love of black and white photography. Their very limitations forced me to think about the act of photography in a different way. With a Leica rangefinder, you are already dealing with certain limitations — manual focus, until recently no ability to shoot with telephoto lenses. Taking away the color option was another, even more severe limitation. And yet it opened a world, and a way of seeing. And now, seven-plus years into the journey, the new M10 Monochrom has seemingly delivered the apogee of monochrome photography, the initial promise of that first black-and-white-only camera realized in what I can only describe as a thrilling manner. Before I get to this third generation Monochrom, let me tell you a little more about its two big brothers. The first was a poet, and the second was an athlete.

Leica M9 Monochrom, and 90mm Summicron

In 2014, I was fortunate to travel with my family to Botswana on a photographic safari, and I brought both the M-240 — the 2013 successor to the Leica M9 — and the M9 Monochrom. I shot color with the M-240, which having made the transition from a CCD to a CMOS sensor meant, for the first time with an M camera, being able to use long lenses via an adaptor. The Monochrom, however, was limited to a 135mm focal length. Because it was built on the M9 chassis and had a CCD sensor, it had no Live View and hence no way to use Leica’s superb telephoto lenses from the discontinued R platform. I quickly learned this wasn’t actually a limitation. I shot the image above with a 90mm M Summicron and the black and white images that combo captured are the only ones I choose to display on my photo site, or on my walls. It is as if, as a photographer, I visited Botswana with only black and white film, because the only images that matter to me, honestly, are the ones I returned with in monochrome.

I said that the original Monochrom was a poet, and I can’t analytically describe why other than to say there was something dreamy about the way it rendered images. The next generation Monochrom — the Monochrom M — was, as I said, more like an athlete. It happens that way sometimes in families. Because all Leicas Monochroms skip the step where a Bayer filter adds color pixels to the brew, they are able to serve up a purer distillation of grey shades, which means better high ISO shooting — with comparatively little noise or banding — than their color competitors. The second Monochrom had even better high ISO performance than the first one, and like the M-240 camera from which it was adapted, it was a workhorse. It could take long lenses. It seemed sturdier in the hand. The pictures it captured were amazing in their tonality and dynamic range, though as always with a Monochrom, because there were no color channels at all, if you blew out the highlights, there was nothing left, no data hiding in a red or green channel. (Another limitation of shooting with the Monochrom, and this one with no upside.)

Leica Monochrom M, with Leica R 70-180 zoom

In the summer of 2015, I brought the Monochrom M out West with me and used it with that same R telephoto lens that worked so well with the M-240. The picture above of Jackson Hole’s Sleeping Indian rock formation was shot at the 180mm focal length, and I have it in my office blown up to approximately 30×40. Few people would notice the difference between the original Monochrom images and those of its successor, which makes sense since they had much in common, including Leica lenses. It was when you were working with the files in Lightroom that you noticed a difference — the Monochrom M files in many ways superior to the original (better high ISO, at least as good dynamic range), but also missing a certain… something. Even as some Leica photographers bemoaned what was lost from the transition to a CMOS sensor, I put that out of my mind and concentrated instead on how much more versatile the M Monochrom was, how good it was in low light. It became, in so many ways, the camera I used more than any other, ever. Certainly, in 2019, the four-year old Monochrom M was the camera I clutched when leaving the house.

Leica Monochrom M, and 35mm Summilux

Cartier-Bresson referred to his Leica as an extension of his eye, and for months there last year, mine certainly seemed to be an extension of my arm. When I had the pleasure of spending a day with a man who is, perhaps, HC-B’s spiritual son, Rui Palha, I was able to wander the streets of Lisbon looking at the city the way he sees it, which is to say, entirely in black and white. While I had enjoyed using the M10 in the bright colors and sunsets of the Alhambra in Grenada, because I was with Rui — as poetic a monochrome photographer as there is on the planet — my mind jettisoned those color channels just like my camera had, and as we set out into the streets, my M10 was miles away, cozy in a seaside room. My beloved M Monochrom was in my hand.

Leica M Monochrom, 35mm Summilux

I don’t know how many pictures I took with that M Monochrom, but in the 55 months I owned it, it kept its position as my go-to camera even as Leica produced a number of new camera platforms, the SL (which I began using) and the Q, which I resisted. As it became obvious a new Monochrom had to be coming sometime — Leica had long missed its previous interval of 2.5 years between Monochrom — what I hoped for, honestly, was just an upgrade like the one between the M-240 and M10: a slightly smaller camera with an updated sensor, a further refinement of the Leica M digital rangefinder. I wanted the ability to travel with both the M10 and the M10 Monochrom and only have to bring one battery charger. I had zero expectations that Leica would boost the resolving power of the M10 Monochrom sensor from 24 megapixels to 40. Which was why the announcement earlier this month of just what the M10 Monochrom would be was like being hit by a thunderclap.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 28mm Summicron

