SHOCKER: Tulip Frenzy Jurors Deadlock, as Kelley Stoltz’ “Que Aura” and Wand’s “Plum” *TIE* for 2017 Album Of The Year

 

Dateline WASHINGTON — For the first time in the more than 10-year history of Tulip Frenzy’s annual Top 10 List of the year’s best albums, jurors were unable to reach a decision on the #1 Album Of The Year.  

Deadlocked between Kelley Stoltz’s Que Aura and Wand’s Plum, the publication’s editorial staff emerged from an all-night session that left Tulip Frenzy World HQ’s rumpus room as wrecked as Keith Richards’ teeth, pinned two album covers on the bulletin board, and collapsed in the lobby. Deliberations were so heated that hours later, when it was suggested that Kelley Stoltz should be listed before Wand — because both K and S precede W in the alphabet — new skirmishes broke out, until finally it was decreed that while alphabetical order would rule, readers should be informed that this ordering in no way implies Plum was any less stellar than Que Aura.  So, this ordering in no way implies Plum was any less stellar than Que Aura.

#1 Album of 2017 (tied): Que Aura by Kelley Stoltz

After having provided us with such immense pleasure over the past decade, and twice landing records in our Top 10 List, Kelley Stoltz triumphed in 2017 with possibly the best music of his career.

In October, when we caught up to Kelley Stoltz’s magnificent ninth album, Que Aurawe wrote:

“The songwriting as a whole is stronger than on any album since Circular Sounds.  ‘I’m Here For Now’ ranks with Double Exposure’s ‘Still Feel’ as among the most infectious rockers of his career.  ‘Tranquilo’ is the closest thing Stoltz has produced to a hit you could see coming out of the Motown basement, and it has all the quirks and charms of his greatest songs before culminating with psychedelic panache.  On ‘Same Pattern,’ it’s clear that Kelley has had a conversation about synths with his label master, Mr. John Dwyer.  Out of 11 songs, there are but two we don’t think we’ll be listening to a decade hence.  This is a glorious clutch of songs, rendered with enough analog guitars, bass, and drums to prevent the electronic keyboards from ever smearing the delicacy like a surfeit of Hollandaise on poached eggs.”

We concluded, “We already have raved about Kelley Stoltz a time or two, given his records received high marks on our 2010 and 2008 Top Ten Lists.  Somehow, even with all our raving, we have failed in getting him to perform at Madison Square Garden.  We’re not done trying.  And based on Que Aura, Kelley Stoltz is not done appearing at the top of Tulip Frenzy’s annual Top 10 List.”

We did not at that moment know how moved the Tulip Frenzy staff would be, insisting that Que Aura should take home all the marbles (tied).

Anyone who ever grokked the Beatles, was transfixed by Echo and Bunnymen, fell for David Bowie, or adored the Kinks should instantly adopt Kelley Stoltz as a cause.  Happily, Que Aura is an excellent place to start and it is Tulip Frenzy’s #1 Album of 2017 (tied).

#1 Album of 2017 (tied): Plum by Wand

On their fourth album, the young Angelinos who make up Wand recast themselves entirely.  A band whose first record was produced by Ty Segall, and sounded like it — raw guitar with metal roots, drums like rhinos escaping fire, Sabbath fuzz-tone bass guitar punctuated by the occasional acoustic hoedown — has grown enormously in the three years and three albums since.  In fact, we’d go so far as to say that in 2017, Wand have made the leap from being the little bros of Ty, Thee Oh Sees, and White Fence, emerging as the fourth leg of a sturdy West Coast table set for a long and glorious banquet.

After seeing them play an incredible set at DC 9, we wrote:

“We feel like Wand has grown up before our eyes, from their 930 Club debut in 2014 opening for Ty Segall to their stunning show at the Black Cat in 2015.  From the release of Ganglion Reef to Plum, they’ve grown from songs with titles like ‘Flying Golem’ and ‘Reaper Invert’ to becoming surely the only rock band extant to write a poignant song called ‘Charles De Gaulle.’”

We concluded, “Wand is at the height of their powers, but writing that we know they still have plenty of room to grow.  Some strong albums have been released this year by both Ty Segall and West Coast giant John Dwyer, whose Oh Sees made our August.  But among the West Coast’s finest, Wand’s come out on top, the best young band working today.  We stand back in awe at the prospect of what they’re capable of.”

