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Rethinking The Leica SL2 As A Camera For Street Photography

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on December 8, 2019 by johnbuckley100
Leica SL2 with Sigma 45mm f/2.8 L-Mount

For the better part of 15 years, I shot exclusively with Leica Ms. Small, discreet, you could lift them to your eye and take a picture on the street with no one noticing. To the extent people did notice, they often assumed it was some weird and non-threatening anachronism, a film camera from the last century, and not, as Leica’s digital rangefinders progressively became, a marvelously thought through and capable alternative approach to photography. I’d see street photographers with their big DSLRs that announced their arrival like they were driving up in a Hummer and would silently smile. I’ll never do that, I’d say to myself.

Leica SL2 with Sigma 45mm f/2.8 L-Mount

One of the limitations — if that’s what it is — of using a Leica M is that you have to shoot manually, as no automatic focus lens works with the rangefinder. But while my family would groan as I fiddled with the focus, and complain that they couldn’t hold their smiles any longer, in fact over time I learned how to focus as quickly and automatically with a manual lens as some photographers could with their big Nikons or Canons. And readers of this site may recall my recent posting about using a Leica M10 and a small 35mm Summicron lens to “shoot from the hip” in the Medina in Marrakech, taking street photos in a location where photography was difficult due to local sensibilities. I couldn’t have done that with a big DSLR.

Leica SL2 with SL35mm Summicron

In 2015, Leica announced the SL, a mirrorless camera system, and it promised to fill a gap in my needs. It was launched with a 24-90 zoom lens that early reviewers gasped over, a lens that promised to be as sharp as Leica’s prime lenses at every focal length, even if it was both slow (f/2.8-f/4) and cumbersome. That was okay, I had my M and Monochrom and a range of M lenses for the street, but with the large 24mp, full-frame SL and just that one zoom, for the first time, I had a camera — even if built like a tank — that really could do all the things an M couldn’t. It was a fantastic camera for landscape photography, even if big and heavy for hiking. It also was a great camera for action, sports, portraiture, even product photography. And because Leica brilliantly cast the new L-mount camera as a vehicle for using M lenses (far better than other mirrorless cameras), it was the answer to certain prayers: my 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux with its razor-thin focal plane was suddenly incredibly easy to use, given the SL’s bright electronic viewfinder.

Leica SL with SL 24-90 zoom

Suddenly, I could become a proper landscape photographer. Having an SL opened up a new world. I could use the amazing 90-280 zoom lens for wildlife photography. I could go to Iceland and shoot long exposure images, as in the above shot taken this past August. But I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, use it in the street. For that I had my Ms — small, light, and perfect for that use.

Leica SL2 and 75mm Noctilux, f/1.25

Just before Thanksgiving, I upgraded my SL to the new SL2, a 47 megapixel camera with IBIS — image stabilization built into the camera housing. It was launched with great early reviews from Jono Slack, a photographer who gets to test Leica’s cameras before they’re released. Jono has managed to keep the respect of Leica’s small, argumentative and opinionated users, because he is, first and foremost, a photographer, and even if his images are meant by Leica to stimulate the Pavlovian drool, we believe him when he raves about a camera, as he did with the SL2. Eminent tester Sean Reid, who does not so rave about cameras, but rather puts them through a series of sometimes eye-numbing tests, did so with this one. Even more mainstream sites spent time with the SL2 and gushed. It is telling, though, that three weeks ago when I picked mine up at the Leica Store DC, and one of the members of the team there asked where I was going to take the camera to try it out, I said I had planned to take it to the Library of Congress, Washington’s most beautiful interior, and not out onto the street. I just couldn’t think of the SL2 as a street camera.

Leica SL2 with 75mm Noctilux

For while the SL was significantly upgraded — twice the megapixels as the initial SL, with IBIS, an improved LCD and EVF, with an improved menu layout (which is saying something — Leica should be revered almost as much for their approach to software as they rightfully are for their lenses), I didn’t really think of the SL2 as a camera I’d take out into the streets. Oh, sure for static objects, the new camera was amazing.

Leica SL2 and 75mm Noctilux

And I took it out for a spin as an urban landscape camera.

Leica SL2 with SL 16-35 Zoom

But I still just couldn’t think of it as a street camera. Contrary to wishful speculation, the SL2 is not smaller than the original SL — while changing form factor and becoming ever so slightly more comfortable in the hand, it’s still a big, heavy camera and — here’s the key issue — the lenses are heavy. Even that range of prime Summicron lenses (all f/2) make the combined size and weight of the SL2 if not the equivalent of a Hummer, then at least, when posted up against using an M, like going out into the city streets looking for a parking space while driving an SUV. The M in this metaphor, of course, is like going out and parking with a small German Smart car.

Leica SL2 and Sigma 45mm f/2.8 L-Mount

Yet in the time since the original SL was launched, Leica did something bold and brave. They announced, with Panasonic/Lumix and Sigma, something called the L-Mount Alliance. The two Japanese camera companies would both be able to compete with Leica using a common lens coupling, enabling all SL lenses (and with an adaptor, Leica M and R lenses too) to be used with their cameras, and vice versa. Panasonic released two extremely capable L-mount cameras, the S1 (24mp) and S1r (47mp). And in fact, Leica at least temporarily lost some number of SL users to the higher megapixel S1r. I’ll admit, I was tempted too, as I knew last summer I was going to Iceland on a landscape photography excursion and I really hoped Leica would release the SL2, with its higher megapixel count, in time. They didn’t. And as the photo of the waterfall above can attest, the original SL is still, in 2019, a helluva camera.

Leica SL2 and Sigma 45mm f/28 L-Mount

But perhaps the most interesting development in the nascent L-Mount alliance was Sigma’s release of a set of new lenses, preparatory to their release of a Foveon-based sensor camera sometime in the future. One of the first lenses they put into the market was their 45mm f/2.8 Contemporary lens, which with its L-Mount is compatible with the Leica SL2. For the first time, a small and light autofocus lens could be used with SL camera. And it cost approximately $500, which compared to Leica lenses — typically, $4000 or more — is a bargain. I bought one in anticipation of the SL2 release, and when I put it on the SL2 and compared the size to my M10 with a 35mm Summilux, it no longer seemed so large. Hmmm.

Leica SL2 and Sigma 45mm f/2.8

Remember when I said that I could shoot the manual focus M lenses as fast as most people can shoot with autofocus lenses? That’s true. But it was a revelation taking the SL2 and the small Sigma out into D.C.’s streets. It did not feel like I was driving a Hummer. To be sure, it didn’t feel, as an M feels, like what Henri Cartier-Bresson referred to as an extension of his eye. But the SL2 as a street camera suddenly seemed to work.

Leica SL2 and Sigma 45mm f/2.8

Yes, I know, I could have been using the SL and Leica M lenses all along. But why would I do that, when the M is such a superior and small camera for street use? And in fact, when I went out with the SL2 yesterday in December light, I did bring an M lens — the 21mm Summilux — as well as the larger SL 35mm Summicron. These offered great possibilities.

Leica SL2 and 21mm M Summilux, cropped to a square

As I walked into the National Portrait Gallery, I had the Sigma autofocus lens on the camera, and caught the picture below. I think if I’d had an M, I would have been able to get both the sign and her feet into the picture, as I’m more fluid and experienced with an M and 35mm combo. But still, what a capable street camera this is.

