Archive for Alejandro Escovedo

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.

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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)

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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…

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.

 

Radiohead Tops Tulip Frenzy’s 2016 Top 10 List

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2016 by johnbuckley100

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Disastrous years, moments when the entire world threatens to unravel, produce the best music.  The bumper crops of great albums arise in years like 1968, 1974, 1979, 1998, 2001, 2008, as if the one mercy we may be granted as life unspools is a good soundtrack.

And so it is that as the gang at Tulip Frenzy sat down to discuss the best records of 2016 — a year we all concluded may have been the worst one for our nation since 1862, or at least 1930 — we found more albums in contention for our heralded Top 10 List than in any 12-month cohort since we began formally compiling our lists earlier this century.

Here’s whose albums didn’t make the list, so you get a sense of the competitive sweepstakes: Angel Olsen, Parquet Courts, Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Fleshtones, The  Mekons, The Rolling Stones, Kevin Morby, Cheena, Black Mountain, Heavens Gateway Drugs, Feels, Wire, Ty Segall, and Capsula.  Longtime readers of Tulip Frenzy will recognize several of these bands as among our very faves, and each produced remarkable recs we listened to over and over and over again.  We considered Capsula’s glorious Santa Rosa — the most melodic punk album since their 2006 Songs & Circuits — literally until this morning, and in the end couldn’t make room for it.  Kevin Morby’ s Singing Saw was the soundtrack to our springtime.  And yet none of these records made the cut.  Wow, so who did?

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The #10 Album Of 2016: Morgan Delt’s Phase Zero

In August it was abundantly clear that Phase Zero by Morgan Delt was going to be our Psych Album of The Year, virtually guaranteeing its placement on the 2016 Top 10 List. We called it a “gorgeous, weird, melodic, inventive, soothing, trippy self-produced album in which he plays all the instruments.” It held up in the months since, and his show at DC9 revealed him to be a young beanpole hippy with flowing red locks and a kickass band.  We suspect he’ll move up the list in the months and years ahead.

The #9 Album of 2016: David Bowie’s Blackstar

Like a great grey owl showing up on your fencepost, David Bowie’s death coming at the very beginning of the year was a portent of the disaster to come.  That Blackstar was released literally the day before we got news of his untimely end was like a cruel joke, or the most brilliant performance-art piece of all time.  At that time, we wrote, “That he finished with Blackstar is like the Beatles going out with Abbey Road: an amazing grace upon which to conclude one of the transcendent careers in contemporary music.”  Some have put Blackstar at the top of their 2016 list.  We think as a concept it definitely deserves that, but as music, it was merely great — especially the way Bowie’s coda brought him back to his teenage enthusiasm for the jazz of Gary Mulligan.  But whereas 2013’s The Next Day was high on our list, we reduce Bowie’s finale to a few amazing songs, but not anywhere close to the best complete album of 2016.

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The #8 Album of 2016: Quilt’s Plaza

We called Plaza Quilt’s masterpiece when it was released in February, and it has held up well against walk-off home runs, 50-yard field goals into the wind, and the hot streaks of others. “These guys are so much more than an art-school project,” we wrote then, referencing how they were formed in Boston a few years back.  Plaza is to Quilt’s last album, Held In Splendor, as Revolver was to Rubber Soul: paradoxically more commercial and slick, and yet more experimental and ambitious. Anna Fox Rochinski’s voice is in a category with Syd Straw and Neko Case — yeah, I just wrote that — and when she is singing the 60% of the Quilt’s songs that joyfully get released, this Beatles-influenced band is transcendent.

