Archive for Kelley Stoltz

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.

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.

*

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)

*

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…

In “My Regime,” Kelley Stoltz Reigns Supreme

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on October 18, 2019 by johnbuckley100

This summer, Mrs. Tulip Frenzy and I had an afternoon to kill near the Minneapolis airport, and we decamped to Paisley Park. We ponied up for the Deluxe Tour, and the experience was by turns fascinating and sad. The highlight, I have to say, was being able to play ping pong on Prince’s own table inside one of his two studios. But while I appreciated being able to see the expansive environment in which Prince could make those records he cobbled together with no other musicians, I really was more interested in seeing where New Power Generation and his other amazing backing bands laid down songs like “Cream.” I was interested in where the band played, not Prince all by his lonesome, because Sign O’ The Times and songs like “Shockadelica” notwithstanding, to me, Price was at his best when he was surrounded by others.

Artists who make records by painstakingly recording every instrument have made some pretty great albums. Paul McCartney, Skip Spence, John Fogerty have all, for whatever reason — usually because they were done working with their previous bands — gone this route. We live today in a world in which Kevin Parker, whose Tame Impala exists as a band really only on stage, is heralded for his singular vision. But no one has ever done, or is doing now, what Kelley Stoltz has accomplished, and his new album, My Regime, is at once a remarkable achievement, probably his best record since 2008’s Circular Sounds, and at the same time, just a continuation of the streak of pop gems that he’s cut in his own version of Paisley Park.

Look, I could spend the afternoon embedding links to this site’s previous Stoltz worship. Type “Kelley Stoltz” in the Tulip Frenzy search bar and you’ll see how, for a decade, we have had our mind thoroughly blown not just by the charm and quality of Kelley’s music, but by the phenomenon by which it exists.

Once more into the breach, we exclaim: 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.

By my rough count, My Regime is Kelley’s 12th proper album, but this doesn’t begin to include the stuff he’s made under assumed names, or the EPs that have on them enough good music to qualify for a Tulip Frenzy Top Ten Album o’ The Year nod. The guy works. I will admit that, since 2010, some of his output has suffered from an over reliance on keyboards and synths, which of course are the crutch upon which Kevin Parker has built his empire. But there has never been an album Kelley’s released under his own name that has not stuck in my interior soundtrack like Gorilla Glue. And My Regime is one of the very best.

I appreciate Brooklyn Vegan recently stating the opener, “Sister,” sounded like a Rolling Stones song that was never made. I wouldn’t have thought of a song so quiet and sweet as a Stones song, but yes, they nailed it, the Keith Richards’ chords and the sax at the end sounds like something the Stones would have slipped onto an early ’80s LP.

The title track might be the song to check out, if you’re Kelley-curious, because the Ric Ocasek-sounding vox notwithstanding, it’s a pretty good exemplar of what you get with Stoltz: four-chord rock that chugs along with keyboard interludes, your head keeping the beat amidst rising panic — “Oh no, the song’s going to end!” I mean, you just know, a minute and a half in, that when the song ends, you’ll be sad. Until a moment later, he restarts the party with “Uh Oh.”

There are plenty of references to Kelley’s touchstone: Echo and Bunnymen, for whom he sometimes plays guitar when they go out on tour. But My Regime is also a departure from at least his work in the back half of this decade because it’s significantly more guitar-focused, which means less emphasis on keyboards floating the melody along. How a single human being could consistently produce albums with this many golden chords, barbed hooks and off-kilter rhythms is beyond my ken, but not my curiosity: I think about Kelley Stoltz and the magic of the music he produces all the time.

Look, by now I’ve either persuaded you to listen or I haven’t. And the comeback to my hundreds of sentences written in the man’s behalf is, surely, yeah, you’re a fan, we get it. The proper word might be disciple.

I’m just betting that if ever I have time to kill at SFO, and there’s a tour of Kelley Stoltz’s studio, I’ll find a place far more worthy of his genius than Paisley Park is of Prince’s. I’d be happy to live in a world where Kelley’s regime was intact and he was the master of all he surveyed. And I would love to see how he plays ping pong all by himself.

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.

 

EXCLUSIVE: The Tulip Frenzy Interview With 2017 Album Of The Year Winner (Tied): Kelley Stoltz

Posted in Music with tags , , on December 2, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Upon the juror’s alighting on his Que Aura as Tulip Frenzy’s 2017 Album Of The Year (Tied), negotiations ensued with Mr. Stoltz’s management over whether we could sit down with the maestro and ask a few questions.  After a face-to-face meeting in the Seychelles, all systems were go, and we were able to pose some questions and get some highly illuminating answers.

A quick piece of context for those not as familiar with Kelley as the editorial team at Tulip Frenzy is: Kelley records his records all by his lonesome, laying down every instrument and all harmonies. Que Aura was but one of three albums he released in 2017 — one record was released as a side of a Swiss label’s two-act record, and one was by a live “band” called Strat, which, as you’ll see, we completely misunderstood. Finally, for those not in the know, Kelley played as a sideman on the recent tour by his heroes, Echo and the Bunnymen.

Congratulations on taking the top spot on the Top 10 List for 2017.  We think Que Aura ranks among your strongest work.  We’ve always been curious about your working method.  When you wrote the songs for Que Aura, were you conscious of them going into what you call a “proper album,” or is each song an individual organism that might find its place on an E.P. or a single or a half-album released in Switzerland?

I guess I kind of have an Isaac Asimov style of working – it’s a daily thing whether I want to or not.  It’s my job.  Instead of 9 to 5, its more noon to 8!  Thankfully, it still provides me joy and some financial compensation as well, to keep it going. Basically after a new album and a tour or work with the Bunnymen I go through a cycle of “Oh, I’ll never write anything good again,” but I keep at it – I really don’t know what else to do all day… and after a while some new good songs will appear and lead me in a direction – more synthesizer-oriented or folky or whatever, and that tends to give me a “sound path” to explore. After months of that I’ve got 15-20 songs and I just pick my favorites that seem to fit and make that the album.

You’ve been wonderfully, consistently productive as a proverbial one-man band.  I know you did the Strat album as a band project, but that was live.  Do you ever get tempted to bring your own band into the studio?  Or is doing things your own way, one careful track at a time, just the way you’d like to work?

