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Ty Segall’s “First Taste” Is Simply Delicious

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 5, 2019 by johnbuckley100

Adding by subtracting, Ty Segall’s First Taste has a maximalist sound even though there’s not a single electric guitar played on it. What we have instead are Oh Sees-sounding double drums, mandolin and bouzoukis, and erstwhile wingman Mikal Cronin’s No Wave horn bleats cooking up a stew that, from first taste to last, satisfies the soul.

After twelve albums under his own name, three in the last year alone, is the notion of creating a rec without his trademark guitar just a gimmick? Here’s the official Tulip Frenzy take, based on late night debate and deep contemplation:

Many years ago, the novelist Walter Abish wrote Alphabetical Africa. This was an entire novel based on a concept of limitation: Chapter One was composed entirely of words beginning with the letter A, Chapter Two introduced words beginning with B, and so on until by Chapter 26 he had the whole alphabet at his disposal, only to limit himself, letter by letter, chapter by chapter, until he returned to just A in Chapter 52. That’s a gimmick! Pretty cool one – Abish pulled it off — but a gimmick nonetheless.

Ty’s playing with bouzoukis, double drums, multiple horns, mandolins and keyboards BUT NOT AN ELECTRIC GUITAR isn’t a gimmick or a limitation. In fact, this is his most maximalist album ever — and also, we must say, one of his very best.

Since the eponymous Ty Segall 18 months ago, the young genius has put out albums with White Fence, Gøng, and God knows who else, but he’s also produced, in Freedom’s Goblin, his first ever Tulip Frenzy Album o’ the Year, not to mention, earlier in 2019,, an incredible Steve Albini-produced live album (Deformed Lobes.) Ty was already free of expectations and limitations. He is producing consistently great work, without any need to play the role of guitar hero. He can do whatever the fuck he wants, even an album without a guitar lick. And of course he pulls it off.

In the past 18 months, he has produced songs that can be likened to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Santana, James White and the Blacks/Contortions, and Neil Young, to name a few. On the guitar-less First Taste, we detect notes of the Mekons (the bouzouki rock), the Brian Jonestown Massacre (the sitar rock of the amazing “Radio”), and Thee Oh Sees, oh, everywhere. But it’s all Ty, plus his chums Charles Moothart (who co-drums with Ty,) and the aforementioned Cronin.

His palate is as broad as his palette. And his talent is nearly immeasurable. If for some bizarre reason — you’ve been held captive in the trunk of a car, you are just now returning from dog sledding to the North Pole — your exposure to Ty Segall has been limited, take a taste. The first one’s free. And I bet you can’t just eat one.

In Rui Palha’s Lisbon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on July 7, 2019 by johnbuckley100
All images Leica Monochrom and 35mm Summilux FLE.
John Buckley’s Instagram is @tulip_frenzy.
His photo site is John Buckley In Black and White and Color.

There are very few photographers who have as complete a grasp of, or association with, a single city as Rui Palha has with Lisbon. Sure, many of HC-B’s images of Paris are what first come to mind when you think of him, but Cartier-Bresson was equally associated with Mexico, China, Spain, even New York. Rui has pictures from other places besides Lisbon, but to those who follow the world’s preeminent street photographers, Rui Palha is Lisbon.

Rui Palha in his element.

He’s a joyful, engaging task master, curious what his new friend is interested in before heading to various neighborhoods, clear at the outset that he expects to see, and critique, his work.

Lisbon, we learn, is a city of hills and textures, stairs covered in graffiti, squares inlaid with patterned stone, street car tracks that reflect the afternoon light, pigeons everywhere, buildings festooned with tile. Though its literature is rich, there is to Lisbon an air of Garcia Marquez, of magical realism within portions that have seen better days, even as Rui would take me to places that are modernist and futuristic. It has a Metro and a station designed by Calatrava, and the possibilities for picture making are endless. Why, a master such as Rui could create a world from these possibilities. Could I?

If, as Rui prefers, you choose your background for the image first (another thing he has in common with HC-B), waiting for people to come on stage, as it were, there are neighborhoods in Lisbon like few others, and his work shows he knows them all. He’ll gladly take the Metro or drive through neighborhoods filled with people, but lacking the required stage setting, he moves on. Like all street photographers, he wants people in his images, but people alone aren’t enough, and in Lisbon, you don’t have to settle for any background less than the ideal.