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The #7 Album of 2016: P.J. Harvey’s The Hope Six Demonstration Project

We had high hopes for Polly Jean’s album, which was mostly focused on her drive-by tour of the worst nabes in our hometown of D.C..  After all, in 2012, even though we ultimately gave Radiohead the top honors in Tulip Frenzy’s Top 10 List (c), her Let England Shake claimed runner-up honors, and we believe her Stories Of The City, Stories Of The Sea could well be the previous decade’s strongest work.  But it was weird that, as powerful as this new record was, it seemed like a slight misstep.  We said at the time, “when she creates an album this beautiful, and this powerful, she’s revealing, once again, that Polly Jean Harvey is one of the very few artists in 2016 using rock’n’roll to grapple with the world at this level.” Yet over the course of the year, we played it far less than we expected, given how much we adored the original song released from it, “The Wheel.”  This is a powerful, serious work of art, but it’s placement in the back half of this list reveals it to be a little less enjoyable than we would have wished.

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The #6 Album of 2016: Cosmonauts’ A-OK

We have long had a soft spot in our heart for the So-Cal psych-punk band Cosmonauts, and with A-OK they produced not only the summer’s soundtrack, they broke through as purveyors of catchy tunes thundering along with a power and pace that would make fellow Orange County natives Anton Newcombe and Ty Segall equally proud.  A long time ago, when explaining why Elvis Costello got more airplay than the Clash, Joe Strummer said, “Well Elvis, maybe he sings a bit better than we do.” Singing is not Cosmonauts’ greatest strength, though it is serviceable enough.  But the comparison to Strummer’s Clash, yeah, works.

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The #5 Album of 2016: Tim Presley’s The Wink

Tim Presley has been at or near the top of our Top 10 list each year since his Darker My Love took top honors in 2010.  We thought White Fence’s To The Recently Found Innocent was not only the best rec of 2014, it has secured a permanent place in the canon, possibly our favorite album of the past decade.  We know that White Fence could rock hard live, even as Presley’s home recordings under that name could  at times seem incomplete, low-fi psychedelic noodling.  When his collaboration with Cate LeBon, under the name Drinks, came out in 2015, we feared the worst, for it seemed like a return to the bad habit of meandering, underpowered preciousness.  But woo hoo, The Wink was a remarkable “solo album” from a guy whose White Fence recs are mostly made with just him, alone with his cat, and occasionally Ty Segall.  In October we wrote, “The Wink is an astonishingly great album, the product of an eccentric genius with an oddball sensibility and a reverence for the artists he admires. The title track sounds like it was ripped from a master tape of Bowie’s The Lodger — an homage to a dead hero in which Presley took the time to reverse engineer the best songs from Bowie’s best album. A dozen bands before now have tried capturing the spare perfection of the first Gang of Four album, but on “Clue,” Presley’s the first artist I know of who has ever truly caught the interplay between Jon King’s vocals and Andy Gill’s guitar. But of course, the major artist that Presley channels best on his solo album is Tim Presley, for we hear throughout the 12 songs here chord progressions and melodies spanning his career…”

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The #4 Album of 2016: Psychic Ills Inner Journey Out

We were really unprepared for what a great record Inner Journey Out was, writing upon its early summer release, “Inner Journey Out is for playing when heading on a road trip to Big Bend, to Marfa, on that long thin ribbon of highway wending toward the West as the shimmering heat makes the cactus liquid.” The fact that Tres Warren and Elisabeth Hart are transplanted Texans living in New York partially accounts for how their gritty, urban Velvets-inluenced sound also has one foot firmly planted in country blues.  With Hope Sandoval singing marvelously on “I Don’t Mind,” it was easy to think of Inner Journey Out having a spiritual link to Mazzy Star, but the album this most reminded us of, in a strange way, was Exile On Main Street, an ambitious, sprawling work that never drifted far from classic American roots-music idioms.  Every time we played this record, it brought a smile to our face, and from mid-summer on, we were chanting, “Top 5, baby.  This one’s a contender.”