Well to be honest Strat is just me! And it was done in my studio (as I say inside the cover), “recorded before a non-existent audience in an imaginary arena.” I had some fond memories of Kiss Alive and Cheap Trick at Budokan and thought it’d be funny to make a kind of over-the-top, live 70’s album where there are people screaming all through the show.  I found all those crowd sounds on free field recording sites online.  I’ve been very impatient in a way – I’d rather just do it myself and get on with it than wait for someone to turn up to the studio.  Also, I write AS I record so the ideas need to be fleshed out as they happen… I never had success penning lyrics or music over months and then recording it – it’s a snapshot of that day!  And I love playing drums, bass, piano and all that and I want to get better at those instruments – the only way to do that is to play.  A lot of the one-man band thing was born out of feeling scared to share my songs with anyone as well.


A song like “No Pepper For The Dustman” sounds like it was recorded right after you got off the Echo and the Bunnymen tour.  Was it hard after going out on the road with Mac (Ian McCulloch) and Will (Sergeant) not to have their sound infect yours?

Definitely.  They are my favorite band and got me writing songs and wanting to look cool!  I’m a hell of a sponge so I can make soundalikes pretty easy – and I’ve gotten better at being myself over the years. But Bunnymen music is in my teen DNA so it’s bound to appear.  Back in the 2000’s I embraced Beatle and Beach Boy sounds almost because it was more of a challenge to write that way for me than in a New Wave style, since that would’ve been to easy.

Your work with Strat, or in your persona as Willie Weird, seems to show a more extroverted side of you — any 2018 plans to get out on the road as Kelley Stoltz?

I hope so – it’s tough ’cause I lose money on tours… I’m still struggling to get 200 people in NYC or 100 in LA.  You can imagine what St. Louis on a Tuesday would look like for me.  At some point I decided I’d rather the money I made went to fund a good life in SF and the ability to write and record as my job everyday than blow a bunch on a three week tour.

Do you work (writing/recording) all the time, or do you say to yourself, I think I’ll record a new proper album in June?

As I said, it’s part of my daily life.  I get grumpy if I don’t have an album in the works or at least a song sitting on tape or computer that I’m excited to go listen to.

Speaking of a proper album, tell us what’s in store in 2018?  A January release date to kick off the year?

I recorded an album right after finishing up QUE AURA, it will be released by a Spanish label called Banana Louie in February or March to coincide with a European tour.  It’s called NATURAL CAUSES and is similar to QUE AURA if a little less fleshed out – maybe more of a first take affair… I didn’t stress out over the mixes or the singing or anything.  It was done quickly and I resisted any urge to add to it, so it has a nice airy, relaxed quality.

SHOCKER: Tulip Frenzy Jurors Deadlock, as Kelley Stoltz’ “Que Aura” and Wand’s “Plum” *TIE* for 2017 Album Of The Year

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2017 by johnbuckley100

 

Dateline WASHINGTON — For the first time in the more than 10-year history of Tulip Frenzy’s annual Top 10 List of the year’s best albums, jurors were unable to reach a decision on the #1 Album Of The Year.  

Deadlocked between Kelley Stoltz’s Que Aura and Wand’s Plum, the publication’s editorial staff emerged from an all-night session that left Tulip Frenzy World HQ’s rumpus room as wrecked as Keith Richards’ teeth, pinned two album covers on the bulletin board, and collapsed in the lobby. Deliberations were so heated that hours later, when it was suggested that Kelley Stoltz should be listed before Wand — because both K and S precede W in the alphabet — new skirmishes broke out, until finally it was decreed that while alphabetical order would rule, readers should be informed that this ordering in no way implies Plum was any less stellar than Que Aura.  So, this ordering in no way implies Plum was any less stellar than Que Aura.

#1 Album of 2017 (tied): Que Aura by Kelley Stoltz

After having provided us with such immense pleasure over the past decade, and twice landing records in our Top 10 List, Kelley Stoltz triumphed in 2017 with possibly the best music of his career.

In October, when we caught up to Kelley Stoltz’s magnificent ninth album, Que Aurawe wrote:

“The songwriting as a whole is stronger than on any album since Circular Sounds.  ‘I’m Here For Now’ ranks with Double Exposure’s ‘Still Feel’ as among the most infectious rockers of his career.  ‘Tranquilo’ is the closest thing Stoltz has produced to a hit you could see coming out of the Motown basement, and it has all the quirks and charms of his greatest songs before culminating with psychedelic panache.  On ‘Same Pattern,’ it’s clear that Kelley has had a conversation about synths with his label master, Mr. John Dwyer.  Out of 11 songs, there are but two we don’t think we’ll be listening to a decade hence.  This is a glorious clutch of songs, rendered with enough analog guitars, bass, and drums to prevent the electronic keyboards from ever smearing the delicacy like a surfeit of Hollandaise on poached eggs.”

We concluded, “We already have raved about Kelley Stoltz a time or two, given his records received high marks on our 2010 and 2008 Top Ten Lists.  Somehow, even with all our raving, we have failed in getting him to perform at Madison Square Garden.  We’re not done trying.  And based on Que Aura, Kelley Stoltz is not done appearing at the top of Tulip Frenzy’s annual Top 10 List.”

We did not at that moment know how moved the Tulip Frenzy staff would be, insisting that Que Aura should take home all the marbles (tied).

Anyone who ever grokked the Beatles, was transfixed by Echo and Bunnymen, fell for David Bowie, or adored the Kinks should instantly adopt Kelley Stoltz as a cause.  Happily, Que Aura is an excellent place to start and it is Tulip Frenzy’s #1 Album of 2017 (tied).

#1 Album of 2017 (tied): Plum by Wand

On their fourth album, the young Angelinos who make up Wand recast themselves entirely.  A band whose first record was produced by Ty Segall, and sounded like it — raw guitar with metal roots, drums like rhinos escaping fire, Sabbath fuzz-tone bass guitar punctuated by the occasional acoustic hoedown — has grown enormously in the three years and three albums since.  In fact, we’d go so far as to say that in 2017, Wand have made the leap from being the little bros of Ty, Thee Oh Sees, and White Fence, emerging as the fourth leg of a sturdy West Coast table set for a long and glorious banquet.

