Archive for The New Pornographers

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.

 

 

 

The New Pornographers Play Their Best Album In Years At Their Best 9:30 Club Show Ever

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on April 30, 2017 by johnbuckley100

the-new-pornographers-live-in-chicago-at-metro-april-2017-32Purloined photo with apologies and credit to Bobby Talamine of In The Loop Magazine

We didn’t need a reminder, but boy was it comforting to hear The New Pornographers play “The Laws Have Changed” early in their Saturday night 9:30 Club show in D.C.  Yes, in the real world the laws are changing, and not for the better.  Thankfully, in that 90-minute respite from our mad president that we spent seeing a favorite band play a delightful set, we learned The New Pornographers haven’t changed a bit, and are at the same time thoroughly new.

We didn’t miss Dan Bejar, though we recognize the blasphemy of these words.  As great as his songs are, as fun as his contributions have been, both live and on albums, the streamlined New Ps with just Carl and Neko keeping the bleeding heart show rolling worked wonderfully.  The show must go on, and backing an album whose thematic heart lies in “This Is The World Of The Theater,” it surely did. Joe Seiders had already proved himself to be a worthy replacement for Kurt Dahl on drums, and even on the Brill Bruisers tour three years ago we’d learned to relax; Seiders keeps the Niagara pounding going with no letup in its galvanic force, and has a few more tricks up his sleeve.  This was the best of the six or seven shows we’ve seen The New Pornographers play at 9:30 going back to 2005.

Which makes sense, since 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 we’re increasingly worried that 2014’s Brill Bruisers might be seen by future historians as its 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.

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!”

Neko Case Is A Man, An Animal, A Gorgeous Singer, Ambitious Songwriter Too

Posted in Music with tags , , , on September 8, 2013 by johnbuckley100

Last time around, Neko Case declared she was a “man, man, man eater,” and the title of one of Middle Cyclone’s best songs was “I’m An Animal.”  Now, on her most accessible and strongest solo album, the glorious The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, Neko declares “I’m A Man,” and does a better job of  convincing us than Muddy Waters ever did.  More like a Superman, both the king and the queen of our species.

“Man” was the first song we heard from the new album, and the best instantaneous signal it sent to our brain was that had to be the New Pornographer’s Kurt Dahl on drums.  We love the way most of Neko’s solo albums have had Calexico’s John Covertino hitting the skins, but Covertino is a moody and mysterious artist on the traps; to have the rolling thunder of Kurt Dahl powering things along meant that this was going to be a different kind of Neko Case album.  And it is.

Lest you think, from the title, that Neko’s joined Fiona Apple’s ranks, The Worse Things Get… is the least baroque, most straight ahead rock’n’roll album of her distinguished solo career, even as it retains all of the complex folk song structures we’ve grown to love.  For someone who was introduced to most of  the world through the high camp pop dynamics of the New Pornographers, Neko’s solo albums have always been something way different, as different from those albums as Utah’s Dirty Devil River is from Vancouver Harbour.   We have loved Neko’s voice from the first moment we heard it, but if you had to mark the moment it truly captured our heart, it was actually when she sang backup to Sally Timms on the Mekons’ “City of London” on Journey To The End Of Night. There was just something about the emollient power of her vocals that lassoed our left ventricle and yanked.  But there was such a leap between the pop dynamics of her early role in the New Pornos, which eventually morphed into true co-equal status with A.C. Newman, and the solo albums she recorded with the likes of Calexico and Giant Sand, that while we admired the raw ambition of her songwriting, we didn’t really love the albums.  They were work, punctuated by some songs so great you immediately created a new playlist just to have them star on it.

Even on the great Blacklisted, in which Neko’s funny, marvelous lyrics seemed like a beautiful woman spouting Kant, just to show she’s not just another pretty face, we found the music slow going.  Again, the metaphor to torture is these songs were often like a creek in the beautiful high desert compared to the easy and torrential flow of the Columbia, up there in the geography of the New Pornographers.  We didn’t much enjoy Fox Confessor Brings The Flood,  though Middle Cyclone took on some of the aspect of her satisfying solo album, The Tigers Have Spoken, on which, with a great live band, she kicked ass.  We played Middle Cyclone a lot.  But since we’ve downloaded The Worse Things Get, we can’t stop listening to it — an indicator this is something different, something a little easier, poppier, and yeah, better.

You might think, listening to the opener here, “Wild Creatures,” that we are in for another dark, difficult ride, one where you could admire the scenery, as in a Terence Malick movie, without much loving it.  But by the time we get to “Man,” it’s clear: this is Neko’s masterpiece, at least so far; the album that combines this most ambitious songwriter’s gathering strength with a varied template that makes room for crowd-pleasing melody.  While we’ve always loved hearing Neko’s voice, on the new album, we can have it all.