Leica SL2 and Sigma 45mm f/2.8

Once inside, I discovered there was a free performance of the Washington Ballet for children, and I quickly switched to the faster 35mm SL Summicron.

Leica SL2 and SL35mm Summicron

It is an amazing combination, rendering color brilliantly. It focuses quickly. It is as good a lens, for color or black and white, as Leica has ever produced.

Leica SL2 and SL 35mm Summicron

It was immediately adaptable to the conditions. Just like my Ms! Importantly, in an environment with many photographers — parents with their iPhone, pros with their big rigs — the SL2 felt moderate in size, not a bazooka.

Leica SL and M 21mm Summilux

I walked over to the National Gallery of Art and used both the 21mm manual focus M 21mm lens and the autofocus SL 35mm lens.

Leica SL2 and SL35mm Summicron

I wanted to get to the Capitol building as the sun was going down on the Washington Mall, so I hustled over there just as the moon became visible. Of course, if you are thinking of landscape photographer, the SL2 is an astonishingly capable camera.

Leica SL2 and SL35mm Summicron

The revelation of the day was the the SL2 can absolutely work as an urban camera, out on the streets. Leica should add a series of Elmarit f/2.8mm lenses to their roadmap, because the Sigma 45mm lens shows how a small autofocus lens can be used in the same way M lenses on M cameras have always been used.

Leica SL2 and Sigma 45mm f/2.8

With the SL2 the stars — and moon! — have aligned. It is very much the camera I hoped for, and more. All the new features make it a better camera than the already very high performing SL. I found the new function button layout to be intuitive and, with new menu options, even faster than the SL. The big revelation for me is that in certain travel situations, I no longer have to choose between taking an SL or taking an M. I can take an SL and use it like an M, with both small manual lenses and the small autofocus Sigma. I know there are SL users who were already doing the former. The addition of the Sigma autofocus lens, though, is at least as important a new development as all of the added bells and whistles of the SL2. Leica, if you are listening — to paraphrase an appeal from someone, I forget who — get cracking on a series of Elmarit SL lenses.

Leica SL2 and M 35mm Summilux

The SL system is positioned for the future in an incredibly exciting way. I will never turn my back on my Ms. It is the camera system that feels most natural in my hand, pressed to my eye, pressed to my heart. But the SL2 is an astonishingly capable and adaptable camera, and with it, Leica’s future is bright.

Wand's "Laughing Matter" is Tulip Frenzy's 2019 Album Of The Year

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2019 by johnbuckley100

The year 2019 produced so much good music, the criteria for making our Top 10 List prompted debate at Tulip Frenzy World HQ. It wasn’t exactly an existential crisis, but there was a fierce discussion about our purpose. Was our Top 10 List the rank ordering of our fave albums? Or was it our verdict on which recs would pass the test of time, and be seen, years from now, as having had an impact on Real Rock’n’Roll, whose sacred tablets it seems we are the keepers of? The debate ended as a stalemate, as our list contains a little bit of both — albums that, in a proper universal order would define this year the way Let It Bleed and Abbey Road defined 1969, and a listing of our favorite albums we are too well aware will find an audience not too much wider than the readers of our little episodic journal. Gentle readers, fellow members of The Remnant, blow on the dying embers and by their light read what follows…

#10. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard Fishing For Fishies

It is not at all true that we chose King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s best album of the year (yeah, once again, they released multiple recs) just to spite that numbskull at Pitchfork who sniffed at this record, prompting our editors to weigh in on what a dry fart modern rock criticism, at least as exemplified by that rag, has become. This fun, sweet and joyous romp by the prolific Aussie ensemble dangled like earrings from our ear buds throughout the late spring. If you’re looking for that fun record to give your hip but musically lost 16-year old nephew, try this one. It was among our team’s fave, even if it likely won’t — due to pecksniffs in the rock critter establishment — get a 50th Anniversary box release in 2069.

#9. Angel Olsen All Mirrors

Since we set up this dichotomy between favorite music — albums we played over’n’over — and that which we chose because we understand their greatness, let us offer up as Exhibit B Angel Olsen’s incredible All Mirrors. We don’t think there has ever been an album that has made the Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List (c) that we have played less. Some of its absence from our car stereo speakers is that Mrs. Tulip Frenzy is not a fan, but mostly it’s that Olsen’s album, like her voice and the string arrangements on it, is so intense, one has to lash himself to the car’s hood ornament in order to glide past the Sirens’ Songs contained herein. All Mirrors belongs to that tradition of incredible albums that are also hard to listen to — you don’t put it on for company or to clean the apartment; it demands total and complete submission to its spell. We loved it. Even as we went whole months without listening to it.

#8. Ty Segall Taste

Tulip Frenzy’s Artist of the Decade released an album that had as its concept — and likely motivation — the absence of electric guitars. Ty Segall’s Taste was no entrant into the annals of Unplugged sessions, no sir. For his sixth album since January 2018, the young genius released a stunningly fun rock’n’roll rec with stringed instruments including sitars and, I dunno, fuzz-drenched and wah-wah pedaled balalaikas, but nary a Fender Strat. And it worked! Of course, who needs guitars when you have a double-drum set up as powerful as Charles Mootheart (and Ty himself?) thundering toward ya like a herd of pachyderms who’ve just sniffed your water bottle, as well as the multi-instrumentalist Mikel Cronin filling in with No Wave bleatings like the Contortions jamming with DNA. This wasn’t Ty’s best album of the last two years — some might even have given the Steve Albini-produced Deformed Lobes, a live album released mid-winter, the nod over this ‘un — given that Freedom’s Goblin took the 2018 Tulip Frenzy Album o’ the Year gold cup. But it shows that even when Ty resorts to a gimmick of sorts he can make astonishing music.

#7. The Proper Ornaments 6 Lenins

When a divorce occurs, friends take sides, which is how Uncut could list Jack Cooper’s band Modern Nature high in their list of top 2019 disks and Tulip Frenzy instead chose The Proper Ornaments’ amazing 6 Lenins. The breakup of Ultimate Painting, a band featuring Cooper and James Hoare, two quietly smoldering popsmiths, was a dark day for lovers of British lower-case, minor-chord Beatles-esque music. But whereas Cooper went on to produce pastoral psychedelia in the manner of Traffic, Hoare kept up his DeBeers’ volume output of melodic gems. 6 Lenins is a stunner, even better than 2017’s gorgeous Foxhole. If you, like me, still play the La’s “Here She Comes,” you’ll swoon for “Please Release Me,” and “Bullet From A Gun” ranks as high on our list of perfect songs as anything Hoare and Cooper produced together in Ultimate Painting. If you are in the know, you’ll realize just how profound that statement really is. Buy this record.