After seeing them play an incredible set at DC 9, we wrote:

“We feel like Wand has grown up before our eyes, from their 930 Club debut in 2014 opening for Ty Segall to their stunning show at the Black Cat in 2015.  From the release of Ganglion Reef to Plum, they’ve grown from songs with titles like ‘Flying Golem’ and ‘Reaper Invert’ to becoming surely the only rock band extant to write a poignant song called ‘Charles De Gaulle.’”

We concluded, “Wand is at the height of their powers, but writing that we know they still have plenty of room to grow.  Some strong albums have been released this year by both Ty Segall and West Coast giant John Dwyer, whose Oh Sees made our August.  But among the West Coast’s finest, Wand’s come out on top, the best young band working today.  We stand back in awe at the prospect of what they’re capable of.”

With Plum, Tulip Frenzy’s #1 Album of 2017 (tied), Wand has cast its spell. We expect the world will be transfixed for a long time to come.

#3 Album of 2017: Orc by Oh Sees

In Orc, the 19th album John Dwyer has released under a rubric somewhere in the vicinity of Thee Oh Sees, he produced nothing less than a masterpiece.  Which is pretty good, since once again Dwyer is threatening to mothball Thee Oh Sees and go off hunting new whales in distant far-flung seas.

In August,we wrote:

“Here’s all you need to really know, if you are not someone whose large ganglia have twitched to Dwyer’s yips and the propulsive drumming of his 100-horsepower twin tyros lashed to the back of his guitar work.  The big question about punk rock was always what it would turn into when the primitives learned to play.  You know, not every band could be the Clash and by Sandinista be playing Mose Allison covers and pushing at the forefront of what then was called rap.  But at least three recs ago, Dwyer showed he could play guitar like Jimi Hendrix.  That he could compose complex rock songs with a power and beauty that rivaled anyone who’s ever admitted to participating in the genre.  That he seriously could, on the same album, mix punk, prog rock, garage, psychedelia, and pop.

“Last year, on the matched pair albums of An Odd Entrances and A Weird Exits we really could see adding jazz and Krautrock to that list. He is the magpie’s magpie, but that implies a lack of originality and in fact he’s the opposite.  A guy who as recently as 2011 was playing punk rock at high speeds is now capable of anything.  Here’s an example: on Orc‘s ‘Keys To The Castle,’ we start out on a light jog, John Dwyer singing harmony with (we hope) once + future Oh Sees singer Brigid Dawson, and ‘fore ya know it we’re traversing a steeper pitch with some classic punk chords as the song intensifies.  And then there is a pause… and we come back at slow mo’ speed with cello and organ and synth, in a lovely electric piano chordal half-walk, the sounds of space wrapping your face, and for the next four minutes, you are in a dream.”

We’re still dreaming, and listening to Orc as much as any Thee Oh Sees album not called Floating Coffin.  (It’s their best rec, and we listen to it weekly.). Orc is in that special category of albums we know will be copied from hard drive to hard drive all the way down to the iPhone LXV, the iPad Pro Invisible and beyond.

#4 Album of 2017: Robyn Hitchcock by Robyn Hitchcock

More than 35 years since he left the Soft Boys and released his first solo album, Robyn Hitchcock introduced himself to the world as Robyn Hitchcock, his most satisfying album since the Reagan Administration.  And when we say that, no one should think he’s been hiding under a rock — he’s placed high on the Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List (c) at least three times since 2008.

Last spring, when his eponymous umpteenth record was released, we went to see him play a solo set at nearby Jammin’ Java and had this to say about his new record:

“Hitchcock makes his home these days in Nashville, and thank Heaven he does, because his neighbor, Brendan Benson, was inspired to produce his newest record, requesting that it sound like The Soft Boys.  Robyn Hitchcock, released in late April, does sound like The Soft Boys’ two ’70s records, as well as his first solo album, Black Snake Diamond Role, which came out in ’81. Truth be told, it also sounds like the 19 studio albums he’s released since then.  That is the purest of compliments. Few are the artists who have changed so little over 40 years — and thank God for that.

“To the uninitiated: if you want a good entry point to Hitchcock’s work, at age 63, his new album provides it. From the hard rocking opener, “I Want To Tell You About What I Want,” to the gorgeous closer, “Time Coast,” it touches every base.  When rock critters describe Hitchcock’s influences and antecedents, Dylan, the Beatles, Kinks, and Byrds are the first references, with those looking to score points throwing Captain Beefheart in — not because he sounds like Don Van Vliet (though they do each possess multi-octave voices), but because of his absurdist sense of humor.  On the new record, Hitchcock sounds like… Dylan, the Beatles, Kinks, and Byrds, which is to say, after 40 years of record making, he sounds like Robyn Hitchcock, an artist who should be in their ranks, but somehow isn’t, except in our house, and those of uplifting gormandizers.”

You can probably tell from how that Tulip Frenzy piece ended just how much we have invested in Mr. Hitchcock: “Robyn Hitchcock is a national treasure — and he’s ours now, fuck Britain.  His shows should be performed at the Verizon Center, or at least he should be able to tour, like his hero Bob Dylan, minor-league ballparks.  At Jammin Java Wednesday night, he began his two sets with Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet,” and concluded it with “Visions of Johanna.”  In addition to covers of songs by Nick Drake and The Doors, he played 20 originals spanning 40 years of our devoted fandom, 40 years of pleasure. His body of work is so rich he could play 19 songs not on our list of his greatest ones and the evening still was glorious. That he is hilarious and eccentric is his charm and his undoing.  No one and nothing, not even time and commercial neglect, can take away his greatness.”

#5 Album of 2017: Endless Night by The Vacant Lots

This is the first time the Burlington-NYC duo of Jared Aurtaud and Brian MacFadyen have landed in our Top 10 List, but we doubt it will be the last.  Endless Night is one of those very rare perfect records, every song listenable, the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

Last spring, we wrote:  

“It might be easy to categorize The Vacant Lots as a sophisticated art project, given their album covers are as distinctive as their sound.  But from the very start, Jared Artaud and Brian MacFadyen proved their mix of garage psych and synth-driven pop was aimed at pleasing aural canals.  They have aimed to become a great band, associated with the likes of Dean Wareham, Anton Newcombe, Sonic Boom, and Alan Vega, and their debut album Departure has stayed on our playlist since the summer of 2014.  And yet none of this prepared us for Endless Night, which from its start to its historic finish is astonishing.

