Chris Stamey’s “A Spy In The House Of Loud” Is An Unusual, And Excellent, Artist’s Memoir

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

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It makes sense that Chris Stamey named his band The dBs, because he’s always been intrigued by the technical aspects of making music.

Stands For Decibels was this seminal New York-by-way-of-Winston-Salem band’s first album, and perhaps Stamey’s best song on it was “Cycles Per Second,” both reference points to music making.  So it makes sense that in his new book A Spy In The House Of Loud, Stamey doesn’t merely write about his bands, he writes about how they made records.  Even if you’re not a gear head, it’s fun, because he’s an engaging writer and he really was in the right place at the right time.

To place him in his proper coordinates, Chris Stamey came to New York midway through the ’70s and saw Television, often, in their earliest CBGB incarnations, quickly figured out the world was changing and that he wanted to play a role.  By 1978, he’d teamed up with fellow Southerner Alex Chilton in his post-Big Star solo foray.  Chilton and Television’s Richard Lloyd played on Stamey’s excellent initial singles, before he put together the dBs with fellow North Carolinians Will Rigby, Gene Holder, and Peter Holsapple.

If you were there at the time, and I was, the dBs were a remarkable anomaly in New York. An experimental pop band with an ear for the kind of radio hits their progenitors Big Star should have had, they existed in that post-first wave CBGB bands environment in which you could see, over successive nights, No Wave bands like DNA, the newest British important (from Gang of Four to XTC, Magazine to the Soft Boys), bands from L.A. like X, and Lou Reid’s latest incarnation.  New York was the center of the rock’n’roll world and the dBs were just slightly off kilter from the environment around them — excellent musicians with jangling guitars and a tight, propulsive rhythm section, two singer-songwriters vying for dominance, and a Farfisa adding color. They never quite made it, and some of it — explained in Stamey’s book — flowed from how they were never quite able to capture on vinyl — yeah, vinyl — that stage set that could bring down Hurrah or other clubs of the day.

Stamey went on to be a charter member of the Golden Palominos and release a number of solo albums, including one of the highlights of the 1980s, It’s Alright. Over time, as he moved back to North Carolina and raised a family, his influence on contemporary music shifted from musician to being the producer on several of the best albums of the age, particularly Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac, and Alejandro Escovedo’s A Man Under The Influence.  Most recently, it was Stamey who put together, following Chilton’s 2010 death, that series of all-star shows playing Big Star’s Sister Lovers, also known as Third.  In fact, Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live is one of the most remarkable documents of recent years, with Jeff Tweedy, Ira Kaplan, Robyn Hitchcock and so many more playing the music from this greatest of American artists of the ’70s and beyond.

And now Stamey has written a book.  A Spy In The House of Loud is fascinating reading for anyone who’s ever wanted to understand what happened when a new set of bands displaced the rot in Rock Music in the punk and post-punk era.  Stamey’s a musician and a fan, and he writes of his contemporaries with a rock critic’s eye.  But he also ably captures what happened when making albums shifted from an analog to a digital process — and all that got lost along the way.

Chris Stamey will read from his book at Politics and Prose in D.C. this coming Sunday, June 17th at 3:00 PM.

New Albums By Courtney Barnett, Parquet Courts, Wand, And The Brian Jonestown Massacre Get Summer Off To A Strong Start

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on June 10, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Courtney Barnett  Tell Me How You Really Feel

Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, which came out in 2015, is credited with being Courtney Barnett’s first album, and it certainly put her on the map.  But it was the 12 songs on The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas that stole our heart. Released in the States a year before her left-field hit, the double EP was less caffeinated, less torqued in its production, and the deceptive ambiance — it seemed like the work of a slacker, but she’s no slacker, as events have proved — was gorgeous and charming.  Sometimes I Sit thunders, while A Sea of Split Peas could have been recorded with Joe Jackson’s band from Look Sharp, vintage alterna-punk with classic pop songwriting.

Which is why Tell Me How You Really Feel is such a delight.  It takes things back down a notch. After it seemed like Barnett might have been a bit lost on her own — touring with Kurt Vile in support of their duet last fall, then arriving in the states early this year supporting partner Jen Cloher — Barnett’s new album is sure-footed, charming and in so many ways the proper successor to A Sea of Split Peas.

