Archive for Tulip Frenzy Top Ten List

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

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

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

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

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

#9. Angel Olsen All Mirrors

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

#8. Ty Segall Taste

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

#7. The Proper Ornaments 6 Lenins

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

#6. Cosmonauts Star 69

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

#5. Mekons Deserted

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

#4. FEELS Post Earth

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

#3. Moon Duo Stars Are The Light

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

#2. Kelley Stoltz My Regime

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

#1. Wand Laughing Matter

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

Ty Segall’s “First Taste” Is Simply Delicious

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 5, 2019 by johnbuckley100

Adding by subtracting, Ty Segall’s First Taste has a maximalist sound even though there’s not a single electric guitar played on it. What we have instead are Oh Sees-sounding double drums, mandolin and bouzoukis, and erstwhile wingman Mikal Cronin’s No Wave horn bleats cooking up a stew that, from first taste to last, satisfies the soul.

After twelve albums under his own name, three in the last year alone, is the notion of creating a rec without his trademark guitar just a gimmick? Here’s the official Tulip Frenzy take, based on late night debate and deep contemplation:

Many years ago, the novelist Walter Abish wrote Alphabetical Africa. This was an entire novel based on a concept of limitation: Chapter One was composed entirely of words beginning with the letter A, Chapter Two introduced words beginning with B, and so on until by Chapter 26 he had the whole alphabet at his disposal, only to limit himself, letter by letter, chapter by chapter, until he returned to just A in Chapter 52. That’s a gimmick! Pretty cool one – Abish pulled it off — but a gimmick nonetheless.

Ty’s playing with bouzoukis, double drums, multiple horns, mandolins and keyboards BUT NOT AN ELECTRIC GUITAR isn’t a gimmick or a limitation. In fact, this is his most maximalist album ever — and also, we must say, one of his very best.

Since the eponymous Ty Segall 18 months ago, the young genius has put out albums with White Fence, Gøng, and God knows who else, but he’s also produced, in Freedom’s Goblin, his first ever Tulip Frenzy Album o’ the Year, not to mention, earlier in 2019,, an incredible Steve Albini-produced live album (Deformed Lobes.) Ty was already free of expectations and limitations. He is producing consistently great work, without any need to play the role of guitar hero. He can do whatever the fuck he wants, even an album without a guitar lick. And of course he pulls it off.

In the past 18 months, he has produced songs that can be likened to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Santana, James White and the Blacks/Contortions, and Neil Young, to name a few. On the guitar-less First Taste, we detect notes of the Mekons (the bouzouki rock), the Brian Jonestown Massacre (the sitar rock of the amazing “Radio”), and Thee Oh Sees, oh, everywhere. But it’s all Ty, plus his chums Charles Moothart (who co-drums with Ty,) and the aforementioned Cronin.

His palate is as broad as his palette. And his talent is nearly immeasurable. If for some bizarre reason — you’ve been held captive in the trunk of a car, you are just now returning from dog sledding to the North Pole — your exposure to Ty Segall has been limited, take a taste. The first one’s free. And I bet you can’t just eat one.

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

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

 

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In addition to Kelley Stoltz agreeing to answer some questions to accompany his write-up as winner of Tulip Frenzy’s 2017 Album Of The Year (Tied) honors, co-winners Wand agreed to answer some questions.  We are particularly grateful that Evan Burrows, who we have computer ranked as the World’s #1 Drummer, spoke for the band.

Congratulations on Plum being tied for Album of the Year on our annual Top 10 List.  We think Plum is Wand’s best album by far, and having seen the band in 2013, 2015, and this year at DC9, the new incarnation is a quantum leap forward. How do you think of Plum in terms of Wand’s progression?

Evan: Hey, thanks. I think we feel more or less that way too. Even since the first record, we’ve always talked about chasing a kind of feeling in the music that anything might be possible, that the next step could lead in any direction. We want the music to feel like it’s living and lived in, like it will respond to anything that touches it– flooded with new color and feeling, changing shape, shifting its posture and gait. I think Plum is the most sensitized and detailed music we’ve ever made, and I think it has thrown open more doors in our process than any record we’ve ever recorded. As we’ve started jamming for the next record, I feel like Plum is still whistling at us from last year’s autumn, reminding us to say ‘yes’ and to welcome new impulses when they enter the room.

We have all grown so much as musicians and people since the band started four years ago, and adding two more amazing musicians (nay humans) to the band this time around obviously transformed the organism. I think we’re finally making music that no one of us could account for in total, and the recordings are a lot more exciting as a result– the feels and spaces are deeper, more habitable, and they reveal more over time. We pay a lot more attention now to how we all play together, and what that does to a tune. These are still sculpted little pop songs, it’s still plain old rock music, but now it has five whole senses of invention animating it at once.