“Take the opener, “Night Nurse,” which has Artaud pick out a sinuous rockabilly lead above a disco beat, and quickly transports you into the demimonde of a tiny club, hermetically sealed against outside influences.  We’re going to be in for, well, a pleasurably endless night.  ‘Pleasure & Pain’ is not the first of these songs to call to mind progenitors Spaceman 3 and Spiritualized, and in fact, ‘Dividing Light’ has the power of Jason Pierce’s most compelling work.  Throughout Endless Night, the hitherto unappreciated juxtapositions of disco and techno, psych and soul,  rockabilly and garage, make the blood pulse like Molly just arrived.”

Looking back on our conclusion, we were downright prescient: “With Endless Night, The Vacant Lots serve notice that they’ve entered the front ranks, and we anticipate that when the story of 2017 is told — musically at least — and Top 10 lists are fashioned, The Vacant Lots will be among the last men standing.”

And so, of course, they are.

#6 Album of 2017: City Music by Kevin Morby

Ever since Kevin Morby wandered out of Woods and essentially grew up from his role in The Babies, he’s been a Top 10 threat.  Last year’s gorgeous Singing Saw was a contender, but in a competitive year didn’t quite make it.  But City Music was so good, it likely would have made our list if it had been released in 1968, or ’72, or even that banner year, 1997.

When it came out, we wrote:

“Morby’s voice isn’t particularly expressive, but his songwriting and storytelling more than make up for it, and his ambitions seem to be growing.  On Singing Saw, songs like ‘Dorothy’ and ‘I Have Been To The Mountain’ were so strong that they masked weaker material elsewhere on an album that was pretty universally acclaimed, including in these here parts.  There’s no such problem on City Music: every song, even the cover of the Germs’ ‘Caught In My Eye,’ will make you want to play this album loud enough to bug the neighbors in your stifling apartment building.

“A year ago, when Morby was able to tell the story of how he picked up and moved from Kansas City to Brooklyn, landing a few weeks later in Woods — then and now, a highlight of modern New York bands — the notion of the Bright Lights, Big City luring him from the midwest placed his narrative in familiar terms.  In City Life, he’s made it, he’s gone from the periphery to the center, like Dylan, like Jimmy Reed of Dunleith, Mississippi, who wrote the song, and Jay McInerney of Hartford, Connecticut, who wrote the book.”

Kevin Morby has fully arrived, able to make it in New York — or anywhere, really.  City Music made us appreciate city life in the heat of summer, no small feat in any year.

#7 Album of 2017: Ty Segall by Ty Segall

Ty came back from Emotional Mugger with a self-titled record that some compared to a greatest hits album.  There were tuneful pop songs, Lennon-esque rockers, trademark punk scrawlers — any of which could have found a home in his cornucopia of self-recorded, self-produced records released into the wild since the last decade.  But a compendium of familiar styles is not really a fair description, as there were new twists and turns that made us clutch the handle, lest we get flung into distant space.

When it kicked off the year, we were moved to state:

“On Ty Segall, the young genius has pulled together a collection of songs that are remarkably different from one another, but they don’t pull apart, they spin with centripetal force.  The most astonishing song of the lot is the 10:21 suite, “Warm Hands (Freedom Returned)”, which in five movements takes in the whole of Segall protege Wand’s prog, the Santana-influences of the Stones’ ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,’ and two or three of Mr. Segall and his pal Mikal Cronin’s modern Power Pop’n’Punk flavorings.  It’s a tour de force.  But the whole album is, really.

“Since Segall’s advent at the beginning of this decade, rock’n’roll has been revived, and he’s the biggest reason.  Yes, we would still have Thee Oh Sees if Ty had not burst upon the scene.  But for at least seven years, Segall’s influence on other artists, and his own great output of self-produced, largely self-created records has added up to a movement.  He’s Shiva, creator and destroyer, making rock’n’roll relevant again.  With Manipulator a couple years back, he seemed to cast his lot with commercial success, and produced one of the catchiest collections of radio rock this side of the White Stripes or the Black Keys.  With Ty Segall, he’s gone for some thing bigger.  An *album* you mention in the same sentence as Sticky Fingers, Imperial Bedroom, even Sandinista.”

His acolytes, Wand, have leaped to the top o’ this list, but Ty is like a mid-career ballplayer who still hits with power, is still dominating the middle of the order, and can still take your breath away with his pure athleticism, when he wants.

#8 Album of 2017: Whiteout Conditions by The New Pornographers

They’ve been consistently so good for such a long time that you might take the New Pornographers for granted.  Listening to the superb Whiteout Conditions, we realized the New Pornographers are still capable of recorded greatness, and still occupy a special space in our hearts.

At the time, we went to see them at the 930 Club and wrote:

“Whiteout Conditions is the best New Pornographers’ album since the by-now classic Twin Cinema.  It’s hard to remember that when that record came out nearly 12 years ago, it was bemoaned for how the band had lost the oddness and caffeinated sheen of their first two astonishing albums.  Now, of course, we recognize Twin Cinema as a high point in Western Civ (and given how 2017 is going down, we’re increasingly worried that 2014’s Brill Bruisers might be seen by future historians as our civilization’s peak.)  Whiteout Conditions is a mix of everything we love about the band, bright and bouncy, profound when needed.  With songs like ‘High Ticket Attractions,’ which we can’t get out of our head, and new approaches like ‘Darling Shade,’ which sound like Martha and the Vandellas updated for the 21st Century, this Bejar-less edition of the band  flows like a lava tube off the edge of a cliff, powerfully smoking in the creation of new earth.

“That the New Pornographers are one of our very favorite bands defies certain logic.  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.  They’re not exactly a guilty pleasure or a secret passion, for we play their recs all the time, but the pleasure we get from listening to them is a bit like wearing only natural fibers in everyday life, while enjoying the chance to dress up in polyester.  Carl Newman clearly loved songwriters like Brian Wilson and bands like ELO, and us, not so much.  But last night at the 9:30 Club this band — capable of the most intricate studio albums — played a wonderfully organic set with four-part harmonies intact, the songs building and building so that by the time we got to ‘The Bleeding Heart Show’ encore, we could emerge from the club’s doors with a smile on our face, ready to face anything, up to and including all the laws that have changed.”

