Archive for Thee Oh Sees

On “Orc,” Thee Oh Sees’ 19th Album, John Dwyer Makes A Statement

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

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Orc is, if you can believe it, Thee Oh Sees’ 19th album.  Though it’s their first album under the name “Oh Sees.”  Whatever this is, however you count it or categorize it, John Dwyer has by now built such a confounding, amazing, gorgeous, pulverizing body of work there should be a monument to him just outside the Temple of Real Rock’n’Roll.

Less than four years ago Santa put a lumpa coal in our Christmas stocking with the news that Thee Oh Sees were breaking up.  It was particularly disheartening because the gang at Tulip Frenzy had just voted Floating Coffin the #2 album on that year’s Top Ten List (c). Lo those many years ago, we wrote, “You have no idea what Thee Oh Sees are going to come out with next!  A No Wave rock opera.  Speed-metal yodeling.  Eddy Cochran backed by zithers. We are completely serious: this is a band that through sheer dint of trying proves every mother’s maxim that if only little Johnny puts his mind to it, he can do anything.  If little Johnny is John Dwyer, the answer is yes, yes he can.  And you would be well advised to catch up.”  Have to say it, that was good advice then, and now.

If John Dwyer had thrown in the towel then, he would have assumed his rightful place in history; that here we are, four years and five albums later, and his replacement unit from the Oh Sees classic of the early part of this decade has now fused into nothing less than a machine and you can see why we are so thrilled that Orc has joined the party.

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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 was then 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 there 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’d say he does that on every song, but in fact, “Keys To The Castle” is both a standout and also, if you’ve been paying attention, just exactly what we’ve come to expect from the impossible-to-pin-down Mr. Dwyer and his morphing set of musicians and band names.

For the past six or seven years, we have lived in a Golden Age of Rock’n’Roll due to the presence of John Dwyer, Ty Segall, and White Fence’s Tim Presley.  If the advance word on Wand’s new rec is right, add Cory Hanson to the list of West Coast genies making life worth living.  John Dwyer’s band(s) have pushed forward a 60+-year old genre in part by reconciling all its best pieces.  On Orc, he makes a statement.

And did we mention that just yesterday came word that Thee Oh Sees’ 20th album will be released in… November.  It is said to be coming out under the band’s original name, OCS, and will be “pretty, pastoral, folky, with string arrangements by Heather Locke and brass arrangements by Mikal Cronin.”  We cannot fucking wait.

Radiohead Tops Tulip Frenzy’s 2016 Top 10 List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The #8 Album of 2016: Quilt’s Plaza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On Thee Oh Sees’ “A Weird Exits,” It’s Time To Take John Dwyer Seriously

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on August 13, 2016 by johnbuckley100

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By my count, Thee Oh Sees have released eight albums since 2010, not including greatest hits and rarities.  Even with John Dwyer backed by different incarnations of the band, what Thee Oh Sees’ albums have all had in common is a balance between joyous, thrashing punk rock that transports you to a crowded club heaving with spilled beer and dance sweat and these quieter songs, sometimes instrumentals, that make you go, “Well, that’s pretty.”  On A Weird Exits, the twin strains are in perfect equipoise, the jams offset by much more carefully plotted compositions.  And it makes us realize that it is time to take John Dwyer seriously.

Sure, albums like Floating Coffin and Putrifiers II have loomed large on Tulip Frenzy’s Top 10 Lists over the past half-decade, and you really haven’t lived ’til you’ve seen Thee Oh Sees play live, but with A Weird Exits, it’s time to tell the world: living amongst us, right now, is a deity capable of miracles.  “Plastic Plant” may be a perfect exemplar of Dwyer’s rock’n’roll genius, the double-drum set up calmly rolling along as he sings in a quiet falsetto, before his guitar just crushes it, the ebb and flow between the delicate passages and nuclear war the greatest formula since Black Francis was doing something like this with the Pixies all those years ago.  It’s easy to understand a song like this, or “Dead Man’s Gun,” or the frantic”Gelatinous Cube” were all created for the stage, with Dwyer carving out space to sing sweetly between tsunamis of sound.  So far so good, no need to plea the point that Thee Oh Sees are probably the most exciting live band playing these days.  This is settled fact, stare decicis, things every skateboarder in San Francisco is taught in 4th grade.