With Plum, Tulip Frenzy’s #1 Album of 2017 (tied), Wand has cast its spell. We expect the world will be transfixed for a long time to come.

#3 Album of 2017: Orc by Oh Sees

In Orc, the 19th album John Dwyer has released under a rubric somewhere in the vicinity of Thee Oh Sees, he produced nothing less than a masterpiece.  Which is pretty good, since once again Dwyer is threatening to mothball Thee Oh Sees and go off hunting new whales in distant far-flung seas.

In August,we wrote:

“Here’s all you need to really know, if you are not someone whose large ganglia have twitched to Dwyer’s yips and the propulsive drumming of his 100-horsepower twin tyros lashed to the back of his guitar work.  The big question about punk rock was always what it would turn into when the primitives learned to play.  You know, not every band could be the Clash and by Sandinista be playing Mose Allison covers and pushing at the forefront of what then was called rap.  But at least three recs ago, Dwyer showed he could play guitar like Jimi Hendrix.  That he could compose complex rock songs with a power and beauty that rivaled anyone who’s ever admitted to participating in the genre.  That he seriously could, on the same album, mix punk, prog rock, garage, psychedelia, and pop.

“Last year, on the matched pair albums of An Odd Entrances and A Weird Exits we really could see adding jazz and Krautrock to that list. He is the magpie’s magpie, but that implies a lack of originality and in fact he’s the opposite.  A guy who as recently as 2011 was playing punk rock at high speeds is now capable of anything.  Here’s an example: on Orc‘s ‘Keys To The Castle,’ we start out on a light jog, John Dwyer singing harmony with (we hope) once + future Oh Sees singer Brigid Dawson, and ‘fore ya know it we’re traversing a steeper pitch with some classic punk chords as the song intensifies.  And then there is a pause… and we come back at slow mo’ speed with cello and organ and synth, in a lovely electric piano chordal half-walk, the sounds of space wrapping your face, and for the next four minutes, you are in a dream.”

We’re still dreaming, and listening to Orc as much as any Thee Oh Sees album not called Floating Coffin.  (It’s their best rec, and we listen to it weekly.). Orc is in that special category of albums we know will be copied from hard drive to hard drive all the way down to the iPhone LXV, the iPad Pro Invisible and beyond.

#4 Album of 2017: Robyn Hitchcock by Robyn Hitchcock

More than 35 years since he left the Soft Boys and released his first solo album, Robyn Hitchcock introduced himself to the world as Robyn Hitchcock, his most satisfying album since the Reagan Administration.  And when we say that, no one should think he’s been hiding under a rock — he’s placed high on the Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List (c) at least three times since 2008.

Last spring, when his eponymous umpteenth record was released, we went to see him play a solo set at nearby Jammin’ Java and had this to say about his new record:

“Hitchcock makes his home these days in Nashville, and thank Heaven he does, because his neighbor, Brendan Benson, was inspired to produce his newest record, requesting that it sound like The Soft Boys.  Robyn Hitchcock, released in late April, does sound like The Soft Boys’ two ’70s records, as well as his first solo album, Black Snake Diamond Role, which came out in ’81. Truth be told, it also sounds like the 19 studio albums he’s released since then.  That is the purest of compliments. Few are the artists who have changed so little over 40 years — and thank God for that.

“To the uninitiated: if you want a good entry point to Hitchcock’s work, at age 63, his new album provides it. From the hard rocking opener, “I Want To Tell You About What I Want,” to the gorgeous closer, “Time Coast,” it touches every base.  When rock critters describe Hitchcock’s influences and antecedents, Dylan, the Beatles, Kinks, and Byrds are the first references, with those looking to score points throwing Captain Beefheart in — not because he sounds like Don Van Vliet (though they do each possess multi-octave voices), but because of his absurdist sense of humor.  On the new record, Hitchcock sounds like… Dylan, the Beatles, Kinks, and Byrds, which is to say, after 40 years of record making, he sounds like Robyn Hitchcock, an artist who should be in their ranks, but somehow isn’t, except in our house, and those of uplifting gormandizers.”

