Archive for March, 2013

Observations On A Month Spent With The Leica M-240

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 30, 2013 by johnbuckley100

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Leica M-240, all images taken with the the 50mm Summilux, 35 mm Summilux, or 21mm Summilux.  Please click on the pictures to examine them in greater detail, though remember, they have been seriously down-rezzed for Internet posting.

The first thing to know about graduating from a Leica M9 to the new Leica M is what a huge step up it is in taking pictures at night.  The M9 was usable in the dark of night, the M-240 is blissful.  During a recent trip to Mexico, we found it as much fun to use after the sun went down as it was during the day.  This is a big development.

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In tricky, mixed lighting conditions, you have the same problems as with the M9, but the files are sufficiently malleable that you can recover shadow detail (to the extent you wish to), and the files — even without benefit of a color profile in Lightroom — can be made useful.  This is true even when you don’t quite get the shot.

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It is still very much a Leica M — discrete, a perfect street camera.  We also discovered that, when we screwed up and somehow, as in the above picture, recorded the image as a Jpeg file, not a RAW file, there was still much to work with.

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The joy of being able to shoot at ISOs above 1250 makes this a game-changer for Leica users.  Yes, we have these fast lenses, but there are times when you really do need to shoot at high ISOs, and at last we have a camera that is as good, in color and at 3200 ISO, as the Monochrom is in black and white.

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This is a camera that, to our eye, still delivers that Leica magic.  We’ve followed some of the commentary that is negative on Leica’s switch from a CCD to a CMOS sensor, but honestly, we think this is a camera that still renders images very similar to the M9 in the look and drama of what is in focus, and of course, the Leica lenses deliver a unique bokeh.

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As a reportage camera, it is still as fast to utilize as an Leica since the M3.  Yes, we missed this shot, a bit, but it was because we were looking elsewhere when El Jefe came marching into the view.  The camera very quickly activates as you raise it to your eye.  If you are using the EVF, of course you would miss this.  But the Leica manual focusing process, through the viewfinder, is with practice as fast as you need it.

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As a street camera, it is unparalleled, simply a better version of the M9, in our opinion.  We could spend an entire day shooting without worrying about battery drainage — each day would end with the camera not even dangerously close to having used a full battery.  A good thing, since we traveled to Mexico without a spare, which Leica is just now getting into dealers’ hands.

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We did use the EVF with the 21mm Summilux, and found the focusing to be easy and effective.  Yes, it would have worked to have used the external viewfinder.  But we liked using the EVF in these circumstances.

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Purists might not like the look of a file like the above, but we were very pleased to be able to do basic adjustments in Lightroom and then process this in Color Efex Pro 4 to get a traditional film look.  To us, this looks like something we would have shot with our M7, using Fuji films.

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And even though, again, we weren’t able to nail the above shot, missing Mr. White Hat, processing the images with a film preset makes it a perfectly acceptable image, to our eye.

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We will post more pictures in the days ahead, but here is the bottom line.  After a month, and after a week of travel, we find the Leica M-240 to be every bit the equal of, and we honestly believe, superior to the Leica M9 in terms of image quality.  It is much more reliable — we never had to eject a battery after the camera jammed or balked at taking a picture.  We got a day’s use out of a battery.  It was amazing to shoot with at night.

After one month with our M, we honestly believe this is a complete winner.  We look forward to using it in many different conditions in the years ahead.

Update: For observations on Five-Months Use of The M As A Multipurpose Tool go here.

And you can follow Tulip Frenzy on Twitter @johnbuckley100.


One, Or Both…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on March 22, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Happy email.  “One or both” of our finalists made it through the jury choosing the pictures for the Leica Store’s “DC As I See It” exhibit, beginning Saturday night, March 30th…  Hmm, was it “Leave Me Alone?” or “Ice Cream Man”?  Or both?  We patiently await word…

Leave Me Alone


Ice Cream Man

With “Muchacho,” Phosphorescent Shines Beyond Its Half-Life

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 22, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Matt Houk, who plys his trade under the band name Phosphorescent, has long been a golden-throated marvel, but on the magnificent new Muchacho, he answers three questions that long have puzzled us.

Ever wonder how good Dylan’s late-phase greats would sound if sung by someone whose voice hadn’t been dragged four times across cooling magma?  We used to joke, Mrs. Tulip Frenzy and I, about how Dylan should call Jakob to do the honors.  But the moment we we heard the magnificent “Song For Zula,” we knew Matt Houk was the only one who would do Dylan justice.  You could imagine “Song for Zula” on anything from about Time Out Of Mind on; it’s that good.