Friends have left tickets for him at the Metallica show that night, but he doesn’t really want to go. He takes me near the site of the Metallica show anyway, to that area of the city with its Calatrava-designed train station, modern and mysterious with interesting possibilities for photos. It’s magical, the possibilities for photos in Rui Palha’s Lisbon. Ancient and modern, textured and streamlined, dark and light.

There are some cities made beautiful in prior centuries that rest on their laurels. Lisbon is not content to leave things as they were, to simply preserve under aspic what was built in the halcyon days of empire. It’s a charming, living city still in formation from the center to the docks. A culturally rich milieu, with book stores for readers and thinkers whose imagination is not limited by living in a comparatively small country on the water’s edge of bigger empires, of Europe.

On this day, as Rui takes a new friend around, he keeps a Leica Q suspended on his upper body by a small leather half-case and straps, but it’s only later that we see that, even as he so casually lifts his camera to his eyes to take pictures, he really is a master. My pictures below are pretty good; Rui’s version of the same scene — even granting that he knew just where to stand — is breathtaking.

A gentleman comes up to him. “Are you Rui Palha?” He knows him for what he is, Lisbon’s finest chronicler of the street. As it turns out, the man who greets him is one of Lisbon’s finest painters, and they had never before met.

Rui Palha is a poet in the camera sensor’s etching of black and white. He’s quite vigorous despite a back that is sore, leading the occasional photo workshops, including one this past March for the Leica Store Miami. (Hint: keep an eye on that calendar.) The next day, prominent photographers from Spain are coming to greet him over coffee, for if you are a street photographer, and coming to Lisbon, Rui looms like a giant, the man with the keys to his city.

Late in the day, in the bright sunshine and tourist ambiance of Chiado, we prepare to part. “Make sure you show me your five best pictures,” he says, and then reconsiders. “No, ten. Send me ten to look at.”

A maker of gorgeous images in a gorgeous city, and one of the nicest, most generous people you will ever meet.

Here are a dozen images, Rui, and an extra one of you in your element. How’d I do, my friend?

The Alhambra by Night and Day: A Photo Essay

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on July 2, 2019 by johnbuckley100
All color images Leica M10; all black and white images Leica Monochrom

As everyone living in the continent he sailed to knows by heart, in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Less well known to some of us is that, in that same year, the Christian Reconquista of Spain was completed upon the defeat of the last Moorish sultan. The Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella was peacefully handed the keys to the Alhambra, which the Nasrid emirs of Granada had built over the previous centuries. It remains the greatest example of Moorish architecture in Spain. We found it captivating.

Today, the Alhambra is the second-most visited attraction in Europe, even as it is limited to fewer than 9000 tickets each day. Having now spent time in both the Andalusian blast furnace of a June day and on an absolutely sweltering evening, it’s easy to understand why. What follows is meant to be neither an historical summary nor a visual tour, but simply a series of photos from both excursions, some in color, some in black and white, showcasing what was, to us, one of the most amazing places we’ve ever visited.

Visiting the Alhambra today is not like going to a Mayan ruin or Angkor Wat. It’s not like going to the Taj Mahal. It feels alive — from its gardens in the vast Generalife, to its fountains and ever-present flowing water. You can feel the presence of the magnificent Nasrid artisans and craftsmen who rendered the walls with poetry. One remains grateful for the wisdom of the later Christian kings who — contrary to their treatment of the Aztec and Maya — respectfully preserved the culture that came before them.

The three Nasrid palaces, as well as the hillside summer palace over the Generalife, look out onto Granada, from which the Alhambra was a separate royal town. The distance from the modern city isn’t far, but it’s a separate world. Visiting with hundreds of others at the same time leaves no space for contemplation, and it was too hot to imagine doing this anyway. But if ever there were a place about which one could say he felt transported to another time, it’s the Alhambra.

It’s exceedingly hard for a photographer to maneuver for position among the crowds and find a shot. Capturing the delicacy of the craftsmanship seems almost futile, but over the two different tours, we were able to take a number of pictures worth keeping.

There is such a blend of styles apparent over the transition from one palace to the next, it remains a miracle of sorts that neither Ferdinand and Isabella — the latter of whom chose to be buried here, before her surviving husband moved her to their mausoleum in Granada below — nor their heir Charles V obliterated the palaces they conquered. While there was a long period of disrepair, and at one point Napoleon trained his cannons on it, more than 500 years later, the Alhambra is preserved. In fact, you can visualize Moorish architecture as a beautiful undercoating to all of Andalusian culture, making it special even in a broader Southern European territory not lacking for cultural delights.

