Archive for the Music Category

On The Fortnight Between The Beatles’ White Album and the Rolling Stones’ “Beggars Banquet”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on November 17, 2018 by johnbuckley100

 

All week long, we’ve immersed ourselves in the 6-CD 50th anniversary release of The Beatles.  In both Giles Martin’s revelatory new mix and with the legendary Esher Demos finally available, the album opens up in a way that both highlights the collective genius that was The Beatles, and provides a master course in band creativity.  But we had not realized until yesterday that while The White Album came out on November 22nd, 1968, what is likely the Rolling Stones’ greatest album, Beggars Banquet, followed two weeks later on December 6th.  Two weeks that changed our musical world.

They couldn’t be more different.  The Beatles is packed to the gills with creativity, whimsy, at once hard rocking and delicate, a summing up of the pop music Lennon and McCartney had been producing since Rubber Soul and something far different; a carry over from the near psychedelic past of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the off-balance Magical Mystery Tour and something wholly new.  Beggars Banquet, on the other hand, is a quieter, country-blues return to basics as the Stones reconfigured themselves largely without founding member Brian Jones, incorporating Nicky Hopkins, the greatest piano-playing side man in rock, as functionally a full member of the band.

The Beatles were winding themselves up to the explosion that would shut down the band, the inevitable end where the creativity among three of the greatest songwriters the world has known would, like a rocket with a MIRV warhead, shoot off in separate directions.  The Stones, with songs like “Street Fighting Man” and “Stray Cat Blues,” prepared for a run as a live band that would continue to this day.

We don’t want to set this up as a competition.  In some ways, it’s no contest.  The Beatles may be the single greatest album of music the surprisingly long-lasting genre known as rock has ever produced.  And yet Beggars Banquet could well be my entry in the next edition of Stranded, that wonderful Greil Marcus-edited book in which rock critters were forced to choose a single album to take with them to a desert island.

In part because we have the Esher Demos, where we can get a sense of how the Beatles returned from the Maharishi’s Rishikesh retreat with competing notebooks filled with songs, in part because we finally, through the liner notes, understand who played what and how the songs came together, the White Album is comprehensible not just as an iconic, massive collection of songs, but as a single piece of art. A deep dive suggests that John Lennon, in the creative turmoil that was leaving Cynthia and falling in love with Yoko, produced his greatest batch of songs; Paul McCartney, long slagged as a control freak, was the multi-instrumentalist genius that helped both Lennon’s and George Harrison’s songs reach their full potential.

What is perhaps best about the new release is the way that Giles Martin has reconfigured the songs from the inside out, and with a mix that undoes, largely, what his father did with the technology and sensibility of his day.  Martin fils reveals for our ears what long has been hidden.  Quick example: on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Eric Clapton’s guitar, which long dominated our understanding of the song, is reduced in the mix, but the piano and acoustic guitar in the middle now shine brighter.  It’s not subtle, it’s amazing. And that’s just one example among many that take less exalted songs like “Birthday” and “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road” and places them on a pedestal, and elevates “Dear Prudence,” likely our favorite Beatles song ever, allowing us to see the whole world in 3:55.

Beggars Banquet wasn’t designed to be a competitor to The Beatles.  Where the Beatles were, less than 18 months later, still building on Sgt. Pepper’s (Magical Mystery Tour having been the rare misstep made understandable by the realization that it came in the immediate wake of Brian Epstein’s death), the Stones were living down their derivative flop, Their Satanic Majesty’s Request.  The Beatles were pushing to see just how far they could go, while the Stones were getting back to basics, playing the blues, woodshedding with acoustic guitars, but also going deep into a new formula of songwriting that, between December ’68 and May ’72, when Exile On Main Street was released, would culminate in their iconic oeuvre.  Both bands had a remarkable work ethic — the Beatles exhausting the studio staff (George Martin went on a holiday to Greece midway through the sessions) as they perfected their album, the Stones setting off on a half-century run of touring, largely off the strength of songs from Beggars Banquet and the next three albums. It’s hard not to admire both bands at some core level, though in part because of the work here, in part because they left us just 18 months later, it’s harder not to think the Beatles were gods, the Stones amazingly talented mortals.