#6. Cosmonauts Star 69

It wasn’t, as it turns out, a reference to Peter Bogdanovich’s Star ’80. The title of the Cosmonaut’s first album since 2016’s wonderful A-Ok! evoked the yearning expressed by pressing *69 on one’s iPhone to call that last number you missed. Progenitors of tasty psych-punk from L.A., the former Orange County band moved into the heart of West Coast pop culture to assert their claim to the list that Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Wand and White Fence dominate — you know, only the best progenitors of Real Rock’n’Roll on the planet. From the slide guitar and harmonica added to album opener “Crystal,” you might think that Cosmanauts were driving the wrong way onto the off-ramp, but “Seven Sisters” soon choogles along and you know these So Cal wonders have settled into the groove that has made them one of Tulip Frenzy’s favorite bands. With a rhythm section that knows no bottom — a positive reference here, unlike when we use that term in conjunction with our president — and two guitarist-songwriters who can pack their own wallop, Cosmonauts have, on their past two albums (both ranked on T Frenzy’s Top 10 Lists (c)), entered a certain pantheon of punk rock brilliance.

#5. Mekons Deserted

If your parents played the Mekons’ The Quality of Mercy Is Not Strnen whilst you were in your crib, you’d have celebrated your 40th birthday this year, which is why it gives us so much pleasure — and not a fair amount of surprise — to list their latest album in our 2019 list. Just as Ty Segall had to come up with his no-guitar gimmick to motivate himself to make a new album, since the Turn of the Century, the Leeds-originated, Chicago-based First Wave Brit punks turned Alt Country progenitors have a) re-recorded one of their earliest albums, b) gone to an island off the Scottish coast with Robbie Fulks, and c) gathered under a single mic in a Brooklyn boîte to record new work. Deserted was recorded in Joshua Tree, and many of the songs, starting with “Lawrence of California”, have a desert theme. But the album is so good, and sounds so much like the complete community of Mekons all gathered around the campfire — like it’s 1989 and they’re churning out Rock and Roll — that one wonders about just what it means to be a band. After all, they live separate lives, yet can come together and configure themselves to sound not just like they used to, but better than ever. It’s a miracle — and you’ll say this over and over when you listen to Deserted, one of our favorite albums of the year and one of the Mekons best albums of the past five decades.

#4. FEELS Post Earth

In March, we wrote this: “The only things you really need to know about FEELS are these: their songs pack a post-punk punch. And whereas on their first rec some of the tunes might take odd detours from the melody, on this ‘un, Laena Geronimo and Shannon Lay never veer far from hummability, and they are warbling angels even if they candy-crush it for a few measures before returning us back to a state of Pylonesque grace. There isn’t a dull moment on the record. It is absolutely astonishing, and deserves to be mentioned in the same paragraph as Gang o’ Four’s Entertainment and Sleater-Kinney’s Dig Me Out, to name two records you know they’ve listened to.” Eight months later, we stand by every word. Post Earth is a concept album (there’s a storyline about leaving the planet to get away from Trump, which we surely un’erstand.) This album, as simple and catchy as the best thing you remember from the last time you played a B-52s album, but about eight times more political and profound, is both a fave and one for the ages.

#3. Moon Duo Stars Are The Light

At first, when having read enough code words in reviews to understand we should see what Moon Duo were up to on Stars Are The Light, we give the rec a twirl, we thought they were light and dreamy, melodic purveyors of modern electronica. Over time, we found ourselves playing this album over and over, and we realized that Wooden Shjips’s guitarist Ripley Johnson and his keyboard-playing partner Sanae Yamada had recorded one of prettiest albums we’ve heard in years. Some people hear echoes of disco in the beat, but all we know is that this album can thrill and lull, a hard combo to pull off. Everything is perfect, from the Eno-esque production to the layers of instruments and quiet singing. Take a chance album opener “Flying” and if you don’t keep listening to the whole thing you are not someone we’d want lay down with in a field, looking at the light from the stars overhead.

#2. Kelley Stoltz My Regime

It took Kelley Stoltz releasing probably the best record of his amazingly productive career for us to quit marveling on how he does it to just succumbing to what it is he’s done. Over and over and over again, we have put his records on the Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List — and he tied with perennial faves Wand for #1 honors just two years ago — trying to get this pop genius the audience and recognition he deserves. But we’ve spent too much time grokking on how he records painstakingly constructed albums without benefit of bandmates. On My Regime, we settled into enjoying the music with nary a care that unlike, say, the Beatles he can do this without the London Symphony Orchestra bringing songs to their “Day In The Life” crescendo. Here’s how we put it a month ago: “Kelley Stoltz produces, all by himself, records as sophisticated — and as fun — as Ray Davies fronting Echo and the Bunnymen with David Bowie along for the tour. His music is powered along by first-rate drumming and bass-playing that somehow convey a well-meshed rhythm section that can swing. He adds layers of guitars and keyboards — even harpsichord! — with the enthusiasm and deceptive precision of Jackson Pollock adding paint to a canvas. He writes classically constructed pop songs of amazing variety — heavy emphasis on British Invasion and New Wave — with vocal harmonies that have such pleasing properties, the last time a single singer pulled this off, it was Steve Miller circa Your Saving Grace.” Someday, history will record the early 21st Century was the era of Kelley Stoltz. Until then, if your bones can still shake to songs as catchy as “My Regime,” just buy the fucking album.

#1. Wand Laughing Matter

True story: two days ago, Mr. Tulip Frenzy Jr. asked his loving papa, Is Radiohead the greatest band operating today? Swear to God, the response offered was, Well, no, that honorific goes to Wand. And we meant it. Here’s how we put it in the early summer: “At first I didn’t understand all the Radiohead comparisons rock critters were throwing at ’em, because to me Laughing Matter just sounded like the inevitable next step after Plum and Perfume. I mean, Wand’s growth since 2014 rivals, I dunno, The Beatles between 1963 and 1968, but somehow I missed framing them within Radiohead’s geometry. The last two albums already showed Cory Hanson playing guitar in the same league as Tom Verlaine and Nels Cline, and the yin/yang between their minimalism and maximalism is one of the most unique experiences in rock.” Wand is today operating at an unparalleled level — a young and profound band with the musical skill of, say, Wilco and the ambitions of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood. We missed their 2019 show in DC at the tiny Songbyrd, but the fact that they’re playing at a club and not headlining Fedex Field tells you everything you need to know about injustice in the arts, and almost endless theme of ours… one that hits close to home… but when put in the context of a band like Wand, makes us angry enough to want to march in the streets. We said this in June: “Wand shoots the moon with Laughing Matter, and it ain’t funny. It took me a month to be sure. This is the single best album since at least White Fence’s For The Recently Found Innocent, only the best album released in 2014, the year Wand came on the scene as a recording group. We don’t know what the rest of 2019 is holding back from us, nor the years ahead. All we know is that Wand is in the front ranks of our era’s greatest bands, and in Laughing Matter they have released a masterpiece. Again.” Now we do know what 2019 held in store. Nothing released by any other artist knocked Wand off the top spot. Oh, and since we have recently declared that White Fence album the best rec of the 2010s, it shouldn’t surprise you that Laughing Matter ranked high on the same list.

The 50th Anniversary Of “Let It Bleed” And The Moment The ’70s Began

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on November 25, 2019 by johnbuckley100

It is the hoariest cliche of pop culture to designate the Altamont Free Concert, held on December 6th 1969, as the “End of the 1960s.”