It’s hard to say which element within the interlocking palaces will stay with us the longest. The various ceilings of the Hall of the Abenerrajes, the last palace to be built before the Nasrid’s collapse, deserve monumental status in their own right.

We left in early evening and had just enough time to make it across to the Albaicin to look back upon the Alhambra in the fading sunlight. It’s a magical place.

We’re grateful to Blanca Espigares Rooney of Tours by Locals, who was our friendly and erudite guide for our group’s night visit, and in fact, her family were among those who have lived in the Alhambra over the past century. Thanks also to Maria Garcia of Viator who managed to conduct a 4:30 PM tour on the hottest of days navigating the gardens to keep us cool.

The Proper Ornaments’ “6 Lenins” is the Perfect Soundtrack for a Rainy Afternoon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2019 by johnbuckley100

I have a tricky cast of mind that, when listening to an album, always wonders about its antecedents, about the bands and records that have influenced what I’m hearing. The Proper Ornament’s gorgeous new 6 Lenins provokes the opposite thought process: I can imagine members of the Feelies, Woods, Kevin Morby, even Anton Newcombe listening through headphones, grinning from ear to ear.

Because I came to the band originally after having fallen in love with Ultimate Painting’s 2016 album Dusk, and having learned that James Hoare went back and forth between the two bands, it was hard to know which was the main act and which the side project.

But maybe that was never the right way to think of things. Maybe the right way to think of it is that James Hoare and Jack Cooper had a quiet if propulsive jangle pop band called Ultimate Painting, while James Hoare and Maximo Celada Claps have a delicate jangle pop band called The Proper Ornaments. And while Ultimate Painting broke up in 2018 after having completed a third, now seemingly discarded album, and Jack Cooper has recently formed the interesting Modern Nature with, among others Aaron Neveu of the aforementioned Woods, there is simply a fluid collection of bands with overlapping musicians, and all of them are producing incredible work.

We mentioned the Feelies and Woods in the first paragraph, but The Proper Ornaments seem like proper Englishmen, their delicate approach invoking Nick Drake as much as the Velvet Underground. And it should be said, while Ultimate Painting’s last record had a keeper in “Song for Brian Jones,” and Hoare extends that tribute on the new one to a “Song for John Lennon,” it may help everyone keep track of the music’s taxonomy by simply saying Hoare operates in a very distinguished tradition of melodic British songwriters. Maybe 6 Lenins really was meant to be called 6 Lennons and if there are that many, I have no quarrel thinking of James Hoare as one of them.

There’s one more name to drop here, and it’s Jim Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain, in that Hoare seems to understand, as Reid always has, that Lou Reid — no relation! — was one of the prettiest songwriters around. Now, when you listen to all of 6 Lenins it is possible you’ll yearn for the loud guitar squall of William, the other Reid brother in the JAMC. Yet when I listen to the album’s closer, “In the Garden,” I am filled with the knowledge that, obscure though these bands may be — hard as you may have to search to get information on Ultimate Painting and The Proper Ornaments — this collection of musicians, together and separately, are producing as important a body of work over a compressed period of time as any more famous major acts are doing elsewhere, or have done so over time.

Almost At The Year’s Midpoint, Wand’s “Laughing Matter” Is The Best Album of 2019

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2019 by johnbuckley100

We’ve waited a month to review Laughing Matter, because we wanted to be certain. In that first rush when a great album suffuses synapses with the promise of a wild evening ahead — before the huge bats screech and swoop around the car, before you realize it’s been a week since you listened to anything else — it can be easy to proclaim that such-and-such is the best thing since The Beatles. A month in, though, and it’s clear Laughing Matter holds the high ground. It’s going to take the second coming of The White Album for any other band to produce a better one this year.

Wand has come a long way in a short time. The burst of activity that produced Golem and Ganglion Reef back to back between August 2014 and March 2015 might have led you to think singer/guitarist/songwriter Cory Hanson and epic drummer Evan Burroughs were on the metal end of mentor Ty Segall’s furious seesaw. But then came Catholic twin 1000 Days, a third album released just 395 days after the first album, and it was already a far more sophisticated outing every way.

Wand at the Black Cat in 2015

None of this prepared us for Plum, Tulip Frenzy’s 2017 (Co-) Album o’ The Year, when an expanded band could now produce rock’s only known song about the retirement of Charles De Gaulle. One had to grok on the leap Wand had taken to become, as we noted then, peers with Ty, Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer, and White Fence’s Tim Presley as not only the West Coast’s most fearsome progenitors of ace albums, but among the finest live bands in the world. It was, and is, a stunning album, and 18 months in, we listen to it all the time.