You can probably tell from how that Tulip Frenzy piece ended just how much we have invested in Mr. Hitchcock: “Robyn Hitchcock is a national treasure — and he’s ours now, fuck Britain.  His shows should be performed at the Verizon Center, or at least he should be able to tour, like his hero Bob Dylan, minor-league ballparks.  At Jammin Java Wednesday night, he began his two sets with Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet,” and concluded it with “Visions of Johanna.”  In addition to covers of songs by Nick Drake and The Doors, he played 20 originals spanning 40 years of our devoted fandom, 40 years of pleasure. His body of work is so rich he could play 19 songs not on our list of his greatest ones and the evening still was glorious. That he is hilarious and eccentric is his charm and his undoing.  No one and nothing, not even time and commercial neglect, can take away his greatness.”

#5 Album of 2017: Endless Night by The Vacant Lots

This is the first time the Burlington-NYC duo of Jared Aurtaud and Brian MacFadyen have landed in our Top 10 List, but we doubt it will be the last.  Endless Night is one of those very rare perfect records, every song listenable, the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Last spring, we wrote:  

“It might be easy to categorize The Vacant Lots as a sophisticated art project, given their album covers are as distinctive as their sound.  But from the very start, Jared Artaud and Brian MacFadyen proved their mix of garage psych and synth-driven pop was aimed at pleasing aural canals.  They have aimed to become a great band, associated with the likes of Dean Wareham, Anton Newcombe, Sonic Boom, and Alan Vega, and their debut album Departure has stayed on our playlist since the summer of 2014.  And yet none of this prepared us for Endless Night, which from its start to its historic finish is astonishing.

“Take the opener, “Night Nurse,” which has Artaud pick out a sinuous rockabilly lead above a disco beat, and quickly transports you into the demimonde of a tiny club, hermetically sealed against outside influences.  We’re going to be in for, well, a pleasurably endless night.  ‘Pleasure & Pain’ is not the first of these songs to call to mind progenitors Spaceman 3 and Spiritualized, and in fact, ‘Dividing Light’ has the power of Jason Pierce’s most compelling work.  Throughout Endless Night, the hitherto unappreciated juxtapositions of disco and techno, psych and soul,  rockabilly and garage, make the blood pulse like Molly just arrived.”

Looking back on our conclusion, we were downright prescient: “With Endless Night, The Vacant Lots serve notice that they’ve entered the front ranks, and we anticipate that when the story of 2017 is told — musically at least — and Top 10 lists are fashioned, The Vacant Lots will be among the last men standing.”

And so, of course, they are.

#6 Album of 2017: City Music by Kevin Morby

Ever since Kevin Morby wandered out of Woods and essentially grew up from his role in The Babies, he’s been a Top 10 threat.  Last year’s gorgeous Singing Saw was a contender, but in a competitive year didn’t quite make it.  But City Music was so good, it likely would have made our list if it had been released in 1968, or ’72, or even that banner year, 1997.

When it came out, we wrote:

“Morby’s voice isn’t particularly expressive, but his songwriting and storytelling more than make up for it, and his ambitions seem to be growing.  On Singing Saw, songs like ‘Dorothy’ and ‘I Have Been To The Mountain’ were so strong that they masked weaker material elsewhere on an album that was pretty universally acclaimed, including in these here parts.  There’s no such problem on City Music: every song, even the cover of the Germs’ ‘Caught In My Eye,’ will make you want to play this album loud enough to bug the neighbors in your stifling apartment building.

“A year ago, when Morby was able to tell the story of how he picked up and moved from Kansas City to Brooklyn, landing a few weeks later in Woods — then and now, a highlight of modern New York bands — the notion of the Bright Lights, Big City luring him from the midwest placed his narrative in familiar terms.  In City Life, he’s made it, he’s gone from the periphery to the center, like Dylan, like Jimmy Reed of Dunleith, Mississippi, who wrote the song, and Jay McInerney of Hartford, Connecticut, who wrote the book.”

Kevin Morby has fully arrived, able to make it in New York — or anywhere, really.  City Music made us appreciate city life in the heat of summer, no small feat in any year.

#7 Album of 2017: Ty Segall by Ty Segall

Ty came back from Emotional Mugger with a self-titled record that some compared to a greatest hits album.  There were tuneful pop songs, Lennon-esque rockers, trademark punk scrawlers — any of which could have found a home in his cornucopia of self-recorded, self-produced records released into the wild since the last decade.  But a compendium of familiar styles is not really a fair description, as there were new twists and turns that made us clutch the handle, lest we get flung into distant space.