Sure, it’s true that, from a cultural standpoint, the ’70s began that month, so hot to get on with it that the border was crossed prior to the odometer rolling over at midnight on New Year’s Eve. But Altamont was two weeks too soon: the ’70s began on December 20th, 1969 when the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed eclipsed the Beatles’ Abbey Road as the #1 album on the British charts. The Beatles would forever be a ’60s band, while the Stones set the course for the ’70s.

God knows we love Abbey Road, as we just finished saying when that album celebrated its 50th birthday with a skillful facelift from Giles Martin. The Beatles’ culmination, if not literally their last word, it was certainly the capstone of their all-too-brief moment, unsurpassed a half century later.

A year ago, the 50th anniversary of Beggars Banquet came hard on the heels of the restoration of The Beatles (the White Album), and now we have a remastering and big box set of Let It Bleed on vinyl and CDs following Abbey Road‘s refurbishment. I’m willing to say that great as the Beatles’ exit opus was, your excitement should be focused on their friendly London rivals. Abbey Road was the last great album of the ’60s, but Let It Bleed was the first great album of the ’70s.

Let’s check the calendar and look at some dates. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” arguably the greatest rock’n’roll song of all time and certainly the kickoff to the Stones’ Golden Era — their magnificent four-year run of singles and five albums, all but the live one produced by Jimmy Miller — was released on May 24th, 1968. Beggars Banquet came out on December 6th, just over six months later.

Exactly one year after the release of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” on May 24th 1969, the Stones were back in the studio with a brand new lead guitarist, Mick Taylor. Three weeks later they officially fired Brian Jones, who was found dead in his pool on July 3rd. One day later, on the 4th of July, “Honky Tonk Women” came out, with lead licks by Taylor and a steaming horn section powering the refrain.

On the 5th of July, the Stones played Hyde Park, a free concert in honor of Jones. It was their first real concert since 1967 (their 1968 TV special The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus doesn’t really count), and they’d already announced a U.S. tour to take place that fall — a tour that, you might say, hasn’t ended five decades later.

There’s a second tight cluster of 1969 dates to consider. In early December, the Stones were coming off their successful U.S. tour in which they had started being called (okay, by Sam Cutler, their tour manager who introduced them) “the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world.” The final show was to be a free concert at the Altamont Raceway Park near San Francisco, which they’d been mau maued into putting on by criticism of their tour’s expensive, $6-dollar tickets (!). But just before Altamont, the Stones flew cross country for a recording session. Mick and Keith had two songs they wanted to get down on tape.

On December 2nd, they arrived at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Northern Alabama and over the next three days recorded “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses,” two mainstays of their 1970s’ success. On December 5th, Let It Bleed was released, containing “Gimme Shelter,” “Live With Me,” “Midnight Rambler,” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which have been, off and on, staples of their live shows ever since.

By December 6th — the day that Woodstock Nation’s Shangri-La conceit was beaten to a pulp by the Hells Angels and their pool cues — Let It Bleed was one-day old. Fifty years later, we finally get to hear it sounding its very best.

From the moment “Gimme Shelter” twinkles to life through your speakers or headphones, you can tell it sounds better than ever. The space between the instruments, the warmth of the sound, the depth of the bass, the rollicking, bluesy piano played by Nicky Hopkins have about the same transformative effect on a song we’ve heard a zillion times as Giles Martin’s magic on last year’s remix of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — the most familiar of songs is decidedly new.

“Gimme Shelter,” the best album opener of all time, vies with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” for the greatest rock’n’roll song ever, and hearing it on this reissue is a reminder that the two singles from Golden Era Stones that were never on a real album deserve their remix transformation as well. When can we hear an improved version of “Honky Tonk Women” too?

Keith Richards’ magnificent bass line on “Live With Me” rumbles as never before. On this first Stones song to feature Bobby Keys on sax, with both Mick Taylor and Nicky Hopkins playing (the latter stepping back for Leon Russell on a few bars), we have a portent of the ’71-’73 touring Stones, who really were the Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band in the world. It’s all beginning to gel here, everything coming together.

Our favorite Jagger-Richards lyrics of all time come in “Monkey Man”:

“Yes, I’m a sack of broken eggs
I always have an unmade bed
Don’t you?

Well, I hope we’re not too messianic
Or a trifle too satanic
We love to play the blues

And they did, even if it was the psychedelic space blues of “Midnight Rambler.”

On Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Get Yer Ya-Yas Out, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main Street, the Stones gathered momentum for a run that has propelled them into late middle age and beyond. This remix of the second of those albums is of a piece with the other remixes of these classics released over the past decade. From the kickoff single in May 1968 to Exile On Main Street almost exactly four years later, the classic Stones lineup — with Nicky Hopkins, and eventually Bobby Keys and Jim Price, fully integrated in the sound — the band jettisoned the ’60s behind them. On album at least, they’ve never again had such an impact. That’s okay, no one else has either.

White Fence’s “For The Recently Found Innocent” Is Tulip Frenzy’s Album of the Decade; Ty Segall Named Artist of the Decade

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2019 by johnbuckley100
White Fence For The Recently Found Innocent

That lowly scrum of slackers who moon about Tulip Frenzy’s Global HQ like the gangsters of the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club were hoping to avoid the debate over the decade’s best album. Things can go terribly wrong when you start such discussions.

Some of the gang’s resistance stems from their admittedly deep knowledge of rock’n’roll history, wherein choosing the best record from the decade not even past calls up Chou En Lai’s response to Henry Kissinger, who asked Chou’s opinion of the French Revolution: “Too early to say.” It was 1972.

Some of us are still squabbling over whether OK Computer or Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space were the best albums of the ’90s. Moreover, with the hindsight of 40 years, can you really pick the ’70’s best album?

Much of the unwillingness to dig in, though, was due to the team’s needing Thanksgiving to get a quorum, set time for debate and invoke cloture. We need a deadline, the looming end o’ year — not to mention all the other glam sites we compete with putting out their lists — to force a determination of which record ranks supreme. Choosing from a ten-year span when we haven’t fully considered the options from the present one seemed, if not quite ass backwards, then at least as unaligned with Cause and Effect as Slothrop’s map of conquests was with the Poisson distribution of fallen V2 rockets.

But then along came Friend of the Site Allen Goldberg who taunted us, in like late October, with Paste or someone’s list of the decade’s finest. While it named many of the right bands (e.g. Thee Oh Sees) it consistently chose the wrong record (e.g. Castlemania). Which prompted a remarkably coherent and efficient response from the Tulip Frenzy editors.

Pool cues, far from being raised in anger, were gently rested on felt. The mid-afternoon guzzling momentarily fell silent. We all got together and, like, talked it out.

One editor suggested, “Let’s just figure out which albums from 2019, if any, should be considered, and throw them into the mix; it’s not like we have to do our whole annual Top 10 list before we can say which ones would make the decadal grade.”

To my surprise, from outta left field came this logical suggestion: since Tulip Frenzy has done an annual Top List each year since 2010, why not look at which records were included and jump-start deliberations by culling from the 90 chosen in each of nine one-year increments?

There was no getting out of it. We would chose the decade’s best… 20 sounds like a good number … albums.

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Before we reveal the list in full, a few words about the decade. 2010 to 2020 was a really great decade for real rock’n’roll.

