Archive for Dean Wareham

Three Years Into Luna’s Afterlife, The Band Returned To DC’s Black Cat With A Heavenly Set

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on November 16, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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During the 1990s, Luna was our favorite band.  We probably saw them a dozen times between ’95 and their breakup ten years later.  When they went away, we sorely missed them, but understood they’d taken it as far as they could go (a fact supported by Dean Wareham’s quite excellent 2008 memoir Black Postcards.) By 2004’s Rendezvous, Wareham had seemed lyrically exhausted, even as the songs, and his and Sean Eden’s guitar playing, never sounded better.  So when we saw them at the Black Cat Tuesday night, we were excited but had fairly low expectations.  Rare are the bands that come back from the dead with the capacity to astonish.  Three years into the afterlife, we can report that Luna never sounded better.

In a set notable for the way it folded gorgeous cover songs into the flow — Mission of Burma’s “Car Wash Hair” came early in the set, and Dylan’s best song of the past 30 years, “Some Of The Time,” was brought out in the encore – there was no wallowing in nostalgia.  They played favorite songs, but not “greatest hits,” such as it were.  They seemed to be playing for the joy of playing.  Lee Wall never hit his kit harder. Both Britta and Sean sang songs.  And Dean seemed happy to be with his pals.

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They’ve been back on the road since 2014, and earlier this year released both an album of covers and essentially an E.P. of original instrumentals.  They haven’t quite geared up to go back into studio for a new album of Wareham songs, but time is elastic in the afterlife, and for them, we are patient.

The final few times we saw them before their nearly decade-long break, there was — in comparison to Tuesday’s show — an almost pro forma quality to Dean Wareham’s singing.  A little like Dylan, he would throw the lyrics out, rushed and with little conviction.  In retrospect he likely was expressing frustration with being back out on the road, in fairly small clubs, the band’s fame and fortune locked in that mid-level of rock’n’roll success he describes in his memoir.  When he we saw him on his solo tour (with Britta Phillips on bass) in 2014, fresh from releasing an excellent E.P. and a solid, Jim James-produced solo album, he was relaxed enough to also play his songs from different eras —  those he’d performed in the ’80s with Galaxie 500, and in the ’90s and ’00s with Luna — his heart very much in the show.

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But even then, it was nothing like what seemed to be the genuine joy that he, Britta, Sean, and Lee showed playing together again.  Yes, they’ve been touring pretty regularly for the past three years (and sadly, we’d missed them), but ennui has not set in.

Penthouse provided the evening’s best songs, as of course it would.  “Freakin’ & Peakin,'” a rarity live, was amazing to hear played in concert for the first time.  Between the shimmering lines of Wareham’s guitar and the fuzzy wuzzy atmospherics emanating east of him from Eden, this was pure beauty, and hearing the band together was Heaven itself.

 

 

White Fence Takes Top Honors On The 2014 Tulip Frenzy Top Ten List (c)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2014 by johnbuckley100

Robert Christgau famously wrote that Dylan’s The Basement Tapes was the best album of 1975, and would have been the best album of 1967, too, if it had been released the year it was recorded.  It goes without saying that if The Basement Tapes Complete were not a 47-year old document, it would have topped the 2014 Tulip Frenzy Top Ten List (c).

But it would be unfair to trump the excellent albums released this year with one of rock’s classics, released as it was from the vapors of the past.  And this year there were many excellent records vying for top honors.  Thee Oh Sees missed our list because it was a transition year for John Dwyer, and as much as we enjoyed Drop, recording without the band that made Floating Coffin such a delight was a disappointment.  Asteroid #4 eponymous release was in contention, but just missed.  There were some other close calls, competition was tight, but in the end, we think this is a pretty good list for you to scratch out and leave for Santa to find.

#10: Maui Tears by Sleepy Sun

Back in February, we wrote this:

Maui Tears is constructed along the blueprint specs that Stephen McBean used in Black Mountain’s Wilderness Heart: there’s tuneful, exciting, straight-ahead rock’n’roll (“The Lane”) followed by acoustic balladry you might have found on early Led Zep, and then immersion into the headphone imperatives of metal-psyche. “Outside” is, for our money, a better version of MBV than anything found on m b v. “11:32″ is a mere 4:10 worthy of punk-metal goodness, and on “Thielbar” you can catch a whiff of Black Rebel Motorcycle exhaust and it smells like… victory.”