Even as we love both songs, it seems like it’s a far journey, musically and lyrically, to go from, say, “Reaper Invert” to “Charles De Gaulle.”  We’ve read that several of the songs were culled from sessions where the band jammed and explored territory together.  Did Cory come in with songs, or was it more of a group effort this time, working in a rehearsal space or studio?

Evan: Most of the song ideas on Plum were harvested from files and files of iPhone-recorded, unstructured jamming that we did at a clip in the late summer/autumn of 2016. We would listen back to those recordings and pick out promising ideas and return to them over and over in the practice space– stretching and prodding and expanding them, jamming short sections on loop, arranging and orchestrating things and arguing about structure and method and completely exhausting ourselves until it would suddenly feel good again. Then we’d know we had a song. We’d let this go on for like 6-10 hours a day including breaks for meals. There were so many minor versions. It got very obsessive.

The two songs on Plum that were exceptions to that process are “The Trap” (which we barely played until an hour or so before tracking it) and “Driving.” Cory brought those to the rest of the band as acoustic demos with rhythm guitar and vocals. Then we all contributed our own parts and worked on the arrangements together.

From the moment we heard “Blue Cloud,” we knew Plum would be a very different Wand album.  Tell us about the impact Marquis Moon and a two-guitar band like Television had on this album.

Evan: Well, we all love Marquee Moon and I think Television is a band that has been really inspiring and instructive for us in many ways. Cory and Lee and I were listening to that record a ton when we were working on 1,000 Days. That band is so good– the economy of what they do, their discipline, the insistence of their four individual musical personalities and the sense of intimacy and chemistry between them. The beginning of “Blue Cloud” is an obvious nod, as is the way we let that song expand from a pretty simple premise into something totally excessive that joyously wanders away just to arrive back at home.

You, (singer/guitarist) Cory, and (bass player) Lee have worked together for some years.  What impact did adding Sofia and Robert have on creating Plum?

Evan: Of course it had a profound impact, both on the music we make and on the living dynamic in the band. It’s hard to be precise about what that impact was because it has caused so much new movement. The music probably says it all– just give the record a couple more spins and focus on what each of them are up to the whole time. It blows my little mind.

Between 1000 Days and Plum, Cory produced a solo album and you both went out on the road as part of Ty Segall’s Muggers. Will you keep focused principally on Wand in 2018, or are there other projects in mind?

Evan: All three of us have been working on other projects or playing in other bands the whole time we’ve been playing together as Wand. Cory is always working on solo material, I write with another band called Behavior, Lee has a solo project called Oil Thief, Sofia is in another band called P22, Robbie just finished mixing a record he’s had in the can for a couple years… We all like to keep busy. I don’t think that will change in 2018, but we will also be writing, recording and touring together a lot next year. See you at the gig!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#1 Album of 2017 (tied): Plum by Wand

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

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

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

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

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

#3 Album of 2017: Orc by Oh Sees

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

In August,we wrote:

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

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

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

#4 Album of 2017: Robyn Hitchcock by Robyn Hitchcock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last spring, we wrote:  

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

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

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

And so, of course, they are.

#6 Album of 2017: City Music by Kevin Morby

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

When it came out, we wrote:

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

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

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

#7 Album of 2017: Ty Segall by Ty Segall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When it came out, we wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Tulip Frenzy’s Top 10 List Of Black and White Photographs We Took In 2016

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2016 by johnbuckley100

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Last week, we published our personal faves among the various color photographs we took and published in 2016.  We understand that photographers tend to be known by a particular “look” and sensibility, that many feel the need to commit to either black and white or color.  We couldn’t if we tried.

We look deeply saturated colors — and the purity of monochrome.  We love going out some days with our Leica Monochrom in hand, viewing the world in black and white just as if we had a camera loaded with Tri-X Pan.  On those days when we are either deliberately shooting monochrome, or in the end, that’s the way we process them, we are just as happy, and in some ways even more so than when we shoot color.  We love grey scale, tonalities, the otherness and permanence of an image in black and white.

The one above is our favorite for the year.  Below, in no order, are our nine others.  And for those who like black and white photography, we think you’ll like the galleries on our sister site, Tulip Frenzy Photography.

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Leica MP-240, 35mm Summilux

 

Pedestrian At Best

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Leica Monochrom, 50mm Noctilux

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Funk Parade 2016 Supplement-4

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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.

 

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