Archive for May, 2015

The Girl Steps Out Of The Picture

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 28, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Leica Monochrom (Type-246), Dumbarton Oaks.

Gardens For Book 2-38

Thee Oh Sees Burn The Barn Down Again On “Mutilator Defeated At Last”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 28, 2015 by johnbuckley100

John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees is the only Boy Scout in rock’n’roll.  I’m not referring to his lifestyle, about which I know next to nothing.  I am talking about his resourcefulness, in which he can take virtually any material — a button, a line scrawled on a napkin, a rhythm and ragged riff — and fashion it into a song.

Sure, leave Ty Segall in a room with a guitar and he’ll have a song in an hour.  Give Joyce Carol Oates a typewriter and she can probably write a novel in that time.  But Dwyer crafts the most amazing rock’n’roll songs out of single guitar lines, a little falsetto here, a yip there.  At least since 2011’s Carrier Crawler/The Dream, everything Thee Oh Sees have done puts them in the same rare category as young Mr. Segall and his buddy Tim Presley of White Fence: collectively they are saving rock’n’roll, and in Dwyer’s case, seeming to have a real good time doing so.  He is the Happy Warrior: a calm and articulate ringmaster in the eye of a sonic storm.  And now we have Mutilator Defeated At Last, and with it comes assurance that our entire blessed summer looms before us, its soundtrack loaded on our iPhone.

The entire crew at Tulip Frenzy was devastated when word came, late a couple years back, that Thee Oh Sees were going on hiatus.  We hate us bands on hiatus, and it hurt particularly because damn if Floating Coffin wasn’t #2 on Tulip Frenzy’s 2013 Ten Best List (c). The situation clarified a bit not long after: while we were despondent that this particular lineup of Thee Oh Sees was taking a break, Dwyer was just moving to LA and working with a different gang o’ kids.  Drop had some good songs on it, but we chalk up 2014 as a transition year.  All the more reason we were so excited both to see ’em at Levitation: Austin Psych Fest earlier this month, and to learn that the road band was holed up in the studio long enough to record Mutilator Defeated At Last.

And the verdict?  The equal of Floating Coffin, for sure, and better than Putrifiers II.  This is the highest praise! We see a few more of Mr. Dwyer’s catholic influences — no, not the church, but Jimi Hendrix (on the intro to “Lupine Ossuary”) and Joy Division (on “Withered Hand.”)  We have all the ingredients that make Thee Oh Sees so boss: double drums powering the proceedings, Dwyer’s deceptively amazing guitar work, and his vocal range, which we think of as the opposite of Don Van Vleet’s.  (Whereas Captain Beefheart had an alleged seven-octave range starting from the bottom, rising from beneath the basement steps, Dwyer’s range starts from the attic, his cool falsetto, occasionally invoked, descends from there.)

At 33 minutes and change, it is of Goldilocks length, even though we coulda stood another song or two.  But look, a guy who is sophisticated enough as a magpie that he could take a little bit o’ rockabilly rumbling, the traditional verse/chorus/nuclear war set up worked over by bands like the Pixies and Nirvana, add a dollop of Fripp and Eno, and on this one even throw in an acoustic song, and you get a sense of what pure genius consists of.  It is a staple of bad advertising to extol the virtues of those who “think outside the box,” and the paradox of John Dwyer is that he does that — oh yeah, there has never been a songwriter who can make so much of so little, and have it be so original and true — even as he plies the very lines of rock’n’roll idiom.

If you’ve yet to dive in, here’s the place to start.  Close your eyes and he’s burning the house down.  Open ’em again and all is right in the world.

And This Is What They Fought For

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 25, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Memorial Day’s eve, Washington, D.C., May 24th, 2015

Memorial Day Color Speed Racer Crop

Memorial Day Color 2

Memorial Day Color kayaks

At The Vietnam Memorial, Name Recognition

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 25, 2015 by johnbuckley100

In a fantastic piece by Charles Blow in today’s New York Times, Civil War historian David W. Blight is quoted on the solemn event at war’s end when freed African-Americans reburied dead Union prisoners of war, and “staged a parade of 10,000” around the cemetery where they lay.