The first picture at the top of this post, and the ones just above and below this paragraph, were taken Friday when, to my surprise, I wandered out of my office at lunchtime and found the city streets crowded with demonstrators. They became an opportunity for me to test out what kind of street camera the new M10 Monochrom really is.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 28mm Summicron

What was immediately notable about shooting with the M10 Monochrom was how delightful it is in the grip. (I remember receiving the M10 the day before Trump’s inauguration and using it two days later at the Women’s March, and it was a tactile revelation, a sense of a volume reduction to the Golden Mean — even as it was also clear what an upgrade in sensors the M10 had over the M-240.) By moving to a 40 megapixel sensor, it’s perhaps an unfair question to ask how the M10 Monochrom compares to its predecessor, but I should note that, while 35mm is my most comfortable focal length, having those extra megapixels has encouraged me to use the 28mm Summicron, and crop where necessary; I have, it now seems, pixels to spare. If I hadn’t been using that 28mm lens, I never would have gotten the first picture on this post, nor the one that concludes it below.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 35mm Summilux

The M10 Monochrom’s fastest shutter speed is 1/4000th of a second, but it has been grey in Washington these past few days and I was able to shoot the above wide open at ISO 160 — down from a base ISO of 320 on the M Monochrom — which protected highlights. I have been curious, at times, about the way the Maestro processor determines ISO when using Aperture Priority and Auto ISO, as I have over the past few days of testing. There were images that, had I not been using Auto ISO, I would have switched the external ISO dial (yay) to 400 or 800, only to discover that the camera’s brain decided the image was to be shot at ISO 160. I came to understand – duh – the Auto ISO is biased toward shooting at the widest possible dynamic range, which means the lowest usable ISO.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 35mm Summilux

I remember setting the ISO dial to 400 for the above shot, which was at f/5.6 @1/1500th. I’m curious whether the Auto ISO would have shot this at 160 and a faster shutter speed. I do know, however, that if you use Auto ISO when out at night, and take a shot you never would have even considered with the first-generation Monochrom, you won’t be disappointed. I won’t tax your patience with a series of images of dark alleys, but trust me when I say that shooting at ISO 10,000 produced images literally without noise.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 35mm Summilux

The above image was shot at ISO 400, on a corner so dark I could barely use the guy on the right’s glasses as the reference point for focusing. On my computer screen, it is clear how much latitude there is for making it as light as it’s posted here, or meaningfully darker but still with the two men distinct against the ambient lighting. It’s stunningly clean.

So, is the M10 Monochrom, with its amazing high ISO performance and subtle tonality in limited light, worth getting for that feature alone? No, of course not. At least not any more than one would buy a Noctilux simply because of its low-light performance; you get a Noctilux because you want that special look it provides, and the same is true for any Monochrom and this one in particular. In 2015, David Farkas of the Leica Store Miami did a test pitting the Leica M-240 against both the M Monochrom and the M9 Monochrom. His conclusion was the M-240 images converted into black and white were wonderful — but the M Monochrom’s were better at high ISO performance and dynamic range. I believe the smart testers — Jono Slack, Sean Reid and others — who say the M10 Monochrom has a likely two-stop advantage over the M10. Which translates into highly usable images shot at ISO 12,500 or even higher.

So does one actually, you know, need a 40 megapixel digital rangefinder than only shoots black and white? Of course not. But if the tonality of black and white images is your thing, I can’t imagine a camera shooting a shot like the one below — or better put, producing a file like the one below — with the same latitude and malleability in post-processing.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 28mm Summicron

It is absolutely true that I could have converted the below shot from one taken by the M10 and gotten an image that would look very much like this. Grey as the day was, it’s still daylight.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 28mm Summicron

The question is whether I would have seen the image in black and white, given the colorful Chinatown arch. By deliberately setting out today to take black and white images, the photo previewed in my minds’ eye had a very different set of values. Clearly one aspect of shooting with a Monochrom is an absolute embrace of the gestalt of black and white. But if black and white is your thing, and much of the time it is mine, then the M10 Monochrom is the best tool I know of for achieving your goal, short of going all in on a medium format or larger sensor.

It is said that because of the way the 40 megapixel Leica M10 Monochrom utilizes its pixel density without undermining it by first converting the image to color and then, in post-production, stripping the color away, it’s the equivalent of a 60 megapixel sensor or even higher. I’m not an engineer, but I can tell you that the detail visible on my computer screen when processing an M10 Monochrom file is like nothing else I’ve ever witnessed. I am just getting a handle on how detailed is what’s rendered by the 47 mp SL2, but early indications are that the M10 Monochrom renders even more visible detail.