Eight months later it still holds.

#9: Ganglion Reef by Wand

In late September, we wrote this:

Ganglion Reef, the 35-minute long debut album by L.A.’s Wand is sonic DMT, a short, intense trip you can take on your lunch break and return to work with a slightly loopy smile on your face. The best psychedelica, like the best punk, always had a gooey core of pop music at its center, catchy melodies being just as important — maybe more important, given the heavy winds the music otherwise generates — than anything aimed right at radio programmers. And so it is with Wand, a band that can appeal to anyone who made a mixtape including both Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Even after powering through sludgy riffs that seem like a bulldozer plowing a highway in the Mariana Trench, they shift to some sweet-sounding harmonies bristling with hooks.”

#8: Brill Bruisers by The New Pornographers

We never actually wrote about Brill Bruisers, which comes about as close as we ever do to the mainstream.  For even though they qualify as Alt something or other, The New Pornographers are a big band, big following, no lack of critical attention.  When we saw them in November, it confirmed that Brill Brusiers was as good as Challengers, which we loved, though not as good as Twin Cinemas, of course.  How they do it — how they create completely polyester pop when what we love is all natural fibers is a miracle to behold.  And that’s what The New Pornos are, circa 2014.

#7 With Light And With Love by Woods

Having given Bend Beyond a #1 ranking in 2012, it was hard to see how Woods could top what was, we said then, a perfect album.  But here’s how we viewed this glorious record when it came in the spring:

“What’s different here is evident from the start, wherein album opener “Shepherd” has a pedal steel and Nicky Hopkins piano sound, a postcard from whatever country locale Woods has arrived in, far out of town and in touch with their Flying Burrito Brothers. We suppose that Woods — a Brooklyn band that records Upstate — has a shorter distance to travel than Darker My Love did when they veered into chiming ’60s country rock with Alive As You Are ( another Perfect Album that took Tulip Frenzy Album of the Year honors. And in fact, Tim Presley plays on this ‘un.) The country vibe sure is lovely, but better yet comes the Dylanesque “Leaves Like Glass,” whose instrumentation sounds like the tape was left rolling during the Blonde On Blonde sessions. We would dare anyone to listen to “Twin Steps” and not immediately plan on proceeding, with the missionary zeal of a programmed zombie, to catch this band live. And while the 9:07 title track sums up this band’s virtuosity and complexity in spades, it’s “Moving To The Left” that harkens, ironically, to the right of the radio dial, where in a perfect world it would remain, being played over and over throughout the summer months.”

#6 Dean Wareham by Dean Wareham

A solo album released by one of our heroes produced the pleasure we anticipated, and live with Britta, playing songs from Galaxie 500 and Luna, not to mention Dean and Britta and New Order, made this year a great moment to take stock of one of pop culture’s treasures.  Add to this the many interviews Warham sat for and the writing he published, and he added to the sum  of life’s pleasures.

Here’s what we wrote in March:

Dean Wareham is produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and it is an old-fashioned, two-sided LP. Yes, of course, it’s a digital download and a CD, but it is structured pretty much as two distinct sides. Something that has always been hard to reconcile is Wareham’s admiration both for the songwriting of his friend Lou Reed and his taste for Glen Campbell. Yes, you read that right. But on his solo album, the softer first side and the harder-hitting second half for the first time make these seemingly irreconcilable aspects of his musical personality make sense. We have spent years culling our favorite songs from Luna albums onto play lists, which assumes also that there are songs we leave behind. But this is an album you can play all the way through, enjoying everything.

It really takes off in the album’s final 25 minutes, beginning with the breathtaking “Holding Pattern,” but we can’t imagine dropping the first side’s songs out of any playlist. “Babes In The Woods” finishes with a structure those who loved “Friendly Advice” from Luna’s live shows will surely recognize, and both versions of “Happy & Free” will bring a smile to the faces of anyone who’s spent the evening driving with Galaxie 500 or Luna on the tape deck.”

