Archive for Angel Olsen

Fenne Lily’s “BREACH” is Tulip Frenzy’s 2020 Album of the Year

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2020 by johnbuckley100

2020 was a year that hurt to the touch. It was bewildering to go from winter’s bright promise to the abrupt Covid lockdown, and for all too many it was utterly devastating. Calendar years are not supposed to bring their own set of terrors, but this one did, from fears of a stolen election to worries about the health of loved ones. Sitting at home those first few months, I found myself listening to Miles Davis’s “Bitches Brew” over and over, as if repeated listening under teeth-grinding home confinement would lead to figuring it out, finally. In the weeks — in the months — that followed, I could listen only to music with a melodic, jangly aspect, which could account for why the 12th Tulip Frenzy Top 10 list might be, for the first time, satisfactory to people in my age cohort. It was not a year for punk rock.

There were some great re-issues this year. Wire was the last band we saw before the lockdown — crazily going to see them in March in a small club the week their U.S. tour was canceled and, on the home front, we shut down our office, but I was so glad to hear them play “German Shepherds” from their 2011 Strays E.P., which in May was released as part of the 10:20 collection of loose ends. An absolutely unexpected joy was discovering Anthony Moore’s Out, recorded in the mid-70s, released only in the mid-90s, and finally brought to my attention in September — an album that could live side-by-side with John Cale’s Fear and Brian Eno’s Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy, with a band comprising Kevin Ayers on bass and a pre-Police Andy Summers on guitar. It is astonishing, and I urge you — with that same tone of voice that one suggests wearing a mask until the vaccine arrives — to quickly find it. Speaking of Eno, his Film Music 1976-2020 was filled with delights, particularly the track “Beach Sequence,” recorded with the four members of U2. And just last week came a 40th Anniversary release of Young Marble Giant’s Collosal Youth, which hasn’t aged a bit.

I feel compelled to call out an album that did not make it on this year’s Top 10 List. Over at Uncut, they list Bob Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways as Album of the Year, and we get it. It was a great work of Late Phase Bob, worthy of official recognition. But while we yield to no humanoid when it comes to our belief that Old Man Dylan is at least the equal of Young Man Dylan, our actual listening to his 21st Century albums, at least more than a few times, culminated in Tell Tale Signs, that 2009 alternative-arrangement epic our team voted Album of the Year. So, we are not going to honor the 79-year old Nobel Laureate here. But just you wait til we tell you about this year’s winner, the 23-year old Fenne Lily.

On to the list…

#10. S. G. Goodman Old Time Feeling

I listened to S.G. Goodman’s debut album with the same astonishment and wide-mouthed joy that I greeted Whiskeytown’s Strangers Almanac more than 20 years ago — the last time an alt.country rec seized me like the slow disorienting rush of ingested windowpane. If, like me, you think of modern country as the battle between smug, faux outsiders and the still-wonderful real McCoy, then a lesbian classicist from rural Kentucky could pleasingly harken to memories of ’70s Outlaw Country leavened by the brilliant insights of a Resistance poet in Mitch McConnell’s backyard. The title song was one of the best rock’n’roll rippers of the year. Maybe when the political scientists try figuring out the 2020 election, they can parse these lyrics which kicked it off:

Oh, and my soul can’t afford those city lights
Not with the sickness in the countryside
Not with the wound that we’ve left open wide
Oh, believer, you be the healer
Can’t hear the peace train with that coal train gunning
To keep the peace you’ll keep that coal train running
Or find a way to keep those paychecks coming, ah-ah

One of the fiercest debates we had to moderate in the Tulip Frenzy HQ’s rec room was whether Goodman or Waxahatchee should round out the list, but while we loved the latter’s St. Cloud, the sheer grit of Old Time Feeling captured the final rung of the ladder and would not let go.

We’re not living in that Old Time Feeling, the remarkable S.G. Goodman sang on an album at once sympathetic to the land of her birth without ever falling into simplistic Hillbilly elegies. An astonishing country album by an artist going places even as she refuses to leave home.