Leica M10 Monochrom, 28mm Summilux

We started with an image from Friday’s lunchtime walk smack into a demonstration in the Nation’s Capital. If properly rendered by Tulip Frenzy, you should be able to see significant detail in the frieze above the nuns — even though the image was shot at only f/5.6. We end with this picture from this afternoon’s New Year parade put on by D.C.’s Chinese community. On my computer screen, I can read the signage on the parade reviewing stand, and glean every nuance of the painted archway. It’s impressive. No, it’s actually pretty amazing!

If black and white photography is why you get out of bed in the morning, the M10 Monochrom is the camera for you.

John Buckley’s images can be found on Instagram @tulip_frenzy.

We Blew It: Adding Wilco’s “Ode To Joy” To Tulip Frenzy’s 2019 Top 10 List

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 13, 2019 by johnbuckley100

The crisis began when we read New York magazine music critic Craig Jenkins’ Top 10 list for 2019. There, quite surprisingly, was Wilco’s Ode To Joy in the #1 slot. I literally sat up straighter, and felt the unease that had been lingering like a hidden virus suddenly blossom into panic.

You see, back in mid-November, when Tulip Frenzy published our Top 20 List of Albums released in the ’10s, we wrestled with whether to include Wilco’s 2011 album The Whole Love. It was on our Top 10 List that year, but over time it has grown on me, and our team spontaneously plays it on the stereo in the office rec room. 2011 was a stellar year for music, but The Whole Love should have ranked higher. (We also quite liked 2015’s Star Wars, though it didn’t make The List.)

How could it be, we thought when considering albums of the decade, that America’s preeminent rock group, a band that operates with smaller crowds, fewer sales but equivalent maturity and musical skill as Radiohead, how is it they didn’t make that list?

The short answer is that compiling lists is a tough exercise and you make regrettable choices. We thought of Ode To Joy when, two weeks later, we published our 2019 Top 10 list. That album had provided the ambient soundtrack to Autumn weekends, even if we had not elevated it to the command focus of records listened to while working out (ear buds nestled near the brain) or on our commute (my car = a stereo that just happens to have wheels.) We kept finding enjoyable moments — for example, that Fripp and Eno squall buried in the mix of “Quiet Amplifier,” the subversive trolling of the MAGA hatters in the “white lies” refrain on “Citizens.” But it still underwhelmed us sufficiently that we didn’t, ultimately, put it on our 2019 Top 10 list.

When we saw it listed last Friday as Jenkins’ #1 album for all of 2019, the whole team went back and listened to it all over again, or maybe it’s more accurate to write, for the first time. We had that sinking feeling that we — all of the editorial voices comprising the magic deliberations room at Tulip Frenzy World HQ — had done Wilco an injustice.

We henceforth place them, retroactively, on Tulip Frenzy’s 2019 Top 10 List. We admit our mistake. Graciously, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have accepted their fate and vacated the bottom rung on the list.

Ode to Joy is a great album. And no, we’re not going back to revisit our opinion of Schmilco.

Rethinking The Leica SL2 As A Camera For Street Photography

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 8, 2019 by johnbuckley100
Leica SL2 with Sigma 45mm f/2.8 L-Mount

For the better part of 15 years, I shot exclusively with Leica Ms. Small, discreet, you could lift them to your eye and take a picture on the street with no one noticing. To the extent people did notice, they often assumed it was some weird and non-threatening anachronism, a film camera from the last century, and not, as Leica’s digital rangefinders progressively became, a marvelously thought through and capable alternative approach to photography. I’d see street photographers with their big DSLRs that announced their arrival like they were driving up in a Hummer and would silently smile. I’ll never do that, I’d say to myself.

Leica SL2 with Sigma 45mm f/2.8 L-Mount

One of the limitations — if that’s what it is — of using a Leica M is that you have to shoot manually, as no automatic focus lens works with the rangefinder. But while my family would groan as I fiddled with the focus, and complain that they couldn’t hold their smiles any longer, in fact over time I learned how to focus as quickly and automatically with a manual lens as some photographers could with their big Nikons or Canons. And readers of this site may recall my recent posting about using a Leica M10 and a small 35mm Summicron lens to “shoot from the hip” in the Medina in Marrakech, taking street photos in a location where photography was difficult due to local sensibilities. I couldn’t have done that with a big DSLR.

Leica SL2 with SL35mm Summicron

In 2015, Leica announced the SL, a mirrorless camera system, and it promised to fill a gap in my needs. It was launched with a 24-90 zoom lens that early reviewers gasped over, a lens that promised to be as sharp as Leica’s prime lenses at every focal length, even if it was both slow (f/2.8-f/4) and cumbersome. That was okay, I had my M and Monochrom and a range of M lenses for the street, but with the large 24mp, full-frame SL and just that one zoom, for the first time, I had a camera — even if built like a tank — that really could do all the things an M couldn’t. It was a fantastic camera for landscape photography, even if big and heavy for hiking. It also was a great camera for action, sports, portraiture, even product photography. And because Leica brilliantly cast the new L-mount camera as a vehicle for using M lenses (far better than other mirrorless cameras), it was the answer to certain prayers: my 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux with its razor-thin focal plane was suddenly incredibly easy to use, given the SL’s bright electronic viewfinder.