#5 Held In Splendor by Quilt

We played this record so often when it came out, we literally couldn’t listen to it again until recently.  Listening to it confirms what we believed when it was released in the spring: Quilt is a patchwork of sonic delight.

Here’s what we wrote in March:

“Shane Butler and Anna Fox Rochinski were art-school students when they formed Quilt at the dawn of the Obama years, and we bet their teachers shook their heads in dismay when they veered into music. For the rest of us, art school’s loss is our earbuds’ gain as angels dance around guitar and keyboard weirdness that can call to mind both Magic Trick and the Magic Castles in the span of a single song. Where Widowspeak lacks fiber, Quilt has just enough bulk to maintain a consistent weight. Held In Splendor is wonderfully produced, weird in the way Prince Rupert’s Drops are weird, thrilling in the way Woods are thrilling. Yeah, this is a good ‘un, and we’ll just state the obvious: if these guys really were from the late ’60s Bay Area, Altamont would never have happened, and by 2014 the land would be harmonious and we’d all be happy vegans. ‘Course, they’re in the here and now, and so you have the chance to hear ‘em now.”

#4 Manipulator by Ty Segall

We were a little disappointed when Manipulator came out, and then we realized we were behaving like an asshole.  Having chided Segall three years ago for not getting serious about putting down an album that could capture the music that would make him the hugest star, when the guy recorded a commercial masterpiece, we wrote, essentially, why isn’t he continuing to make songs just for us?  Yeah, we were wrong.

But we were right in this:

“On the title track, on songs like “It’s Over” and “Feel,” the magic is there. Oh brother, is it there. We exult in it, and hope those listening for the first time — and we suspect millions will — are moved by this ‘un to press the music wide-eyed on all their friends and family, and then go explore the earlier, rawer albums, and the associated recs by Thee Oh Sees and White Fence that have been made better by the knowledge that Ty was out back, recording his new one in a cheap and scuzzy garage.”

#3 V Is For Vaselines by The Vaselines

The Vaselines make us happy.  What more needs to be said.

Oh yeah, here’s how we first responded to this amazing album:

“And now comes V For Vaselines, the tightest, likely the most tuneful album of punk rock since Rocket To Russia, an album that if listened to on the Delta Shuttle (true story) provokes such aisle seat joy that cross aisle neighbors stare before you realize you are snapping your fingers and possibly singing along. Eugene and Frances have never sung better, the propulsive drumming is more infectious than Ebola, and the whole album swings. We wake in the middle of the night with “Crazy Lady” being powered through the Marshall amps inside our mind, and when we say that this song — actually, the whole album — reminds us of I (Heart) The Mekons, we of course are offering the highest praise. “Earth Is Speeding” is a reminder of what could have happened if Roxy Music, in 1977, had hopped on the punk rock bandwagon. Lovers once upon a time, adult collaborators these days, Kelly and McKee have literally never sounded better than they do on “Number One Crush,” with its great lyrical premise of tongue-tied love (“Being with you/Kills my IQ).”

#2 Revelation by The Brian Jonestown Massacre

Anton Newcombe’s career revival continued in 2014, and continues to this minute, as the just-released +-E.P. is even better than the two albums BJM have released in the past two years.  A successful European tour and his Twitter feed are just further indications that one of rock’s true geniuses is, at this point in his life, taking on a Dylan-esque late phase creative flowering, a metaphor we used when we wrote about Revelation last summer:

Revelation, which officially comes out tomorrow but happily was available to download last night, is so good, we wonder if it might be the Love and Theft to Aufheben‘s Time Out Of Mind, a portent not just of a return to greatness after a less-than-great creative patch, but an indicator that Newcombe’s best work, like Dylan’s, might someday be understood to have been made when his youth was behind him — to be not what he produced when he was a young and brash punk, but what came after a hard-earned perspective. I mean, there were days when few people might have expected Anton would be around to make an album in 2014 — but to discover that he’s produced one of the best albums of his career? Yeah, it’s got the right name: Revelation.