And then there’s this question that long has lingered: when will someone record an album that you could segue to directly from the second side of Exile On Main Street, you know, something that combines pedal steel and Memphis horns, something warm and bright as “Loving Cup,” with also that hazy, lazy mystery? If you’ve ever asked that question, yep, Muchacho is for you.  On “The Quotidian Beasts” and other songs we can hear echoes of that notional state where it’s 1971 all over again, and Mick and Keith are in the basement with Nicky Hopkins upstairs in the living room, and Jim Price and Bobby Keys are down the hall in that haunted Southern France mansion, as Gram Parsons lies conked out on the couch.

Speaking of Gram Parsons, our third question has for years been would anyone capture his essence the way the young Ryan Adams did on Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac?  If that question’s ever crossed your mind, go get Muchacho.  Like at once, hombre.

In a way, Muchacho is two records.  There are the songs, like “Song for Zula,” that really are Houk recording by himself, with strings or other instruments added on later.  And then there are songs with that full band treatment used to such great effect on Here’s To Taking It Easy, and To Willy, his album of Willy Nelson covers.  And a killer band it is, Whiskeytown being a not unfair approximation.

Phosphorescent burns tantalizingly bright in the night, and so it is with Houk, whose glow we pray last’s beyond the half-life of the artist.

Comfy Ride

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 20, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Leica M, Noctilux with ND filter.  Click on image for better resolution.

Comfy Ride

Richard Hell’s “I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 19, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Like many of rock’n’roll’s greatest vocalists, Richard Hell doesn’t have a very good voice.  As one of the greatest punk rock musicians, he couldn’t play his instrument very well.  For a guy who left Television before it made arguably the best album of the 1970s; left the Heartbreakers before L.A.M.F.; and whose output — not including the almost unlistenable Dim Stars record (bad sound quality) — is only the two records he put out with his band, The Voidoids, he sure does cut an outsized figure.  Even if all we had to go on was his song “Time,” from the Destiny Street album, or maybe his version of Dylan’s “Going Going Gone,” or (the lyrically reprehensible, since it would seem to promote incest) “The Plan” from Blank Generation, Richard Myers (Hell) would hulk in the corner of our rock Pantheon, casting a very large shadow.  And with the release of I Dreamed I Was A Very Clean Tramp, he’s now produced one of the most honest, funniest, best written and compelling autobiographies of any rock star ever — a book that holds its own with Keith Richards’ Life and Dean Wareham’s Black Postcards.

We enjoyed his novel Go Now, which came out in ’97, so we were prepared for a well-told story.  And what a story!  Whatever you think of him — talentless jester who was all style over substance, or seminal figure who helped launch the CBGB wave — credit him with balls.  Running away from boarding school with his pal Tom Miller, whom the world now knows as Tom Verlaine; moving to NY as a teenager without a high school diploma, and somehow surviving junk and basically three decades without a new record; Richard Myers reinvented himself as Richard Hell and helped create not just punk’s style — the torn shirts and safety pins that would be shamelessly ripped off by his admirer, Malcolm McLaren, when he was inventing the Sex Pistols — but some fair measure of it ethos: true heart and burning energy trumping anything so bourgeois as actual musical chops.

From what’s available through bootlegs and other artifacts, Television circa 1974 was a tug of war between Verlaine’s genius on a Fender guitar and Hell’s propulsive antics.  Neither really could sing, and both were pretty pretentious.  But Verlaine was a guitar god, and Hell was something else.  You read his account of leaving Television, and joining up with Johnny Thunders in the Heartbreakers (not to be confused, as it was, with Tom Petty’s band), only to leave to form the Voidoids with two of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, Bob Quine and Ivan Julian, and you keep waiting for the story to become a triumph. Keep waiting to hear how he got it together and achieved his dreams, fulfilled his promise.  And of course it didn’t happen.  By the time we got to New York in the late ’70s, Hell had already failed to sustain the momentum created with the amazing first Voidoid’s album, Blank Generation.  We only got to see him twice — once fronting the Raybeats at the NY Rocker 1979 holiday party (and that was a scream; Hell singing while the space-cowboy uniformed, No Wave surf instrumentalists backed him up), and then at the Peppermint Lounge around the time Destiny Street provided the Hell/Quine combo its swan song  — and by ’84 it was all over.  He blames other factors in addition to junk, but heroin addiction trumps all other factors in stories like this.  Heroin addiction may start as a manifestation, not a cause, of one’s problems, but by now we all know how quickly it piggybacks into rendering things the other way around.