We love Beggars Banquet, and the new mix, released yesterday to mark its 50th birthday on December 6th, is the one we will listen to now, as we still do often.  But this new mix and six-CD release of The Beatles is the greatest musical event of the season, as it was in 1968.

To have two of the greatest albums in the history of the art form come out within a fortnight of one another shows just how volcanic were the cultural forces in play in 1968.  We face, in 2018, an even greater crisis than we did in ’68, but the music being released this year does not seem likely to be so remembered 50 years from now.  We know a smart 21-year old who, when asked if he can appreciate the Beatles, replies instantly, “The Beatles invented music.”  And so they did.  If you’ve any doubt on that score, just listen to the new release of the White Album.

Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks” Finally Lives Up To Its Name

Posted in Music with tags , , on November 2, 2018 by johnbuckley100

81u28ji-wil-_sy355_

Gloss on the tracks may have been a better way of describing Dylan’s greatest collection of love songs, at least as they were first released into the world.  We didn’t know that before, but we do now that the underlying songs, what Dylan first intended to release as a follow up to Planet Waves, have been revealed.

I had known from Clinton Heylin’s excellent biography Behind the Shades that Dylan recorded most of these songs, in September 1974, in the familiar confines of the Columbia Records studios in New York, several with just his guitar and harmonica as accompaniment.  And I knew that somewhere along the way, he’d scrapped those versions, recorded in less than a week, only to re-record them with a band in Minneapolis. His brother, as I recall, had predicted the album would be a commercial flop, and after the success of Planet Waves and his ’74 tour with the Band, Dylan wanted his comeback, and his return to Columbia after his interlude with Geffen Records, to continue.

What I didn’t know until I read Jon Pareles’ surprisingly good piece this week in the Times was that when Blood On The Tracks was released in 1975, Dylan had the tracks slightly speeded up, which to me accounts for why, classic song that it may be, “Tangled Up In Blue” has never been completely satisfying.  It has always seemed just a little off.

On the one-album set, released today, of outtakes entitled More Blood, More Tracks, the version of “Tangled Up In Blue,” with just Dylan and his acoustic guitar is a revelation.  Hearing it in this version has a similar impact to hearing the versions of “Someday Baby” or “Can’t Wait” on The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs.  You can never again go back to listening to the “original,” never go back to the song that was released.  In almost every case, the versions Dylan, or his management and record company, chose not to release are more raw, more emotionally affecting, less commercial than what we first heard.

As with those songs, and so much of what comes out on his remarkable Bootleg Series, all of the songs on More Blood, More Tracks are the way we should have heard them.  The real Blood On the Tracks, finally available, consists of simple, blues-based acoustic folk songs, enraptured memories of the women in his life — Suze Rotolo, Sara Lownds, Ellen Bernstein — narrated by a series of characters invented for just this occasion.

Instead what we got in 1975, and what was still good enough that it has long been considered one of Dylan’s classic works, was a sped-up, fairly slick pop album, even if the instrumentation was dependent on its folk underpinnings.

But this is the real thing — “Meet Me in the Morning” containing all the pain of Dylan having to explain to his children why their mother wasn’t with them, “Simple Twist of Fate” cutting deep enough for real blood to drip from the turntable’s needle.

Dylan once had to chase away the likes of A.J. Weberman, who was intent on literally going through his garbage in order to find out more about the resonant cultural figure of his age.  We live now in an era in which, due to the miracles of technology, scientists and restorers can look under the paint to see Leonardo’s original brushstrokes.  Bob Dylan, Nobel laureate, has for more than 20 years freely flung open the vaults and shown us everything that was in there, sparing us from having to go through his garbage or operate an X-ray machine to find out what’s underneath the art that was released into the world.  Little by little, bit by bit, he’s giving us everything.

Today we learned how much was missing from an album already considered one of the high points of the ’70s.  Today we learned how great Blood on the Tracks really is.  This is a revelation and we are, all of us, so much better for it.