#9. Vacant Lots Interzone

By the advent of summer, we were able to listen to things more adventuresome, harder edged than our springtime quest for melody had allowed, but even as Vacant Lots use electronica to establish the mood, they are brilliant and tuneful songwriters, and we welcomed their dark vision, their Blade Runner mise en-scene. In the spiritual rainy day weather of 2020, starting an album with a song called “Endless Rain” hit the spot. They’re the only band I can think of to mix rockabilly, disco and drum machines in a single song, and I find them irresistible either as foreground or background music, which is saying something.

While perhaps a little less gripping than Endless Night, which hit #5 on the 2017 Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List, the Vacant Lots showed on Interzone that they’re just hitting their stride. While their more recent release of odds and ends (November’s first rate Damage Control) revealed just how powerful an influence Anton Newcombe has had on the duo from Burlington, Vermont, Interzone shows just how well they’ve perfected the interplay between guitar and synths, and between dystopia and bliss.

#8. The Proper Ornaments Mission Bells

James Hoare’s band, The Proper Ornaments, rose from the ashes of the incredible Ultimate Painting, which sadly split in a messy divorce. While Jack Cooper recuperates with Modern Nature, who put out their own E.P. of bucolic music early in the summer, Hoare’s Proper Ornaments released another perfect example of quiet British pop. Mission Bells is an album that met the moment, gorgeous, a peaceful interior that occasionally raged with an undercurrent of angst. We listened to it so often during the early Covid lockdown that we began to associate it with sweatpants, sleeping through our anachronistic commuter’s alarm, and drinking coffee while avoiding the news. As pretty a homemade pop album as you will ever find, if you’re one of those people who like to follow up Nick Drake’s Pink Moon by putting on Rubber Soul, then Mission Bells is for you — and the antidote to the year’s disturbing headlines.

#7 Coriky Coriky

Ian Mackaye — he explains to non-Washingtonians — was Fugazi’s leader, co-singer, co-guitarist, co-songwriter. We credit him with quite deceptively keeping the whirlwind tightly controlled: it’s perhaps only in retrospect that the craftsmanship of his songs fully resonate with pop sensibilities — particularly the verse, chorus, nuclear war song structure also embraced by ’80s/’90s acts like the Pixies and Nirvana — revealed underneath the more obvious hardcore armor. Subsequently, with wife Amy Farina on vox + drums, Mackaye followed the breakup of Fugazi with The Evens, a band deliberately constructed for quiet mayhem — nearly as propulsive as his earlier bands, but with the duo able to play in the basement corner of a church, shunning the clinking bottles and boozy talk of bars and clubs with big stages. It has been eight long years since The Evens released The Odds, and so Mackaye and Farina’s return would be news enough. Yet their enlisting Fugazi and Messthetics bass player Joe Lally to join the fun just ensured that Coriky would be absolutely fucking brilliant.

From the opener, “Clean Kill” — which could easily have been on *both* Fugazi and The Evens’ set list — the quiet, understated poignancy of Mackaye, Farina and Lally’s playing blooms into something far more dynamic, and it clutched our heart and brain. When the song explodes, you’ll be forgiven for believing it to be a time bomb from Fugazi’s brilliant exit album, The Argument.

You don’t have to be from D.C. to grasp Coriky’s greatness, though it helps. This is an album that should rank high on every critic’s 2020 list, because like Mackaye’s earlier bands, we’ll be playing their music forever. And yet one of Mackaye’s most admirable traits is ambivalence about stardom, which is a reason you probably didn’t hear of The Evens or Coriky til we just told you about them. Confound Mackaye’s desire to remain subversively unnoticed: seek this album out.