Wand at DC 9 in 2017

Last year, we had to determine whether Perfume, the abbreviated follow-up to Plum, was long enough to qualify for the same track as all the pretty horses in contention for the 2018 Tulip Frenzy Album o’ The Year honors.

Here’s how we described the deliberations: “Some of our editors held out the verdict that, at just under 30 minutes, Wand’s Perfume was more like an E.P.  At least not like a proper album, especially since last year’s Plum was clearly deserving of its (Co-) Album of the Year status.  But then we sat down the recalcitrant judges and played them the beautiful “I Will Keep You Up” and they began to weaken, one of the holdouts even willing to say, “That’s the most sublime song Cory Hansen has ever written and Wand’s ever released.” It was when we all listened together to the Tom Verlaine-like guitar perfection of “The Gift” that towels were thrown in and it was clear: Wand’s Perfume is a real album, and the 5th best of 2018.”

Wand’s Laughing Matter is the strongest album of A.D. 2019 to date. It has the heft of a double album, as if making up for Perfume‘s deficiencies, length-wise. It also contains two of the most gorgeous songs I’ve ever heard, the back-to-back showstoppers of “Rio Grande” and “Airplane.”

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.

But after a while I began to get it — Cory’s voice, while not as pretty as Thom Yorke’s, has some of the same delicacy and range, and they are now operating on a sonic scale comparable only to bands with the ambition of Radiohead and Wilco. Yes, arena bands, considered the finest of their era. And the last time we saw Wand play, it was at DC9 with its sub-200 capacity. (This is the tragedy of modern music, and don’t get us started.)

Sofia Arreguin’s voice is genuinely welcome addition, and the interstitial electronica that punctuates the album sounds like old school Cluster/Harmonia, which you must know makes me happy. We don’t often invoke Pitchfork’s writers, but Brian Howe got off a good ‘un in his stellar review a month ago when he allowed as how, on the album opener “Scarecrow,” “it sounds like Evan Burrows is playing his drums with dinosaur bones.” Yeah, from its opening notes the album packs a wallop, and one song in, on “Xoxo,” we are mesmerized.

The expanded band — two guitars, bass, drums and keyboards — plays brilliantly, flawlessly on this magical album with its poignant invocation of travel and love and traveling with and without one’s love. While wholly original, yes, we understand how Wand has absorbed lessons from both Radiohead and My Bloody Valentine. Which if you think of this last sentence, is like saying a writer has absorbed lessons from, say, James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon — I mean if you are going to be in any way derivative, aim high.

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.

Photo Essay: Life In Trump’s America May Be A Toxic Mess — But for One Day in May D.C.’s Funk Parade Is The Antidote

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 12, 2019 by johnbuckley100
All images Leica Monochrom

This morning, we went out for waffles, it being Mother’s Day and all. The mom in this household declared that, given the present day shit show in America, you have to take pleasure where you can find it. In an instant, I knew why I so love Washington’s annual Funk Parade, which took place yesterday.

I don’t think I went to the first one, in 2014, but by 2015 it was clear that this magical day is a moment when everyone in our large and sometimes troubled, multi-racial city could rally around one thing: the joy of music being played outdoors. We were pretty amazed then at how big the crowd was, and how happy people were. In the fateful year of 2016, we concluded that Saturday of the Funk Parade was the best day of the year to live in D.C. How little we appreciated, back in those innocent days, just what we had.

By 2017, having spent every free weekend since Trump’s inauguration attending joyous but still angry demonstrations, it was like a holiday just to revel in the funk. Last year, in sunshine, I shot in color and if you’d like to get a sense of what this event is like on a beautiful sunny day, you can click here.

You go to the Funk Parade, in part, for the music being played everywhere on U Street in the hours before the main event. Yesterday at the bandshell at the Africa American Civil War Memorial, The Archives, an awesome reggae band, played in the prime slot as the parade drew near. Puma Ptah, The Archives’ charismatic singer from St. Thomas, left the audience slack-jawed at the sound.

All the way over, on virtually every block, there were bands worth listening to, with appreciative crowds grazing from the offerings.

It’s a street fair, it’s a party, it’s D.C.’s Mardi Gras. Before the parade, friends greeted friends and neighbors hung together, and new friends were made on every street corner.

As always, the most fun thing to do was people watch and take in the spectacle.

We loved all the parents who brought their children to see what the event was all about.