Leica SL with SL 24-90 zoom

Suddenly, I could become a proper landscape photographer. Having an SL opened up a new world. I could use the amazing 90-280 zoom lens for wildlife photography. I could go to Iceland and shoot long exposure images, as in the above shot taken this past August. But I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, use it in the street. For that I had my Ms — small, light, and perfect for that use.

Leica SL2 and 75mm Noctilux, f/1.25

Just before Thanksgiving, I upgraded my SL to the new SL2, a 47 megapixel camera with IBIS — image stabilization built into the camera housing. It was launched with great early reviews from Jono Slack, a photographer who gets to test Leica’s cameras before they’re released. Jono has managed to keep the respect of Leica’s small, argumentative and opinionated users, because he is, first and foremost, a photographer, and even if his images are meant by Leica to stimulate the Pavlovian drool, we believe him when he raves about a camera, as he did with the SL2. Eminent tester Sean Reid, who does not so rave about cameras, but rather puts them through a series of sometimes eye-numbing tests, did so with this one. Even more mainstream sites spent time with the SL2 and gushed. It is telling, though, that three weeks ago when I picked mine up at the Leica Store DC, and one of the members of the team there asked where I was going to take the camera to try it out, I said I had planned to take it to the Library of Congress, Washington’s most beautiful interior, and not out onto the street. I just couldn’t think of the SL2 as a street camera.

Leica SL2 with 75mm Noctilux

For while the SL was significantly upgraded — twice the megapixels as the initial SL, with IBIS, an improved LCD and EVF, with an improved menu layout (which is saying something — Leica should be revered almost as much for their approach to software as they rightfully are for their lenses), I didn’t really think of the SL2 as a camera I’d take out into the streets. Oh, sure for static objects, the new camera was amazing.

Leica SL2 and 75mm Noctilux

And I took it out for a spin as an urban landscape camera.

Leica SL2 with SL 16-35 Zoom

But I still just couldn’t think of it as a street camera. Contrary to wishful speculation, the SL2 is not smaller than the original SL — while changing form factor and becoming ever so slightly more comfortable in the hand, it’s still a big, heavy camera and — here’s the key issue — the lenses are heavy. Even that range of prime Summicron lenses (all f/2) make the combined size and weight of the SL2 if not the equivalent of a Hummer, then at least, when posted up against using an M, like going out into the city streets looking for a parking space while driving an SUV. The M in this metaphor, of course, is like going out and parking with a small German Smart car.

Leica SL2 and Sigma 45mm f/2.8 L-Mount

Yet in the time since the original SL was launched, Leica did something bold and brave. They announced, with Panasonic/Lumix and Sigma, something called the L-Mount Alliance. The two Japanese camera companies would both be able to compete with Leica using a common lens coupling, enabling all SL lenses (and with an adaptor, Leica M and R lenses too) to be used with their cameras, and vice versa. Panasonic released two extremely capable L-mount cameras, the S1 (24mp) and S1r (47mp). And in fact, Leica at least temporarily lost some number of SL users to the higher megapixel S1r. I’ll admit, I was tempted too, as I knew last summer I was going to Iceland on a landscape photography excursion and I really hoped Leica would release the SL2, with its higher megapixel count, in time. They didn’t. And as the photo of the waterfall above can attest, the original SL is still, in 2019, a helluva camera.

Leica SL2 and Sigma 45mm f/28 L-Mount

But perhaps the most interesting development in the nascent L-Mount alliance was Sigma’s release of a set of new lenses, preparatory to their release of a Foveon-based sensor camera sometime in the future. One of the first lenses they put into the market was their 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary lens, which with its L-Mount is compatible with the Leica SL2. For the first time, a small and light autofocus lens could be used with SL camera. And it cost approximately $500, which compared to Leica lenses — typically, $4000 or more — is a bargain. I bought one in anticipation of the SL2 release, and when I put it on the SL2 and compared the size to my M10 with a 35mm Summilux, it no longer seemed so large. Hmmm.

Leica SL2 and Sigma 45mm f/2.8

Remember when I said that I could shoot the manual focus M lenses as fast as most people can shoot with autofocus lenses? That’s true. But it was a revelation taking the SL2 and the small Sigma out into D.C.’s streets. It did not feel like I was driving a Hummer. To be sure, it didn’t feel, as an M feels, like what Henri Cartier-Bresson referred to as an extension of his eye. But the SL2 as a street camera suddenly seemed to work.