“After the dedication, the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches, and watched soldiers drill.”

“The war was over,” wrote Blight, “and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration.”

We thought of these words this morning, at the Vietnam Memorial.

Memorial Day BW Name Recognition

Liquid Assets

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 25, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Memorial Day is a memorial, not a celebration. Right?

Memorial Day Color 1

You Write The Script: The Street Photographer’s Dilemma

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 20, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Whether it is a single shot, unposed, a moment of time, or a series to show how an incident unfolded, street photography is the depiction of a slice of life, a moment in time.  There are certain ethical rules we abide by that perhaps others don’t: Vivian Maier has an entire subchapter of photographs of drunken stumblebums, which she may or may not have ever intended the world to see.  To each his own, though for the record, we don’t take pictures of the homeless, of panhandlers, those whose misery and vulnerability is paramount, even as they lay defenseless before the lens.

Ah, but what about lovers in the middle of some drama?  Is it ethical not only to take their photograph, but to post it, as we do here?

The Breakup 1

We came across the above scene as we were walking home some days ago.  As soon as we saw the woman with her arms on the man’s shoulder, our camera went to our eye.  We didn’t really have time to wonder what was going on between them, though the body language triggered our awareness that we were an eyewitness to a searing moment of intimacy.  Was it right for us to take this picture? To now display it?  And if so, what was she saying?  What is passing between these two?

The Breakup 2

He’s clearly affected by it; the look on his face seems to be hurt, suppressed anger.  She’s trying to get him to understand something.  Is she leaving him?  Trying to get him to do something?  There’s a tenderness that suggests she’s not leaving him, or at least not parting without affection.

The Breakup 3

One last try at getting him to understand, or at least accept, some decision or admonition or directive on her part.  We don’t know what it was, and on some level, this is clearly an invasion of their intimate moment.  And yet it was on the street, so we literally have the right to have captured it.  And the poignancy of the moment is, to us, sufficiently dramatic that of course we would have tried capturing it.  The correctness of whether we properly should now be sharing this with the world hangs before us.  We choose to believe, however, as a storyteller, as a dramatist, that a moment such as this, taking place on a stage such as that, captured as it was, deserves to be shared.  And so we have.

Initial Impressions After Upgrading To The Leica Monochrom (Type-246)

Posted in Uncategorized on May 18, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Monochrom II 1

On Thursday, we received the happy call from the Leica Store in D.C. that the second version of the Monochrom had arrived in stock, and they had one for me.  Even though my original Monochrom, which I’d had since September 2012, was in fantastic shape and gave me pleasure every time I took it out of the house, I wanted a version built on the same CMOS platform as the Leica M-240.  I did so mostly for practical reasons — the desire to take only one battery charger and a couple of extra batteries when going on a trip, rather than taking one for the M (Type-240) and another for the Monochrom; wanting to be able to use the external viewfinder at times, particularly with a Noctilux; wanting to use Leica R lenses, including telephotos.  If the files themselves were richer, if the ISO performance was even better than the original Monochrom, then great.  But, I told myself, I really wanted the platform upgrade from a Monochrom built on the M9 chassis, to one built on the M-240.

I had an hour to kill before a dinner at a nearby restaurant, so having brought along a lens, a live battery, and an SD card, I took the new Monochrom out for a pre-dinner walk.  And lo and behold, even just looking at images through the new, larger LCD, the tones seemed richer, the 50 zillion shades of grey seemed to have greater depth.

Monochrom II 6

After dinner, walking around downtown with the ISO set to 3200 and the 50 APO-Summicron-Asph set to f/4.8 — which previously was about as high as I would ordinarily take a picture at night in the city — I soon learned that I could have gone several stops higher, and I would have caught the censorious look of the woman in perfect clarity.  Almost immediately, it was clear that the Monochrom-246 had greater gifts in store than simply platform conformity.