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The #3 Album of 2016: Alejandro Escovedo’s Burn Something Beautiful

For more than 20 years, every Alejandro Escovedo album has been a source of solace, an inspiration.  He is so perfectly placed to appeal to us: an Austin roots-rock hero cum occasional chamber rocker who played in the late ’70s San Francisco punk band The Nuns, and growing up loved Bowie and Mott The Hoople as much as we did.  But after 2010’s great Street Songs of Love, which was the #2 album on our list that year, we wondered if Al would again be so inspired.  What a joy it was to discover that in Burn Something Beautiful, he may have produced his best record of this century.  We exulted when it came out, “anyone who has ever thrilled to hear how Alejandro assembles a classic rock’n’roll album based upon his experiences and unique vantage point will see this one for what it is: his best album in this late hard-rocking phase of an amazing career.” A big part of the joy this record inspired was the sound of his band, with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, mainstays of Robyn Hitchcock’s recent albums, at its core.  The strength of Burn Something Beautiful was Al himself, whose great songwriting and, on this one, fantastic voice made this a record we will playing for as long as we’ve played With These Hands and Thirteen Years.

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The #2 Album of 2016: Thee Oh Sees A Weird Exits

John Dwyer, it turns out, is an old fashioned band leader, a figure as much like Miles Davis as the punk and garage rocker he started out being.  On A Weird Exits (and its shorter companion, An Odd Entrances, which came out last month), Dwyer cranks up the latest incarnation of Thee Oh Sees — a double-drum, bass + all Dwyer combo — to take us on a musical journey through psych, prog rock, jazz, and even blues.  If you tuned in even as late as 2011’s Castlemania, you might never have predicted what this particular Oh Sees album would sound like.  Of course, tucked way in the back of the latest issue of Uncut, we get a sense of Dwyer’s heterodox sensibility, for in a feature entitled, “My Life In Music,” the records he calls out as his favorites are by Can, Grand Funk Railroad, Robert Fripp, Hiragi Fukuda, Michael Yonkers, Uriah Heap, Eric Dolphy, and Henry Flynt & The Insurrections.  What, you were expecting The Germs and Pere Ubu?  I might have… But nah, this guy goes way deeper.  As we noted in August when A Weird Exits came out, it’s time to take John Dwyer seriously.  “In just a 30-minute snippet of time, such a short interlude in your life, John Dwyer has taken us from the most exciting garage rock of the epoch to deep, moving contemplation. The guy has it all, including originality. A Weird Exits, its title rendered ambiguous by the extra “s”, is not only the best Oh Sees album since Floating Coffin, it should be that album that makes audiences of all stripes sit up and notice. It’s time to take John Dwyer seriously.”

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The #1 Album of 2016: Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool

The only flaw on this album was the absence of a hyphen between “Moon” and “Shaped” in its title.  By including concert staples such as “Identikit” and “True Love Waits,” A Moon Shaped Pool felt a lot like Radiohead finishing up old business before it could move on.  With Jonny Greenwood’s orchestration of amazing songs like “Burn The Witch,” Radiohead came as close as can be to Steve Reich territory, which just confirms they’re playing at a different level from all contemporaries.  We gave The King Of Limbs #1 honors in 2012, even as other critics exalted P.J. Harvey’s Let England Shake and we still think we were right.  With the addition this year, though, of In Rainbows Disk 2 — an unexpected release of companion songs from the 2007 original — Radiohead has spent more time in our earbuds than probably any band other than Bob Dylan, which fans o’ T Frenzy will recognize as a profound statement.  We loved A Moon Shaped Pool, recognized it right away for what it is, a peerless, non-rock’n’roll album that added up to the best music of 2016.

 

Alejandro Escovedo’s “Burn Something Beautiful”: A 2016 Highlight Of Real Rock’n’Roll

Posted in Music with tags , , , on October 30, 2016 by johnbuckley100

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Rock’n’roll is a derivative art form that as a genre of popular music has lasted an unusually long time.  The distance stretching back to when the Beatles hit our shores is longer than the period between World War I and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.”  Yeah, World War I.

So one factor that surely influences our appreciation of artists is which antecedent sensibilities inform their work — can we hear traces of the Rolling Stones or the Velvet Underground in what they do?  Is it clear they listened to punk rock in its day?  Yes, of course, the work should be judged on its own, but since rock’n’roll iterates off a simple four-chord standard, the artist’s vantage point really matters.