 

Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe Continue Their Glorious Run

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on October 15, 2018 by johnbuckley100

5055869543064_t10_image

In August, word came that, the night before, Iggy Pop had performed “Grunewald,” the best song of Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe’s “Right On” E.P.  This was the ultimate tip of the cap from one old pro to another (slightly younger one.)  We’ve been playing “Grunewald” for months, a song that sounds like something The Koolaid Electric Company could riff on the whole night through.

On their eponymous new album, Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe continue their work together three years after releasing I Declare Nothing, one of 2015’s best records.  Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe proves that each is the other’s muse.  Newcombe has long worked with female vocalists in the Brian Jonestown Massacre, from Miranda Lee Richards to Sarabeth Tucek, and Parks sang on last year’s “Fingertips” single.  Recording together, though, seems to encourage Newcombe to dig deep into his bucket of velvet hooks, and the results are seldom less than glorious.

Over the weekend, I put together a playlist comprising the best songs the Brian Jonestown Massacre have released over the past five years, coupled with the best songs Anton’s recorded with Tess on their two albums and E.P.  The playlist is three hours long.

Tess Parks has a limited range and a husky voice, but on the evidence of her strong 2013 album Blood Hot she doesn’t actually have to record with Newcombe to find something to say.  She’s a fascinating artist in her own right — and he is, this many years in, proving that being creative is the best revenge.  Their recorded relationship reminds us of how Dave Roback and Hope Sandoval come together in Mazzy Star.  Sandoval may have the more beguiling voice, but Parks and Newcombe together are every bit as magical.

 

 

How “Black Rainbow Sound” by Menace Beach Became The Album That Stole Our September

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2018 by johnbuckley100

a3094118010_5

Tulip Frenzy has been derelict in its duty to curate our readers’ listening pleasure.  You would have to go all the way back to June 10th to find the last batch of albums deemed worthy of your ear buds.  (And a pretty good batch that was: Courtney Barnett, Parquet Courts, Wand and the Brian Jonestown Massacre.)

It’s not like the rest of the summer had no good music. Though as you might see in the posts below, the editorial team was set loose upon the Mountain West with cameras and few assignments.

Still, if we were all to have turned in our notes from a summer of listening, we would have said that Oh Sees’ Smote Reverser had some incredible moments, though its thunder made us yearn for some of John Dwyer’s lighter-hearted fare; that the double-drum prog’n’metal core of this new version of the band is not, four albums in, as much fun as the prior incarnations under the Thee Oh Sees rubric.  We might have said that White Denim’s Performance has some of the catchiest songs, and best performances, James Petralli and Steve Terebecki have ever caught on a hard drive, but in the end, it’s just a tad bit too close to Steely Dan territory to claim our unalloyed affection. Unquestionably we’d have given a shout out to old friend and T. Frenzy interviewee Kelley Stoltz, whose Natural Causes is lovely, but a bit of a comedown from last year’s #1 Tulip Frenzy Top Ten List entry Que Aura.  And we haven’t even gotten to great new music, just now emerging, from Alejandro Escovedo, Spiritualized and Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe.

If you want to blame any one thing for why we’ve failed our readers, blame Menace Beach.  Right, until this summer we hadn’t heard of them either.

Menace Beach’s Black Rainbow Sound is the  album that has consumed our September, living in our dreams, commanding us to play it on our commute, while working out at the gym, even sitting and reading.  It is pure pop confection whipped up by two pastry chefs from Leeds which, once tasted, induces such pleasure, all other dishes are foresworn until you’ve had your fill.

Bear with us as we try a comparison which while imperfect, gets us as close to the matter as we can get.  We have previously described our love for the New Pornographers as an anomaly.  “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.”

Menace Beach and the New Pornographers do have some analogous features.  Ryan Needham and Liza Violet trade lead vocal duties the way Carl Newman and Neko Case do, and on Black Rainbow Sound, synths dominate guitars.  Like the New Ps, Menace Beach now offer “keyboard-driven synthetic sounds polished to a high gloss.”  They also offer, song by song, more hooks than a boat full of weekend fisherman setting out into the Atlantic chop.