Monochrom II 2

The first Monochrom changed the way I saw the world.  That’s a big statement, but hear me out.  Like many people my age, I began my photographic life taking black and white pictures and developing and printing them in a darkroom.  But then, for so many reasons, I began shooting color film and virtually never thought simply in terms of luminance and form — my mind’s eye was drunk with chroma, with color.  When I bought my first Leica in 2002 — an M7 — I gravitated to shooting with Fuji Velvia, as color-rich as could be.  Later, when I had an M8 and then an M9, I loved Leica’s rendering of color images. But as I explained after one year of shooting with my Monochrom, the shift to using a black and white-only sensor brought me back to my roots as a photographer.  It enabled me to go out into the back yard when, say, the azaleas were in bloom, and rather than get bowled over by the color, I wanted to capture what was there in black and white.  I wanted to capture the forms and the light differently from the way my mind perceived it.  Garry Winogrand’s aphorism about taking pictures because he wanted to see what the world looked like in photographs stayed present in my mind.  It was an epiphany.

Monochrom II 9-5

It is springtime in Washington, colorful and gorgeous.  But I find myself wanting to see what it looks like as a black and white picture.  What the Leica Monochrom (Type-246) lets you do that the original Monochrom didn’t is use an electronic viewfinder to focus with.  After more than a dozen years shooting rangefinders, I have become adept at focusing quickly.  But when you are taking a picture like the one above, using a Noctilux with a razor thin focal plane, being able to use an EVF in the evening hours with very little light and no margin for focus error is a dream come true.

Monochrom II 9

Some will remember a photo quite similar to the one above that I took with my original Monochrom.  In some ways the original is better — wilder, weirder, given that it was taken in September and overgrowth was different than what is above.  But when it comes to whether what was intended to be in focus in both pictures actually is in focus, well, the one above wins, hands down.

Monochrom II 9-3

I have taken many pictures of the roses in the Bishop’s Garden at the National Cathedral.  It was a delight this evening to be able to precisely focus on that rose, knowing that having it sharply defined would render the Noctilux’s creamy bokeh that much more startling.

Monochrom II 8

When you go out walking with a camera that only takes black and white images, you see the world differently.  And of course, that was true with the original Monochrom.  Why, beyond using the EVF, or perhaps Gear Acquisition Syndrome, would I sell it in order to purchase the new Monochrom?  Well, when I got my M-240, after years with M8s and M9s, I said that I thought it was a perfect camera — perfect for our use, anyway.  Oh sure, like all Leicas, it has some quirks.  But the images that come out of the M-240 platform, with its CMOS sensor, are, to me at least, every bit the equal of what comes out of an M9, with its CCD sensor, and the M-240 also has a) better high ISO performance, b) the ability to use an EVF when needed, and c) the ability to use telephoto lenses.  With a Leica rangefinder!  That’s a big deal.  And now the Monochrom can do the same tricks.

Monochrom II 7

In the end, the original thrill we got from using a Monochrom — all of the advantages of having a digital Leica rangefinder, coupled with the deliberate limitation of shooting in black and white — are replicated in the Monochrom (Type-246), in what clearly is, after just a few days using it, a superior camera.  It is missing nothing that was available in the original Monochrom.  Yet tt has gained greater flexibility and even clearer high ISO files.  It is the same step up from the M9 Monochrom that the M (Type-240) was from the M9.

Monochrom II 7-5

You can still walk down the street and see the above image and without any hesitation, take the picture.

Monochrom II 7-6

And you can follow it up with a second one, because you’re just taking a picture with a small old rangefinder, right, and no one knows the capabilities of this plain black camera with no markings on it.  You have possibly the world’s greatest camera in your hands.  And you are invisible.

(You can follow John Buckley on Twitter @johnbuckley100

The Wrestler

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on May 13, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Texas 2

Leica M, 50mm APO-Summicron-Asph.

Crocodiles’ “Boys” Leaves An Impressive Residue On Our Stereo Speakers

Posted in Uncategorized on May 13, 2015 by johnbuckley100

The great WABC DJ Dan Ingram once memorably followed up some disco-era hit by saying “that song is so dirty it leaves a stain on your car radio.” On their amazing new album, Boys, Crocodiles rubs at least a bit of salsa mixed with club sweat on our speakers, and we mean that as high praise.