Leica SL2 and Sigma 45mm f/2.8

Yes, I know, I could have been using the SL and Leica M lenses all along. But why would I do that, when the M is such a superior and small camera for street use? And in fact, when I went out with the SL2 yesterday in December light, I did bring an M lens — the 21mm Summilux — as well as the larger SL 35mm Summicron. These offered great possibilities.

Leica SL2 and 21mm M Summilux, cropped to a square

As I walked into the National Portrait Gallery, I had the Sigma autofocus lens on the camera, and caught the picture below. I think if I’d had an M, I would have been able to get both the sign and her feet into the picture, as I’m more fluid and experienced with an M and 35mm combo. But still, what a capable street camera this is.

Leica SL2 and Sigma 45mm f/2.8

Once inside, I discovered there was a free performance of the Washington Ballet for children, and I quickly switched to the faster 35mm SL Summicron.

Leica SL2 and SL35mm Summicron

It is an amazing combination, rendering color brilliantly. It focuses quickly. It is as good a lens, for color or black and white, as Leica has ever produced.

Leica SL2 and SL 35mm Summicron

It was immediately adaptable to the conditions. Just like my Ms! Importantly, in an environment with many photographers — parents with their iPhone, pros with their big rigs — the SL2 felt moderate in size, not a bazooka.

Leica SL and M 21mm Summilux

I walked over to the National Gallery of Art and used both the 21mm manual focus M 21mm lens and the autofocus SL 35mm lens.

Leica SL2 and SL35mm Summicron

I wanted to get to the Capitol building as the sun was going down on the Washington Mall, so I hustled over there just as the moon became visible. Of course, if you are thinking of landscape photographer, the SL2 is an astonishingly capable camera.

Leica SL2 and SL35mm Summicron

The revelation of the day was the the SL2 can absolutely work as an urban camera, out on the streets. Leica should add a series of Elmarit f/2.8mm lenses to their roadmap, because the Sigma 45mm lens shows how a small autofocus lens can be used in the same way M lenses on M cameras have always been used.

Leica SL2 and Sigma 45mm f/2.8

With the SL2 the stars — and moon! — have aligned. It is very much the camera I hoped for, and more. All the new features make it a better camera than the already very high performing SL. I found the new function button layout to be intuitive and, with new menu options, even faster than the SL. The big revelation for me is that in certain travel situations, I no longer have to choose between taking an SL or taking an M. I can take an SL and use it like an M, with both small manual lenses and the small autofocus Sigma. I know there are SL users who were already doing the former. The addition of the Sigma autofocus lens, though, is at least as important a new development as all of the added bells and whistles of the SL2. Leica, if you are listening — to paraphrase an appeal from someone, I forget who — get cracking on a series of Elmarit SL lenses.

Leica SL2 and M 35mm Summilux

The SL system is positioned for the future in an incredibly exciting way. I will never turn my back on my Ms. It is the camera system that feels most natural in my hand, pressed to my eye, pressed to my heart. But the SL2 is an astonishingly capable and adaptable camera, and with it, Leica’s future is bright.

Wand’s “Laughing Matter” is Tulip Frenzy’s 2019 Album Of The Year

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2019 by johnbuckley100

The year 2019 produced so much good music, the criteria for making our Top 10 List prompted debate at Tulip Frenzy World HQ. It wasn’t exactly an existential crisis, but there was a fierce discussion about our purpose. Was our Top 10 List the rank ordering of our fave albums? Or was it our verdict on which recs would pass the test of time, and be seen, years from now, as having had an impact on Real Rock’n’Roll, whose sacred tablets it seems we are the keepers of? The debate ended as a stalemate, as our list contains a little bit of both — albums that, in a proper universal order would define this year the way Let It Bleed and Abbey Road defined 1969, and a listing of our favorite albums we are too well aware will find an audience not too much wider than the readers of our little episodic journal. Gentle readers, fellow members of The Remnant, blow on the dying embers and by their light read what follows…

#10. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard Fishing For Fishies

It is not at all true that we chose King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s best album of the year (yeah, once again, they released multiple recs) just to spite that numbskull at Pitchfork who sniffed at this record, prompting our editors to weigh in on what a dry fart modern rock criticism, at least as exemplified by that rag, has become. This fun, sweet and joyous romp by the prolific Aussie ensemble dangled like earrings from our ear buds throughout the late spring. If you’re looking for that fun record to give your hip but musically lost 16-year old nephew, try this one. It was among our team’s fave, even if it likely won’t — due to pecksniffs in the rock critter establishment — get a 50th Anniversary box release in 2069.