And yes, we’re painfully aware that rock’n’roll is no longer the common language of our culture. “Popular music” these days contains precious little rock’n’roll (have you seen that horror show which is the Grammies?) If you wanted to be mean, you might even say that Tulip Frenzy — which used to believe it was dedicated to a highly refined subset of “pop music” — is today better defined as passionate supporters of unpopular music. Un-pop. Yep, that’s us.

So we get it. When we publish our list of the 20 best albums of the 2010s, we know it will bear little resemblance to the Best of the ’10s lists from other, less discerning sites. We know it’s quite possible that just as several of the rock critters, if we may even call them that, who put together the list for, say, Rolling Stone may not know any of the bands on our list, we may not know any of the bands on theirs. (Could someone please explain to me who Beyonce is?) Which of us should be more shamed by that development?

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Of the previous five decades in which rock music has been, if not the dominant musical art form, at least pop music’s organizing principle, two 10-year cohorts comprise an unassailable, uncontroversial collection of the Greatest Music of All Time — the ’60s and the ’70s. Yes, a Boomer point of view, but no less true because of it. I mean, these days Millenials play as much music by the Beatles as we do…

One decade — the ‘Aughts, 2000-2009 — barely registers as having a musical personality, but maybe we’re confusing things because we can never settle on what that decade should even be called. Between the rise of neo-psychedelica – bands like First Communion Afterparty, for example — and the incredible Power Pop of The New Pornographers, it was a decade with tasty output. But at this point, Chou En Lai was right: it’s too early to tell whether the ‘Aughts can be seen as a decade of distinction.

The ’90s were, surprisingly, as great as the ’60s and the ’70s. Fully two-thirds of the music I listen to today was either made in or sprang from the ’90s. So many artists were either in their early glory — Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dandy Warhols, Luna — or in peak form, cf. Bob Dylan, Fugazi, R.E.M., Nirvana, Spiritualized, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Whiskeytown, P.J. Harvey, Blur, Oasis, Jesus and Mary Chain, the Mekons, Matthew Sweet, Prince, Iggy Pop, Tom Petty, and I could go on. One could happily go to a Desert Isle with a ’90s-programmed juke box and foreswear all rescuing.

At the same time I know we can all agree that the ’80s sucked. Some of it was technical — the simultaneous advent of the CD and the adoption of synthesizers everywhere led to precious few albums that are today even listenable. Even in a decade in which R.E.M., U2 and the Pixies ruled the roost, so few albums sound good, it’s hard to spend time there. But the problems were more than technical, more than just the brittle transition from analog vinyl to digital CDs.

The ’80s reflected the tide going out to sea, taking the Clash and Gang of Four and Joy Division and Wire — all the great late ’70s bands — with it. Even though stalwarts like Lou Reed, the Replacements, Prince, Robyn Hitchcock, Galaxie 500, Sonic Youth, and early on, Bowie and the Stones all produced memorable ’80s albums, as decades go, it was a loser.

So where does all this leave us ranking the 2010s? Honestly, pretty high. Maybe not quite up there with ’90s, but ahead of the ’80s for sure, and about a furlong in front of its preceding ‘Aughts.

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The decade that began on New Year’s Day 2010 was driven by a handful of musicians about whom only a small portion of the world has ever heard. You and I — yes, you Bub — we all listen to Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Tim Presley/White Fence, and Kelley Stoltz. To us, this cast of characters was as influential in making the 2010s a great musical decade as Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone were in making the ’60s great. They played a role as important as what Brian Eno, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Joe Strummer, Tom Verlaine, Lou Reed, and David Byrne did in the ’70s. And none of them ever has or — gotta admit it — likely will ever headline at Wembley Stadium or even Coachella.

But rock’n’roll in the ’10s was amazing, and if you want to give credit where it’s due, let’s just go ahead and name Ty Segall Artist of the Decade. I count 13 solo albums, two albums with the Ty Segall Band, one with Mikal Cronin, two with White Fence (Tim Presley), and I can’t even keep up with Fuzz, Gøggs, and all the other offshoots.

Even if we were scoring him based only on his own output, I’d put Ty ahead of his only two competitors — John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees and Kelley Stoltz. But Ty’s impact can be felt on the generosity behind his producing first albums by Wand, Feels and Shannon Lay. And there are more I just can’t remember. For those of us in the rec room at Tulip Frenzy, it was an easy decision. We think the greatest music of a pretty great decade somehow ties back, if you’ll pardon the expression, to Ty Segall.

*

With no further blathering here’s the list, in typical Casey Kasem reverse order:

The 20 Best Albums of the 2010s were:

20. Calexico Algiers (2012)

19. The Vaselines Sex With An Ex (2010)

18. Wire Change Becomes Us (2013)

17. Alejandro Escovedo Burn Something Beautiful (2016)

16. Parquet Courts. Sunbathing Animal (2014)

15. The New Pornographers Together (2010)

14. The Brian Jonestown Massacre Mini Album Thingy Wingy (2015)

13. Capsula In The Land of the Silver Sun (2011)

12. Robyn Hitchcock Robyn Hitchcock (2017)

11. Kelley Stoltz My Regime (2019)

10. Wand Laughing Matter (2019)

9. Ty Segall Freedom’s Goblin (2018)

8. PJ Harvey Let England Shake (2011)

7. Amen Dunes Love (2014)

6. Courtney Barnett The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas (2014)

5. Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)

4. First Communion Afterparty Earth – Heat – Sound (2013)

3. Woods Bend Beyond (2012)

2. Thee Oh Sees Floating Coffin (2013)

1. White Fence For The Recently Found Innocent (2014)

*

I probably should just leave you here, preferably with a budget to go buy these as vinyl albums so you can sit in your rec room discovering them in your own way. But let me help you out just a bit.

There was amazing consensus among the editors that the White Fence album — Tim Presley’s brilliant tour through British Invasion and ’60s psychedelica, with only Ty Segall, natch, accompanying him (on drums) — was the odds on best record of the decade. Of all the records here, this is the one that, we are confident, will hold up longer than the French Revolution.

One could have named any number of albums by John Dwyer as high on this list, whether put out under the moniker of Thee Oh Sees, Oh Sees, OCS, or whatevs. But Floating Coffin was his best album of an amazing decade. Here’s a band that started out as a folky duo, soon became the funnest punk band in the land, and these days sounds like Miles Davis leading Hawkwind. Floating Coffin is the very best of their mid-period punk’n’melodic chaos.

Woods has taken a step back of late, but they released four amazing albums in a row and Bend Beyond is the best, earthy, tuneful Upstate music recorded in Brooklyn, or was it the other way around? Note: this was the last album in which Kevin Morby played bass. Yes, Kevin Morby.

We never thought we’d hear a third First Communion Afterparty album, but this most exciting psychedelic band of the ‘Aughts managed to have a record released from the grave. By the time EarthHeat – Sound came out in 2013, ace Minneapolis bandleader Liam Watkins was on to his next ‘un, Driftwood Pyre, whose one and only album so far was amazing. But this one was really special. I happen to think First Communion Afterparty was the most amazing left-field entrant of the Century To Date — go find this album. Like, today.

Radiohead’s second album of the decade was… Radiohead’s best album of the decade. ‘Nuff said.

