Archive for October, 2011

The Dictator Dreams Of His Halloween Date With Condi

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 16, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Leica M8, 35mm Summilux

On The Reissue Of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Munki”: An Appreciation

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on October 16, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Few bands go out on such a high as The Jesus and Mary Chain, whose final record, Munki, both followed the Vaudeville adage of “always leave ’em wanting something more,” and seemed a perfect evocation of all the chaos and glory the Reids packed into their years as a band of brothers.  That the album began with Jim Reid singing “I Love Rock’n’Roll” and ended with William Reid singing “I Hate Rock’n’Roll” was such a perfect distillation of the dichotomy at work, of course they had to leave it there.

Thirteen years later, Edsel Records is releasing (alas, for now, only on the other side of the pond) a full set of the Mary Chain’s work, replete with B-sides, live sets, and an excellent archival series of booklets commemorating this amazing band.  The liner notes for Munki have interviews with both brothers, Jim now sober, William living in LA, talking seriously about the ragged way the band went out.  But oh, what an album to have left us with.

As the interviews make clear, Munki was recorded by two bands, Jim’s and William’s.  They were rarely in the studio together by this time.  But Munki was a distillation of what made JAMC so magical — from the sweet melodies to the discordant squall of William’s guitar, the Mary Chain was always a competition of visions literally connected by the same DNA.  Throwing the Cramps, Velvet Underground, and Brian Wilson into a blender that shorted out spectacularly and noisily created a sound, not just for the ’90s, but for the ages.  We have long thought that “Virtually Unreal” was the greatest single song the Mary Chain produced, and of course it comes close to containing all of the parts that made them great: Jim’s great rock’n’roll voice, William’s great rock’n’roll guitar, a propulsive beat, the raggedy edges of a sound schizophrenics likely hear when things are going either terribly right or terribly wrong.

Several of the extras thrown in on Disc Two of the reissue were already released in the massive Power of Negative Thinking, the seemingly encyclopedic post-breakup compendium.  But some were not: incredible live takes from the band’s final, combustible tours, BBC sessions that’ll blow your mind, and the album finishes with a live version of “Virtually Unreal.”

What the extras also show is just what a death trip folks involved here were on.  We’re not referring to the Jesus and Mary Chain, but to their label, Warner Bros.  This all happened in 1998, before Napster genuinely threatened to disintermediate the labels, with the labels offering, through greed and stupidity, near justification for it.  Warner Bros.’ treatment of Munki a preview of what would happen three years hence, when what once had been the music industry’s most creative and artist-focused label revealed just how desperate they were to destroy themselves — we’re talking of their rejection of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, a classic album of the age, because it wasn’t commercial enough.  Warner Bros, you see, rejected Munki.  It just didn’t have potential, they said.  They were happy to let it walk out the door and be released by Creation, as boneheaded a move as, say, the New York Jets letting Danny Woodhead go to the Patriots.  Listening now to two of the (included) highlights from The Power of Negative Thinking, “Bleed Me” and “Rocket” — recorded as part of the Munki sessions — and thinking about Munki’s greatness, you have to wonder just what the record execs of this era were smoking.  I mean, we know what William Reid was smoking, and we know how much Jim Reid was drinking and snorting.  But as evidenced by Munki, theirs was clear-eyed brilliance compared to the morons who didn’t think this was a record worth releasing.

Pumpkin Frenzy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 16, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Leica M9, Noctilux 0.95

The Duke Spirit’s “Bruiser” Is So Well Named

Posted in Music with tags , , , on October 13, 2011 by johnbuckley100

And so let us stipulate that the Duke Spirit is one of Tulip Frenzy’s favorite bands, and has been so since we first heard the title track from their debut, Cuts Across The Land , which came out six years ago.  In 2008 they released on these shores a follow-up album, Neptune, which was less magical, but nonetheless quite powerful.  We’ve been waiting ever since for that make’r’break third album, and when we found out that Bruiser, released last month in Albion, wasn’t being released in the States ’til sometime in November, well, we felt we had no recourse but to pass the hat around the office.  Once we had enough coin, we sent off to London for what used to be the sweetest words in the rock hound’s lexicon: a British import.

Bruiser has arrived, and it packs a wallop.  The Duke Spirit is not a particularly fancy band — they are a rock band (no real need for a modifier, though we’ll throw in the letters “alt” lest anyone confuse ’em for, like, Def Leppard), with two guitars, bass and drums, and in Liela Moss, they have my favorite female singer in the world.  Save for, well, Neko Case.  And Sally Timms.  They don’t layer acoustic guitars and glockenspiels into the mix.  Instead, they drive over you with a dark blue Range Rover.  Their music is powerful, and stylish, and very direct.  Six years since their first album, it is possible that the Duke Spirit have reached musical middle age, since Bruiser is perhaps a bit thick around the middle.  Yes, this is a darkly melodic album whose songs often begin with the bass and drums accelerating into about third gear before we hear Liela’s gorgeous voice or the two guitarists crash the party.  There’s a reason they didn’t name this album Floats Like A Hummingbird or else Stings Like A Bee.  A heavyweight British bruiser Bruiser turns out to be.