#9. Angel Olsen All Mirrors

Since we set up this dichotomy between favorite music — albums we played over’n’over — and that which we chose because we understand their greatness, let us offer up as Exhibit B Angel Olsen’s incredible All Mirrors. We don’t think there has ever been an album that has made the Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List (c) that we have played less. Some of its absence from our car stereo speakers is that Mrs. Tulip Frenzy is not a fan, but mostly it’s that Olsen’s album, like her voice and the string arrangements on it, is so intense, one has to lash himself to the car’s hood ornament in order to glide past the Sirens’ Songs contained herein. All Mirrors belongs to that tradition of incredible albums that are also hard to listen to — you don’t put it on for company or to clean the apartment; it demands total and complete submission to its spell. We loved it. Even as we went whole months without listening to it.

#8. Ty Segall Taste

Tulip Frenzy’s Artist of the Decade released an album that had as its concept — and likely motivation — the absence of electric guitars. Ty Segall’s Taste was no entrant into the annals of Unplugged sessions, no sir. For his sixth album since January 2018, the young genius released a stunningly fun rock’n’roll rec with stringed instruments including sitars and, I dunno, fuzz-drenched and wah-wah pedaled balalaikas, but nary a Fender Strat. And it worked! Of course, who needs guitars when you have a double-drum set up as powerful as Charles Mootheart (and Ty himself?) thundering toward ya like a herd of pachyderms who’ve just sniffed your water bottle, as well as the multi-instrumentalist Mikel Cronin filling in with No Wave bleatings like the Contortions jamming with DNA. This wasn’t Ty’s best album of the last two years — some might even have given the Steve Albini-produced Deformed Lobes, a live album released mid-winter, the nod over this ‘un — given that Freedom’s Goblin took the 2018 Tulip Frenzy Album o’ the Year gold cup. But it shows that even when Ty resorts to a gimmick of sorts he can make astonishing music.

#7. The Proper Ornaments 6 Lenins

When a divorce occurs, friends take sides, which is how Uncut could list Jack Cooper’s band Modern Nature high in their list of top 2019 disks and Tulip Frenzy instead chose The Proper Ornaments’ amazing 6 Lenins. The breakup of Ultimate Painting, a band featuring Cooper and James Hoare, two quietly smoldering popsmiths, was a dark day for lovers of British lower-case, minor-chord Beatles-esque music. But whereas Cooper went on to produce pastoral psychedelia in the manner of Traffic, Hoare kept up his DeBeers’ volume output of melodic gems. 6 Lenins is a stunner, even better than 2017’s gorgeous Foxhole. If you, like me, still play the La’s “Here She Comes,” you’ll swoon for “Please Release Me,” and “Bullet From A Gun” ranks as high on our list of perfect songs as anything Hoare and Cooper produced together in Ultimate Painting. If you are in the know, you’ll realize just how profound that statement really is. Buy this record.

#6. Cosmonauts Star 69

It wasn’t, as it turns out, a reference to Peter Bogdanovich’s Star ’80. The title of the Cosmonaut’s first album since 2016’s wonderful A-Ok! evoked the yearning expressed by pressing *69 on one’s iPhone to call that last number you missed. Progenitors of tasty psych-punk from L.A., the former Orange County band moved into the heart of West Coast pop culture to assert their claim to the list that Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Wand and White Fence dominate — you know, only the best progenitors of Real Rock’n’Roll on the planet. From the slide guitar and harmonica added to album opener “Crystal,” you might think that Cosmanauts were driving the wrong way onto the off-ramp, but “Seven Sisters” soon choogles along and you know these So Cal wonders have settled into the groove that has made them one of Tulip Frenzy’s favorite bands. With a rhythm section that knows no bottom — a positive reference here, unlike when we use that term in conjunction with our president — and two guitarist-songwriters who can pack their own wallop, Cosmonauts have, on their past two albums (both ranked on T Frenzy’s Top 10 Lists (c)), entered a certain pantheon of punk rock brilliance.

#5. Mekons Deserted

If your parents played the Mekons’ The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen whilst you were in your crib, you’d have celebrated your 40th birthday this year, which is why it gives us so much pleasure — and not a fair amount of surprise — to list their latest album in our 2019 list. Just as Ty Segall had to come up with his no-guitar gimmick to motivate himself to make a new album, since the Turn of the Century, the Leeds-originated, Chicago-based First Wave Brit punks turned Alt Country progenitors have a) re-recorded one of their earliest albums, b) gone to an island off the Scottish coast with Robbie Fulks, and c) gathered under a single mic in a Brooklyn boîte to record new work. Deserted was recorded in Joshua Tree, and many of the songs, starting with “Lawrence of California”, have a desert theme. But the album is so good, and sounds so much like the complete community of Mekons all gathered around the campfire — like it’s 1989 and they’re churning out Rock and Roll — that one wonders about just what it means to be a band. After all, they live separate lives, yet can come together and configure themselves to sound not just like they used to, but better than ever. It’s a miracle — and you’ll say this over and over when you listen to Deserted, one of our favorite albums of the year and one of the Mekons best albums of the past five decades.