The book is a great read.  His take down of his former high school chum Verlaine is vengeance served cold — with the meanest twist of the knife being not his remembrance of things past, but the book’s end, when he runs into his old friend, by now middle-aged, buying books from a dollar bin on the streets of Lower Manhattan.  While his Zelig-as-Casanova rounds of all the eligible women in ’70s New York gets old, he’s honest to admit relationships with two of rock’n’roll’s most horrific people, Nancy Spungeon and Anya Phillips, neither of whom met good ends.  In fact, the soundtrack for the book is less anything Hell recorded so much as it’s Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died,” as so many of the players succumbed to both drugs and natural causes… Lester Bangs and Peter Laughner and Lizzy Mercier Descloux and Johnny Thunders and Dee Dee Ramone and Bob Quine and on and on.

But not Hell.  Hell’s a survivor.  And a great storyteller.  And a man who understands that his greatest asset, circa 2013, is what he witnessed nearly 40 years ago, when Lower Manhattan, not Brooklyn, was the center of the universe, and things were grungy and sexy and fun.  You could think of Richard Hell as a man who with a modicum of talent played with a line up of the best guitarists of his generation, and created a small body of work that both will live for the ages and provide a clue about that brief moment when a handful of New York bands changed the world.  Or you could think of him as a very clean tramp, who has written a book we will enjoy as much as any of his collaborations with Bob Quine.

The Triumphant Return Of Deathfix, Or Tales Of Brave Ulysses

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 18, 2013 by johnbuckley100

It was only the return from a ten-day tour, not a Ullysean reunion in Ithaca, but the sense of relief and joy evidenced last night by Deathfix at the Black Cat was as obvious as the band’s enormous talent.  Coming back to D.C., their album available, and with cheers from the road still ringing in their ears, the Deathfix show was both a homecoming and an album release party.  And while both Brendan Canty and Rich Morel were a little ragged of voice, the fact that a young band could perform such intricate songs with beats missed only through premature enthusiasm, shows just how great these guys can be.

Live, it’s clear why Brendan would happily relinquish the stool behind the drum kit to Devin Ocampo.  We knew how aggressively he played from his work with the Mary Timony Band, but well before we got to the best song on Deathfix —  the immortal “Transmission” — Ocampo’s Aynsley Dunbar homage had us transfixed, maybe even deathfixed.  Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation,you would think that Brendan had spent his entire career playing guitar, for he seemed that comfortable doing so.

Seeing the band for the first time after wearing out the hard drive from our iPad listening to their eponymous debut through headphones reveals just precisely who passes off the vocal baton to whom on each song.  We’d sort of figured which song was Brendan’s and which was Rich Morel’s, but we hadn’t realized how vocal responsibilities are like a hot potato thrown from one to the other, within the parameters of various songs.  Yeah, that’s Brendan taking the verse in the radio-worthy “Better Than Bad,” and Rich stepping up with the chorus.  And so forth and so on, with Ocampo and bassist Mark Cisneros all doing their part, or parts.

They played the entire album, and only on the encore did they return with something new — a song called “Porcelain,” which was superb, another one of these multi-part opuses like “Transmission.”  When the newest song played may also be the best song played, high hopes are raised for the next record.

We called them a young band, and obviously by that we mean they haven’t been playing together all that long.  After all, when thanking his former partner in Fugazi, Ian Mackaye, and the crew from Dischord who were there, Brendan declared he’d been on the label for 31 years.  That’s a long time, not just for record-label monogamy, but to be playing music professionally.  And yeah, these guys are pros — adults with roots in punk rock and power pop, dance and hard rock, who somehow can concoct a prog nod to ’70s acts as disparate as 10cc and Big Star and pull it off.

It was a triumphant homecoming.  May they leave and return, leave and return, for years to come.

Wish Us Luck

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on March 17, 2013 by johnbuckley100

In the span of less than a year, the Leica Store in Washington, D.C. has become a remarkable gallery space and photography hub.  Some weeks ago, they announced a juried competition entitled “D.C. As I See It,” open to photographers from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, but limited to photographs of  the “real D.C.,” taken with Leica equipment.  You might imagine this perked our interest.  Let’s see, live in D.C.  Check.  Take pictures with Leica equipment.  Check.  Take pictures of what we consider the real D.C.  Ok, we said, and we submitted five images.