We recently wrote about Tim Presley, whose bands Darker My Love and particularly, White Fence, have been important to us.  And of course when we listen to Presley, we know exactly how much this guy who grew up with the last name of rock’s first superstar enjoyed the Who and the Kinks, punk rock and David Bowie, and it adds to our appreciation of him.

The great Austin troubadour Alejandro Escovedo has always worn his influences on his sleeve: Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed, the Rolling Stones, Texas songwriters like Townes Van Zandt.  He’s finished sets with covers of songs by Mick Jagger and David Bowie.  And he himself embodies distinct periods in musical history, from his San Francisco punk band The Nuns, to an early stab at alt.country, Rank and File, to ’80s Austin power rockers True Believers.  He can write gorgeous ballads and thrilling rockers, and the protean assemblage of musicians he takes on the road or into the studio can include cello players and violinists, pedal steel and guitar virtuosi, kick-ass drummers or no drums at all.  Most important, his vantage point on rock’n’roll is historical, well informed, with a rock critic’s curatorial sensibility.  But no matter how pretty his songs, no matter how delicate the chamber-pop interplay between cello and acoustic guitar, his default preference is for rock’n’roll. He’s given us, over the past 25 years of albums and live shows, some of the greatest music we’ve ever heard.

And now comes Burn Something Beautiful and the musicians who back him up include Peter Buck on guitar, and on bass Scott McCaughey — who separately have forged the sounds of bands like R.E.M. and together have made some of Robyn Hitchcock’s best albums — not to mention having Jenny Lewis (Neko Case) and Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney) on back-up vox.  This is the best sounding of Alejandro’s hardest rocking albums, the songwriting is consistently great, his singing is on-key and delightful, and we have found ourselves as excited about listening to one of his records as we have been since With These Hands came out 20 years ago.

And what roots are exposed here? Well, can’t you hear Bowie’s Spiders From Mars playing “Beauty and the Buzz”?  “Johnny Volume” has a final line — “I’m just looking for a kiss” — that of course invokes the New York Dolls, and Alejandro tells the whole story of ’70s NY bands in one gorgeous song. “Shave The Cat” adds T. Rex to Escovedo’s explicit influences, which makes sense since Monster revealed the glam bands of that era as Peter Buck’s faves. Long ago, Whiskeytown invited Al to sing on Stranger’s Almanac, and on “Redemption Blues” we hear an update of that sound.  And Lou Reed’s influence?  Everywhere.

Anyone who loves Mott the Hoople or Lou Reed will love this record.  More importantly, anyone who loved R.E.M.’s Monster (made after Peter Buck had spent time with the Fleshtones, and learned a trick or two from Keith Streng about how to build a world upon barre chords), will dig this.  Most important of all: anyone who has ever thrilled to hear how Alejandro assembles a classic rock’n’roll album based upon his experiences and unique vantage point will see this one for what it is: his best album in this late hard-rocking phase of an amazing career.

 

White Fence, And The Bands That Didn’t Make It Onto This Year’s Tulip Frenzy Top Ten List: An Explanation

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on November 27, 2012 by johnbuckley100

Making a Top Ten List is hard in years when there is a lot of good new music.  And just when you think you’re done, inevitably you find you missed stuff.  (One of the most fun aspects of December is reading other people’s Top Ten lists and getting turned on to bands that had not punctured your force field.) But while we’re sure we’ll be doing, if not addenda, then at least announcements of bands we discovered after we’d cast our vote, right now we want to do something else. We thought we should report, if not on the runners up, then at least on the bands that were in contention, or should have been, but which didn’t make it, with some explanation of why not.

