Driftwood Pyre Take Album Of The Year Honors In Tulip Frenzy’s 2015 Top Ten List

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#1. Driftwood Pyre by Driftwood Pyre.

We were prone to liking Driftwood Pyre, the first album by the Minneapolis band we viewed as successors to First Communion Afterparty.  After all, FCAP’s Earth Heat Sound was Tulip Frenzy’s 2013 Album Of The Year, and we have long held them up as the best psych band of the modern age. But even so, we honestly didn’t think that this first record by Liam Watkins and company would sail past all contenders for Album Of The Year honors on its maiden voyage.  Combining the best elements from Watkins’ previous band — the emotionally vibrant slow strum of the guitar, the Mamas und Papas background vox, the psychedelic traces limning with chromatic aberration a vibrantly electric landscape — when the album came out we exulted like an archaeologist reclaiming a lost civilization.  Eureka! A little more of a straight-ahead rock band, with elements of Oasis, the Cramps, and even the Rolling Stones undergirding a well-produced set of uniformly good songs, we can rejoice in the way Driftwood Pyre carry the embers of its antecedents even as it strikes out onto a new, commercially solid, nonetheless uncompromising sound.

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#2. 1000 Days by Wand.

By our count, it was less than 365 days from the moment last year we saw Wand supporting Ty Segall at the 930 Club to the release of their third album in approximately a year.  1000 Days was instantly recognizable as a breakthrough, an incredibly ambitious work combining Eno-esque synths and prog song structures with the punk’n’thunder of this young band’s previous two recs.  Seeing them a few weeks ago at the Black Cat only confirmed that Cory Hanson has to be added to the roster of West Coast phenoms — Ty, John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees, and Tim Presley of White Fence — keeping rock’n’roll alive and kicking in a hostile world.  The thing about 1000 Days is that it both seems like a mere extension to Golem and Ganglion Reef, Wand’s previous two albums, and is conceptually bolder, suggesting Hanson’s songwriting is growing magically, a sorcerer’s conjuring of talent that should bring them their deserved audience over the next 1000 days.

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#3. In Triangle Time by Kelley Stoltz

It took us a little bit of time to adjust to what our longtime fave Kelley Stoltz was up to with In Triangle Time.  We have so much admiration for how Stoltz has been able to create record after record of meticulously crafted pop songs while playing every imaginable instrument (look ma, no band!) that it took us a few days to realize In Triangle Time is a concept record, and that for someone who lived through that musical moment this album captures so well — the early ’80s interregnum between the first Echo and The Bunnymen singles and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, between post-punk and the horrible mid-’80s drift that followed — it was okay that Kelley had put away the harpsichord and piano for electric keyboards, and switched the Ray Davies’ sensibility for songs that stretched the wire between such disparate poles as Captain Beefheart’s Ice Cream For Crow and Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark.  As always, Kelley’s singing and musicianship are epic, and while we look forward to his next phase, and pine for a return to his ’60s weirdo sensibilities, when playing this genius’s latest, how can you not just want to dress like the cast of Deutschland ’83 and whirl around the room?

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#4. I Declare Nothing by Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe

The May-September collaboration between the Toronto-based singer Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe, the Berlin-based longtime leader of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, was even greater than we could have hoped for. Parks’ 2013 debut album, Blood Hot, already revealed her to be one of the many young artists who look to BJM the way Newcombe and his generation looked to the Velvet Underground, but what was remarkable here was how Newcombe stepped into the subordinate role, not merely letting Parks have the top billing, but letting her sing every song.  Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised, for as early as “Anemone,” Anton has often stepped back and let women sing the best melodies. With Anton in the role of bandleader and guitarist, this was an album that sunk deep into our bones, a smoky, noir-ish sound that clashed with the bright sunshine of the summer out West where we listened to it every day.  Most people got it, but we could only laugh at the British rock critters who sniffed, “Well, it’s good, but it sounds just like a Brian Jonestown Massacre record.”  Yep, that’s why we loved it.

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#5. All Yours by Widowspeak

When “Girls” was released late last spring, we woke up and took notice.  We’d loved Widowspeak’s Jarvis Taveniere-produced debut in 2011, but found the follow-up, 2013’s Almanac, a trifle problematic, as Molly Hamilton’s ethereal voice, lathered on too thick, can be like a cake that’s all icing and air.  Yet “Girls” was a nutritious harmonic pastry, still sweet but plenty nourishing, and a few months later when “All Yours” was released, we prayed that the full album would be as good as those two songs.  Happily, Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas’s move from Brooklyn to Upstate New York has filled their music with fresh Hudson Valley air, and any cloying sensibilities have been washed away.  The sugar high is gone, we happily declared with All Yours came out in September, and it was a wonderful backdrop to autumn.