When it kicked off the year, we were moved to state:

“On Ty Segall, the young genius has pulled together a collection of songs that are remarkably different from one another, but they don’t pull apart, they spin with centripetal force.  The most astonishing song of the lot is the 10:21 suite, “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)”, which in five movements takes in the whole of Segall protege Wand’s prog, the Santana-influences of the Stones’ ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,’ and two or three of Mr. Segall and his pal Mikal Cronin’s modern Power Pop’n’Punk flavorings.  It’s a tour de force.  But the whole album is, really.

“Since Segall’s advent at the beginning of this decade, rock’n’roll has been revived, and he’s the biggest reason.  Yes, we would still have Thee Oh Sees if Ty had not burst upon the scene.  But for at least seven years, Segall’s influence on other artists, and his own great output of self-produced, largely self-created records has added up to a movement.  He’s Shiva, creator and destroyer, making rock’n’roll relevant again.  With Manipulator a couple years back, he seemed to cast his lot with commercial success, and produced one of the catchiest collections of radio rock this side of the White Stripes or the Black Keys.  With Ty Segall, he’s gone for some thing bigger.  An *album* you mention in the same sentence as Sticky Fingers, Imperial Bedroom, even Sandinista.”

His acolytes, Wand, have leaped to the top o’ this list, but Ty is like a mid-career ballplayer who still hits with power, is still dominating the middle of the order, and can still take your breath away with his pure athleticism, when he wants.

#8 Album of 2017: Whiteout Conditions by The New Pornographers

They’ve been consistently so good for such a long time that you might take the New Pornographers for granted.  Listening to the superb Whiteout Conditions, we realized the New Pornographers are still capable of recorded greatness, and still occupy a special space in our hearts.

At the time, we went to see them at the 930 Club and wrote:

“Whiteout Conditions is the best New Pornographers’ album since the by-now classic Twin Cinema.  It’s hard to remember that when that record came out nearly 12 years ago, it was bemoaned for how the band had lost the oddness and caffeinated sheen of their first two astonishing albums.  Now, of course, we recognize Twin Cinema as a high point in Western Civ (and given how 2017 is going down, we’re increasingly worried that 2014’s Brill Bruisers might be seen by future historians as our civilization’s peak.)  Whiteout Conditions is a mix of everything we love about the band, bright and bouncy, profound when needed.  With songs like ‘High Ticket Attractions,’ which we can’t get out of our head, and new approaches like ‘Darling Shade,’ which sound like Martha and the Vandellas updated for the 21st Century, this Bejar-less edition of the band  flows like a lava tube off the edge of a cliff, powerfully smoking in the creation of new earth.

“That the New Pornographers are one of our very favorite bands defies certain logic.  Ordinarily, we treasure the analog sound of Fender guitars played by punk bands and The New Ps feature keyboard-driven synthetic sounds polished to a high gloss.  They’re not exactly a guilty pleasure or a secret passion, for we play their recs all the time, but the pleasure we get from listening to them is a bit like wearing only natural fibers in everyday life, while enjoying the chance to dress up in polyester.  Carl Newman clearly loved songwriters like Brian Wilson and bands like ELO, and us, not so much.  But last night at the 9:30 Club this band — capable of the most intricate studio albums — played a wonderfully organic set with four-part harmonies intact, the songs building and building so that by the time we got to ‘The Bleeding Heart Show’ encore, we could emerge from the club’s doors with a smile on our face, ready to face anything, up to and including all the laws that have changed.”

#9 Album of 2017: Damage And Joy by Jesus and Mary Chain

We never expected to hear new music again from Jesus and Mary Chain, even as the Reid Brothers reformed their act and hit the road.  While 1998’s Munki sat atop our list during that great year, we thought it would be their last recording session ever.  So when Damage And Joy came out this summer, we were filled with the latter even as our ears — after hearing them live a few times since 2012 — were still recovering from the former.  Maybe we’re saps for thinking this album is as good as we are convinced that it is — maybe this is like an old love who returns and you just can’t resist, even if she’s not right for you.  But no, this was a really great album, one of the year’s highlights, and deserves its place here.