The crowds were a little smaller this year because it threatened rain — and alas, when the parade was nearly over, the weather gods made good on that threat.

But as always, the parade itself was good natured and fun, and we even saluted our mayor, who never really looks like she’s having a good time.

Before it got too wet, all the performers seemed the love the opportunity to be out there with us.

And even as it began to pour, and we ended up having to bolt lest cameras dissolve in the rain, we looked around at the crowd, as moved as we were by this event in our Capital City.

The world is a mess, but at least those of us in the Capital, waiting out the occupation… at least we have the Funk Parade.

On Pitchfork, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s “Fishing for Fishies,”and the Death of Rock Criticism

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2019 by johnbuckley100

Australia’s King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard were last heard from at the very end of 2017 when they just barely got Gumboat Soup , their fifth album of that strenuous year, out the door. It was pretty good, and so were stretches of the previous four recs that year, but I doubt that, ten years hence, any of us will play any of those albums from start to finish.

Yesterday King Gizzard returned with Fishing for Fishies – a fun, occasionally beautiful, sometimes even profound album built around blues forms including a repeating boogie motif. For a ridiculously prolific band to have slowed down and recorded an album constructed upon a foundation of well-considered songs — and not just treat us to their let-the-tapes-roll jams — was cause for celebration.

Those morons at Pitchfork rated it a 4.8 and slagged the entire effort.

There’s a lot to say about this, but let’s start here. We viewed this event — Pitchfork, which has become the online reviewer of record, showing off their faux sophistication by condemning an effort by a cult band to produce a commercially viable, long-lasting album; sneering at a career move that would see the band seeking to be considered as something other than astonishing, amusing freaks whose mark is laid by stunts — as symbolic of the sorry state of rock criticism in Annos Domini 2019.

Time was when rock criticism, as a form of writing, was as exciting as the fiction writing of its day, as important as the non-fiction novel, the New Journalism. When Lester Bangs, R. Meltzer or John Mendelsohn could write a review or a feature with prose every bit as wild and exciting as the Flamin’ Groovies, Little Feat or T. Rex album they were loving or hating. When in the New York Times, John Rockwell or Robert Palmer were expanding our horizons by telling us how the nexus between Philip Glass and Brian Eno heralded a deepening of rock’s importance or how last night’s show at CBGB by Talking Heads was the most exciting development since Television played there the month before. When Byron Coley in New York Rocker or Roy Trakin in the Soho Weekly News, when Tom Carson in the Voice or Charles Shaar Murray in NME alerted us to a band that would change our lives.

We admit that when we wrote for New York Rocker, Soho News, the Village Voice and Rolling Stone, we attempted to combine both critical insight with lively prose, because we knew that rock writing was as much a performance art as the music that gripped our soul.

There are a number of reasons why rock writing these days is an arid landscape. The first is the decline of the New York Times; under Jon Pareles and his editors, they moved away from their essential role in telling us what bands in New York City were contributing to the culture. I mean, Brooklyn as a locus of bands circa 2008-2019 is as worthy a “scene” — to use a word editor Bob Christgau used to strip from my prose — to cover as the Summer of Love in San Francisco or the punk era in Lower Manhattan and London. And yet the Paper of Record has virtually ignored it. (In the breach arose Brooklyn Vegan, but I can’t name a single writer from that site, and I used to know every one of the NYT’s stable of writers.) Instead the Times provides the occasional listicle in its worthless Sunday Arts and Leisure section, usually letting us know about the catholic tastes of its writers, but never actually letting them, you know, write.

For a while there, Spin was an important publication, but its decline under the soap opera that was Bob Guccione Jr. unfortunately limited its tenure. Fortunately, from the consistently excellent, if limited, British magazine Uncut we have learned about dozens of bands we might otherwise never have discovered, and while they tend to grant every album they review a minimum rating of 7 out of 10 — a sort of Lake Woebegone “everyone is special” lack of critical seriousness — at least, over the past decade, they’ve alerted us to, oh, only Kelley Stoltz, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall, etc.

Which brings us to Pitchfork. Every album review they publish is as dry as a Mojave declivity. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed at a single sentence contained therein. They review rock’n’roll albums with less passion than Car and Driver forced to compare the latest minivans.

And so: the nadir of rock writing is their punishing King Gizzard & the Lizard for the sin of trying to actually produce a single album that has meaning, rather than simply recording, live-to-tape, their studio all-nighters.

The decline of rock criticism is a little understood portent of the decline of Western Civ, but if you want to know where it has all gone wrong, read Pitchfork and despair.

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