The album begins wonderfully, with the Swedish rocker “Vad Hande Med Dem” giving way to the Kurt Vile-ish “What You Isn’t.” By the time we get to “Memory Camp,” it doesn’t matter which members of the large tribe that have variously performed as BJM are playing behind Anton, it doesn’t matter that we’re in Berlin, not California, no other band or set of musicians — not even ones like the Morning After Girls who worshipped the sticky ground on which Anton walked — could produce a Brian Jonestown Massacre album half as good as this. By the time we got to “Food For Clouds,” we were grinning ear to ear. At “Memorymix,” we were ready to take the day off and just hole up, having committed to memory the phone number to the Dominos delivery folks. By “Xibalba” we were dancing around the house.”

#1 For The Recently Found Innocent by White Fence

We loved this record from the moment we heard it, and have played it on an almost daily basis since August.  We are so pleased to welcome Tim Presley back — yes, back — to the cherished #1 rank on Tulip Frenzy’s Top 10 List.  We can’t describe it better today than we did then:

“We knew what Presley could do, not just because his band Darker My Love released Tulip Frenzy’s #1 album in 2010, Alive As You Are. And in 2012, Presley and Segall collaborated on Hair, which qualified as no less than that year’s 2nd best album. And then, after we complained for what seems like ever that we wished Presley would get out of the bedroom and take his talents to a proper studio and record with a proper band, not to mention straighten up and comb his hair etc., he closed out the year with a live masterpiece — White Fence’s Live In San Francisco, which made our Top Ten List(c). What a hootenanny that one is! Maybe the best punk rock record of the last five years! You could hear John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees chortling at the knobs, as he recorded Presley in all his barrre-chord glory. And now we can hear the impact of his friend Ty Segall, who plays drums and produces what is already apparent as the best batch of White Fence cookies to come out of the oven. Ever.

Whether he’s an introvert, or just likes the freedom of recording at home, the intervention by friends Dwyer and Segall to get Tim Presley to share with the world a better sounding version of the magic that takes place the moment he picks up a guitar is surely welcomed. We are done comparing Presley to Kurtz, gone up the river. On For The Recently Found Innocent he has brought his jangly guitar, his reverence for early Who and Kinks dynamics, his fondness for psychedelic chords, wispy vocals, the patchouli ambience… brought it all to a studio where Mr. Segall himself plays drums and marshals the Dolby hiss fighters to render this in damn near high fi!”

Dean Wareham’s Living Retrospective At DC’s U Street Music Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on April 5, 2014 by johnbuckley100

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In the art world, museums sometimes wait until an artist’s demise before putting on a full retrospective of his or her work.  Dean Wareham’s only 50, but last night at the dark and dank U Street Music Hall we were treated to almost a full career’s worth of his brilliant songwriting, canny guitar playing, his emotionally distant but vibrantly alive sensibility. The set began with “Blue Thunder,” from Galaxie 500’s On Fire, which was released in 1989, and ended with that same band’s “Tugboat.”  In between came some of our favorite Luna songs — “Tiger Lilly,” “Lost In Space” — the title track from last year’s Emancipated Hearts mini-album, and an assortment of good ‘uns from the new Dean Wareham  solo album.  His final cuts, which you knew would include covers, were the Luna staple “Indian Summer” (Beat Happening) and New Order’s “Ceremony.”  Yeah, that’s a career-length assortment, minus anything from Dean & Britta’s best — 13 Most Beautiful — which it seems he likes to play in full, not piecemeal in a set like this.

It’s been about 10 years since we’d seen Wareham, nine years since Luna, our favorite band for many years, called it a day.  We did not seen any of the shows that Dean & Britta played showcasing the Galaxie 500 songbook, so last night was the first time we ever heard them play “When Will You Come Home,” the first time out of the maybe 15 times we’ve seen Wareham play that he reached into his grab bag and uncoiled the astonishing guitar work he exhibited as a 25-year old half of his lifetime ago.  He’s got grayish hair now, and wears solid-framed glasses, looking more like a Harvard professor than the Harvard student he was when Galaxie 500 began, but he can still play. OH man, can he still play.  Which is more astonishing, the solos uncorked in “When Will You Come Home” in 1989 or last night?  Well, 25 years ago, Galaxie 500 made our jaws drop (as we heard them on record), because Wareham and his two bandmates had found a more compelling way to jack into the Sterling Morrison-led version of the Velvet Underground than any band we had at that point heard.  Today, it’s every bit as glorious.