“Nameless, Faceless” revs up like Elastica, and “Crippling Doubt And A General Lack of Confidence” hit precisely that sweet spot of self-deprecating humor and Stiff Records swing that makes Barnett’s brand of punk so beguiling.  That Courtney Barnett seems to have found herself without having to turn the amps up to 11 is all you need to know about one of the season’s true highlights.

191402000108 Parquet Courts  Wide Awake

The distance covered by Parquet Courts between 2013’s Light Up Gold and Wide Awake, by our count, their sixth full album, is not unlike the journey Joe Strummer & Co. took between The Clash and Sandinista.  Wide Awake is clearly an album by the same group of Texas transplants whose debut reeked of spilled beer in late night Brooklyn clubs, but it incorporates their advanced degrees in musicology that they’ve picked up along the way.

We first saw Parquet Courts play on their 2013 tour with Woods, a Brooklyn band just a little older than them, but kindred spirits.  After Andrew Savage’s solo album last year revealed him having spent many hours listening to that first Little Feet album, it isn’t a wonder that a band who previously could claim kinship to Television would now populate their extremely literate storytelling with a dive into idioms, from reggae to funk, just bit more sophisticated than the high-speed rockers they entered playing.  Woods is a reference point, for they’ve done something similar.  But Parquet Courts do it here in a way that seems a summation, a culmination, their best, most comprehensive album.  Wide Awake is at once the album that makes you love where Parquet Courts have been and excited about where they’re going.

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Wand   Perfume

Longtime readers of Tulip Frenzy will remember that we gave Wand’s Plum Album O’ Ye Year in 2017, and on Perfume — which might have been called Mini Album Thingy Wingy if BJM hadn’t gotten their first — they continue their development toward becoming the greatest band on the planet.  Sure, Cory Hanson may be a junior partner to Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, and White Fence strictly in terms of his years on Earth.  But when measured against his West Coast peers in terms of recent output, who you calling junior, Junior?

“The Gift” sounds like an outtake from Plum, if only because we know that album was recorded in homage to Marquee Moon, and here Hanson’s guitar work is at least the equal of Tom Verlaine’s (or Nels Cline’s, for that matter.)  It’s simply a stunning song.  “Pure Romance” continues in the same vein.  They’ve come a long way from the tuneful prog of  Ganglion Reef, their debut from 2014.  We hope that the album’s closer, “I Will Keep You Up,” is a preview of coming attractions, for letting Sofia Arreguin carry half the vocal duties makes what is already a beautiful song utterly sublime.

We don’t think of this as the full album follow up to Plum. More like a teaser of future greatness.  There is no doubt in our mind that Wand will someday put out a masterpiece, and given the way they work, that someday could be, like, October.

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The Brian Jonestown Massacre  Something Else

When Something Else was released in May, we updated the Brian Jonestown Massacre playlist we began in 2012 when they released Aufheben. We titled that six-year old playlist “Late Phase BJM,” and have populated it with just the very best songs Anton Newcombe and his remarkably stable set of musicians have since put out on their various albums, short albums, EPs, singles, etc.  There are now 40 songs on the playlist, including six from Something Else, seven if you include the excellent “Drained,” the B-side of the single “Animal Wisdom,” which kicks of the record.

Are there any other bands who, since 2012, have produced that much good music?  If you think of the long and gloriously twisted history of the BJM, I’m not sure how many of the albums from the 1990s had as *many* good songs as Aufheben, Revelation, Third World Pyramid, and now Something Else — and this doesn’t even count releases like E.P.+1 and great songs like “Revolution Number Zero” and “Fingertips” put out as singles or on EPs.

Some time ago, we compared Anton to Dylan — an artist known for, principally, his earliest work, when the late work is, to our ears, of such high value, we’re convinced we’d be happy listening only to the recent stuff.

With the exception of “Who Dreams of Cats,” it’s possible no song from Something Else would be put on a 10-song assemblage of Anton’s greatest hits. And yet, six really good songs on an album, seven if you include the B side, shows what high quality his output is. And why we are so lucky to have it.

The Five Songs Amen Dunes Played At The Anthem In DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah, Fleet Foxes also played.

The 2018 D.C. Funk Parade

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

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All images Leica SL and 75mm Noctilux

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

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

Here’s the funk.

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The Tulip Frenzy, 2018

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

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

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

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

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In The Grand Staircase

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

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

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

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

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Snow Day With The 75mm Noctilux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We cannot wait for the Tulip Frenzy…

 

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