#6. Death Valley Girls Under The Spell of Joy

It’s really hard to do what the Death Valley Girls accomplish on their magnificent Under the Spell of Joy. Since the earliest days of New Wave, or at least since Blondie, literally thousands of bands have tried grafting Girl Group sensibilities onto garage rock, with mixed results. On this album, though, the LA band has created a Phil Spector + garage band richness, even using a children’s chorus to round out the sound of sax, organ and riffing guitar. Like singers in the best Girl Groups, Bonnie Bloomgarden doesn’t have a classically great voice, but she gets the job done. Fans of First Communion Afterparty will recognize some of the psych song structures, and I can imagine Jason Pierce and his Spiritualized bandmates nodding their heads to this ‘un. From dance songs like “Little Things” and “Hold My Hand” to the cosmic verities of “The Universe,” Death Valley Girls are equally catchy and deep — again, hard to pull off. The music is familiar and original at the same time, beautiful and thrilling. The late Alan Betrock, who in addition to founding New York Rocker and producing Richard Hell’s Destiny Street and the first dBs album was a Girl Group aficionado, must be smiling in Heaven. In 2020, a miserable year, we are so glad we fell under the spell of joy.

#5. Kelley Stoltz Ah! (etc)

If any artist could thrive under Covid lockdown, it would be Kelley Stoltz. After all, he’s released 12 albums under his own name (and several others under pseudonyms) with nary a guest backup singer — Stoltz plays every instrument himself* — so adapting to an at-home environment would seem to be easier for him than, say, Wilco, or the far-flung New Pornographers. And sure enough, while earlier in the year he released a hard-rocking gem (Hard Feelings, recorded in 2019), November saw Ah! (etc), and this album recorded under semi-confinement is a delight.

Since 2008, when Tulip Frenzy was spawned, few are the years in which we did not feature one of Kelley’s albums in our Top 10. History has proved there are only two kinds of Kelly Stoltz albums — good ones and great ones. Ah! (etc) is a great one.

What’s the difference? Well, the best Kelley Stoltz albums make ample use of Kelley’s songwriting influences (Ray Davies, David Bowie circa ’70-’83, Echo and The Bunnymen), compounded by his genius for song arrangements, and most importantly his ability to stitch together multiple instruments into what sounds not just like a band, but a great band. Like, a Rolling Stones great band. He is sui generis, nonpareil, a complete original operating inside the confines of the kind of pop music that has always twanged our woogie. While Que Aura shared album of the year honors in 2017, several of his best works have, due to intense competition, just missed the highest mark, as this one does. But give him points for consistency: no artist has been on our list more often (we had an intern check.)

Listen to “Dodged a Bullet” from Ah! (etc) and you’ll instantly see why Kelley’s claimed his customary spot in our Top 5. It sports an Enoesque processed guitar sound, inventive drumming, a solid bass track, and Kelley’s voice. That’s all you need! He never lets you see him sweat even as he casts his hooks deep into the surf. You never know which instrument is going to reveal itself as Kelley’s favorite (on this ‘un, the drums, though pretty often it’s the bass.)

We’re happy to discover that the fella who operates out of Brookyn Vegan‘s Indie Basement shares our mania for all things Kelley. Isn’t it time you did too?

*On Ah! (etc), Stoltz pal and sometimes bandmate in Echo and the Bunnymen, Will Sergeant, plays lead guitar on one track, and adds spoken words to another, thus breaking up, so far as I know, Stoltz’s perfect record of solo album performances.

#4. Woods Strange To Explain

In the early days of the lockdown, there was something weirdly reassuring to hear songs from Woods’ wonderful Strange to Explain, which returns one of America’s cultural gems back to the Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List. It wasn’t just that Jeremy Earle’s songs were beautiful and inventive, it was his thematic exploration of dreaming — and particularly, the dream life of his infant daughter. Not just the sound, but the lyrics met the moment. I dunno, it’s strange to explain.

The last outing for Earle and multi-instrumentalist bandmate Jarvis Traveniere was on last year’s release by Purple Mountains — the band Silver Jews leader David Berman formed around the nucleus of Woods to record what turned out to be his final songs. Their album entered the world to accolades — and Berman promptly committed suicide. To go from such trauma to such a gorgeous, beguiling album as Strange To Explain is a testament to Woods’ enormous courage, not to mention talent.