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In recent interviews, Wareham has hinted at a return of Luna, or at least that there is a possibility of this happening, whereas there’s no chance he’ll get back together with Damon and Naomi and play Galaxie 500 songs with the original band.  We loved Luna, and our rock’n’roll life has been just that wee bit emptier without them.  But now that Wareham has released, in the span of four or five months, two collections with songs as amazing as “The Deadliest Day Since The Invasion Began” and “Holding Pattern,” and is willing to tour dipping into a playbook that spans 25 years, we’ll be very content.

Dean Wareham Returns To DC

Posted in Music with tags , , , on April 5, 2014 by johnbuckley100

Playing songs from his latest album album all the way back to Galaxie 500’s “Tugboat Captain.” More anon.

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Dean Wareham’s Reemergence Is The Most Delightful Thing Happening In Music Today

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on March 15, 2014 by johnbuckley100

There’s a lot of competition for the title of “most important figure in alternative rock not grasped by the masses,” but surely Dean Wareham wins it.  Both his prior bands, Galaxie 500 and Luna, have cult followings, and interestingly they don’t completely overlap — those who adored the prior don’t necessarily love the latter, and vice versa.  We loved both, and not fully satisfied with the first couple of post-Luna Dean & Britta albums, it was a welcome development in late autumn 2013 when Wareham released a really excellent “mini album” entitled Emancipated Hearts.  This past week he released Dean Wareham, his first real solo album, and in and of itself it is worthy of celebration.  Combined with Emancipated Hearts it may justify a reevaluation of Wareham, and the critical appraisal that he’s due.

Wareham’s an unusual figure in rock’n’roll, New Zealand-born, New York City-raised, an attendee of The Dalton School and Harvard who also wrote one of the best rock-star autobiographies ever, Black Postcards, which came out in 2008, three years after Luna’s demise.  He packs a non-standard punch, insofar as Ivy League-educated alternative rock figures go, in that his singing voice has always been an acquired taste, he plays the most tasteful, masterful lead guitar, writes melodies as gorgeous as anything by Dylan or Robyn Hitchcock, and yet even as a clearly strong writer, few of his songs have much lyrical weight to them.  This is one reason, probably, why he’s never been championed by rock critters as the Living Master that he is.  His songs are beautiful, his bands are great, his singing actually is endearing, his guitar playing prompts drooling, but he’s never strived for real profundity as a songwriter.  And in fact, as soon as we heard Luna’s final album, the elegiac and gorgeous Rendezvous, we suspected things were coming to an end, because he could barely bestir himself to populate the songs with something other than nonsense couplets.

Dean & Britta’s 2010 13 Most Beautiful: Songs For Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, a body of work commissioned by the Warhol Foundation folks in Pittsburgh, was a masterpiece.  And then a few of the songs on Emancipated Hearts, particularly the title track and “The Deadliest Day Since The Invasion Began,” revealed a lyrical weight worthy of Wareham’s obvious literacy and articulation.  He’s trying again, and with Dean and Britta having moved from NYC to a new milieu in Los Angeles, a reemerging Wareham is producing the best music of his long and glorious career.

Dean Wareham is produced by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and it is an old-fashioned, two-sided LP.  Yes, of course, it’s a digital download and a CD, but it is structured pretty much as two distinct sides.  Something that has always been hard to reconcile is Wareham’s admiration both for the songwriting of his friend Lou Reed and his taste for Glen Campbell.  Yes, you read that right.  But on his solo album, the softer first side and the harder-hitting second half for the first time make these seemingly irreconcilable aspects of his musical personality make sense.  We have spent years culling our favorite songs from Luna albums onto play lists, which assumes also that there are songs we leave behind.  But this is an album you can play all the way through, enjoying everything.