But there’s an entirely different side to Thee Oh Sees, and it goes way beyond what Dwyer does with his offbeat guitar tunings, his strange scales, his chirps and rave ups.  On “Jammed Entrance,” the way the double drums begin while the double-tracked guitar noodles along before the instrumental gets going, it’s jazz, man; this is something Miles Davis would have sampled, and not the other way around.

Which leads us to the two songs that end the album, bluesy, gorgeous compositions, a reminder of that other side of Dwyer. “Crawl Out From The Fall Out” has a minor-key undertow and — as some of his coolest songs have in the past — utilizes a Kronos Quartetesque strings arrangement, and it makes you sit up and listen, even though it’s a quiet song, not a trademark garage-psych groove.  Beautiful, beautiful music.  And then rather than follow it up with a rocker, the closer, “The Axis,” sounds like Stevie Winwood jamming with Procol Harem.  Well.  In just a 30-minute snippet of time, such a short interlude in your life, John Dwyer has taken us from the most exciting garage rock of the epoch to deep, moving contemplation.  The guy has it all, including originality.  A Weird Exits, its title rendered ambiguous by the extra “s”, is not only the best Oh Sees album since Floating Coffin, it should be that album that makes audiences of all stripes sit up and notice.

It’s time to take John Dwyer seriously.

 

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.

Years Later, Will Thousands Claim They Were At Wand’s Show At The Black Cat?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 16, 2015 by johnbuckley100

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About three times as many people claim they were at Nirvana’s winter ’91 show at the old 930 Club as could possibly have fit in that skanky room.  Last night, not too many of us were privileged to have been in the backroom of the Black Cat to see Wand, a band that thunders every bit as much as their precursors, while sharing their genius for melody and that genre-busting tightrope walk between metal and pop.  The 70-minute show was at times transcendent.

A year is a long time in pop music, but was it really just last fall that we saw Wand open for Ty Segall, leading us to discover their remarkably accomplished debut, Ganglion Reef?  Since then — all in calendar year 2015 — the band has released two new albums, each better than the last one, a progression of talent that shows great things to come.

The band is now a foursome, so that Cory Hanson has extra help on keyboards and guitar.  As the singer and principal guitarist, the clean-cut Hanson cuts a fascinating figure.  It’s fully to be expected to find him on a stage, but he looks less like someone who can ply the line between noise-rock and Power Pop than someone you’d see on a tech conference panel being grilled by Kara Swisher on why his start-up’s billion-dollar valuation is justified. Wand plays pretty melodies that stick in your head and then, on a dime, they pivot to chest-jarring fuzz-metal.  As the bandleader, Hanson seems as if at any moment he could turn and walk through a different door, and you’d find yourself listening to music in a completely different tempo, volume, and level of intensity.

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But no take on Wand is complete without mentioning that Evan Burrows is a one-man nuclear power plant piston-pounding the drums. If drummers had world rankings like tennis players do, Burrows would be that phenom that went from number 128 to the Top 5 in a single season.  This is evident on the records, manifest live.

We have already stated our dilemma in determining which of Wand’s 2015 records will make Tulip Frenzy’s 2015 Top 10 List.  And honestly, we wish we could call 1000 Days and Golem a double album and be done with it.  But something else came to mind last night when watching this intimate show in which Wand just detonated on stage.  Hanson reportedly was Mikal Cronin’s roommate in LA, and Ty Segall has taken the younger tyro under his ample wing.  In the summer of 2014, Tulip Frenzy declared that we live in a Golden Age of Rock’n’Roll due to the output and sensibilities of Ty, Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer, and White Fence’s Tim Presley, and last’s night show by Wand simply confirmed the thesis.  But what also was clear that any listing of West Coast bands and figures leading us to this Periclean age has to include Wand and Cory Hanson.  Those of us who were privileged to be at the Black Cat last night know this.  And we fully expect that a decade from now, hundreds of DC hipsters will claim they were there too, and have known this all the while.

Thee Oh Sees Burn The Barn Down Again On “Mutilator Defeated At Last”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 28, 2015 by johnbuckley100

John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees is the only Boy Scout in rock’n’roll.  I’m not referring to his lifestyle, about which I know next to nothing.  I am talking about his resourcefulness, in which he can take virtually any material — a button, a line scrawled on a napkin, a rhythm and ragged riff — and fashion it into a song.