A.C. Newman’s “Shut Down The Streets” Is The Best New Pornographers Album Of 2012

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on October 9, 2012 by johnbuckley100

Some band leaders take a respite from their main gig to try something completely different — play with Slash or Moroccan tribesman, explore songs all composed for zithers or something, do an album of covers they’d never get their bandmates to play. A.C. Newman punctuates New Pornographers albums with solo records that sound a lot like… New Pornographers albums, with a fair bit of overlap among musicians.  Maybe Shut Down The Streets is made up of songs that Kurt Dahle refuses to drum on, but sheesh, Neko sings on ’em, so why not just round up the gang?  And isn’t that Kurt on The Decembrists-esque “I’m Not Talking?”  Maybe the gang *is* all here.

If those aren’t his fellow Pornos playing, we’re betting their absence is a matter of convenience, of Carl Newman having moved himself and his expanding family to Upstate New York while most  of his colleagues prefer to see the sun set over the orcas gamboling in Vancouver Harbor.  All we know is that, not for the first time, Newman’s released a fine album that will do more than tide us over until the next New Pornographers album sweet-talks its way past the censors.

We’re liking Shut Down The Streets almost as much as The Slow Wonder, and a lot more than Get Guilty, which came out in 2009.  After the first two New Porno albums made the world a whackier and far more joyous place, some of the band’s fans reacted to the third album — Twin Cinemas, with its oft-slower, less manic songs — like Andrew Sullivan reviewing the President’s recent debate performance.  But we liked the depth and minor-key melodic shifts, the emotional complexity of that album and what followed, especially on subsequent albums, with songs like “Fortune” and “We End Up Together,” which swapped effervescent irony for psychic nourishment, pop rocks for comfort food.  And so it goes with Shut Down The Streets, which shows a parallel progression from The Slow Wonder that Together showed from Mass Romantic, and is a lot more like “Bones Of An Idol” than “The SlowDescent Into Alcoholism.”

Newman is now a married man, a father, an adult so willing to step up to the richer, heavier texture of his new life that he tweets threats to his dachshund (who apparently started it by growling at the newborn.)  Making the Sophie’s Choice of one’s kid over the pooch…not a typical rock star move.  The same evidence of maturity is shown throughout Shut Down The Streets.  A little of the old manic wildness is gone, but what remains is so admirably resonant you’d think he was a Canadian or something.

Tulip Frenzy’s #9 Best Album of 2010: The New Pornographers’ “Together”

Posted in Music with tags , on November 30, 2010 by johnbuckley100

To paraphrase Justice Stewart, we know a great New Pornographers album when we hear one. When they released Twin Cinema back in 2006 2005, some cool cats bemoaned the lack of caffeine.  Not us.  We saw it as the Album of The Year, and thought it would be hard for them ever again to reach such heights.  And they haven’t, not with Challengers, and not with this year’s Together. However, even though we expressed a little disappointment when Together was released, they’ve still got it, and with a song like the breathtaking “We End Up Together,” emotional resonance trumps cleverness and Glee-like theatrics.  Our guess is that after solo albums by Neko and Carl, the songwriting well may have been two fingers shy of a tankful.  The fact that they’re back out on the road leads us to believe the next time they go into the studio will lead to good things.

The New Pornographers’ Spectacular Show At The 9:30 Club

Posted in Music with tags , on June 23, 2010 by johnbuckley100

Leica Digilux 3

It was not merely the best New Pornographer’s show we’ve seen, it may have been the best show we’ve seen in some years, full stop. Occasionally Neko’s vocals slipped the track and the band rode on for a mile or two with sparks flying.  But for the most part, the harmonies flew like the Blue Angels in formation, Kurt Dahl continued to rack up points in the computer rankings of the #1 drummer in the universe, and the band rocked with the precision of a synchronized swim team.

Starting with “Sing Me Spanish Techno” is always a challenge, in the same way that starting the NASCAR circuit at Daytona is a challenge — there are going to be wrecks, even as you’re thrilled that the show is underway.  By the time Dan Bejar appeared onstage in a beer bubble, descending like Pink at an awards ceremony to play “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras,” it all gelled.

May we offer special thanks that two-thirds of the way through the sold-out show, they played “We End Up Together,” not just the best song on Together, but once again a song where the New Pornos drop the ironic armature and stand there unprotected.  Our breath ended up one county over.

Neko was in really fine form on all the old showstoppers, not to mention “All The Old Showstoppers.”  On songs like “Letter From An Occupant” or “The Laws Have Changed,” which call for vocal gymnastics, she flipped and bounced in perfect pitch, but in a seemingly easier song to sing, such as “These Are The Fables,” things were a little shakier.

Still, not just a good show, but a great show.  On “Jackie, Dressed In Cobras,” you would have thought Vollman and Kaylan were once again joined with the Mothers of Invention.  A band that plays with such an effort at precision may get a little too loose and chatty between songs, and Canadian humor may in fact be an oxymoron.  But who cares.  After an album (Together) that did slightly disappoint, nice to see it all come together for the funnest band on the planet.

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