#9 Album of 2017: Damage And Joy by Jesus and Mary Chain

We never expected to hear new music again from Jesus and Mary Chain, even as the Reid Brothers reformed their act and hit the road.  While 1998’s Munki sat atop our list during that great year, we thought it would be their last recording session ever.  So when Damage And Joy came out this summer, we were filled with the latter even as our ears — after hearing them live a few times since 2012 — were still recovering from the former.  Maybe we’re saps for thinking this album is as good as we are convinced that it is — maybe this is like an old love who returns and you just can’t resist, even if she’s not right for you.  But no, this was a really great album, one of the year’s highlights, and deserves its place here.

When it came out, we wrote:

“In the time since they metaphorically burned their guitars, a lot has happened, and we’re not talking about all of the nasty changes in our world since the boom days of the late Clinton Administration.  Jim Reid got sober.  JAMC’s festival shows led to semi-regular touring, and despite — or because of — they way they turned the amps to 11, a new generation of fans for whom Psycho Candy was as distant, in some ways, as The Velvet Underground & Nico, saw them as the masters that they were.  It became inevitable that they would release new recorded music.

“We were unprepared for how great an album Damage And Joy is.  Purists may not like it because it’s not Finnegans Wake, it’s not difficult, it’s Dubliners: simple, easy to absorb, damn near perfect.  By the time December rolls around, we are certain it will remain high on our list of the year’s best albums.  It’s the Jesus and Mary Chain album we have waited for, somewhat anxiously, for a long, long time.

“We confess that we never loved Psycho Candy all that much.  The juxtaposition of Beach Boys’ songs, Sterling Morrison guitar, and Ramones’ propulsion against an industrial squall was interesting, but in many ways unlistenable.  Darklands was where we fell in love, with its spaciousness and gorgeous songwriting coalescing into a sound we could embrace.  Through those early ’90s hits, we hung on as they created a machine that was an early precursor of EDM while maintaining its linkage to real rock’n’roll.  For us, Stoned and Dethroned was the keeper, the classic, the songwriting at a peak, the wrestling match between melodies and riffs, between Jim’s hoarse whisper-singing and William’s guitar textures becoming not only one of the ’90s highlights, but an album for the ages.  When Munki came out in 1998 — perhaps rock’s greatest year — it was the culmination and the end of the line, Jim and William’s ambivalence — and conflict — were captured in the songs that began and ended the album: ‘I Love Rock’n’Roll’ followed by ‘I Hate Rock’n’Roll.’  But now they are back, and for the moment the ambivalence is gone.  Whatever happens from here, The Jesus and Mary Chain have returned from the dead, and the Hallelujah chorus is awesome to behold.”

#10 Album of 2017: Modern Living by The Living Eyes

We’re not going to quote an earlier review of Australian punks The Living Eyes’ magnificent Modern Living.  There isn’t one.  See, we just learned about them in the last 10 days — from the wonderfully comprehensive website, Raven Sings The Blues  — and while ordinarily it’s as dangerous to put an album this new on a year-end list as it is to march someone you’ve just met on a casino floor to the Vegas Chapel o’ Luv, we’re certain about this one: this is the Punk Record Of The Year, and a worthy way to round out our 2017 list.

Named for second best album by our favorite Aussie punk band, the legendary Radio Birdman — the equivalent of young British punks calling themselves The London Callings — The Living Eyes sound like they just took on the Undertones in some 1979 Battle of the Bands. With explicit nods to Birdman, and implicit nods to other Aussie forebears like the Saints and the Vines, maybe even The D4, Modern Living has the formula that has worked for bands as disparate as Rancid, Elastica and the Leaving Trains: all their songs have melodies! Even as they’re kicking in your stereo speakers, every song we’ve heard by The Living Eyes is hummable.  And the reason we are ready to walk straight from the initial spin of this album to this eternal coupling — they are forever joined to us by our putting them on our Top 10 List — is because we can’t get their songs out of their heads.

Full confession, we were tempted to have Brix and The Extricated take the final slot for Part 2, the wonderfully named album signaling the resurfacing of former members of the Fall 30 years after their Golden Age.  But as good as that record is, Modern Living blew us away. This isn’t Part 2 — this is the band’s initial foray into history and greatness.

 

 

 

Kelley Stoltz Keeps Mining Gems And His Latest,”Que Aura,” Gleams Like A Diamond

Posted in Music with tags , , , on October 19, 2017 by johnbuckley100

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}The cover photo of what Kelley Stoltz calls his “proper new album,” Que Aura, looks like something you’d see in a Kusama Infinity Room, all dots of light in a psychedelic space.  Like Kusama, Stoltz for the most part works alone, assembling true solo albums with painstaking craftsmanship, each track capturing an instrument played only by him.

Unlike Kusama, who resides in an asylum, Stoltz gets out of the house to play with bands, including touring as a sideman with his heroes Echo and the Bunnymen.  But in his own studio, over the past decade, he’s created an eccentric but exceptionally important and delightful body of work. As a recording artist, he deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence with the Beatles, David Bowie, Alex Chilton, and Ray Davies. Que Aura, released in August, is his best album since 2008’s Circular Sounds, which we would nestle alongside Rubber Soul, Radio City, and Lodger in the Go Bag that, one step ahead o’ the apocalypse, we’d take to the proverbial desert island.

Listening to Que Aura back-to-back with Below The Branches, the 2006 album that was our introduction to him, is instructive.  Back then, Stoltz was like a one-man version of the Fab 4 + George Martin, crafting intricate pop classics on acoustic piano and guitar, backed where needed by steady bass playing, what sounds like a Rickenbacker 6-string, and solid, unobtrusive drumming.  This was an era in which Stoltz says he was using a microphone propped in a sock drawer for wont of a proper studio and equipment.  The music is gorgeous, thrilling, inspirational, the seeming influences all from the ’60s.

A little more than a decade later, Que Aura sounds like it was recorded in a German studio with this generation’s George Martin twiddling the knobs.  As a singer, Kelley’s affect is effortless, but here he sounds like he’s fronting a really fantastic band whose rhythm section can swing.  And of course, it’s all him — an incredibly difficult trick to pull off.