‘Cept, of course, for Liela’s voice.  There is that. If Liela’s voice were a character in literature, it would be Katje in Gravity’s Rainbow: flirtatious, incredibly sexy, continental, chamelon-like, dangerous, and tough.  If Liela’s voice had a face, though, it would be the young Jacqueline Bisset: beautiful, intriguing, though not particularly mysterious.  There is sometimes, we have to admit, an astringency to Liela’s tones, and she has a way of treating a man who’s pissed her off with the dismissive dispatch of a British nanny.  But what’s also great about the way she sings is the almost perverse phrasing, the defiant tonal shifts: just when you think she’s going to take a note higher, she takes it lower.  Did not see that coming! She’s that athlete whose canniness is built upon incredibly natural moves.

Is the whole band Liela?  Far from it.  We love the way either guitarist will only play five notes where ten could fit, love the Oasis-like rumble of the rhythm section, the Garbage-like presence (with no discernible electronics, other than mikes and amps.)  What we love most of all are the songs. On Neptune, we could easily imagine “The Step And The Walk” used in a Victoria’s Secret commercial, or maybe one for a new Jaguar.  (This is a compliment.) Since it’s taken so long for Bruiser to come out, we’ve had the lovely “Don’t Wait” to listen to for many months, and “Everything Is Under Your Spell” came out earlier this year.  Either song can get under your skin and settle in for a long stay.

With The Duke Spirit, what you see is what you get: a band informed by punk and the blues, but determined to hew to the middle of the alternarock genre, with killer songs that are plenty catchy, and a singer whose voice you want to just pet.  Bruiser takes on all comers, even if it moves a little slower than did The Duke Spirit’s earlier work.  It’s taking waaaaay too long to get to America.  When it gets here, pounce.

Wait, I Thought You Brought The Picnic Basket

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 8, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Leica M8, Apo-Summicron 75mm.

Our Friends At SnagFilms Let You Watch This Captain Beefheart Doc — Right Here

Posted in Music with tags , on October 8, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Captain Beefheart – Under Review | Watch the Documentary Film Free Online | SnagFilms.

Free streaming.  All you can watch.

Autumn’s Arrival

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 8, 2011 by johnbuckley100

It emerges from fog.  Leica M8, Apo-Summicron 75mm.

Bryan Ferry Casts His Vote At The Strathmore

Posted in Music with tags , , on October 4, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Leica Digilux 3

Before seeing Bryan Ferry for the first time since Roxy Music’s Siren tour — which occurred right around the time Gerald Ford was handing out WIN buttons — we wondered which Bryan Ferry would show up.  Would it be the hurricane that hit rock as a Category Five force, adding art and glamour to the old three-chord shuffle?  Or the Eurosmoothy whose solo albums since the ’80s have been like a ride in a Bentley, elegant but sensationless?

It’s such a pleasure to declare that Ferry played two-one hour sets reminding us how great Roxy Music and those early solo albums were.  Maybe his audience has forgotten just how revolutionary a song like “If There Is Something” was when that first Roxy Music album came out, but judging from the enthusiasm with which Ferry and his 9-piece band played it, he hasn’t.

It’s not often that you come back from a concert and comment on how well it was art-directed, but this is who we’re dealing with.  While the two go-go dancers writhed, and the chick singers sang along, the screen behind the band was a roiling sea of images, some from cameras on the band, some from a familiar iconography of party scenes that may as well have been the Titanic, so doomed and distant was that world.  The band was fantastic — with Roxy’s Paul Thomas on drums and the great Chris Spedding putting on a guitar clinic.  The flash young guitarist on the other side of the stage would wind up to take a furious solo, and when he was done, the old pro would barely tip his quiff toward his axe before blowing the young ‘un off the stage with a solo as concise as it was explosive.

Leica Digilux 3

Ferry’s voice was hoarse, and missing its trademark warble.  What once was so dominant and yet so easy to parody that Eno could nail it in “Dead Finks Don’t Talk,” was now sufficiently limited that Ferry sort of hid within the mix, the big band, the four other singers.  No matter.  Ferry’s choice of songs was exemplary, even if he no longer felt able, or willing, to give us “Tokyo Joe,”  or “When She Walks In The Room.”  The first set heated up with “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” and included Roxy Music highlights like “Casanova” and the aforementioned “If There Is Something.”  The second set included “Love Is The Drug,” and “Let’s Stick Together,” and of course Roxy Music’s only #1 hit, John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” Along the way he covered Neil Young’s “Hurricane,” as well as “All Along The Watch Tower,” both of which were fine enough, but we wish he’d covered more of the work of that great songwriter, Bryan Ferry.  We wish he’d spent more time on those immediate-post Roxy Music solo albums, In Your Mind, and The Bride Stripped Bare.  After all, he had Chris Spedding standing four feet away.

