Readers of Tulip Frenzy know we have given long study to the photography of Saul Leiter, but if there is a living photographer whose work in color we most marvel at, it is likely Alex Webb. What do we admire most about Alex Webb? Well, he is able to compose images where there are numerous stories being told in the construct of a single shot. This doesn’t even qualify as emulation, but it does give us a sense of how, with a wide-angle lens, one can have multiple planes of interest in a given composition. This gives us hope. Leica M, 35mm Summilux Asph FLE.
Archive for June, 2014
It was in the early ’90s, after David Lowery had moved east and formed Cracker, that he described in an interview with Rolling Stone the Santa Cruz milieu in which the early Camper Van Beethoven albums had been hatched. He described Santa Cruz as combining “carrot juice and cigarettes,” an image you can practically taste. A California environment that is simultaneously life affirming and louche, organic and carcinogenic, has formed a paradox at the heart of so many of his best songs, whether he’s operating in his Camper or his Cracker guise. In the most recent Cracker album, Sunrise In The Land Of Milk and Honey, it is clear that Lowery can view California through the honey light of its magical past. On Camper’s new one, the excellent El Camino Real, he’s back to understanding the state’s duality, not just the split between north and south, nor even California’s perpetual balancing act between bringing on the future while being mired in a dystopian present, but between, well, carrot juice and cigarettes.
Let’s give Camper Van Beethoven the accord they are due. Let’s not think of them as an ’80s nostalgia band — they’re far from it, as anyone who has seen their live shows lately can attest. Let’s credit them not simply with superb musicianship, their ability to rotate between gypsy ska, punk rock and Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd, a band that could as easily play Bonnaroo and a bar mitzvah. Let’s give them their due as having created, in 2004’s New Roman Time, not just the most impressive artistic work on the tragedy and absurdity of the Iraq War, but a thematic fantasy that captured the madness of post-9/11 America in the Bush years better than anything so far to come from our crop of major novelists.
We didn’t much like last year’s La Costa Perdida, which was a look at Northern California: to us, the songs just weren’t melodically realized, there was too much irony and edge even for an ironist. El Camino Real, though, is a complete winner. “It Was Like That When We Got Here” is as excellent a sunny rocker as you are likely to hear this surfing season, “Dockweiler Beach” sounds as if it could easily have come off Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, and while “I Live In LA” will never be adopted as the Clippers’ theme song, its anthemic structure boot stomps anything you’ll ever hear from Randy Newman or any of the city’s faux-ironic boosters. We don’t pretend to understand why the album’s best song, “City of Industry,” shows up only as an iTunes extra, but we’re not complaining. This is the best album Lowery’s bands have released since New Roman Times a decade ago. Even as California waits for the Big One, all that real estate sliding into the sea, Camper fiddles and watches it burn.
Yesterday was Washington D.C.’s Capital Pride Parade, one of the longest-running gay pride events in the U.S. For a photographer, it was a “target-rich environment.” We’ll be posting more in the days ahead. For now, here are some images to give you a sense of the evening — the golden light, the happiness of the participants, what a scene it was. All images Leica M, 35mm Summilux Asph FLE.
When Parquet Courts play, we’re transported to a distant time when the best rock’n’roll in the world emanated not from Brooklyn, but Lower Manhattan. They know this — they are very self-aware — and they play their 1970s Television roots to a fare-thee-well. For a band of primitives, Parquet Courts know precisely what they’re doing. And it is glorious.
They kick off the spankin’ new Sunbathing Animal with “Bodies Made Of,” and we are immediately in the hypnotic two-guitar grip of Lloyd and Verlaine playing “See No Evil,” with the underlying riff of “96 Tears” adding a garage-band reference to the ur-punk swing. By the time we get to “Dear Ramona,” we have a magical invocation of Frank Black’s “Ramona” and Television’s “Venus,” replete with the dumb-boy glee-club and its “huh?” chorus. And it just gets better from there, songs of a minute-thirty length alternating with seven-minute opi.
Parquet Courts do what the most thrilling punk bands of the late ’70s routinely effected, a gambit to which so few bands since then have been able to pull off: they play with such utter authority within their limitations that you can’t figure out whether they are genuinely constrained or art-school geniuses slumming on a project. They manage to be raw and thrilling one moment, pretty and beguiling the next, and they understand the weight of a broader cohort of songs — a live set, an album — in which they can power through skronk and immediately return with the most melodic tune, picked out by the two guitarists (Andrew Savage and Austin Brown) who play with such consonance you would swear they are a pop band in secret. If it could be said — yeah, we said it — that Wire was a band that was always at their most interesting just when their reach exceeded their grasp, let us state here that Parquet Courts are both conceptually ambitious but also seemingly in control: they pull off that magic trick where it seems they are playing beyond their ability, but really that’s all just part of the act. Or maybe the act is to make it seem like it’s part of the act — the very asking of that question giving an indication of their conceptual intelligence. There may be no more thrilling punk band in the world today.
The spoken-voice “singing”probably seals Parquet Courts’ commercial fate, or at least it would if we were living in an era where radio mattered. In a Spotify playlist world, it is possible these guys are inches away from global domination. We just don’t know. What we do know is that when Light Up Gold, their first widely released album, came out at the end of 2012, we immediately placed it in the 2013 Tulip Frenzy Top Ten List (c). We know that when we saw them live last summer with Woods, we felt the warm wash of nostalgia flushed by the excitement of discovering something wholly new. We know that with Sunbathing Animal, Parquet Courts have released an album that will induce sophomores at Brown to drop out en masse, their move to Williamsburg inspired by just this one thing.
Even though Parquet Courts should be seen in a beery fog of a thrashing crowd, feet all sticking to the parquet floor, their new ‘un is an album all the coolest sunbathing animals will play through ear buds, while the summer sun beats down on the tar roofs of Brooklyn, the beaches of Saint Tropez. Better reach for the Coppertone, as the finest band plying the Austin-Brooklyn axis keeps you riveted to their 14-song revelation.