Over his previous three albums — 2010’s To Dreamers, 2013’s Double Exposure, and 2015’s In Triangle Time — Stoltz has moved away from the delicacy of his earlier work to bring in New Wave influences, to thicken the sound a bit with horns and synths, and clearly Will Sergeant’s guitar sound (Echo + Bunnymen) and mid-period Bowie have inspired him in recent years. Like a craftsman who, after years of creating one-of-a-kind designs… pushing his needle and thread through fabric under a solitary light bulb… who has succumbed to such labor-saving devices as the sewing machine, Stoltz has rolled a bank of electronic keyboards into his atelier.  Keyboards have ruined many a solo practitioner’s studio work, from Prince to Tame Impala, but even though we miss the Rickenbacker and acoustic piano sound of yore, on Que Aura, he makes it all work. He’s still creating gems, but much as I love the pre-2010 work, these shine brighter.

The songwriting as a whole is stronger than on any album since Circular Sounds.  “I’m Here For Now” ranks with Double Exposure’s “Still Feel” and the most infectious rockers of his career.  “Tranquilo” is the closest thing Stoltz has produced to a hit you could see coming out of the Motown basement, and it has the quirks and charms of his greatest songs before culminating with psychedelic panache.  On “Same Pattern,” it’s clear that Kelley has had a conversation about synths with his label, Mr. John Dwyer.  Out of 11 songs, there are two we don’t think we’ll be listening to a decade hence.  This is a glorious clutch of songs, rendered with enough analog guitars, bass, and drums to prevent the electronic keyboards from ever smearing the delicacy, like a surfeit of Hollandaise on poached eggs.

Speaking of John Dwyer, there’s a reason why the progenitor of Thee Oh Sees, not to mention Jack White, would be the “label heads” putting out Stoltz’s most recent work.  In days of yore, some A&R chap at Warner Bros would have figured out how to slide a Kelley Stoltz contract past Mo Ostin.  But without a generous label afloat on a pontoon of CD sales taking a flyer on a talent like his, Stoltz is embraced by his fellow artists who know brilliance when they hear it.  Just as, gentle reader who has journeyed this far, we know you do too.

We already have raved about Kelley Stoltz a time or two, given his records the highest marks on our 2010 and 2008 Top Ten Lists.  Somehow, even with all our raving, we have failed in getting him to perform at Madison Square Garden.  We’re not done trying.  And based on Que Aura, Kelley Stoltz is not done appearing at the top of Tulip Frenzy’s annual Top 10 List.

Driftwood Pyre Take Album Of The Year Honors In Tulip Frenzy’s 2015 Top Ten List

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2015 by johnbuckley100

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#1. Driftwood Pyre by Driftwood Pyre.

We were prone to liking Driftwood Pyre, the first album by the Minneapolis band we viewed as successors to First Communion Afterparty.  After all, FCAP’s Earth Heat Sound was Tulip Frenzy’s 2013 Album Of The Year, and we have long held them up as the best psych band of the modern age. But even so, we honestly didn’t think that this first record by Liam Watkins and company would sail past all contenders for Album Of The Year honors on its maiden voyage.  Combining the best elements from Watkins’ previous band — the emotionally vibrant slow strum of the guitar, the Mamas und Papas background vox, the psychedelic traces limning with chromatic aberration a vibrantly electric landscape — when the album came out we exulted like an archaeologist reclaiming a lost civilization.  Eureka! A little more of a straight-ahead rock band, with elements of Oasis, the Cramps, and even the Rolling Stones undergirding a well-produced set of uniformly good songs, we can rejoice in the way Driftwood Pyre carry the embers of its antecedents even as it strikes out onto a new, commercially solid, nonetheless uncompromising sound.

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#2. 1000 Days by Wand.

By our count, it was less than 365 days from the moment last year we saw Wand supporting Ty Segall at the 930 Club to the release of their third album in approximately a year.  1000 Days was instantly recognizable as a breakthrough, an incredibly ambitious work combining Eno-esque synths and prog song structures with the punk’n’thunder of this young band’s previous two recs.  Seeing them a few weeks ago at the Black Cat only confirmed that Cory Hanson has to be added to the roster of West Coast phenoms — Ty, John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees, and Tim Presley of White Fence — keeping rock’n’roll alive and kicking in a hostile world.  The thing about 1000 Days is that it both seems like a mere extension to Golem and Ganglion Reef, Wand’s previous two albums, and is conceptually bolder, suggesting Hanson’s songwriting is growing magically, a sorcerer’s conjuring of talent that should bring them their deserved audience over the next 1000 days.

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#3. In Triangle Time by Kelley Stoltz

It took us a little bit of time to adjust to what our longtime fave Kelley Stoltz was up to with In Triangle Time.  We have so much admiration for how Stoltz has been able to create record after record of meticulously crafted pop songs while playing every imaginable instrument (look ma, no band!) that it took us a few days to realize In Triangle Time is a concept record, and that for someone who lived through that musical moment this album captures so well — the early ’80s interregnum between the first Echo and The Bunnymen singles and David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, between post-punk and the horrible mid-’80s drift that followed — it was okay that Kelley had put away the harpsichord and piano for electric keyboards, and switched the Ray Davies’ sensibility for songs that stretched the wire between such disparate poles as Captain Beefheart’s Ice Cream For Crow and Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark.  As always, Kelley’s singing and musicianship are epic, and while we look forward to his next phase, and pine for a return to his ’60s weirdo sensibilities, when playing this genius’s latest, how can you not just want to dress like the cast of Deutschland ’83 and whirl around the room?

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#4. I Declare Nothing by Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe

The May-September collaboration between the Toronto-based singer Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe, the Berlin-based longtime leader of the Brian Jonestown Massacre, was even greater than we could have hoped for. Parks’ 2013 debut album, Blood Hot, already revealed her to be one of the many young artists who look to BJM the way Newcombe and his generation looked to the Velvet Underground, but what was remarkable here was how Newcombe stepped into the subordinate role, not merely letting Parks have the top billing, but letting her sing every song.  Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised, for as early as “Anemone,” Anton has often stepped back and let women sing the best melodies. With Anton in the role of bandleader and guitarist, this was an album that sunk deep into our bones, a smoky, noir-ish sound that clashed with the bright sunshine of the summer out West where we listened to it every day.  Most people got it, but we could only laugh at the British rock critters who sniffed, “Well, it’s good, but it sounds just like a Brian Jonestown Massacre record.”  Yep, that’s why we loved it.