The three jurors are all eminent Washington photographers, printers, and gallerists, and the two-phase process consists of a review of images submitted digitally, and after a cull, a review of the finalists’ prints.  We are pleased to say two of our images made it into the finals, which means sometime today they either will or will not be chosen for display on the Leica Store’s walls.

We have one color image in contention, taken with a Leica M9 and 35mm Summilux last September, when we were wandering the city with the great Danish photographer and workshop leader Thorsten Overgaard.

Ice Cream Man

A second image was taken with the Leica Monochrom and 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph near Logan Circle just a few weeks ago.

Leave Me Alone

Wish us luck!  We’ll report in later if either of them makes it.

When Irish Eyes Aren’t Smiling

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 16, 2013 by johnbuckley100

March 16th, Dumbarton Oaks Cemetery, Leica M, 50mm Summilux.

When Irish Eyes Aren't Smiling

What Sasha Frere-Jones Gets Right, And Wrong, In His Rare Miss On Bowie

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2013 by johnbuckley100

It is unusual for Sasha Frere-Jones to use his bully pulpit in The New Yorker to resist committing to a strong point of view, but when he finished his review of Bowie’s The Next Day with a taunt that “the bar rats can fight it out” over the exact status of the album among Bowie’s canon — declaring it “a fine rock record that is a few hairs away from being among his best,” and that “even the obsessives should be able to accept that” — we were disappointed.

Disappointed because Frere-Jones is, like Jon Mendelsohn, Lester Bangs, R. Meltzer, and Byron Coley before him, among the only voices in the rock criticism of his era that really matter.  While he does not write with anywhere near the pyrotechnical verve of any of these likely mentors, his perch exists at a time where Americans are given the dreary choice between reading the idiots at Rolling Stone, the even bigger idiots who labor under Jon Pareles’ Fidel-like reign at the formerly authoritative New York Times, and the onanistic closed loop in the bell jar that is Pitchfork.  Though it must be acknowledged that Ken Tucker at NPR has a wonderful sensibility, Frere-Jones may be the only main-market rock critic who really has an impact.

So yes, we were disappointed because the passive distancing of “a few hairs away from being among” Bowie’s best violates every rule of resistance to gainsaying, to soft pronouncements,  that we were taught, lo those many years ago, by Andy Schwartz, the great editor of NY Rocker, where we were once a young pup (along with Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, the aforementioned Coley, Glen Morrow, and others.)

If you want to say the album isn’t so good, say it, Sasha.  And if you want to say it’s great, say that.  If it’s somewhere in between?  Find a way of committing to exactly where it stands, without weasel calibrations like “a few hairs away from among his best.”

But that’s not the point of this post, a rare criticism of Frere-Jones.  In his review, Frere-Jones holds up Bowie’s under-appreciated 2002 album Heathen as a “magnificent” collection “with fewer good songs than The Next Day (though) a more cohesive marriage of electronic textures and traditional guitar work, and Bowie was in robust voice.  Bowie and (producer Tony) Visconti worked on that together, and it’s difficult to understand how they could have been so in synch with the moment then but not now.”  So, score a point for Sasha that the production on The Next Day does have that brittle 1980s sound that makes so many of the good albums from that epoch unlistenable today.  And he is right that Heathen, as well as the half-decent follow-up Reality, have a less bombastic, arch sound.  But come on: two of the three best songs on Heathen were written by Black Francis, as if Bowie was so out of it in the 1980s that he only picked up on the Pixies’ genius a decade later.

As between 1) having a production that sounds too much like the ’80s, but a series of great, fresh songs, and 2) a smooth sound set amidst a songwriting dry spell that necessitates having to dip into Black Francis’ bag for inspiration, we’ll take the former.  Frere-Jones is right that the production on The Next Day weakens it, but his inability to commit to what he thinks about it, leaving it to the “bar rats” to decide how good it is, is an abdication of his responsibility.  If an artist played it as safe as he does in his review, we hope he would excoriate them for it.

Will Someone Tell Us What The Duck Is Doing Here?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 14, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Leica M, Noctilux wide open, ND filter, in LR for a quick wash, then Nik Viveza and Color Efex 4 for a rinse.

Stork and Duck

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