It has been easy to forget the revolutionary influence that Ferry and Roxy Music had .  Ferry’s career arc has taken him from genuinely disruptive genre-bending to a self-conscious effort at invoking elegance, which is the antithesis of what we love about rockn’roll. It’s as if Miles Davis’s evolution saw him eventually playing smooth jazz.  It is possible that generations have grown up not realizing that Ferry started as a musical bomb thrower.  Happily, the complete package was on display last night, a madeleine, lost time found again.

The newly released Olympia, which Ferry’s touring to support, started life as a Roxy Music reunion album, and yep, even Eno decided to show up.  But we’re glad it doesn’t have the band’s name attached; with it’s deep bottom and granite-smooth perfection, it’s closer to being one of those scented-candle mood albums, with Ferry, dressed in an Anderson & Sheppard suit, playing a world-weary Barry White rather than the high-strung artist who declared it was time to do the Strand. We say Roxy was influential, and it surely was, though Ferry’s Roxy Music eventually begat bands like Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, while the departed Brian Eno went on to influence bands like Garbage and the New Pornographers, to say nothing of Talking Heads and U2.  But at it’s peak — Country Life, with a hat tip to the albums that came just before and after, Stranded and Siren — Roxy Music was Bowie’s only competitor for the mantle of early ’70s greatness.  For after the Stones’ 72 tour, the entire rock infrastructure began to collapse.   Even though some bands (Stooges & Dolls) anticipated punk without knowing what was coming, even with the advent of Big Star, it was a fallow period.  It diminishes Roxy Music not one whit to declare it was the most fascinating band around, circa 73′-’75.  From the moment we heard “Amazona” — the moment we realized Phil Manzanera’s muscular guitar was the butch answer to the seemingly fey Ferry — we knew the post-Eno Roxy Music could be every bit as evocative as it had been before the little genius bid adieu.  Maybe we didn’t know just how important he would turn out to be, but from “Amazona” on, it was clear that even with Eno gone, Roxy Music would continue to push all boundaries.  Which they did, for one more album, and parts of the one after that.  And then it was over.

If you don’t remember those days, Ferry does, thank Heaven.  He may have become the de facto spokesmodel for Savile Row, but last night’s re-make, re-model was a remembrance of just what wildness beats beneath that surface calm.

The Mekons Carry On

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 1, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Leica M9, 35mm Summilux (with floating element).

The Mekons, Grizzled Treasures That They Are, Come Through For The Umpteenth Time

Posted in Music with tags , on October 1, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Ancient and Modern is the perfect title for a new album by the Mekons, because of course they are both.  Thirty-three years after we heard “Where Were You” for the first time, nearly dropping both pint and jaw, the Meeks have released an album filled with modernistic ensemble charms, as the redoubtable Jon Langford, youthful vixen Sally Timms, and the publican crooner Tom Greenhalgh once more destroy their safe and happy lives in the name of rock’n’roll.  It is, for them, a pretty straightforward affair, as the whole tribe shows up in force — there’s Rico on the accordion, and surely that’s Susie on the fiddle — to update Leeds punk with Chicago grit, modulated by folky purrings from a green and pleasant land.

Over the years — the decades — the Mekons have turned out some records that produced smiles if not long-lasting joy.  When on form, though, they’ve produced artifacts that future rockologists will dig up and behold with wonder, thence to try answering the riddle of why they weren’t the hugest band around.  And should one of those future rockologists seek out Tulip Frenzy for guidance, let us be clear where we stand: we believe that the Mekons, from the moment in 1978 they entered a studio to record “Never Been In A Riot” without any previous experience playing their instruments, to this day, when  a merry band of first-rate singers and musicians can still make great music, live and in the studio, the Mekons have produced more great rock’n’roll music than any of their contemporaries, which include the Clash, and Gang of Four, and the Buzzcocks, and whatnot.  (More is too easy, as they’re the only one of those bands never to have broken up in more than 30 years of playing together – Ed.)  And not just more, but in many ways better albums than their contemporaries.  For perhaps other than London Calling, has any of their peers produced an album as fine as Rock n’ Roll?  We think not.  (Ok, ok, you made your point – Ed.)

Ancient and Modern will not likely be played as long, or as often, as we play those albums produced during the Mekons’ Golden Age (from roughly the mid-80s to the mid-90s; from The Edge Of The World until the under-appreciated Retreat From Memphis.)  At the pinnacle — from So Good It Hurts, through Rock n’Roll and I (Heart) The Mekons — the Mekons could at once make you remember they were contemporaries of the Clash, and admire them all the more for never giving up.  Later, they posted some remarkably great late-innings performances, in particular Journey To The End Of The Night.  Ancient and Modern, both as a collection of songs and as a performance, doesn’t reach those heights, but come on, the mere fact they still grace us with their music is reason to wake up in the morning.

Over the years, the key indicators for a Mekons album have been: are Langford’s rockers memorable, did Sally Timms get some melody to which she could apply her sultry vocals, and is Tom Greenhalgh noodling, or singing a song as perfect as “Heaven and Back.”  “Space In Your Face,” “Honey Bear,” “The Devil At Rest,” and “Warm Summer Sun” are reminders of how much we owe to Ancient Civilization, and just how much life there still is in those old bones.

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