Look, we loved the Woods of Bend Beyond, but by the time they got to Love is Love (2017), it seemed like their need to showcase, maybe even show off their musical growth took them to playing different idioms at the expense of revealing their heart. It would seem the twin events in Earle’s life — becoming a father and losing a friend to suicide — shook them hard. The result is an album at least as satisfying as anything they’ve done before. It still shows off their growth, their enormous collective talent — utilizing synths and mellotron, playing Mexicali music as well as Calexico — but this is an album that works as a whole, from beginning to end.

Given the regrets we have for 2020, we’re grateful to have Woods return, like an old friend, with a new batch of primo, weirdo songs.

#3. Angel Olsen Whole New Mess

Last year, when we put Angel Olsen’s All Mirrors in the #9 slot on our Top Ten List, we wrote, “We don’t think there has ever been an album that has made the Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List (c) that we have played less. Some of its absence from our car stereo speakers is that Mrs. Tulip Frenzy is not a fan, but mostly it’s that Olsen’s album, like her voice and the string arrangements on it, is so intense, one has to lash himself to the car’s hood ornament in order to glide past the Sirens’ Songs contained herein.”

We meant it: All Mirrors had great songs, incredible performances, but there was something about it that was so over the top, we could recognize its excellence without loving it. So you can imagine our excitement when we learned that, as she had promised when All Mirrors came out, Olsen really did intend to release into the world the original version of the album that she had recorded, before going back into the studio to add what amounted to a bucket of gloss.

Whole New Mess isn’t a reissue – it’s an album in the same spirit as Dylan’s More Blood, More Tracks, in which the artist allows the world to see the earlier, unadulterated vision. As with Dylan’s release of a less adorned version of his classic Blood on the Tracks, Angel Olsen’s giving us these songs in this form is like walking into the Sistine Chapel fresh from its restoration.

On a song like “(New Love) Cassette” (which on Whole New Mess was called “New Love Cassette”), not too much has changed. But on the very next song, the standout of last year’s album, “All Mirrors” (here called “We Are All Mirrors,”) the absence of varnish, the more understated approach is, to these ears, so much stronger. “Lark Song” minus strings sounds like it could be a cover of a track by the Velvet Underground, so great is the transformation, or I guess we should say, restoration.

We wish more artists had the courage to show us their faces without their makeup. To trust fans, as PJ Harvey just did with the demo release of To Bring You My Love, with the knowledge that sometimes the rawer version of a recording is better than what the record label dictated should go out into the world. Dylan regularly gives us alternative arrangements of songs long since deemed classics. That a comparatively young artist such as Angel Olsen is doing so shows the kind of vision that can make an artist’s career last every bit as long as our Nobel Laureate’s.

#2. Oh Sees Protean Threat

We said that 2020 was not a year for punk rock, so obviously we must have been in a better place — psychologically, if not physically — when, in August, Oh Sees released their brilliant Protean Threat. While it’s not exactly punk — John Dwyer’s combo, whether you call them Oh Sees, Thee Oh Sees, OSEES or OCS, have settled into very much their own gooey puree of jazz fusion, Krautrock, metal, noise rock and psych — Protean Threat was the hardest, loudest album we listened to this year.

We were glad to do so, though admittedly, we didn’t get it at first. Unlike others who fell down as drooling supplicants before Oh Sees’s 2019 Face Stabber, we didn’t much like it. And longtime readers of this list surely know, that was strange since Thee Oh Sees are one of our favorite bands. So of course we gave Protean Threat a serious listen, and while it took a few tries, once we accommodated ourselves to its complex structure, all the magic of John Dwyer leading the tightest progrock combo on the planet hit us hard. You might even say it stabbed us in the face.

Now, just a few weeks ago, the good folks at Levitation in Austin released a show — originally streamed live — of Oh Sees playing in Joshua Tree (see: Levitation Sessions Live: Thee Oh Sees & Oh Sees), and you can get a sense of just how tight these guys are in the wild: double drummers playing with polyrhythmic perversity, with just a bass player and keyboards behind Dwyer on vox + guitar. In the studio, they are welded.