Through their early albums, the easy reference point for describing what Crocodiles sounded like was to cite Psychocandy-era Jesus and Mary Chain.  This was a little less true on the wonderful Crimes Of Passion, which took the #5 spot on Tulip Frenzy’s 2013 Top Ten List, and it’s less true here.  If you didn’t know better, and you heard “Foolin’ Around” come shimmering across the border radio from Tijuana, you’d be forgiven for immediately thinking it was an outtake from Blur’s The Magic Whip. For if there is a guitar sound that Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell seem to be grasping for here, it’s Graham Coxon’s.  That’s a good place to be.  Chunky chords, frayed at the edges, over a rhythm section with so much more soul than is usually produced by SoCal punks, it sounds like it was recruited off a Mexico City dance floor.

We also loved the Haunted Hearts record last year, you know, the duet that Welchez and his bride, Dee Dee of the Dum Dum Girls, put together between their two outfits’ tours.  Of all three projects, to these ears, Crocodiles has the longest tail, the sharpest teeth, the greatest menace.  On Boys, even as the clock ticks in their belly, Crocodiles seem intent on letting Peter Pan live on in polymorphous, not to mention polyrhythmic, perversity.  It makes sense that “Peroxide Hearts” sounds like it came straight off Sally Can’t Dance, because there is something about Crocodiles’ sound that seems as devoid of natural fibers as anything Lou Reed produced in his butchest period. And while there was piano on Crimes of Passion, we don’t ever want to hear these guys strum an acoustic guitar: this is airless, smoky, sinuous music, thrilling in its low-budget reverb.  And yeah, especially if you play it over and over as we have, it leaves a stain on your speakers.

For Us, White Fence And Thee Oh Sees Were The Highlights Of Levitation: Austin Psych Fest 2015

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 11, 2015 by johnbuckley100

PsychfestOhsees2

John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees

It had rained so much earlier in the week (and earlier in the day) that the organizers of Levitation — this year’s version of the Austin Psych Fest — had to change stage locations.  The desire was to have no band float off into the river as the stage they played on was swept away, though that sure would have been cool to witness. But even though they provided a helpful pocket map, with set times on the three stages, the reality of the layout did not conform to what was on the map, and thus we were more than a little disoriented Friday evening.  And of course, the quicksand texture of the ever-present mud made getting from one stage to the next an adventure.

Going to an event like Levitation, with headliners including The Jesus and Mary Chain, Tame Impala, Spiritualized, the Flaming Lips, Primal Scream, and the reunion of the 13th Floor Elevators, you have to pick and choose who you really want to see, which is a function both of desire and stamina.  For us, the priorities were to see Thee Oh Sees, White Fence, and the Black Ryder — three fave bands from the West Coast who non-NYC East Coasters are deprived of.  It really was these bands that we flew to Austin to see, as among the headliners, we’ve seen The Jesus and Mary Chain many times over the years, and Spiritualized on their last tour.  Much as we would have loved to have seen Roky Erikson play to a hometown crowd, the 13th Floor Elevators reunion was late Sunday evening, and in order to be at work this morning, banging out this Tulip Frenzy update, we needed to be on a return flight well before he beamed down on stage.  So we picked and we chose and the best of what we saw is contained herein.

PsychfestHolyWave

Holy Wave

We loved Holy Wave, who played early Friday evening on the stage they’d moved up from rivers edge.  2014’s Relax was a garage band highlight, and their evocation of the Velvets meet Spaceman 3 seemed a perfect way to get into the Levitation spirit.  On a beautiful evening, with the rain gone but not forgotten, we stood by a suppurating mud hole and saw these Austinites (transplanted from El Paso), ring true to a Texas-state tradition that includes ? and the Mysterians, not to mention the Sir Douglas Quintet.  Fun set by a great band whose new work, previewed here, seems both poppier and tighter than what was on Relax.  Great things await these guys.