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#6. Wire by Wire

I think we were supposed to take it as a statement that nearly 40 years after Wire announced themselves with Pink Flag — probably the single most influential punk debut of all time — they released a record simply entitled Wire. Wire is here, they declared, seemingly forever, releasing in 2015 music often as powerful and poignant as what was on Chairs Missing and their first-phase masterpiece, 154, which came out in 1978 and ’79, respectively. We exulted in what a gorgeous record Wire proved to be, but after the string of really strong records they’ve produced since the band reformed full time a decade ago — particularly 2011’s Red Barked Tree and 2013’s Change Becomes Us — we shoulda known better than to expect anything less.  Ah, but then we were flat out stunned, I guess is the word, by the strength of their show at the Black Cat last spring.  Colin Newman may not have the voice he once had, and on Wire he seemed to bow to reality by singing consistently melodic pop songs, not that cockney-rebellious thrashing punk of yore, but there is no question that the rhythm section of Robert “Gotobed” Grey and Bruce Gilbert is the Entwistle-Moon combo of the modern age, and with a minimalist young guitarist filling in, it’s no wonder that a young star like Courtney Barnett would exult on Twitter how amazing was the Wire show she saw in Berlin just a few weeks ago.

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#7. Sometimes I Sit And Think… And Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett was the breakout star of the year, at least in the commercially blinkered circles in which we so proudly travel.  Her sold out show at the 930 Club last May, fittingly on the same day as the DC Pride Parade, was in many ways D.C.’s concert of the year.  The CB3 are a powerful hard-thumping trio, a cross between The Attractions and Nirvana, and given how high-torque Barnett’s songs were on her debut rec, it’s no surprise that it was only after seeing her play live that we fully came to appreciate Sometimes I Sit And Think… And Sometimes I Just Sit. The release of that album sure caused us to sit and think, to dwell for some time trying to get our mind around it, for after months of babbling to everyone we met about how great The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas was, we were a little put off by how amped up the power pop was on the album.  Last year’s double EP was more relaxed, the faux-slacker message more aligned with the music, and we loved it no end.  When the album came out this spring, fairly bursting from our speakers, and it was clear that this wasn’t some Aussie Millennial yucking it up with pals; when it was obvious even to someone thick as us that Barnett is an incredibly ambitious rock-star-in-the-making, we were, yeah, slightly turned off.  But we came to terms with Courtney Barnett, oh yes we did, after seeing her live, and realizing that, with all the many analytical misses we’ve had over the years, assuming one fave artist after another was going to be yuge, yuge we say, here we had empirical evidence that Barnett was going for the brass ring, and unquestionably would grab it. And so we relaxed.  The paradox of Tulip Frenzy generally only raving about music few fans will buy was overwhelmed by the joy we ultimately felt at understanding, without a doubt, Courtney Barnett is going to be, uh, huge.  It’s going to be great.

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#8. Mutilator Defeated At Last by Thee Oh Sees

With Ty Segall off messing around with Fuzz and various other projects, and Tim Presley, with typical perversity, failing to follow up on the success of White Fence’s winner of last year’s Tulip Frenzy Album of the Year accolades (For The Recently Found Innocent), it fell to Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer to wave the West Coast freak flag, and on Mutilator Defeated At Last a new version of the band came through like a 21-gun salute bringing down a space ship.  We were apprehensive about what the record would sound like, for since Dwyer had broken up in 2013 with his epic bandmates in the prior version of Thee Oh Sees, and last year’s Drop saw a sudden loss of cabin pressure, as they say when things get a little rough, we didn’t know what to expect. But this version of Thee Oh Sees beat out White Fence as the pick ‘o the muddy litter at May’s LEVITATION/Austin Psych Fest, and oh yeah, the record was boss.  The double-drum set up of the youngsters Dwyer has recruited to the band thunders like elephants stampeding through your tent, and Dwyer’s manic songwriting is still the most exciting thing that’s happened to music since amplifiers.

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#9. Starflower by The Magic Castles

Minneapolis, as will be clear momentarily, was the Center of The Rock’n’Roll universe in 2015, as The Magic Castles joined their fellow Twin Cities citizens Driftwood Pyre on our Top Ten List.  A few years ago, on the basis of seeing them open for the Brian Jonestown Massacre, we asked if the Magic Castles might be the best young band in America.  While maybe that promise has eluded them, we found Starflower to be an amazing combination of Newcombe-esque songwriting/guitar layering and the most mysterious garage band sound since Lenny Kaye headed to Detroit with a cassette deck in hand.

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#10 The Shiver Of The Flavor Crystals by The Flavor Crystals

Lo and behold, a third Minneapolis band rounds out The 2015 Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List, adding symmetry to our ranking.  See if you notice the pattern: we first heard Flavor Crystals open for the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and yeah, their first album On Plastic seemed to find that crevice between Television and Luna in our brain’s musi-rogenous zone.  But their second and third albums didn’t quite pack the same punch.  The Shiver Of The Flavor Crystals sent a 50-Amp shiver up our spine. This is an album for a long car ride, for sitting at home while the snow drifts pile, it’s dreamy and slow, but it’s also exciting and breathtakingly beautiful.  After years in which it seemed like either San Francisco or Brooklyn were the places you’d want to be, Flavor Crystals — standing on the podium next to Driftwood Pyre and Magic Castles — signal Minnesota’s where it’s at.

2 Responses to “Driftwood Pyre Take Album Of The Year Honors In Tulip Frenzy’s 2015 Top Ten List”

  1. […] Commentary On Music (Mostly), With An Occasional Photo « Driftwood Pyre Take Album Of The Year Honors In Tulip Frenzy’s 2015 Top Ten List […]

  2. […] Pyre claimed Tulip Frenzy’s 2015 Album of the Year honors, and a few days later, we were pleased to publish an interview with Minneapolis psych band who […]

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