White Fence – Family Perfume, Volumes 1 and 2

Tim Presley is a deity in our house, with the shrine next to the bird feeder, on top of the old 8 Track.  Some will remember that Darker My Love’s last outing, Alive As You Are, was Tulip Frenzy’s Album of the Year in 2010.  Of course, Presley is represented on this year’s list by his collaboration with Ty Segall on Hair.  But while aspects of Family Perfume, the epic 29-song double album he released in two parts, in April and May, were as weirdly coherent as anything out of the E6 brotherhood, in the end, we found its extreme lo-fi production coupled with what we can only imagine was an intense psychedelic ambition was excessively confusing.  We almost wanted to shake Mr. Presley by his shoulders, urging him to focus.  We can say honestly that virtually everything his friend Segall does by his lonesome has visceral appeal, but as White Fence, recording all the instruments, Presley’s work is too ethereal, too diffuse.  There’s too much of it and, while snippets are appealing, ultimately it doesn’t rock. And while it is unfair, perhaps, to compare him to Ty Segall — a once in a decade talent — on a good day, Tim Presley’s one of the most compelling figures in all of rock’n’roll music.  Did we mention that just two years ago we gave an album he recorded with his colleagues in Darker My Love our highest honor?  White Fence — Presley and musicians, real sidemen, not imaginary friends – just launched a European tour.  May they knock ’em dead.  And come back and record an album as amazing as Tim Presley’s talent.  From where we sit, Family Perfume didn’t stink to high Heaven, but it just wasn’t it.  We play it, and enjoy it.  But we want more.  We want candy.

The dBs — Falling Off The Sky

God, it was magical hearing Peter Holsapple singing with Will Rigby and Gene Holder kicking down the tobacco barn behind him, and maybe doubly so to have the whole family together with Chris Stamey.  We loved Falling Off The Sky, a genuinely fun album recapturing the magic of Winston-Salem’s finest-ever export to Lower Manhattan.  Both Holsapple and Stamey’s songwriting was strong, and the band is as charming as ever they were.  “Send Me Something Real” was the best Stamey song in years, and “That Time Is Gone” was classic Holsapple. This is the case of a band just barely missing the list, beaten out by Patti Smith, of all people, whose Banga was just that much better.  They were half a game out of the playoffs when the season ended.  Wait ’til next year.

Brian Jonestown Massacre — Aufheben

We got so much joy out of hearing the first really good album from BJM in a decade, and performing the songs live this summer at 930, Anton Newcombe seemed to have a new lease on his plectrum.  In a weaker field, Aufheben would have made it, for it was in many ways classic Brian Jonestown Massacre.  But it wasn’t a weak field, and they didn’t.

Alejandro Escovedo — Big Station

Al’s third Tony Visconti-produced album in the last four years was good, but didn’t make the list because it was third-best among those offerings.  It was good, but something’s missing. We love Alejandro, but admit to a minor disillusionment now that, at least on this album, and for the last two or three tours, he’s gotten away from the larger orchestration of multiple guitars, rockin’ cellos, boogeying violins, etc.  This is a guy who for years would come through town each summer playing punk rock with a real band, and then a few months later return with just cellos. And he would rock just as hard with just the cellos. But when he plays punk rock in a pared-down quartet with just bass, Hector Munoz on drums, and a lead guitarist, something that was so magical about the old Alejandro is missing.  We mull the etiology: whether Al feels the need to play the hard rocker, or whether economics keeps him from performing with a larger set of musicians.  All we know is that, now that he is getting perhaps the most sympathetic listen of his career, with the strongest promotion (Hell, he has Bruce watching his back), and even finds his songs played on the radio… NOW is the time to tour with the whole shebang, the cellos and the peddle steel guitar, the violin and double guitars.  What once was the most magical act in rock’n’roll has been pared down to its essentials, but we want him to give us something more.  We want what Al offered all those many years when we dragged friends to see this guy they’d never heard of, only to have them so blown away, they quit their jobs to follow him like Deadheads.

Alejandro Escovedo Embarks From The “Big Station”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on June 8, 2012 by johnbuckley100

There was a time when you could make the case that Alejandro Escovedo was wise beyond his years. He was still a young man when, more than 20 years ago, his wife committed suicide after 13 years of their marriage. In response, Al produced 13 Years and With These Hands, with songs so emotionally charged you had to turn off your car stereo when you were pumping gas.  And yet here he is, age 61, with his third straight rocking album and our favorite Austin singer/songwriter is frisky as a pup, ink still wet on his new lease on a sober life, a singer of a certain age trying out rock star poses with a kickin’ ass band. And it’s charming.

