White Fence, And The Bands That Didn’t Make It Onto This Year’s Tulip Frenzy Top Ten List: An Explanation

Making a Top Ten List is hard in years when there is a lot of good new music.  And just when you think you’re done, inevitably you find you missed stuff.  (One of the most fun aspects of December is reading other people’s Top Ten lists and getting turned on to bands that had not punctured your force field.) But while we’re sure we’ll be doing, if not addenda, then at least announcements of bands we discovered after we’d cast our vote, right now we want to do something else. We thought we should report, if not on the runners up, then at least on the bands that were in contention, or should have been, but which didn’t make it, with some explanation of why not.

White Fence – Family Perfume, Volumes 1 and 2

Tim Presley is a deity in our house, with the shrine next to the bird feeder, on top of the old 8 Track.  Some will remember that Darker My Love’s last outing, Alive As You Are, was Tulip Frenzy’s Album of the Year in 2010.  Of course, Presley is represented on this year’s list by his collaboration with Ty Segall on Hair.  But while aspects of Family Perfume, the epic 29-song double album he released in two parts, in April and May, were as weirdly coherent as anything out of the E6 brotherhood, in the end, we found its extreme lo-fi production coupled with what we can only imagine was an intense psychedelic ambition was excessively confusing.  We almost wanted to shake Mr. Presley by his shoulders, urging him to focus.  We can say honestly that virtually everything his friend Segall does by his lonesome has visceral appeal, but as White Fence, recording all the instruments, Presley’s work is too ethereal, too diffuse.  There’s too much of it and, while snippets are appealing, ultimately it doesn’t rock. And while it is unfair, perhaps, to compare him to Ty Segall — a once in a decade talent — on a good day, Tim Presley’s one of the most compelling figures in all of rock’n’roll music.  Did we mention that just two years ago we gave an album he recorded with his colleagues in Darker My Love our highest honor?  White Fence — Presley and musicians, real sidemen, not imaginary friends – just launched a European tour.  May they knock ’em dead.  And come back and record an album as amazing as Tim Presley’s talent.  From where we sit, Family Perfume didn’t stink to high Heaven, but it just wasn’t it.  We play it, and enjoy it.  But we want more.  We want candy.

The dBs — Falling Off The Sky

God, it was magical hearing Peter Holsapple singing with Will Rigby and Gene Holder kicking down the tobacco barn behind him, and maybe doubly so to have the whole family together with Chris Stamey.  We loved Falling Off The Sky, a genuinely fun album recapturing the magic of Winston-Salem’s finest-ever export to Lower Manhattan.  Both Holsapple and Stamey’s songwriting was strong, and the band is as charming as ever they were.  “Send Me Something Real” was the best Stamey song in years, and “That Time Is Gone” was classic Holsapple. This is the case of a band just barely missing the list, beaten out by Patti Smith, of all people, whose Banga was just that much better.  They were half a game out of the playoffs when the season ended.  Wait ’til next year.

Brian Jonestown Massacre — Aufheben

We got so much joy out of hearing the first really good album from BJM in a decade, and performing the songs live this summer at 930, Anton Newcombe seemed to have a new lease on his plectrum.  In a weaker field, Aufheben would have made it, for it was in many ways classic Brian Jonestown Massacre.  But it wasn’t a weak field, and they didn’t.

Alejandro Escovedo — Big Station

Al’s third Tony Visconti-produced album in the last four years was good, but didn’t make the list because it was third-best among those offerings.  It was good, but something’s missing. We love Alejandro, but admit to a minor disillusionment now that, at least on this album, and for the last two or three tours, he’s gotten away from the larger orchestration of multiple guitars, rockin’ cellos, boogeying violins, etc.  This is a guy who for years would come through town each summer playing punk rock with a real band, and then a few months later return with just cellos. And he would rock just as hard with just the cellos. But when he plays punk rock in a pared-down quartet with just bass, Hector Munoz on drums, and a lead guitarist, something that was so magical about the old Alejandro is missing.  We mull the etiology: whether Al feels the need to play the hard rocker, or whether economics keeps him from performing with a larger set of musicians.  All we know is that, now that he is getting perhaps the most sympathetic listen of his career, with the strongest promotion (Hell, he has Bruce watching his back), and even finds his songs played on the radio… NOW is the time to tour with the whole shebang, the cellos and the peddle steel guitar, the violin and double guitars.  What once was the most magical act in rock’n’roll has been pared down to its essentials, but we want him to give us something more.  We want what Al offered all those many years when we dragged friends to see this guy they’d never heard of, only to have them so blown away, they quit their jobs to follow him like Deadheads.

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