Sure, leave Ty Segall in a room with a guitar and he’ll have a song in an hour.  Give Joyce Carol Oates a typewriter and she can probably write a novel in that time.  But Dwyer crafts the most amazing rock’n’roll songs out of single guitar lines, a little falsetto here, a yip there.  At least since 2011’s Carrier Crawler/The Dream, everything Thee Oh Sees have done puts them in the same rare category as young Mr. Segall and his buddy Tim Presley of White Fence: collectively they are saving rock’n’roll, and in Dwyer’s case, seeming to have a real good time doing so.  He is the Happy Warrior: a calm and articulate ringmaster in the eye of a sonic storm.  And now we have Mutilator Defeated At Last, and with it comes assurance that our entire blessed summer looms before us, its soundtrack loaded on our iPhone.

The entire crew at Tulip Frenzy was devastated when word came, late a couple years back, that Thee Oh Sees were going on hiatus.  We hate us bands on hiatus, and it hurt particularly because damn if Floating Coffin wasn’t #2 on Tulip Frenzy’s 2013 Ten Best List (c). The situation clarified a bit not long after: while we were despondent that this particular lineup of Thee Oh Sees was taking a break, Dwyer was just moving to LA and working with a different gang o’ kids.  Drop had some good songs on it, but we chalk up 2014 as a transition year.  All the more reason we were so excited both to see ’em at Levitation: Austin Psych Fest earlier this month, and to learn that the road band was holed up in the studio long enough to record Mutilator Defeated At Last.

And the verdict?  The equal of Floating Coffin, for sure, and better than Putrifiers II.  This is the highest praise! We see a few more of Mr. Dwyer’s catholic influences — no, not the church, but Jimi Hendrix (on the intro to “Lupine Ossuary”) and Joy Division (on “Withered Hand.”)  We have all the ingredients that make Thee Oh Sees so boss: double drums powering the proceedings, Dwyer’s deceptively amazing guitar work, and his vocal range, which we think of as the opposite of Don Van Vleet’s.  (Whereas Captain Beefheart had an alleged seven-octave range starting from the bottom, rising from beneath the basement steps, Dwyer’s range starts from the attic, his cool falsetto, occasionally invoked, descends from there.)

At 33 minutes and change, it is of Goldilocks length, even though we coulda stood another song or two.  But look, a guy who is sophisticated enough as a magpie that he could take a little bit o’ rockabilly rumbling, the traditional verse/chorus/nuclear war set up worked over by bands like the Pixies and Nirvana, add a dollop of Fripp and Eno, and on this one even throw in an acoustic song, and you get a sense of what pure genius consists of.  It is a staple of bad advertising to extol the virtues of those who “think outside the box,” and the paradox of John Dwyer is that he does that — oh yeah, there has never been a songwriter who can make so much of so little, and have it be so original and true — even as he plies the very lines of rock’n’roll idiom.

If you’ve yet to dive in, here’s the place to start.  Close your eyes and he’s burning the house down.  Open ’em again and all is right in the world.

For Us, White Fence And Thee Oh Sees Were The Highlights Of Levitation: Austin Psych Fest 2015

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 11, 2015 by johnbuckley100

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John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees

It had rained so much earlier in the week (and earlier in the day) that the organizers of Levitation — this year’s version of the Austin Psych Fest — had to change stage locations.  The desire was to have no band float off into the river as the stage they played on was swept away, though that sure would have been cool to witness. But even though they provided a helpful pocket map, with set times on the three stages, the reality of the layout did not conform to what was on the map, and thus we were more than a little disoriented Friday evening.  And of course, the quicksand texture of the ever-present mud made getting from one stage to the next an adventure.

Going to an event like Levitation, with headliners including The Jesus and Mary Chain, Tame Impala, Spiritualized, the Flaming Lips, Primal Scream, and the reunion of the 13th Floor Elevators, you have to pick and choose who you really want to see, which is a function both of desire and stamina.  For us, the priorities were to see Thee Oh Sees, White Fence, and the Black Ryder — three fave bands from the West Coast who non-NYC East Coasters are deprived of.  It really was these bands that we flew to Austin to see, as among the headliners, we’ve seen The Jesus and Mary Chain many times over the years, and Spiritualized on their last tour.  Much as we would have loved to have seen Roky Erikson play to a hometown crowd, the 13th Floor Elevators reunion was late Sunday evening, and in order to be at work this morning, banging out this Tulip Frenzy update, we needed to be on a return flight well before he beamed down on stage.  So we picked and we chose and the best of what we saw is contained herein.