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#5. All Yours by Widowspeak

When “Girls” was released late last spring, we woke up and took notice.  We’d loved Widowspeak’s Jarvis Taveniere-produced debut in 2011, but found the follow-up, 2013’s Almanac, a trifle problematic, as Molly Hamilton’s ethereal voice, lathered on too thick, can be like a cake that’s all icing and air.  Yet “Girls” was a nutritious harmonic pastry, still sweet but plenty nourishing, and a few months later when “All Yours” was released, we prayed that the full album would be as good as those two songs.  Happily, Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas’s move from Brooklyn to Upstate New York has filled their music with fresh Hudson Valley air, and any cloying sensibilities have been washed away.  The sugar high is gone, we happily declared with All Yours came out in September, and it was a wonderful backdrop to autumn.

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#6. Wire by Wire

I think we were supposed to take it as a statement that nearly 40 years after Wire announced themselves with Pink Flag — probably the single most influential punk debut of all time — they released a record simply entitled Wire. Wire is here, they declared, seemingly forever, releasing in 2015 music often as powerful and poignant as what was on Chairs Missing and their first-phase masterpiece, 154, which came out in 1978 and ’79, respectively. We exulted in what a gorgeous record Wire proved to be, but after the string of really strong records they’ve produced since the band reformed full time a decade ago — particularly 2011’s Red Barked Tree and 2013’s Change Becomes Us — we shoulda known better than to expect anything less.  Ah, but then we were flat out stunned, I guess is the word, by the strength of their show at the Black Cat last spring.  Colin Newman may not have the voice he once had, and on Wire he seemed to bow to reality by singing consistently melodic pop songs, not that cockney-rebellious thrashing punk of yore, but there is no question that the rhythm section of Robert “Gotobed” Grey and Bruce Gilbert is the Entwistle-Moon combo of the modern age, and with a minimalist young guitarist filling in, it’s no wonder that a young star like Courtney Barnett would exult on Twitter how amazing was the Wire show she saw in Berlin just a few weeks ago.

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#7. Sometimes I Sit And Think… And Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett was the breakout star of the year, at least in the commercially blinkered circles in which we so proudly travel.  Her sold out show at the 930 Club last May, fittingly on the same day as the DC Pride Parade, was in many ways D.C.’s concert of the year.  The CB3 are a powerful hard-thumping trio, a cross between The Attractions and Nirvana, and given how high-torque Barnett’s songs were on her debut rec, it’s no surprise that it was only after seeing her play live that we fully came to appreciate Sometimes I Sit And Think… And Sometimes I Just Sit. The release of that album sure caused us to sit and think, to dwell for some time trying to get our mind around it, for after months of babbling to everyone we met about how great The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas was, we were a little put off by how amped up the power pop was on the album.  Last year’s double EP was more relaxed, the faux-slacker message more aligned with the music, and we loved it no end.  When the album came out this spring, fairly bursting from our speakers, and it was clear that this wasn’t some Aussie Millennial yucking it up with pals; when it was obvious even to someone thick as us that Barnett is an incredibly ambitious rock-star-in-the-making, we were, yeah, slightly turned off.  But we came to terms with Courtney Barnett, oh yes we did, after seeing her live, and realizing that, with all the many analytical misses we’ve had over the years, assuming one fave artist after another was going to be yuge, yuge we say, here we had empirical evidence that Barnett was going for the brass ring, and unquestionably would grab it. And so we relaxed.  The paradox of Tulip Frenzy generally only raving about music few fans will buy was overwhelmed by the joy we ultimately felt at understanding, without a doubt, Courtney Barnett is going to be, uh, huge.  It’s going to be great.

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#8. Mutilator Defeated At Last by Thee Oh Sees

With Ty Segall off messing around with Fuzz and various other projects, and Tim Presley, with typical perversity, failing to follow up on the success of White Fence’s winner of last year’s Tulip Frenzy Album of the Year accolades (For The Recently Found Innocent), it fell to Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer to wave the West Coast freak flag, and on Mutilator Defeated At Last a new version of the band came through like a 21-gun salute bringing down a space ship.  We were apprehensive about what the record would sound like, for since Dwyer had broken up in 2013 with his epic bandmates in the prior version of Thee Oh Sees, and last year’s Drop saw a sudden loss of cabin pressure, as they say when things get a little rough, we didn’t know what to expect. But this version of Thee Oh Sees beat out White Fence as the pick ‘o the muddy litter at May’s LEVITATION/Austin Psych Fest, and oh yeah, the record was boss.  The double-drum set up of the youngsters Dwyer has recruited to the band thunders like elephants stampeding through your tent, and Dwyer’s manic songwriting is still the most exciting thing that’s happened to music since amplifiers.

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#9. Starflower by The Magic Castles

Minneapolis, as will be clear momentarily, was the Center of The Rock’n’Roll universe in 2015, as The Magic Castles joined their fellow Twin Cities citizens Driftwood Pyre on our Top Ten List.  A few years ago, on the basis of seeing them open for the Brian Jonestown Massacre, we asked if the Magic Castles might be the best young band in America.  While maybe that promise has eluded them, we found Starflower to be an amazing combination of Newcombe-esque songwriting/guitar layering and the most mysterious garage band sound since Lenny Kaye headed to Detroit with a cassette deck in hand.

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#10 The Shiver Of The Flavor Crystals by The Flavor Crystals

Lo and behold, a third Minneapolis band rounds out The 2015 Tulip Frenzy Top 10 List, adding symmetry to our ranking.  See if you notice the pattern: we first heard Flavor Crystals open for the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and yeah, their first album On Plastic seemed to find that crevice between Television and Luna in our brain’s musi-rogenous zone.  But their second and third albums didn’t quite pack the same punch.  The Shiver Of The Flavor Crystals sent a 50-Amp shiver up our spine. This is an album for a long car ride, for sitting at home while the snow drifts pile, it’s dreamy and slow, but it’s also exciting and breathtakingly beautiful.  After years in which it seemed like either San Francisco or Brooklyn were the places you’d want to be, Flavor Crystals — standing on the podium next to Driftwood Pyre and Magic Castles — signal Minnesota’s where it’s at.

“In Triangle Time” Is Another Side Of Kelley Stoltz

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on November 7, 2015 by johnbuckley100

By our count, In Triangle Time is Kelley Stoltz’s 7th album, and in the decade we’ve been listening to him, playing his music for all to hear, tuning into shortwave just to make out the distant early warning of new music beaming from his San Francisco atelier, he’s never made a record that was, on the scale between “unworthy” and “classic,” anything less than “remarkable.”  At least 10 of the 12 songs on this first album released by John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees’ Castleface Records tip well to the right on that continuum — radio worthy, enormously tuneful, the product of an amazing band of musicians which, if you’d never heard anything about Kelley before, you wouldn’t realize were all him.