It really takes off in the album’s final 25 minutes, beginning with the breathtaking “Holding Pattern,” but we can’t imagine dropping the first side’s songs out of any playlist.  “Babes In The Woods” finishes with a structure those who loved “Friendly Advice” from Luna’s live shows will surely recognize, and both versions of “Happy & Free” will bring a smile to the faces of anyone who’s spent the evening driving with Galaxie 500 or Luna on the tape deck.

Black Postcards was a book that reminded mamas not to raise their kids to be rock stars, but 25 years or more into his career, Wareham’s status as national treasure is more than confirmed by Dean Wareham.  We think it is his most satisfying album, and that’s really saying something.

Can’t Get Dean Wareham’s “Holding Pattern” Out Of My Head

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on February 23, 2014 by johnbuckley100

When Luna broke up nine years ago this week, we were melancholy and resigned, appreciative of the pleasure this favorite band had given us, on record, and in the 20 or so shows of theirs we’d seen over a 10-year period.  We remembered, with poignancy, that free show we saw in the courtyard between the two World Trade Center buildings that evening in late August 2001, walking away from the show to catch a taxi that would take us to our Shuttle flight back to Washington after a day of work in New York, listening to “Bonnie and Clyde” as we entered the cab, gazing back one last time to see our favorite band, maybe two weeks before the towers were destroyed.  We remembered all the hours we’d listened to Penthouse.  We were satisfied to have what we had, with low expectations about what was to come.  Would Wareham ever again produce music equal to what he’d done with Luna and Galaxie 500?

It took a few years, really until the release in 2010 of Dean & Britta’s 13 Most Beautiful, to listen to new music from Dean Wareham that not only was as good as, but in terms of its beauty and emotional effect actually surpassed what he’d done with Luna and Galaxie 500.  Then this past fall, he released the Emancipated Hearts mini album, and honestly, it had songs that were on a par with “Black Postcards” and “Weird and Woozy.”  The production by Justin Quaver was gorgeous, with a chamber pop delicacy on the best songs — cello and piano augmenting Wareham’s oddly affecting singing and, of course, his gorgeous guitar playing.

But now we have the first single from the eponymous Dean Wareham solo album, produced by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and due out on March 11, and let us just say that “Holding Pattern” is gorgeous, catchy, and has wormed its way into my head.  It shows little of the delicacy of, say, “The Deadliest Day Since The Invasion” on Emancipated Hearts.  Yet it’s a reminder why, for more than 10 years, Luna was the band we paid the most attention to.  Can’t wait for the solo album to be released.

Great Interview With Dean Wareham By Rick Moody

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on October 24, 2013 by johnbuckley100

We are never surprised to read an intelligent essay on music by the novelist Rick Moody, whose thoughts on Brian Eno last year were, to our ears, note perfect.  Now, over at Rumpus.net, Moody has turned his gimlet eye to Dean Wareham, on the occasion of excellent new mini-album, Emancipated Hearts, which we wrote about last week.

First, have we mentioned what a joy it is to have Wareham reengaged at this level — not just putting out a solo album with songs that rank with the best of his work with Luna or Galaxie 500, but also sitting for an interview with so intelligent an interlocutor? Wareham’s sensibility has been missed.  It’s not just the melodies he writes, the tasteful lines woven by his guitar, his quirky, limited, but reassuring singing.  His is a speaking voice that needs to be heard, or at least read on the page.

Read the piece, and the interview.  It’s a calm conversation between two masters of their form.  We greatly enjoyed Wareham’s definition of what he seeks when writing a song.

Rumpus: Is a “state of bliss” the more ordinary goal of the popular song?

Wareham: Well there are different kinds of blissful states. I can get there with Brahms’ “German Requiem” or Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” but also with “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk. But if I look at my own recordings, I think generally there is a focal point within the song and often it’s the instrumental bridge or a guitar solo where we try to do something unexpected, something beautiful or weird, or beautiful because it is weird. And of course I fail half the time, but yes that is the goal, to create even a few seconds of bliss, or sadness. The electric guitar is a great instrument for doing this because it is capable of surprising you. There are so many different sounds available.

There’s more like that there.  And if you haven’t downloaded Emancipated Hearts yet, get cracking.

 

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