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Holy Wave

We loved Holy Wave, who played early Friday evening on the stage they’d moved up from rivers edge.  2014’s Relax was a garage band highlight, and their evocation of the Velvets meet Spaceman 3 seemed a perfect way to get into the Levitation spirit.  On a beautiful evening, with the rain gone but not forgotten, we stood by a suppurating mud hole and saw these Austinites (transplanted from El Paso), ring true to a Texas-state tradition that includes ? and the Mysterians, not to mention the Sir Douglas Quintet.  Fun set by a great band whose new work, previewed here, seems both poppier and tighter than what was on Relax.  Great things await these guys.

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White Fence

Longtime readers will remember that Tim Presley in his many guises — Darker My Love frontman, co-conspirator with Ty Segall, genius leader of White Fence — is accorded worshipful respect at Tulip Frenzy World HQ.  White Fence’s Live In San Francisco was on 2013’s Top Ten List, and of course, For The Recently Found Innocent was our Album of the Year last year.  So to say we were looking forward to White Fence’s set is an understatement, and we are happy to announce they did not disappoint.  No, if anything, they exceeded our sky high expectations.

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White Fence

From the opening strains of “Paranoid Bait” to the Ian Rubbish-perfection of the closer “Harness”, the White Fence set was scorching, with the guitars chiming perfectly, the drummer damn near pounding this stage back into the river.  If you believe, as we do, that the Holy Troika of Ty Segall, John Dwyer, and Tim Presley have saved rock’n’roll in the same way, beginning in ’76, that punk saved it, then you will understand we are not exaggerating in our verdict that the elusive Presley and his incredible live outfit are the most interesting act in contemporary music.  This is not easy music to perform — there’s a Magic Band complexity to the hairpin turns and manic galloping of songs like “Wolf Gets Red Faced” and “Paranoid Bait,” and in context, the motorik “Baxters Corner” was a psychedelic anthem. Presley is emerging as a towering American musical figure of Alex Chilton-esque importance, and the set White Fence played Friday night alone was worth the airfare.  It also made us replay in the hours since the 2013 live album, and yeah, it’s on a par with Live At Leeds, it really is.  Our fervent prayer is that Presley sustains the focus that brought us that live album and last year’s opus, and does not go back to noodling in his room.  If we had our druthers, he would take this band into the studio and lock the door.  We’d slide cheeseburgers under the door and eagerly await the output.

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Thee Oh Sees

Our second favorite set of the festival was Thee Oh Sees on Saturday night.  We fought our way forward through the large crowd of the Reverberation headliners’ stage, and man, were we rewarded.  The double-drum set up of the new construct was potent, though it must be said that an aspect of melodic subtlety has been dropped in the transition from the San Francisco to LA lineup of Dwyer’s outfit.  On songs like “Web,” which they performed gloriously, it appears that when Mutilator Defeated At Last is released in a few weeks, some of what we loved so much about 2013’s Floating Coffin — the ability to both startle the senses and tickle the frontal lobes, all at the same time — will have given way to brute force thundering punk.  But that’s high praise in many a home, not least ours, and we were thrilled by the generous set Dwyer and co. played.

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The Black Ryder

So we were a little disappointed by the Spiritualized set Friday evening.  But while, as we will explain, it’s not entirely fair to judge The Black Ryder based on their Saturday performance, we think maybe it’s time to offer a heart-to-heart, avuncular download of advice to one of our very favorite bands.  The problem of unfairness they faced was that they were squeezed into the smaller stage inside the tent next to where Thee Oh Sees would perform thirty minutes after their set began.  It was inevitable that the crowd — us included — would drift away to see the bigger band on the bigger stage.

But the additional problem is that the three songs they began with from 2015’s The Door Behind The Door are all slow, and while beautiful, 20+ minutes of music at that tempo was not what a festival crowd wanted to hear.  The moment they began playing music from their earlier masterpiece, 2010’s Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride, things improved, for these are far more uptempo songs. The early segment from the new album happen to be the best things on the disk, and if this is an indication of where The Black Ryder are headed, we get it, we accept it.  But we have to say we were a bit disappointed with the set, and yeah, on balance, with the new album, in part because we miss the Bloody Valentines meets Morning After Girls ecstasy of the first one, in part because the new music is a tad precious.  Growing pains suffered by a great band, who at Levitation were dealt a cruel hand.  Given they were inevitably going to lose a portion of the audience to Thee Oh Sees, we wish they’d paced their first 35 minutes a bit differently.  And we look forward to seeing them play a full set, at the pacing they choose, anytime they can return, we hope as headliners, to a longer East Coast tour.

All pictures taken with the Leica C.

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