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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bear with us as we try a comparison which while imperfect, gets us as close to the matter as we can get.  We have previously described our love for the New Pornographers as an anomaly.  “Ordinarily, we treasure the analog sound of Fender guitars played by punk bands and The New Ps feature keyboard-driven synthetic sounds polished to a high gloss.”

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

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

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

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

 

Rodeo Night In The Tetons

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 26, 2018 by johnbuckley100

Rodeo Project Supplement-21Over on our sister site, TulipFrenzyPhotography.com, we’ve just added a gallery devoted to the Jackson Hole Rodeo.

It is a wonderful, small-town rodeo with riders, bulls and horses assembled, three times a week in the summer, from around the West.  One of the things we like about it so much is the way they incorporate young riders into the competition. Go to Tulip Frenzy Photography for a variety of galleries that have been updated this summer.  But if you’d like a further preview of some more images from the rodeo, see below.  All images Leica SL.

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Out Here In The Fields

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Teton and Fremont Counties in Idaho can sometimes seem like the red-haired stepchild of Teton County, WY.  They have Teton views, spectacular ones, but Pierre’s Hole is not the same as Jackson Hole, at least in the eyes of tourists and rich folk.  Ah, but in these Idaho counties, around this time of year when it is too smoky to see the Grand Teton from downtown Jackson, they have something special going for them.  We decided to drive over the pass for a look.

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These are farming counties.  Yes, many of the people who live there have a tedious and sometimes dangerous commute over the pass to jobs in Jackson, WY: construction, waitering, guiding fishermen, positioning the fannies of Easterners into the embrace of the chairlift that awaits them.  But still, this is farm country.

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Between Driggs and Ashton, on Route 32, cars and trucks rush on by.  But sometimes it’s fun to mosey along, camera in hand, and pull into turnouts.

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When I walked behind the silo to take a picture of it, the area around my feet exploded with grasshoppers, moths and butterflies.  I heard them before I set foot there, but couldn’t see them.  A little like Fremont County — you might not notice it until you set foot in it.

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As we were heading back toward Jackson — with dinner planned at an excellent Thai restaurant in tiny Victor, ID — we saw an old abandoned barn near the road.

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It was a reminder of how harsh life can be out here.  And also how sublime it is, just a few miles away from Jackson Hole, which is considered among the loveliest valleys in the country.  Teton County, ID looked every bit as pretty as its more famous neighbor across the Tetons tonight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Feelies Sill Play Crazy Rhythms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Stamey’s “A Spy In The House Of Loud” Is An Unusual, And Excellent, Artist’s Memoir

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 13, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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It makes sense that Chris Stamey named his band The dBs, because he’s always been intrigued by the technical aspects of making music.

Stands For Decibels was this seminal New York-by-way-of-Winston-Salem band’s first album, and perhaps Stamey’s best song on it was “Cycles Per Second,” both reference points to music making.  So it makes sense that in his new book A Spy In The House Of Loud, Stamey doesn’t merely write about his bands, he writes about how they made records.  Even if you’re not a gear head, it’s fun, because he’s an engaging writer and he really was in the right place at the right time.

To place him in his proper coordinates, Chris Stamey came to New York midway through the ’70s and saw Television, often, in their earliest CBGB incarnations, quickly figured out the world was changing and that he wanted to play a role.  By 1978, he’d teamed up with fellow Southerner Alex Chilton in his post-Big Star solo foray.  Chilton and Television’s Richard Lloyd played on Stamey’s excellent initial singles, before he put together the dBs with fellow North Carolinians Will Rigby, Gene Holder, and Peter Holsapple.

If you were there at the time, and I was, the dBs were a remarkable anomaly in New York. An experimental pop band with an ear for the kind of radio hits their progenitors Big Star should have had, they existed in that post-first wave CBGB bands environment in which you could see, over successive nights, No Wave bands like DNA, the newest British important (from Gang of Four to XTC, Magazine to the Soft Boys), bands from L.A. like X, and Lou Reid’s latest incarnation.  New York was the center of the rock’n’roll world and the dBs were just slightly off kilter from the environment around them — excellent musicians with jangling guitars and a tight, propulsive rhythm section, two singer-songwriters vying for dominance, and a Farfisa adding color. They never quite made it, and some of it — explained in Stamey’s book — flowed from how they were never quite able to capture on vinyl — yeah, vinyl — that stage set that could bring down Hurrah or other clubs of the day.

Stamey went on to be a charter member of the Golden Palominos and release a number of solo albums, including one of the highlights of the 1980s, It’s Alright. Over time, as he moved back to North Carolina and raised a family, his influence on contemporary music shifted from musician to being the producer on several of the best albums of the age, particularly Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac, and Alejandro Escovedo’s A Man Under The Influence.  Most recently, it was Stamey who put together, following Chilton’s 2010 death, that series of all-star shows playing Big Star’s Sister Lovers, also known as Third.  In fact, Thank You Friends: Big Star’s Third Live is one of the most remarkable documents of recent years, with Jeff Tweedy, Ira Kaplan, Robyn Hitchcock and so many more playing the music from this greatest of American artists of the ’70s and beyond.

And now Stamey has written a book.  A Spy In The House of Loud is fascinating reading for anyone who’s ever wanted to understand what happened when a new set of bands displaced the rot in Rock Music in the punk and post-punk era.  Stamey’s a musician and a fan, and he writes of his contemporaries with a rock critic’s eye.  But he also ably captures what happened when making albums shifted from an analog to a digital process — and all that got lost along the way.

Chris Stamey will read from his book at Politics and Prose in D.C. this coming Sunday, June 17th at 3:00 PM.

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

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

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Courtney Barnett  Tell Me How You Really Feel

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

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

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

191402000108 Parquet Courts  Wide Awake

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

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

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Wand   Perfume

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

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

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

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The Brian Jonestown Massacre  Something Else

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

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

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

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

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