Just before Protean Threat came out, Dwyer gave us an album by Bent Arcana, his actual jazz-fusion band, with an entirely different set of players. No vocals on that one, just a more reverent take on the genre. It’s so calm and polite compared to the wildness contained herein. Even in Covid year, I guess, we needed an outlet, and the return of Oh Sees to our earbuds gave it to us.

##1. Fenne Lily BREACH

We’re willing to bet boatloads of cryptocurrency this is the one and only time that Fenne Lily and Oh Sees will ever appear back to back — in print, on stage, or anyone’s playlist. For as loud as the latter is, Lily’s music is quiet, tuneful folk pop, catchy as a certain flu from Wuhan, emotionally magnetic.

I dunno, maybe the raw knuckled disorientation of 2020 brought out a latent need to watch romcoms, to care about a young woman’s heartbreaks. All we know is that we’ve never been so drawn into an album where our dominant emotion could be classified as parental concern. When you hear lyrics like, “I gave up smoking when I was coughing up blood/And when I felt better I took it straight back up,” you want to do something about it. With so many of the biting, beautiful songs addressed to an unnamed “you,” we found ourselves wondering whether it was all the same guy who treated her so badly, or a series of guys, and — like any clueless parent — we didn’t know which was worse.

All we know is that this 23-year old from Bristol, England has produced a pop album that is an instant classic. With a quiet, breathy voice — in a completely different weight class to Angel Olsen’s — you strain to hear it. And yet it packs an emotional wallop. In a chorus that goes, “You’re telling me I’m in your head like it’s a good thing/Telling me she’s in your bed like it was nothing,” the vocal tone, melodic impact and devastating words come together like a sealed indictment.

She can rock, too. “Solipsism” is one of the best garage pop songs of this or any era, a softer version of what Courtney Barnett did so effectively on The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. Our only wish here is that two of the singles Lily released in 2020, “Hypochondriac,” and “To Be A Woman, Pt. 2,” had been included, as they’re clearly part of the same song cycle.

“I Used To Hate My Body But Now I Just Hate You” may be the album’s summary statement and most effective moment.

“I read all of the books you recommended/I listened to your friend’s band all of the time/You justify and satiate my hunger/For not feeling alright,” she tells her ex.

But later, when she gets to her biggest putdown, she reveals more about herself than him: “I heard you live at home now with your parents/It doesn’t satisfy me like it should/I still see you as some kind of reassurance/That someday I’ll be understood.”

If quoting such lyrics seems out of character for Tulip Frenzy, Breach is that kind of album, and 2020 was that kind of year.

Wand’s “Laughing Matter” is Tulip Frenzy’s 2019 Album Of The Year

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

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

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

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

#9. Angel Olsen All Mirrors

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

#8. Ty Segall Taste

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

#7. The Proper Ornaments 6 Lenins

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

#6. Cosmonauts Star 69

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

#5. Mekons Deserted

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

#4. FEELS Post Earth

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

#3. Moon Duo Stars Are The Light

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

#2. Kelley Stoltz My Regime

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

#1. Wand Laughing Matter

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

Angel Olsen Burns Her Fire At The 9:30 Club

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on December 15, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Angel Olsen’s voice is some kind of miracle, an 18-wheeler that, when conditions warrant, can park in the space reserved for a Mini.  She has a band that, on each of her two essential albums, can generate extreme heat at comparatively low volumes — think of the musicians on Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp, Scotty Moore backing Elvis I, the Attractions backing Elvis II — though in concert they bear more than a striking resemblance to Dylan’s combos on his 21st Century incarnations of The Never Ending Tour.  But the reason we would go out in the cold to see Angel Olsen play is the songs, those smoldering, sometimes accelerating explorations along the main trunk where folk, alt.rock, and alt.country get directed by the lineman across trestles and delicate bridges toward a destination this close to the left ventricle.