We know that people have gone nuts over Courtney Barnett’s first “proper” album, but really, it was the suturing together of her two E.P.s into A Sea of Split Peas that introduced her to me in 2014, a year before anyone Stateside was grokking on her, and it’s still her best work.

When we heard Amen Dunes in 2014, we could hardly believe how great and weird they are, or more accurately, he is. Damon McMahon’s reach for prime time with 2018’s Freedom was wonderful, but Love, its predecessor, is a desert island album. It is so weird! Even as it’s straightforward freak folk marrying, say, Devendra Banhart with Brian Eno. Love this rec!

PJ Harvey‘s Let England Shake was a work of power and delicacy, a vibrantly intelligent work, and we love it. The year it came out, we gave the Tulip Frenzy Top 10 honors to Radiohead’s King of Limbs. That’s a great album, but we should have given the honors to Harvey’s memorable invocation of — of all things — World War I.

Ty Segall put out a LOT OF MUSIC in the 2010s. Freedom’s Goblin, a double album with his touring band, including especially Mikal Cronin, is worthy of the great double albums from days of yore. It is his Electric Ladyland or Quadrophenia. A major work by a major artist, the Tulip Frenzy Artist o’ da Decade. It is also, if you’ve yet to discover him, a great entry point as it has it all — punk rock, No Wave skronk, Beatles-esque folk, even a fun detour into “The Loner”-era Neil Young. Did we mention it begins with an homage to his dog?

We can’t tell you whether Wand or Kelley Stoltz will be accorded the soon-to-be-announced 2019 Tulip Frenzy Album o’ The Year. So we clustered them together. Wand is now the most impressive band playing on the planet. With comparisons to Radiohead, you know that Wand’s making great music. Laughing Matter is brilliant.

Not to be outdone, Kelley Stoltz put out the single best album of his amazingly consistent, astonishingly creative career — and My Regime shows how far he has grown from his earlier work, about half of which could have been included on this list of the decade’s best.

The redoubtable Robyn Hitchcock must have known he was putting out his single greatest album of a long and stellar career — a journey in which he has, and I’m serious, written more good songs than anyone but Bob Dylan — because this was the only album in which his name suffices for the title.

Argentine-spawned, Bilbao-housed punk rock magicians Capsula have released a lot of good music since 2005 — this was the best of a good lot. It is a delight to hear a trio play with such abandon — and never give up the hooks or melody.

While the decade’s output by Anton Newcombe can best be found sprinkled across singles, E.P.s, and albums, we chose the 34-minute long Mini Album Thingy Wingy to represent the Brian Jonestown Massacre because, yeah, it was his/their best album.

Five more to go? Sheesh. Okay, the New Pornographers released four great albums in the decade and, yup, this’n’s the best. Hard to choose the best Parquet Courts album — a band so good that now young tyros like Bodega are walking in their shoes — but we think we have. Alejandro Escovedo can still crush it, and with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, he did. Wire may be from the ’70s, but when I saw them a couple of years ago, all the younger musicians in the audience were grinning, and this record takes songs actually written in 1979 (and released then as a bad, messy album) and properly records them in a 2013 studio. Kurt Cobain-faves The Vaselines walked out of Glaswegian history to record two wonderful 2010s albums, but I chose Sex With An Ex because of the sheer thrill it gave me to have them return. Finally, Calexico has given all of us at Tulip Frenzy World HQ much joy when we’ve seen them live, but this is the album of theirs that we play in full.

Stay tuned for the upcoming Tulip Frenzy 10 Best Albums of 2019 list, circa Thanksgiving. Once we’ve recovered from writing this…

On Marrakech and Street Photography: A Photo Essay

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 29, 2019 by johnbuckley100
All images Leica M10 with 35mm Summicron, Version IV

This being an unusually lucky year for travel opportunities, I recently went to Marrakech and spent several days in and around the Medina, the old city with its warren of narrow passageways giving way to pedestrian squares. I had read about the difficulties of taking photos in the Moroccan street, of the active hostility of people to having their picture taken. My response was to travel with the compact Leica M10 rangefinder and a 25-year old lens, the 35mm Summicron, which is small and unobtrusive, and to shoot “from the hip,” camera held in the palm of my hand and raised to the eye only when taking pictures of inanimate objects.

I’ll tell you more about how I took the pictures posted here, but I also want to get into the why of it, into what it means to be a privileged Westerner who, against the wishes of the people whose lives he’s capturing would go ahead and take their picture. First, let’s set the scene.

The old city is punctuated with palaces and museums, among the most beautiful of which is the Dar El Bacha with its incredible tile work and architecture.

These images show off the legendary King of Bokeh, Leica’s last pre-Aspherical 35mm f/2 lens before the Summicron Asph was introduced in the late 1990s. Wide open, the out-of-focus areas drop off quickly, and to my eye pleasurably, even as it can be softer at the edges and corners than a modern, Aspherical lens. All of the above images were taken the conventional way, with the camera lifted to my eye. As were the two pictures below — the first (actually taken with the 75mm Noctilux) because the beautiful waiter didn’t object to her picture being taken, the second because I was far enough away that the father and daughter looking at the exhibition didn’t see me taking their picture.

Out in the street, though, it was a different matter. I walked casually with the camera at stomach level, ISO high enough to support an f/5.6 – 8 exposure, focus set to the hyperfocal distance of approximately 25 feet, and took pictures of people in the Medina’s full cacophony of sounds and riot of smells, the motorcycles pushing through, the donkey carts trying to get by. It was, as they say, a target-rich environment. Over several days wandering through the Medina, only occasionally did I raise the camera to my eye, and only a few times was I called out for taking a picture.

When you take pictures of people who don’t want their picture taken, what are you doing? Susan Sontag and others have written about the power relationship between the photographer and his subjects, between the observer and the observed. This imbalance exists even in your home city among people of comparable class and stature. But an American going, camera in hand, to a city like Marrakech turns up the amp to 11.

What I wanted to do was to make pictures that conveyed a reality that neither I nor many of the people who would see the pictures — you — have ready access to. It’s a conceit that what I was going for was art — though it’s always an intent — rather than mere tourism snapshots. As with all street photographers, I was focused upon taking pictures without asking permission of the subjects, and in fact had equipment and a technique deliberately designed to keep people from knowing I was “taking their picture” (which under these circumstances is a loaded phrase.) I’m not a documentarian or a photo journalist, and I’m also not an in-your-face, Bruce Gilden-style bully; the photographers I most admire are the humanists — Sebastiao Salgado, Alex Webb, Rui Palha — the people who care about other human beings and use their camera to tell their story even as they allow them — the subject — to provide the art through their interactions, movement and activity. But was that what I was doing in the streets of Marrakech?

Each of the pictures above were met with some protest, including the visibly raised arm of the shopkeeper in the bottom right. (I brought the camera to my eye for that one, thinking I was far enough away to do so unobserved, and only later saw the the shopkeeper’s discomfort.) In a favorite image made there, the local Surete protecting a palace let it be known in no uncertain terms that I should cease and desist. And in so doing, they made the picture!