#4. FEELS Post Earth

In March, we wrote this: “The only things you really need to know about FEELS are these: their songs pack a post-punk punch. And whereas on their first rec some of the tunes might take odd detours from the melody, on this ‘un, Laena Geronimo and Shannon Lay never veer far from hummability, and they are warbling angels even if they candy-crush it for a few measures before returning us back to a state of Pylonesque grace. There isn’t a dull moment on the record. It is absolutely astonishing, and deserves to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Gang o’ Four’s Entertainment and Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out, to name two records you know they’ve listened to.” Eight months later, we stand by every word. Post Earth is a concept album (there’s a storyline about leaving the planet to get away from Trump, which we surely un’erstand.) This album, as simple and catchy as the best thing you remember from the last time you played a B-52s album, but about eight times more political and profound, is both a fave and one for the ages.

#3. Moon Duo Stars Are The Light

At first, when having read enough code words in reviews to understand we should see what Moon Duo were up to on Stars Are The Light, we give the rec a twirl, we thought they were light and dreamy, melodic purveyors of modern electronica. Over time, we found ourselves playing this album over and over, and we realized that Wooden Shjips’s guitarist Ripley Johnson and his keyboard-playing partner Sanae Yamada had recorded one of prettiest albums we’ve heard in years. Some people hear echoes of disco in the beat, but all we know is that this album can thrill and lull, a hard combo to pull off. Everything is perfect, from the Eno-esque production to the layers of instruments and quiet singing. Take a chance album opener “Flying” and if you don’t keep listening to the whole thing you are not someone we’d want lay down with in a field, looking at the light from the stars overhead.

#2. Kelley Stoltz My Regime

It took Kelley Stoltz releasing probably the best record of his amazingly productive career for us to quit marveling on how he does it to just succumbing to what it is he’s done. Over and over and over again, we have put his records on the Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List — and he tied with perennial faves Wand for #1 honors just two years ago — trying to get this pop genius the audience and recognition he deserves. But we’ve spent too much time grokking on how he records painstakingly constructed albums without benefit of bandmates. On My Regime, we settled into enjoying the music with nary a care that unlike, say, the Beatles he can do this without the London Symphony Orchestra bringing songs to their “Day In The Life” crescendo. Here’s how we put it a month ago: “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.” Someday, history will record the early 21st Century was the era of Kelley Stoltz. Until then, if your bones can still shake to songs as catchy as “My Regime,” just buy the fucking album.

#1. Wand Laughing Matter

True story: two days ago, Mr. Tulip Frenzy Jr. asked his loving papa, Is Radiohead the greatest band operating today? Swear to God, the response offered was, Well, no, that honorific goes to Wand. And we meant it. Here’s how we put it in the early summer: “At first I didn’t understand all the Radiohead comparisons rock critters were throwing at ’em, because to me Laughing Matter just sounded like the inevitable next step after Plum and Perfume. I mean, Wand’s growth since 2014 rivals, I dunno, The Beatles between 1963 and 1968, but somehow I missed framing them within Radiohead’s geometry. The last two albums already showed Cory Hanson playing guitar in the same league as Tom Verlaine and Nels Cline, and the yin/yang between their minimalism and maximalism is one of the most unique experiences in rock.” Wand is today operating at an unparalleled level — a young and profound band with the musical skill of, say, Wilco and the ambitions of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood. We missed their 2019 show in DC at the tiny Songbyrd, but the fact that they’re playing at a club and not headlining Fedex Field tells you everything you need to know about injustice in the arts, and almost endless theme of ours… one that hits close to home… but when put in the context of a band like Wand, makes us angry enough to want to march in the streets. We said this in June: “Wand shoots the moon with Laughing Matter, and it ain’t funny. It took me a month to be sure. This is the single best album since at least White Fence’s For The Recently Found Innocent, only the best album released in 2014, the year Wand came on the scene as a recording group. We don’t know what the rest of 2019 is holding back from us, nor the years ahead. All we know is that Wand is in the front ranks of our era’s greatest bands, and in Laughing Matter they have released a masterpiece. Again.” Now we do know what 2019 held in store. Nothing released by any other artist knocked Wand off the top spot. Oh, and since we have recently declared that White Fence album the best rec of the 2010s, it shouldn’t surprise you that Laughing Matter ranked high on the same list.

The 50th Anniversary Of “Let It Bleed” And The Moment The ’70s Began

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 25, 2019 by johnbuckley100

It is the hoariest cliche of pop culture to designate the Altamont Free Concert, held on December 6th 1969, as the “End of the 1960s.”