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If her song choices at last night’s gorgeous set at D.C.’s 9:30 Club seemed to segue effortlessly from one to the next, it may be because they were clustered in the order she’d already chosen on her best album, 2016’s My Woman, and that place where I first tuned in, 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness. If “Give It Up,” “Not Going To Kill You,” and “Heart Shaped Face” are correctly sequenced on the album, why bother mixing them up on tour?  Last night she said the tour felt like it was about two-years long, and had added crows feet to her face.  But given that her sold-out Thursday set had forced an additional show tonight, long may this journey continue.

Angel 1

Her band was astonishing, and it was a joy to hear them play outside the intimate confines of a studio.  Still, the reason Angel Olsen draws such an intense response is, of course, her voice.  When attempting to draw comparisons, the mind deviates from thinking about other women and instead finds Roy Orbison, Chris Isaak, voices that can jack into some mythic place where ’50s rockabilly and early rock’n’roll are setting a rural barn on fire.  It is true the voice isn’t for everyone — Mrs. Tulip Frenzy was not in last night’s crowd. But backed up as it was by a female singer with a correspondingly strong and subtle croon, when heard live, even at the end of a tour Angel Olsen’s voice was a reason to stand transfixed.

 

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This year Angel Olsen released Phases, a 12-song compilation of demos and b-sides, and even in the formal recognition that this wasn’t her best work, it was one of the year’s strongest records.  We look forward to her recording in 2018 a new set of songs, backed by her remarkable band, played at any volume she likes.  Any singer whose voice can align as hers does to the songs created just for it, who can produce two such great albums over just the final few years of her 20s, will be back to sell out other venues, bigger venues, as she burns her fire and is witnessed by millions.

We Wish We’d Included Violet Woods, Amen Dunes, And Angel Olsen On The 2014 Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on January 4, 2015 by johnbuckley100

It always happens.  We publish the Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List and then discover, often from others’ lists, recs we missed.  So before we tell you what we overlooked, let’s give thanks where it’s due.

From Uncut, we learned about Violet Woods.  From former Woods bassist Kevin Morby, we were turned on to The Amen Dunes.  And from NPR’s Bob Boilen, we learned of Angel Olsen.  Thank you all.

On the self-titled Violet Woods, Fuzzy Lights frontman Xavier — that’s the full name listed in the Uncut write-up — takes us on a quiet ride through British psych pop, and it is sonically gorgeous.  (We hadn’t heard of the Fuzzy Lights either, but that’s a different story.  Let’s just say that Violet Woods is Xavier’s louder band.)  We’re used to smart rock coming out of Cambridge, from Syd Barrett to the Soft Boys to Radiohead, but this is unpretentious guitar jangle that will be reassuringly familiar to anyone who loved The Perfect Disaster or Luna.  If you like Temples, think of  Violet Woods as the quieter, prettier sibling who was grokking on the San Francisco bands, not T. Rex.  We will be listening to this ‘un well into 2015.

That Kevin Morby, whom we admire, felt so strongly about Love, the new album by fellow Brooklynites Amen Dunes, to list it as Numero Uno on his top ten list made us sit up and take notice.  Cut from the same cloth as Kurt Vile and Devendra Banhart, Damon McMahon produces dreamy, droney low-fi pop that can lull and excite at the same time.  It’s a hard combination to pull off, soporific adrenaline, but on the marvelous Love, McMahon and his fellow musicians — usually acoustic guitar, a cello, little to no percussion — produce music for a cold and snowy day.  Gorgeous.

On Burn Your Fire For No Witness, Angel Olsen and a small combo alternately showcase her strikingly emotional quaver against a minimalist acoustic framework and kick the doors down.  It’s a similar dynamic to the one PJ Harvey puts to use, which we know is a hard comparison for a young artist to be saddled with, but yeah.  Angel Olsen’s antecedents are all those strong women who came down out of Appalachian hollers and caused jaws to drop in Nashville, Austin, and New York.  On this album, you have a perfectly self-contained combination of artist and musicians who mesmerize with the rhythm of their counterpoint between hard and soft, hot and cold.

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