Big Station marks the third straight album in which Al’s turned to Chuck Prophet for help on songwriting and to Tony Visconti for production duties.  Visconti had long since stopped producing David Bowie when The Thin White Duke and Nile Rogers produced Let’s Dance, but I swear, I thought of that album as an antecedent to Big Station, because it’s one of the only records I can think of that also has the singer’s voice mixed with as much amplification as the drums.  Unless I am wrong, for the first time in Al’s long career, stretching all the way back to the Nuns, Rank and File, and the True Believers, there’s a horn section on this record, and on songs like “Sally Was A Cop” and “Party People,” it all works.  This is a so-called “radio friendly” record, and so what it it doesn’t have the poignance of “Pissed Off 2:oo A.M.”  It sounds great, it’s fun, and Lord knows the man deserves success.

This is a good troika — Escovedo, Prophet, and Visconti — and they’ve done wonders for Alejandro’s music.  We loved Real Animal, and thought Street Songs of Love was the finest pure rock’n’roll record of Alejandro’s illustrious career.  Big Station has weaker songwriting than Real Animal at its best, and it is not as viscerally charged as Street Songs of Love.  For any other artist, this would be a high point; for Alejandro it is a fine record that suffers mostly by comparison to the marginally better records that preceded it.  It doesn’t quite have the thematic grit of Animal, though any album that has multiple songs making reference to a woman named Sally plays on the same turf as Spiritualized in its evocation of Lou Reed.

But this is not to damn with faint praise.  We were disappointed by Alejandro’s touring behind Street Songs of Love, because reducing his band to a hard-rocking foursome left too many of those glorious shades of grey out of the picture; we missed the big bands, with pedal steel and cellos and a big, big sound.  Big Station does not disappoint, it is a worthy addition to one of the finest catalogs in American music.  But we do find it funny — in both meanings of the word — that the mature Al sounds so much more boyish than he did on 13 Years, which came out in 1994.  He was so much older then, he’s younger than that now.

Chuck Prophet’s “Temple Beautiful” Takes Early Lead In 2012 Best Album Sweeps

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on February 11, 2012 by johnbuckley100

 Okay, it’s way early even to be thinking this way, but you know how sometimes in the downhill, one of the early skiers gets a line that is so fast, they serve notice on everyone up the mountain that they’re going to have to go all out to beat them, or else just vie for second place?  Chuck Prophet’s finest release yet, Temple Beautiful, lays down a gauntlet, and come November, we’ll replay it for the whole gang at Tulip Frenzy World HQ, and remind them how much excitement it created in the winter months.  We doubt too many other artists this year are going to take such risks, and such a clean line, as this ‘un does.

The songwriting bears such a resemblance to what Prophet did with Alejandro Escovedo on Real Animal that whether via Pandora’s algorithms or Songza’s human curation, songs from these two albums are going to be like Noah’s matched pairs.  Temple Beautiful is Prophet’s homage to his adopted San Francisco, while Real Animal was a tour through Al’s rock’n’roll career, both thick with memory and myth without tipping into nostalgia.  Okay, maybe a song about Willie Mays is tipping into nostalgia.  But Prophet’s band is so tight, the guitar work by both Prophet and his ace sidekick James Deprato so razor sharp, and the songs so strong, it’s easy to forgive the occasional self-indulgent dip.

Like Real Animal,  Temple Beautiful is as much an homage to earlier bands and the music Prophet loves — from the same Mott the Hoople antecedents to the Plimsouls, from “Hey Joe” to the Flamin’ Groovies (Roy Loney guests!) — as it is to his city.  Over a long career, whether with Green On Red or on his own, Prophet has always played real rock’n’roll, but his spoken-word singing has never quite grabbed us as it does here. Add taking the bus Prophet’s hired to haul fans around San Francisco on March 30th as just one more reason you’d want to live in the Bay Area.  For us, we’re just glad that Alejandro’s close collaborator of the last few years has released an album that is every bit as good as anything Al’s put out on his remarkable recent run.

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