As a privileged visitor, you make assumptions. I assume that part of the reason why people in Marrakech don’t want their picture taken is that we foreign tourists are invaders in their community. Even though the local economy is dependent upon tourism, tourists don’t have the moral “right” to take their picture without their permission, which they’re unwilling to give. The Moroccans try to preserve their personal rights and autonomy even as, for hundreds of years, Unbelievers — in some cases, colonial subjugators — have tromped clumsily through their neighborhoods. Moreover, Muslims have a religious edict against human and animal images, against a human representing things invented by Allah alone. A street photographer from the U.S. enters the Medina with a history as complex as the culture he or she wants to turn into two-dimensional pictures.

And yet, one of the things we all do when visiting an exotic location is try taking home with us some visual representation of it, a remembrance and relic of the visit. A century of film cameras, the economy of Rochester, New York and at least some portion of the current mobile phone economy has ebbed and flowed on this marketed presumption.

Perhaps street photography of the sort I was attempting can be justified by its knowingness, its flouting of the subject’s desires by subterfuge. Perhaps it’s deliberateness ennobled what otherwise would be seen as callous indifference to people’s autonomy. Even under this rationale — and I’m aware that’s what it is, a justification — what I was doing was still the act of a privileged Westerner who, against their wishes, made pictures while ignoring the subjects’ rights, their dignity. Because I could — at the end of the day, I was less likely to be punched for taking someone’s picture in Marrakech than I would be in streets of D.C. where I live.

But if my motives were driven by artistic purpose, wasn’t it okay? Don’t artists have superseding rights? Or is it all just exploitation, the pressing of a power relationship that at its core is my ability, as a Westerner, to afford to come to a place like this with an expensive camera hidden in my hand?

I wrestled with these thoughts. But I didn’t stop taking pictures.

I have never spent days on end shooting from the hip, but I quickly learned to capture, if not the perfectly framed shot, at least one that had authenticity and the sacred quality of the observed living in innocence, unaware their picture was being taken.

Pictures can be made with poignancy, with respect. The element of humanist, Family of Man universality could enter into the equation. The exotic could be captured with the excitement inherent in traveling far from our homes. And every once in a while I would capture something that I deemed really special.

Widening the frame a bit: a brilliant and brave street photographer like Mark Cohen can shoot incredible photographs of his fellow citizens in the risky intimacy of a small city like Scranton, but for many of us, going to a place far from home, camera in hand, relieves us of fear and inhibition. Our passport lets us take pictures we wouldn’t dream of taking in our city’s streets.

Even unleashed in the street, I punctuated my photography with more formal captures of the architecture and art, the scene, the tourist’s bounty.

It’s an incredibly beautiful city, in its alternating rough but delicate way, but still, pictures devoid of people are not what I love. This is not what gets me going. This is what gets me going.

Taking pictures of inanimate objects, whether in landscape photography or just capturing a beautiful tile floor, is dependent on light, on weather, on simply being there, on showing up, far more than on action and incident. Joel Meyerowitz, who is both a brilliant street photographer and a documentarian of moments dependent on light, not action, talks about taking “tough pictures.” Inherent in this is the notion that street photography has an admirable, testing degree of difficulty, that finding the kismet in human interaction is where the treasure lies.

There are no decisive moments taking pictures of tile on a Marrakesh palace’s floor, ah, but just outside in the street something might be happening. Weegee’s dictum was “F/8 and be there,” emphasizing the showing up, the getting out there. “Out there” being defined as the street, where things happen. Things happen out there because that’s where the people are.

When Joel Meyerowitz co-authored Bystander: A History of Street Photography, I don’t think his title meant the photographer is a bystander, at least not in the way we use that term to refer to someone who does nothing. Who lets life go on without him. Because the photographer very much does something. Whether he takes the picture, as Garry Winogrand famously said, to see “what something will look like photographed,” or for some other, possibly deeper motivation, the street photographer is intimately engaged in the scene, even as he remains distant from it. For me, that’s an intense way of being, a way of genuinely connecting with my surroundings — and a greater motivation to go somewhere than simply “being there.”

Back in Marrakesh, there were moments when it all came together. The first picture on this post is an example of the Medina in perfect street photographer’s dream light.

The photo below is the kind of image that really keeps me going. The kismet of the parts assembling themselves in front of the camera lens, the practice and skill of having the camera ready to go at close to the right settings — well, it’s why I show up, f/8 or whatever.

I may not have perfectly nailed the focus on the little Moroccan boy responding to the European girl in the tiara, but that’s okay. (As Winogrand also said, photography is incredibly forgiving — you can botch the focus and still get the picture.) The action of the mother — what is she doing? — and all the unknown elements contained in this short story are the kinds of things that as a photographer I live for.

I really don’t know what’s going on in this picture — I was too busy snapping the shutter. I remember standing in the foyer on my way out of a small store in a small town outside of Marrakech where crafts are made by a collective of artisans and seeing, first, the blue transom light, and next, some action in the street. I instinctively brought the camera to my eye. My settings were what I had most recently used on the street — approximately f/8, ISO 400, probably 1/250th of a second (I’ll check the metadata later to see.) All I know is that in capturing this incident in which Europe meets Africa/Christianity meets Islam, two children engage though a mother intervenes, the full story is unknown and gone in a split second. It is … the reason to carry a camera. To be ready, you have to be comfortable making pictures of people, permission given or not.

On the last day of our trip, we went to the village of Aghmat, for the Friday morning market. It was agreed among our friends that others would keep their cameras down and I’d wander through shooting from the hip as unobtrusively as possible. I’d share with our friends whatever pictures I took, but they wouldn’t trigger a reaction by everyone holding up their iPhones.

Looking at these pictures, I’m reminded of the roots of tableau painting, the cast of characters arranged by the artist to tell some story out of the workings of a given day. In street photography, the artist is, well, a bystander, without the power to choreograph movements. It’s joyful to see just what the camera can record in what Daido Moriyama referred to as “fossils of light and time.”

To me, these photos capture life in all its pungency and primal interaction. And as the trip finished, I was glad to have come to a place deemed hostile to street photography, not because it made me hone my skills but because it made me think. About what matters in picture making.

I adore landscape photography (scroll down and see the images from a trip to Iceland in August), but know that a big part of my satisfaction in taking a good landscape photograph is that to do so, I had to hike to some sublime location. Martin Parr says one thing that prevents people from becoming good photographers is… laziness. F/8 and for Godsake be there. Street photography is a little different in that it requires more than simply being there. You must be attuned to movement in the street, to subtle incidents, to the mood of people, not just the quality of light.

I was grateful to go up into the mountains and be able to take this picture in the calm late morning light in a tiny village that housed a Berber Museum run by the same people who run Marrakech’s lovely House of Photography.

I was glad on our final morning to take a photograph of the fountain in our small hotel with its lush flowers in the water. Most of all, I was grateful to have come to Marrakech, an intriguing, fascinating city reputed to be hostile to street photography and be able to walk away with some images that I hope others besides me will find hard to forget.

John Buckley’s Instagram is @tulip_frenzy

In “My Regime,” Kelley Stoltz Reigns Supreme

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 18, 2019 by johnbuckley100

This summer, Mrs. Tulip Frenzy and I had an afternoon to kill near the Minneapolis airport, and we decamped to Paisley Park. We ponied up for the Deluxe Tour, and the experience was by turns fascinating and sad. The highlight, I have to say, was being able to play ping pong on Prince’s own table inside one of his two studios. But while I appreciated being able to see the expansive environment in which Prince could make those records he cobbled together with no other musicians, I really was more interested in seeing where New Power Generation and his other amazing backing bands laid down songs like “Cream.” I was interested in where the band played, not Prince all by his lonesome, because Sign O’ The Times and songs like “Shockadelica” notwithstanding, to me, Price was at his best when he was surrounded by others.