PsychfestWhiteFence

White Fence

Longtime readers will remember that Tim Presley in his many guises — Darker My Love frontman, co-conspirator with Ty Segall, genius leader of White Fence — is accorded worshipful respect at Tulip Frenzy World HQ.  White Fence’s Live In San Francisco was on 2013’s Top Ten List, and of course, For The Recently Found Innocent was our Album of the Year last year.  So to say we were looking forward to White Fence’s set is an understatement, and we are happy to announce they did not disappoint.  No, if anything, they exceeded our sky high expectations.

PsychfestWhiteFence2

White Fence

From the opening strains of “Paranoid Bait” to the Ian Rubbish-perfection of the closer “Harness”, the White Fence set was scorching, with the guitars chiming perfectly, the drummer damn near pounding this stage back into the river.  If you believe, as we do, that the Holy Troika of Ty Segall, John Dwyer, and Tim Presley have saved rock’n’roll in the same way, beginning in ’76, that punk saved it, then you will understand we are not exaggerating in our verdict that the elusive Presley and his incredible live outfit are the most interesting act in contemporary music.  This is not easy music to perform — there’s a Magic Band complexity to the hairpin turns and manic galloping of songs like “Wolf Gets Red Faced” and “Paranoid Bait,” and in context, the motorik “Baxters Corner” was a psychedelic anthem. Presley is emerging as a towering American musical figure of Alex Chilton-esque importance, and the set White Fence played Friday night alone was worth the airfare.  It also made us replay in the hours since the 2013 live album, and yeah, it’s on a par with Live At Leeds, it really is.  Our fervent prayer is that Presley sustains the focus that brought us that live album and last year’s opus, and does not go back to noodling in his room.  If we had our druthers, he would take this band into the studio and lock the door.  We’d slide cheeseburgers under the door and eagerly await the output.

PsychfestOhsees1

Thee Oh Sees

Our second favorite set of the festival was Thee Oh Sees on Saturday night.  We fought our way forward through the large crowd of the Reverberation headliners’ stage, and man, were we rewarded.  The double-drum set up of the new construct was potent, though it must be said that an aspect of melodic subtlety has been dropped in the transition from the San Francisco to LA lineup of Dwyer’s outfit.  On songs like “Web,” which they performed gloriously, it appears that when Mutilator Defeated At Last is released in a few weeks, some of what we loved so much about 2013’s Floating Coffin — the ability to both startle the senses and tickle the frontal lobes, all at the same time — will have given way to brute force thundering punk.  But that’s high praise in many a home, not least ours, and we were thrilled by the generous set Dwyer and co. played.

PsychfestBlackRyder

The Black Ryder

So we were a little disappointed by the Spiritualized set Friday evening.  But while, as we will explain, it’s not entirely fair to judge The Black Ryder based on their Saturday performance, we think maybe it’s time to offer a heart-to-heart, avuncular download of advice to one of our very favorite bands.  The problem of unfairness they faced was that they were squeezed into the smaller stage inside the tent next to where Thee Oh Sees would perform thirty minutes after their set began.  It was inevitable that the crowd — us included — would drift away to see the bigger band on the bigger stage.

But the additional problem is that the three songs they began with from 2015’s The Door Behind The Door are all slow, and while beautiful, 20+ minutes of music at that tempo was not what a festival crowd wanted to hear.  The moment they began playing music from their earlier masterpiece, 2010’s Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride, things improved, for these are far more uptempo songs. The early segment from the new album happen to be the best things on the disk, and if this is an indication of where The Black Ryder are headed, we get it, we accept it.  But we have to say we were a bit disappointed with the set, and yeah, on balance, with the new album, in part because we miss the Bloody Valentines meets Morning After Girls ecstasy of the first one, in part because the new music is a tad precious.  Growing pains suffered by a great band, who at Levitation were dealt a cruel hand.  Given they were inevitably going to lose a portion of the audience to Thee Oh Sees, we wish they’d paced their first 35 minutes a bit differently.  And we look forward to seeing them play a full set, at the pacing they choose, anytime they can return, we hope as headliners, to a longer East Coast tour.

All pictures taken with the Leica C.

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