How a band that started out two albums ago sounding like the Breeders, and which on Black Rainbow Sound deliberately invoke Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Young Marble Giants could push aside so much good music to lasso our cerebral cortex has us marveling, two weeks in.  We’re captives.  They got us.0013616929_10

We first heard of Menace Beach via Brix Smith’s Twitter feed, and in fact, the very first sound on the record is Brix’ guitar, so recognizable from her work with the greatest period of The Fall and her own Brix & The Extricated.  But it’s a tease, a false front, for soon after the sonic propulsion of the band’s new synth sound kicks in and gets the heart racing.  It’s like the best workout, where your heart rate soars at the beginning and never dips until approx. 38 minutes later you are exhausted and exalted.

We’d like to have taken time to tell you about all the great music that’s out there right now.  And yeah, we’ll get to Alejandro’s opus and a full review of Tess and Anton’s amazing second record when the whole thing comes out.  For now, ponder for a moment what the juxtaposition of the words “menace” and “beach” might add up to musically; grok on the parallel difference between “black” and “rainbow.”  Download this album, and be prepared to lose the rest of September in musical ecstasy.

 

Present Tense: Radiohead In Philly As The Apogee Of Arena Shows

Posted in Music with tags , , on August 1, 2018 by johnbuckley100

radiohead3

We don’t go to a lot of arena shows, because the bands we love aren’t popular.  Seeing Wand at the 150-person DC9 was a highlight of 2017; the fact that, with Courtney Barnett playing guitar in her band, Jen Cloher’s show earlier this year had to move from DC9 to the larger Rock & Roll Hotel (300 people) was, in our house, welcome but disorienting.  Spending months of our lives seeing bands at the 9:30 Club has worked for decades now, because a 1000-person hall is the ideal size for a great show.  But every once in a long while, we go to an arena and remember what it was like to see the Stones at Madison Square Garden, The Who at Boston Garden — you know, the shows that were spectacles which you lived and died to see.

Earlier this summer, we saw U2 at the Capital One Arena in D.C. and they put on a pretty great show.  They’re long in the tooth, but come on, they’re a great band, playing in their fifth decade, and they certainly know how to deconstruct an arena and make it intimate.  It wasn’t just Bono in motion, but the whole band, one song played on the north side, the next song the band trucks to the south side, and at one point, I think they were spread like a star across the entire 18,000 person hall. The Fleshtones sometimes do that in clubs, the singer on a bar stool, the bass player on a speaker, the guitarist in the mosh pit.  Only in this case, U2 were a few hundred yards apart, still playing as one.  A spectacle, and highly entertaining.  But of course, other than as nostalgia, and with the sentiment of singalongs, not particularly meaningful as art.

Last night at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Arena, Radiohead stayed fixed on a single stage, and played an astonishing show that accomplished the impossible: it was at once gorgeous and inventive musically, an avant-garde exploration of what is possible on stage, and it gave both rock critters and the masses exactly what they wanted.  In short, it jacked into all that is good about a mass event that connects multiple audiences, which happens less and less these days.

Radiohead1

Here are stats: six songs from A Moon Shaped Pool, three each from Hail To The Thief, In Rainbows, OK Computer, The King of Limbs, and two each from Amnesiac, Kid A, and The Bends.  Seventeen songs before two long clusters of encores, finishing with a “Paranoid Android” that floated in the air before “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” was spiked into the court. For us, highlights were hearing “I Might Be Wrong” live for the first time; favorites like “The Numbers” and “Separator” came off brilliantly.  (Had we ever before noticed how much “2+2=5” sounds like Fugazi…)

Because Radiohead albums are perfect — every tone gloriously honed, the craftsmanship at once classic as a Chris Craft, industrial perfection like a Leica M, super modern like an Apple iPhone — it can seem self-defeating to go hear them live.  Do we really want oxygen to get into this mix?  Oh yeah.  They play with ferocity and just imperfectly enough for it to have life.  Having last seen them play live at an Austin City Limits taping, I was unprepared for the full show, the stage craft, what a great band they are 25 years on.

radiohead4

They are a band that it is sometimes hard for people to get a grip on — at once an arena act and difficult, crowd pleasers and demanding and challenging artists.  Thom Yorke is among the greatest pop singers, and a polarizing figure who, because of our distance from the stage, was more entertaining for what we didn’t see — the Caddyshack Gopher dance that Fred Armisen so perfectly parodies.  But he is an amazing musician, singer and bandleader.  Johnny Greenwood is at once a favorite guitarist, percussionist and composer.  They’re a bundle of contradictions, a band you’d like to see play in their small rehearsal studio, but only fully actualize in front of 18,000 people.