Sure, it’s true that, from a cultural standpoint, the ’70s began that month, so hot to get on with it that the border was crossed prior to the odometer rolling over at midnight on New Year’s Eve. But Altamont was two weeks too soon: the ’70s began on December 20th, 1969 when the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed eclipsed the Beatles’ Abbey Road as the #1 album on the British charts. The Beatles would forever be a ’60s band, while the Stones set the course for the ’70s.

God knows we love Abbey Road, as we just finished saying when that album celebrated its 50th birthday with a skillful facelift from Giles Martin. The Beatles’ culmination, if not literally their last word, it was certainly the capstone of their all-too-brief moment, unsurpassed a half century later.

A year ago, the 50th anniversary of Beggars Banquet came hard on the heels of the restoration of The Beatles (the White Album), and now we have a remastering and big box set of Let It Bleed on vinyl and CDs following Abbey Road‘s refurbishment. I’m willing to say that great as the Beatles’ exit opus was, your excitement should be focused on their friendly London rivals. Abbey Road was the last great album of the ’60s, but Let It Bleed was the first great album of the ’70s.

Let’s check the calendar and look at some dates. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” arguably the greatest rock’n’roll song of all time and certainly the kickoff to the Stones’ Golden Era — their magnificent four-year run of singles and five albums, all but the live one produced by Jimmy Miller — was released on May 24th, 1968. Beggars Banquet came out on December 6th, just over six months later.

Exactly one year after the release of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” on May 24th 1969, the Stones were back in the studio with a brand new lead guitarist, Mick Taylor. Three weeks later they officially fired Brian Jones, who was found dead in his pool on July 3rd. One day later, on the 4th of July, “Honky Tonk Women” came out, with lead licks by Taylor and a steaming horn section powering the refrain.

On the 5th of July, the Stones played Hyde Park, a free concert in honor of Jones. It was their first real concert since 1967 (their 1968 TV special The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus doesn’t really count), and they’d already announced a U.S. tour to take place that fall — a tour that, you might say, hasn’t ended five decades later.

There’s a second tight cluster of 1969 dates to consider. In early December, the Stones were coming off their successful U.S. tour in which they had started being called (okay, by Sam Cutler, their tour manager who introduced them) “the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world.” The final show was to be a free concert at the Altamont Raceway Park near San Francisco, which they’d been mau maued into putting on by criticism of their tour’s expensive, $6-dollar tickets (!). But just before Altamont, the Stones flew cross country for a recording session. Mick and Keith had two songs they wanted to get down on tape.

On December 2nd, they arrived at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Northern Alabama and over the next three days recorded “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” two mainstays of their 1970s’ success. On December 5th, Let It Bleed was released, containing “Gimme Shelter,” “Live With Me,” “Midnight Rambler,” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which have been, off and on, staples of their live shows ever since.

By December 6th — the day that Woodstock Nation’s Shangri-La conceit was beaten to a pulp by the Hells Angels and their pool cues — Let It Bleed was one-day old. Fifty years later, we finally get to hear it sounding its very best.

From the moment “Gimme Shelter” twinkles to life through your speakers or headphones, you can tell it sounds better than ever. The space between the instruments, the warmth of the sound, the depth of the bass, the rollicking, bluesy piano played by Nicky Hopkins have about the same transformative effect on a song we’ve heard a zillion times as Giles Martin’s magic on last year’s remix of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — the most familiar of songs is decidedly new.

“Gimme Shelter,” the best album opener of all time, vies with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” for the greatest rock’n’roll song ever, and hearing it on this reissue is a reminder that the two singles from Golden Era Stones that were never on a real album deserve their remix transformation as well. When can we hear an improved version of “Honky Tonk Women” too?

Keith Richards’ magnificent bass line on “Live With Me” rumbles as never before. On this first Stones song to feature Bobby Keys on sax, with both Mick Taylor and Nicky Hopkins playing (the latter stepping back for Leon Russell on a few bars), we have a portent of the ’71-’73 touring Stones, who really were the Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band in the world. It’s all beginning to gel here, everything coming together.

Our favorite Jagger-Richards lyrics of all time come in “Monkey Man”:

“Yes, I’m a sack of broken eggs
I always have an unmade bed
Don’t you?

Well, I hope we’re not too messianic
Or a trifle too satanic
We love to play the blues

And they did, even if it was the psychedelic space blues of “Midnight Rambler.”

On Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Get Yer Ya-Yas Out, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street, the Stones gathered momentum for a run that has propelled them into late middle age and beyond. This remix of the second of those albums is of a piece with the other remixes of these classics released over the past decade. From the kickoff single in May 1968 to Exile On Main Street almost exactly four years later, the classic Stones lineup — with Nicky Hopkins, and eventually Bobby Keys and Jim Price, fully integrated in the sound — the band jettisoned the ’60s behind them. On album at least, they’ve never again had such an impact. That’s okay, no one else has either.

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