And yet just as Stoltz has produced an album either recorded in a “real” studio, or in surroundings seriously upgraded from when his home recordings had to be made with the microphone wedged into the socks drawer — legend has it that he couldn’t afford a mike stand — the sounds herein constitute a real departure, and it has taken us a bit to reckon with them.

Between 2006 and 2008, on Between The Branches and the magnificent Circular Sounds, Stoltz produced from a home studio music that exhibited the artisanal craftsmanship of a cobbler locked above the John Lobb store, hand stitching leather boots. His many fans loved these albums not just because of the amazing care that went into this harpsichord run, that Rickenbacker riff, the Aynsley Dunbar drum roll.  We loved this music because Kelley could self-harmonize better than Steve Miller on Your Saving Grace, because Powerman-era Ray Davies seemed a songwriting inspiration, because unlike the majority of musicians who have produced albums all by their lonesome — from Skip Spence to Paul McCartney, John Fogerty to Prince and even Ty Segall — Stoltz could play literally any instrument, from drums to piano to guitar, at least as well as any sideman he might have recruited to his Batstudio.  Through the entire run of Kelley Stoltz’s career, these amazing tourbillons he’s produced — songs with complicated wheels spinning in the middle of them — have contained surprises, startling moments.  Listening to a Kelley Stoltz song can be like biting into a chocolate and finding it has a nougat center, no wait, that’s key lime, oh, cherry.

Interestingly, the week before In Triangle Time was released, Stoltz released two items — a sort of grab bag of mostly substandard songs entitled The Scuzzy Inputs Of Willie Weird, but also an EP straightforwardly titled 4 New Cuts.  On the EP, there are at least two songs as good as anything Kelley’s ever done, and importantly, “Redirected” and “Some Things” have that classic, playful Kelley Stoltz sound, every bit as good as the best song on his last full album, 2013’s Double Exposure, which Jack White, like John Dwyer, set forth upon the world with a musician’s generous desire that all appreciate this guy who’s churned out record after record doing everything himself including, likely, pressing the vinyl.

So with evidence that Kelley is producing new music that sounds like his old music — New Cuts (emphasis mine) — what are we to make of his new album?  In Triangle Time shows what to many will seem like an entirely new side of the artist.  It has a big, booming sound, as if he’s moved from a two-track studio to wherever it is the latest Beyonce album was cut.  More than ever before, electric keyboards and bass dominate the instrumentation.  And the sound has shifted paradigms from the fairly delicate late-’60s craftsmanship of his records at the end of the ’00s, to that moment between ’79 and ’83 when synthesizers began to dominate New Wave music, just before it all got ruined by the brittle shift from vinyl to CDs.  In fact, comparing this album to what Kelley’s done previously is not so much like Dylan going electric as like your favorite photographer shifting from film to digital.

It’s ironic, we guess, that in clearly more comfortable surroundings, Kelley’s moved from finding that perfect acoustic piano sound to the seemingly easier pallet of electronic keyboards; you’d think it might be the opposite, right?  But when you consider what he’s doing here, it all makes sense.  If earlier, Stoltz was channeling the Kinks and the Who, here he channels favorites from that transition time between New Wave and the pop music that came after.  It is hugely inventive — on “You’re Not Ice,” he proves himself to be maybe the first artist ever to successfully channel Don Van Vliet in a song that pays homage to the best Captain Beefheart music of that long-ago age.  Kelley’s delved into Echo and the Bunnymen territory before, with his note-for-note rendition of Crocodiles.  Here the era is invoked in far more original fashion.

Maybe the best reference point for what we have here is Bowie, for on two consecutive songs — the Young Americans-sounding “Litter Love”, and on Wobbly, which could have been an outtake on any Bowie album between Lodger and Let’s Dance — we have a lovely invocation of the Thin White Duke.  And if you think about it, it would have been as unfair to slag Bowie when Let’s Dance came out — for not sounding like Ziggy or Aladdin Sane — as it would be to slag Kelley for not sounding like he did on Circular Sounds.

In Triangle Time is, as Double Exposure was before it, both an example of artistic growth and an instance where an artists seeks a bigger audience by getting away from the preciousness that attracts rock critters like yours truly.  We actually really like what he’s done here, even as we miss what he did before.  And we are tantalized by the release of 4 New Cuts, as it offers perhaps a clue to the Kelley Stoltz Classic sound that he might get back to in the future.  Or so we hope.

Quick, Kelley Stoltz Is Having A Garage Sale

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on October 31, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Next week, Kelley Stoltz is releasing his latest album, Triangle Time, on John Dwyer’s Castleface Records, and we can’t wait.  But hold on, what’s the meaning of the release in recent weeks of both the 4 New Cuts E.P. and an entire album entitled The Scuzzy Inputs of Willy Weird?  All we can think of is this is like that garage sale you have before moving into the new house.  And man, what gems are being taken to the curb?

On his official website, Kelley is said to be moving away from the baroque ’60s-steeped, Ray Davies influenced hand-crafted masterpieces in favor of a sound harkening to the post-punk era.  But for a lot of people, Kelley first announced himself with a note-for-note replica of Echo and the Bunnymen’s Crocodiles, so it’s not like the new album promises to be entirely a departure.

Now, we loved Circular Sounds and Below The Branches so much we accorded them high honors in Tulip Frenzy’s annual tally of the best ‘uns.  But honestly, To Dreamers and Double Exposure didn’t quite hit those high marks.  Now, though, in anticipation of a new rec, Kelley’s given us 17 new songs just to clear the way, and man, they are uniformly great! “Redirected” sounds like an outtake from Double Exposure that should have been a hit, and that’s just one of the 4 New Cuts.  And midway through The Scuzzy Inputs of Willy Weird we were forced to admit that, if this were the only thing Kelley put out this year, we’d still likely consider it for the Tulip Frenzy 2015 Top Ten List (c).

So quick, get to the garage sale and catch up on America’s foremost power-pop artisan before he puts out an album, Triangle Time, that he clearly thinks is even better.

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