Arena rock is not what it once was.  Radiohead is a perfect connection to the past and the apogee of the present tense.  What a show.

The Feelies Sill Play Crazy Rhythms

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on June 23, 2018 by johnbuckley100

Feelies3

When the Feelies call one of their rare road shows “An Evening With The Feelies,” they mean it. For their third encore — not their last! — they played The Velvet Underground’s “I Can’t Stand It” and Television’s “See No Evil.” Going to see them, you know you’re in for a real cool time… even if fave “Real Cool Time” was one of our few favorite tunes they didn’t play in their 29-song double set.

It took a while to get things right in the first set, as Glen Mercer had some tuning and pedal problems. But once things gelled, it was a reminder of why, all those years ago, a group of normcore suburbanites who’d shlep in from the wilds of New Jersey were the coolest band in Downtown NYC.

Feelies4

No band we know of has ever so wonderfully bridged the gap between Buddy Holly and Lou Reed, in terms of song structure and style.  And after all these years, they still play crazy rhythms, and not just on “Crazy Rhythms.” Stan Demeski spent some of that time after the Feelies broke up for the second time in the early ’90s playing with Luna, and there were moments when his motoric drumming reminded us of the latter band’s great moments with him.  In partnership with bassist Brenda Sauter and second percussionist Dave Weckerman, there were moments of polyrhythmic perversity and utter ecstasy.

Feelies2

Since we first saw the Feelies — at the 1979 New York Rocker holiday party — to this day, the band has only released seven albums.  The Brian Jonestown Massacre has released nine albums since 2010!  The Feelies broke up and lost some steam between Crazy Rhythms in 1980 and the quieter The Good Earth, which came out in ’86.  And they were out of commission for roughly 12 years beginning in the early ’90s.  We still think of them as being on a 40-year continuum, because we’ve played their albums so continuously for almost all that time.

Fanatics have their favorites, but ours is 1988’s Only Life, which was a high point of that decade.  That 2017’s In Between not only was a great album, not only provided some of last night’s best songs — “Gone, Gone, Gone” and “Been Replaced” — but sounded completely of a piece with all that had come before, tells you something about the singularity of vision shared by Glen Mercer and Bill Million.  They’re an underrated guitar duo, we think, because unlike Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd, Robyn Hitchcock and Kimberly Rew, the division of labor in the Feelies is almost, but not entirely, split between Million’s rhythm and Mercer’s lead.  Seldom do they fight for dominance.  They’re just two guys in a glorious band playing lovely songs for an entire evening.

New Albums By Courtney Barnett, Parquet Courts, Wand, And The Brian Jonestown Massacre Get Summer Off To A Strong Start

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on June 10, 2018 by johnbuckley100

mi0004420803

Courtney Barnett  Tell Me How You Really Feel

Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, which came out in 2015, is credited with being Courtney Barnett’s first album, and it certainly put her on the map.  But it was the 12 songs on The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas that stole our heart. Released in the States a year before her left-field hit, the double EP was less caffeinated, less torqued in its production, and the deceptive ambiance — it seemed like the work of a slacker, but she’s no slacker, as events have proved — was gorgeous and charming.  Sometimes I Sit thunders, while A Sea of Split Peas could have been recorded with Joe Jackson’s band from Look Sharp, vintage alterna-punk with classic pop songwriting.

Which is why Tell Me How You Really Feel is such a delight.  It takes things back down a notch. After it seemed like Barnett might have been a bit lost on her own — touring with Kurt Vile in support of their duet last fall, then arriving in the states early this year supporting partner Jen Cloher — Barnett’s new album is sure-footed, charming and in so many ways the proper successor to A Sea of Split Peas.