When it came out, we wrote:

“In the time since they metaphorically burned their guitars, a lot has happened, and we’re not talking about all of the nasty changes in our world since the boom days of the late Clinton Administration.  Jim Reid got sober.  JAMC’s festival shows led to semi-regular touring, and despite — or because of — they way they turned the amps to 11, a new generation of fans for whom Psycho Candy was as distant, in some ways, as The Velvet Underground & Nico, saw them as the masters that they were.  It became inevitable that they would release new recorded music.

“We were unprepared for how great an album Damage And Joy is.  Purists may not like it because it’s not Finnegans Wake, it’s not difficult, it’s Dubliners: simple, easy to absorb, damn near perfect.  By the time December rolls around, we are certain it will remain high on our list of the year’s best albums.  It’s the Jesus and Mary Chain album we have waited for, somewhat anxiously, for a long, long time.

“We confess that we never loved Psycho Candy all that much.  The juxtaposition of Beach Boys’ songs, Sterling Morrison guitar, and Ramones’ propulsion against an industrial squall was interesting, but in many ways unlistenable.  Darklands was where we fell in love, with its spaciousness and gorgeous songwriting coalescing into a sound we could embrace.  Through those early ’90s hits, we hung on as they created a machine that was an early precursor of EDM while maintaining its linkage to real rock’n’roll.  For us, Stoned and Dethroned was the keeper, the classic, the songwriting at a peak, the wrestling match between melodies and riffs, between Jim’s hoarse whisper-singing and William’s guitar textures becoming not only one of the ’90s highlights, but an album for the ages.  When Munki came out in 1998 — perhaps rock’s greatest year — it was the culmination and the end of the line, Jim and William’s ambivalence — and conflict — were captured in the songs that began and ended the album: ‘I Love Rock’n’Roll’ followed by ‘I Hate Rock’n’Roll.’  But now they are back, and for the moment the ambivalence is gone.  Whatever happens from here, The Jesus and Mary Chain have returned from the dead, and the Hallelujah chorus is awesome to behold.”

#10 Album of 2017: Modern Living by The Living Eyes

We’re not going to quote an earlier review of Australian punks The Living Eyes’ magnificent Modern Living.  There isn’t one.  See, we just learned about them in the last 10 days — from the wonderfully comprehensive website, Raven Sings The Blues  — and while ordinarily it’s as dangerous to put an album this new on a year-end list as it is to march someone you’ve just met on a casino floor to the Vegas Chapel o’ Luv, we’re certain about this one: this is the Punk Record Of The Year, and a worthy way to round out our 2017 list.

Named for second best album by our favorite Aussie punk band, the legendary Radio Birdman — the equivalent of young British punks calling themselves The London Callings — The Living Eyes sound like they just took on the Undertones in some 1979 Battle of the Bands. With explicit nods to Birdman, and implicit nods to other Aussie forebears like the Saints and the Vines, maybe even The D4, Modern Living has the formula that has worked for bands as disparate as Rancid, Elastica and the Leaving Trains: all their songs have melodies! Even as they’re kicking in your stereo speakers, every song we’ve heard by The Living Eyes is hummable.  And the reason we are ready to walk straight from the initial spin of this album to this eternal coupling — they are forever joined to us by our putting them on our Top 10 List — is because we can’t get their songs out of their heads.

Full confession, we were tempted to have Brix and The Extricated take the final slot for Part 2, the wonderfully named album signaling the resurfacing of former members of the Fall 30 years after their Golden Age.  But as good as that record is, Modern Living blew us away. This isn’t Part 2 — this is the band’s initial foray into history and greatness.

 

 

 

2 Responses to “SHOCKER: Tulip Frenzy Jurors Deadlock, as Kelley Stoltz’ “Que Aura” and Wand’s “Plum” *TIE* for 2017 Album Of The Year”

  1. […] Commentary On Music (Mostly), With An Occasional Photo « SHOCKER: Tulip Frenzy Jurors Deadlock, as Kelley Stoltz’ “Que Aura” and Wand&#8217… […]

  2. […] addition to Kelley Stoltz agreeing to answer some questions to accompany his write-up as winner of Tulip Frenzy’s 2017 Album Of The Year (Tied) honors, co-winners Wand agreed to answer some questions.  We are particularly grateful that Evan […]

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