Artists who make records by painstakingly recording every instrument have made some pretty great albums. Paul McCartney, Skip Spence, John Fogerty have all, for whatever reason — usually because they were done working with their previous bands — gone this route. We live today in a world in which Kevin Parker, whose Tame Impala exists as a band really only on stage, is heralded for his singular vision. But no one has ever done, or is doing now, what Kelley Stoltz has accomplished, and his new album, My Regime, is at once a remarkable achievement, probably his best record since 2008’s Circular Sounds, and at the same time, just a continuation of the streak of pop gems that he’s cut in his own version of Paisley Park.

Look, I could spend the afternoon embedding links to this site’s previous Stoltz worship. Type “Kelley Stoltz” in the Tulip Frenzy search bar and you’ll see how, for a decade, we have had our mind thoroughly blown not just by the charm and quality of Kelley’s music, but by the phenomenon by which it exists.

Once more into the breach, we exclaim: Kelley Stoltz produces, all by himself, records as sophisticated — and as fun — as Ray Davies fronting Echo and the Bunnymen with David Bowie along for the tour. His music is powered along by first-rate drumming and bass-playing that somehow convey a well-meshed rhythm section that can swing. He adds layers of guitars and keyboards — even harpsichord! — with the enthusiasm and deceptive precision of Jackson Pollock adding paint to a canvas. He writes classically constructed pop songs of amazing variety — heavy emphasis on British Invasion and New Wave — with vocal harmonies that have such pleasing properties, the last time a single singer pulled this off, it was Steve Miller circa Your Saving Grace.

By my rough count, My Regime is Kelley’s 12th proper album, but this doesn’t begin to include the stuff he’s made under assumed names, or the EPs that have on them enough good music to qualify for a Tulip Frenzy Top Ten Album o’ The Year nod. The guy works. I will admit that, since 2010, some of his output has suffered from an over reliance on keyboards and synths, which of course are the crutch upon which Kevin Parker has built his empire. But there has never been an album Kelley’s released under his own name that has not stuck in my interior soundtrack like Gorilla Glue. And My Regime is one of the very best.

I appreciate Brooklyn Vegan recently stating the opener, “Sister,” sounded like a Rolling Stones song that was never made. I wouldn’t have thought of a song so quiet and sweet as a Stones song, but yes, they nailed it, the Keith Richards’ chords and the sax at the end sounds like something the Stones would have slipped onto an early ’80s LP.

The title track might be the song to check out, if you’re Kelley-curious, because the Ric Ocasek-sounding vox notwithstanding, it’s a pretty good exemplar of what you get with Stoltz: four-chord rock that chugs along with keyboard interludes, your head keeping the beat amidst rising panic — “Oh no, the song’s going to end!” I mean, you just know, a minute and a half in, that when the song ends, you’ll be sad. Until a moment later, he restarts the party with “Uh Oh.”

There are plenty of references to Kelley’s touchstone: Echo and Bunnymen, for whom he sometimes plays guitar when they go out on tour. But My Regime is also a departure from at least his work in the back half of this decade because it’s significantly more guitar-focused, which means less emphasis on keyboards floating the melody along. How a single human being could consistently produce albums with this many golden chords, barbed hooks and off-kilter rhythms is beyond my ken, but not my curiosity: I think about Kelley Stoltz and the magic of the music he produces all the time.

Look, by now I’ve either persuaded you to listen or I haven’t. And the comeback to my hundreds of sentences written in the man’s behalf is, surely, yeah, you’re a fan, we get it. The proper word might be disciple.

I’m just betting that if ever I have time to kill at SFO, and there’s a tour of Kelley Stoltz’s studio, I’ll find a place far more worthy of his genius than Paisley Park is of Prince’s. I’d be happy to live in a world where Kelley’s regime was intact and he was the master of all he surveyed. And I would love to see how he plays ping pong all by himself.

The 50th Anniversary Edition of “Abbey Road” Is Astonishing, Not Because We’ve Grown Old But Because It Hasn’t

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 28, 2019 by johnbuckley100

So Giles Martin has done it again, hand cleaning the grime of 50 years off the Sistine Chapel. It’s incredibly emotional to listen to this perfected version of Abbey Road, not only because we have been listening to this music since it was released, but because of how it holds up and signifies artists at the top of their game working to achieve perfection before dissolving.

It is is frankly astonishing to think that Abbey Road was released a half century ago, not because we’ve grown old but because it hasn’t. Rock music, as an art form, should not have the staying power it has had, but because its conventions have taken such root in the culture, an album like this — a band like the Beatles — can sound all at once like the heralds of a distant past and utterly of the moment.

Two or three guitars, bass and drums, three- and four-part harmonies, no band to this day has done it better, which is why Rob Sheffield’s Dreaming The Beatles, released in 2017, is correct when he claims that the Beatles are, today, more popular than they were at the peak of Beatlemania.

Even though it isn’t the dominant musical form the way it was for 30 or 40 years, rock’n’roll music today connect fathers with sons, and mothers with daughters precisely inverted from the way, when I was a child in the 1960s, my parents’ love of Big Band music and Sinatra was a turnoff, a dividing line between us. The Beatles are the connecting thread, and this new and vastly improved listening experience of the 50th Anniversary version of Abbey Road proves why.

It’s sad to listen to, just as last year’s perfected release of the White Album was. Listening to the Beatles is like seeing the hand of God as it is withdrawn. Why did they have to go away? There’s a world of pain in the many dimensions of that thought.

We all know the story by now, how the Beatles, after squabbling through parts of the White Album sessions and then full on during the making of what became Let It Be regrouped, just weeks after the sessions for that album were completed, to make a proper record as a band, the conscious and unconscious thinking being to go out on a high. And they pulled it off.

The only thing we have in our culture that’s remotely similar is Bowie’s Blackstar, the final album he released days before dying, knowing precisely what he was doing. But that’s a decent album we won’t be listening to 50 years from now.

Oh, sure there are throughout history examples of artists struggling to finish their last painting or the final chapter in their book. But what the Beatles did in the studio in 1969 was such a powerful culmination, such a massive effort to go out on a high note, that it bowls us over all these years later.

“You’ve got to carry that weight a long time” was the near final refrain, and they’ve done it. Carrying the weight, in some cases posthumously, with a little help from their friend George Martin’s genius son Giles.

Listening to this incredible release — hearing on “The End” both Ringo’s drum solo and then the lineup of McCartney, Harrison and Lennon, in that order, playing their guitar solos — is to touch a nerve, to revisit the pain of the Beatles breakup all that time ago. We’re so glad to hear it, though, through the headphones of the modern era. In this remarkably pristine state, Giles Martin’s ballsy overruling of his father’s sensibility to produce an album that sounds this good is like a miracle we deserve for the pain of living in the current epoch.

It’s no wonder the Beatles today are the world’s most popular band. No one has ever done it better, nor likely ever will.

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