“Nameless, Faceless” revs up like Elastica, and “Crippling Doubt And A General Lack of Confidence” hit precisely that sweet spot of self-deprecating humor and Stiff Records swing that makes Barnett’s brand of punk so beguiling.  That Courtney Barnett seems to have found herself without having to turn the amps up to 11 is all you need to know about one of the season’s true highlights.

191402000108 Parquet Courts  Wide Awake

The distance covered by Parquet Courts between 2013’s Light Up Gold and Wide Awake, by our count, their sixth full album, is not unlike the journey Joe Strummer & Co. took between The Clash and Sandinista.  Wide Awake is clearly an album by the same group of Texas transplants whose debut reeked of spilled beer in late night Brooklyn clubs, but it incorporates their advanced degrees in musicology that they’ve picked up along the way.

We first saw Parquet Courts play on their 2013 tour with Woods, a Brooklyn band just a little older than them, but kindred spirits.  After Andrew Savage’s solo album last year revealed him having spent many hours listening to that first Little Feet album, it isn’t a wonder that a band who previously could claim kinship to Television would now populate their extremely literate storytelling with a dive into idioms, from reggae to funk, just bit more sophisticated than the high-speed rockers they entered playing.  Woods is a reference point, for they’ve done something similar.  But Parquet Courts do it here in a way that seems a summation, a culmination, their best, most comprehensive album.  Wide Awake is at once the album that makes you love where Parquet Courts have been and excited about where they’re going.

a2115882009_10

Wand   Perfume

Longtime readers of Tulip Frenzy will remember that we gave Wand’s Plum Album O’ Ye Year in 2017, and on Perfume — which might have been called Mini Album Thingy Wingy if BJM hadn’t gotten their first — they continue their development toward becoming the greatest band on the planet.  Sure, Cory Hanson may be a junior partner to Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, and White Fence strictly in terms of his years on Earth.  But when measured against his West Coast peers in terms of recent output, who you calling junior, Junior?

“The Gift” sounds like an outtake from Plum, if only because we know that album was recorded in homage to Marquee Moon, and here Hanson’s guitar work is at least the equal of Tom Verlaine’s (or Nels Cline’s, for that matter.)  It’s simply a stunning song.  “Pure Romance” continues in the same vein.  They’ve come a long way from the tuneful prog of  Ganglion Reef, their debut from 2014.  We hope that the album’s closer, “I Will Keep You Up,” is a preview of coming attractions, for letting Sofia Arreguin carry half the vocal duties makes what is already a beautiful song utterly sublime.

We don’t think of this as the full album follow up to Plum. More like a teaser of future greatness.  There is no doubt in our mind that Wand will someday put out a masterpiece, and given the way they work, that someday could be, like, October.

71732-something-else

The Brian Jonestown Massacre  Something Else

When Something Else was released in May, we updated the Brian Jonestown Massacre playlist we began in 2012 when they released Aufheben. We titled that six-year old playlist “Late Phase BJM,” and have populated it with just the very best songs Anton Newcombe and his remarkably stable set of musicians have since put out on their various albums, short albums, EPs, singles, etc.  There are now 40 songs on the playlist, including six from Something Else, seven if you include the excellent “Drained,” the B-side of the single “Animal Wisdom,” which kicks of the record.

Are there any other bands who, since 2012, have produced that much good music?  If you think of the long and gloriously twisted history of the BJM, I’m not sure how many of the albums from the 1990s had as *many* good songs as Aufheben, Revelation, Third World Pyramid, and now Something Else — and this doesn’t even count releases like E.P.+1 and great songs like “Revolution Number Zero” and “Fingertips” put out as singles or on EPs.

Some time ago, we compared Anton to Dylan — an artist known for, principally, his earliest work, when the late work is, to our ears, of such high value, we’re convinced we’d be happy listening only to the recent stuff.

With the exception of “Who Dreams of Cats,” it’s possible no song from Something Else would be put on a 10-song assemblage of Anton’s greatest hits. And yet, six really good songs on an album, seven if you include the B side, shows what high quality his output is. And why we are so lucky to have it.

%d bloggers like this: