Archive for Wand

Wand's "Laughing Matter" is Tulip Frenzy's 2019 Album Of The Year

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

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

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

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

#9. Angel Olsen All Mirrors

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

#8. Ty Segall Taste

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

#7. The Proper Ornaments 6 Lenins

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

#6. Cosmonauts Star 69

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

#5. Mekons Deserted

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

#4. FEELS Post Earth

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

#3. Moon Duo Stars Are The Light

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

#2. Kelley Stoltz My Regime

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

#1. Wand Laughing Matter

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

White Fence’s “For The Recently Found Innocent” Is Tulip Frenzy’s Album of the Decade; Ty Segall Named Artist of the Decade

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 16, 2019 by johnbuckley100
White Fence For The Recently Found Innocent

That lowly scrum of slackers who moon about Tulip Frenzy’s Global HQ like the gangsters of the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club were hoping to avoid the debate over the decade’s best album. Things can go terribly wrong when you start such discussions.

Some of the gang’s resistance stems from their admittedly deep knowledge of rock’n’roll history, wherein choosing the best record from the decade not even past calls up Chou En Lai’s response to Henry Kissinger, who asked Chou’s opinion of the French Revolution: “Too early to say.” It was 1972.

Some of us are still squabbling over whether OK Computer or Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space were the best albums of the ’90s. Moreover, with the hindsight of 40 years, can you really pick the ’70’s best album?

Much of the unwillingness to dig in, though, was due to the team’s needing Thanksgiving to get a quorum, set time for debate and invoke cloture. We need a deadline, the looming end o’ year — not to mention all the other glam sites we compete with putting out their lists — to force a determination of which record ranks supreme. Choosing from a ten-year span when we haven’t fully considered the options from the present one seemed, if not quite ass backwards, then at least as unaligned with Cause and Effect as Slothrop’s map of conquests was with the Poisson distribution of fallen V2 rockets.

But then along came Friend of the Site Allen Goldberg who taunted us, in like late October, with Paste or someone’s list of the decade’s finest. While it named many of the right bands (e.g. Thee Oh Sees) it consistently chose the wrong record (e.g. Castlemania). Which prompted a remarkably coherent and efficient response from the Tulip Frenzy editors.

Pool cues, far from being raised in anger, were gently rested on felt. The mid-afternoon guzzling momentarily fell silent. We all got together and, like, talked it out.

One editor suggested, “Let’s just figure out which albums from 2019, if any, should be considered, and throw them into the mix; it’s not like we have to do our whole annual Top 10 list before we can say which ones would make the decadal grade.”

To my surprise, from outta left field came this logical suggestion: since Tulip Frenzy has done an annual Top List each year since 2010, why not look at which records were included and jump-start deliberations by culling from the 90 chosen in each of nine one-year increments?

There was no getting out of it. We would chose the decade’s best… 20 sounds like a good number … albums.

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Before we reveal the list in full, a few words about the decade. 2010 to 2020 was a really great decade for real rock’n’roll.

And yes, we’re painfully aware that rock’n’roll is no longer the common language of our culture. “Popular music” these days contains precious little rock’n’roll (have you seen that horror show which is the Grammies?) If you wanted to be mean, you might even say that Tulip Frenzy — which used to believe it was dedicated to a highly refined subset of “pop music” — is today better defined as passionate supporters of unpopular music. Un-pop. Yep, that’s us.

So we get it. When we publish our list of the 20 best albums of the 2010s, we know it will bear little resemblance to the Best of the ’10s lists from other, less discerning sites. We know it’s quite possible that just as several of the rock critters, if we may even call them that, who put together the list for, say, Rolling Stone may not know any of the bands on our list, we may not know any of the bands on theirs. (Could someone please explain to me who Beyonce is?) Which of us should be more shamed by that development?

*

Of the previous five decades in which rock music has been, if not the dominant musical art form, at least pop music’s organizing principle, two 10-year cohorts comprise an unassailable, uncontroversial collection of the Greatest Music of All Time — the ’60s and the ’70s. Yes, a Boomer point of view, but no less true because of it. I mean, these days Millenials play as much music by the Beatles as we do…

One decade — the ‘Aughts, 2000-2009 — barely registers as having a musical personality, but maybe we’re confusing things because we can never settle on what that decade should even be called. Between the rise of neo-psychedelica – bands like First Communion Afterparty, for example — and the incredible Power Pop of The New Pornographers, it was a decade with tasty output. But at this point, Chou En Lai was right: it’s too early to tell whether the ‘Aughts can be seen as a decade of distinction.

The ’90s were, surprisingly, as great as the ’60s and the ’70s. Fully two-thirds of the music I listen to today was either made in or sprang from the ’90s. So many artists were either in their early glory — Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dandy Warhols, Luna — or in peak form, cf. Bob Dylan, Fugazi, R.E.M., Nirvana, Spiritualized, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, Whiskeytown, P.J. Harvey, Blur, Oasis, Jesus and Mary Chain, the Mekons, Matthew Sweet, Prince, Iggy Pop, Tom Petty, and I could go on. One could happily go to a Desert Isle with a ’90s-programmed juke box and foreswear all rescuing.

At the same time I know we can all agree that the ’80s sucked. Some of it was technical — the simultaneous advent of the CD and the adoption of synthesizers everywhere led to precious few albums that are today even listenable. Even in a decade in which R.E.M., U2 and the Pixies ruled the roost, so few albums sound good, it’s hard to spend time there. But the problems were more than technical, more than just the brittle transition from analog vinyl to digital CDs.

The ’80s reflected the tide going out to sea, taking the Clash and Gang of Four and Joy Division and Wire — all the great late ’70s bands — with it. Even though stalwarts like Lou Reed, the Replacements, Prince, Robyn Hitchcock, Galaxie 500, Sonic Youth, and early on, Bowie and the Stones all produced memorable ’80s albums, as decades go, it was a loser.

So where does all this leave us ranking the 2010s? Honestly, pretty high. Maybe not quite up there with ’90s, but ahead of the ’80s for sure, and about a furlong in front of its preceding ‘Aughts.

*

The decade that began on New Year’s Day 2010 was driven by a handful of musicians about whom only a small portion of the world has ever heard. You and I — yes, you Bub — we all listen to Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, Tim Presley/White Fence, and Kelley Stoltz. To us, this cast of characters was as influential in making the 2010s a great musical decade as Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone were in making the ’60s great. They played a role as important as what Brian Eno, Patti Smith, David Bowie, Joe Strummer, Tom Verlaine, Lou Reed, and David Byrne did in the ’70s. And none of them ever has or — gotta admit it — likely will ever headline at Wembley Stadium or even Coachella.

But rock’n’roll in the ’10s was amazing, and if you want to give credit where it’s due, let’s just go ahead and name Ty Segall Artist of the Decade. I count 13 solo albums, two albums with the Ty Segall Band, one with Mikal Cronin, two with White Fence (Tim Presley), and I can’t even keep up with Fuzz, Gøggs, and all the other offshoots.

Even if we were scoring him based only on his own output, I’d put Ty ahead of his only two competitors — John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees and Kelley Stoltz. But Ty’s impact can be felt on the generosity behind his producing first albums by Wand, Feels and Shannon Lay. And there are more I just can’t remember. For those of us in the rec room at Tulip Frenzy, it was an easy decision. We think the greatest music of a pretty great decade somehow ties back, if you’ll pardon the expression, to Ty Segall.

*

With no further blathering here’s the list, in typical Casey Kasem reverse order:

The 20 Best Albums of the 2010s were:

20. Calexico Algiers (2012)

19. The Vaselines Sex With An Ex (2010)

18. Wire Change Becomes Us (2013)

17. Alejandro Escovedo Burn Something Beautiful (2016)

16. Parquet Courts. Sunbathing Animal (2014)

15. The New Pornographers Together (2010)

14. The Brian Jonestown Massacre Mini Album Thingy Wingy (2015)

13. Capsula In The Land of the Silver Sun (2011)

12. Robyn Hitchcock Robyn Hitchcock (2017)

11. Kelley Stoltz My Regime (2019)

10. Wand Laughing Matter (2019)

9. Ty Segall Freedom’s Goblin (2018)

8. PJ Harvey Let England Shake (2011)

7. Amen Dunes Love (2014)

6. Courtney Barnett The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas (2014)

5. Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)

4. First Communion Afterparty Earth – Heat – Sound (2013)

3. Woods Bend Beyond (2012)

2. Thee Oh Sees Floating Coffin (2013)

1. White Fence For The Recently Found Innocent (2014)

*

I probably should just leave you here, preferably with a budget to go buy these as vinyl albums so you can sit in your rec room discovering them in your own way. But let me help you out just a bit.

There was amazing consensus among the editors that the White Fence album — Tim Presley’s brilliant tour through British Invasion and ’60s psychedelica, with only Ty Segall, natch, accompanying him (on drums) — was the odds on best record of the decade. Of all the records here, this is the one that, we are confident, will hold up longer than the French Revolution.

One could have named any number of albums by John Dwyer as high on this list, whether put out under the moniker of Thee Oh Sees, Oh Sees, OCS, or whatevs. But Floating Coffin was his best album of an amazing decade. Here’s a band that started out as a folky duo, soon became the funnest punk band in the land, and these days sounds like Miles Davis leading Hawkwind. Floating Coffin is the very best of their mid-period punk’n’melodic chaos.

Woods has taken a step back of late, but they released four amazing albums in a row and Bend Beyond is the best, earthy, tuneful Upstate music recorded in Brooklyn, or was it the other way around? Note: this was the last album in which Kevin Morby played bass. Yes, Kevin Morby.

We never thought we’d hear a third First Communion Afterparty album, but this most exciting psychedelic band of the ‘Aughts managed to have a record released from the grave. By the time EarthHeat – Sound came out in 2013, ace Minneapolis bandleader Liam Watkins was on to his next ‘un, Driftwood Pyre, whose one and only album so far was amazing. But this one was really special. I happen to think First Communion Afterparty was the most amazing left-field entrant of the Century To Date — go find this album. Like, today.

Radiohead’s second album of the decade was… Radiohead’s best album of the decade. ‘Nuff said.

We know that people have gone nuts over Courtney Barnett’s first “proper” album, but really, it was the suturing together of her two E.P.s into A Sea of Split Peas that introduced her to me in 2014, a year before anyone Stateside was grokking on her, and it’s still her best work.

When we heard Amen Dunes in 2014, we could hardly believe how great and weird they are, or more accurately, he is. Damon McMahon’s reach for prime time with 2018’s Freedom was wonderful, but Love, its predecessor, is a desert island album. It is so weird! Even as it’s straightforward freak folk marrying, say, Devendra Banhart with Brian Eno. Love this rec!

PJ Harvey‘s Let England Shake was a work of power and delicacy, a vibrantly intelligent work, and we love it. The year it came out, we gave the Tulip Frenzy Top 10 honors to Radiohead’s King of Limbs. That’s a great album, but we should have given the honors to Harvey’s memorable invocation of — of all things — World War I.

Ty Segall put out a LOT OF MUSIC in the 2010s. Freedom’s Goblin, a double album with his touring band, including especially Mikal Cronin, is worthy of the great double albums from days of yore. It is his Electric Ladyland or Quadrophenia. A major work by a major artist, the Tulip Frenzy Artist o’ da Decade. It is also, if you’ve yet to discover him, a great entry point as it has it all — punk rock, No Wave skronk, Beatles-esque folk, even a fun detour into “The Loner”-era Neil Young. Did we mention it begins with an homage to his dog?

We can’t tell you whether Wand or Kelley Stoltz will be accorded the soon-to-be-announced 2019 Tulip Frenzy Album o’ The Year. So we clustered them together. Wand is now the most impressive band playing on the planet. With comparisons to Radiohead, you know that Wand’s making great music. Laughing Matter is brilliant.

Not to be outdone, Kelley Stoltz put out the single best album of his amazingly consistent, astonishingly creative career — and My Regime shows how far he has grown from his earlier work, about half of which could have been included on this list of the decade’s best.

The redoubtable Robyn Hitchcock must have known he was putting out his single greatest album of a long and stellar career — a journey in which he has, and I’m serious, written more good songs than anyone but Bob Dylan — because this was the only album in which his name suffices for the title.

Argentine-spawned, Bilbao-housed punk rock magicians Capsula have released a lot of good music since 2005 — this was the best of a good lot. It is a delight to hear a trio play with such abandon — and never give up the hooks or melody.

While the decade’s output by Anton Newcombe can best be found sprinkled across singles, E.P.s, and albums, we chose the 34-minute long Mini Album Thingy Wingy to represent the Brian Jonestown Massacre because, yeah, it was his/their best album.

Five more to go? Sheesh. Okay, the New Pornographers released four great albums in the decade and, yup, this’n’s the best. Hard to choose the best Parquet Courts album — a band so good that now young tyros like Bodega are walking in their shoes — but we think we have. Alejandro Escovedo can still crush it, and with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey, he did. Wire may be from the ’70s, but when I saw them a couple of years ago, all the younger musicians in the audience were grinning, and this record takes songs actually written in 1979 (and released then as a bad, messy album) and properly records them in a 2013 studio. Kurt Cobain-faves The Vaselines walked out of Glaswegian history to record two wonderful 2010s albums, but I chose Sex With An Ex because of the sheer thrill it gave me to have them return. Finally, Calexico has given all of us at Tulip Frenzy World HQ much joy when we’ve seen them live, but this is the album of theirs that we play in full.

Stay tuned for the upcoming Tulip Frenzy 10 Best Albums of 2019 list, circa Thanksgiving. Once we’ve recovered from writing this…

Almost At The Year’s Midpoint, Wand’s “Laughing Matter” Is The Best Album of 2019

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2019 by johnbuckley100

We’ve waited a month to review Laughing Matter, because we wanted to be certain. In that first rush when a great album suffuses synapses with the promise of a wild evening ahead — before the huge bats screech and swoop around the car, before you realize it’s been a week since you listened to anything else — it can be easy to proclaim that such-and-such is the best thing since The Beatles. A month in, though, and it’s clear Laughing Matter holds the high ground. It’s going to take the second coming of The White Album for any other band to produce a better one this year.

Wand has come a long way in a short time. The burst of activity that produced Golem and Ganglion Reef back to back between August 2014 and March 2015 might have led you to think singer/guitarist/songwriter Cory Hanson and epic drummer Evan Burroughs were on the metal end of mentor Ty Segall’s furious seesaw. But then came Catholic twin 1000 Days, a third album released just 395 days after the first album, and it was already a far more sophisticated outing every way.

Wand at the Black Cat in 2015

None of this prepared us for Plum, Tulip Frenzy’s 2017 (Co-) Album o’ The Year, when an expanded band could now produce rock’s only known song about the retirement of Charles De Gaulle. One had to grok on the leap Wand had taken to become, as we noted then, peers with Ty, Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer, and White Fence’s Tim Presley as not only the West Coast’s most fearsome progenitors of ace albums, but among the finest live bands in the world. It was, and is, a stunning album, and 18 months in, we listen to it all the time.

Wand at DC 9 in 2017

Last year, we had to determine whether Perfume, the abbreviated follow-up to Plum, was long enough to qualify for the same track as all the pretty horses in contention for the 2018 Tulip Frenzy Album o’ The Year honors.

Here’s how we described the deliberations: “Some of our editors held out the verdict that, at just under 30 minutes, Wand’s Perfume was more like an E.P.  At least not like a proper album, especially since last year’s Plum was clearly deserving of its (Co-) Album of the Year status.  But then we sat down the recalcitrant judges and played them the beautiful “I Will Keep You Up” and they began to weaken, one of the holdouts even willing to say, “That’s the most sublime song Cory Hansen has ever written and Wand’s ever released.” It was when we all listened together to the Tom Verlaine-like guitar perfection of “The Gift” that towels were thrown in and it was clear: Wand’s Perfume is a real album, and the 5th best of 2018.”

Wand’s Laughing Matter is the strongest album of A.D. 2019 to date. It has the heft of a double album, as if making up for Perfume‘s deficiencies, length-wise. It also contains two of the most gorgeous songs I’ve ever heard, the back-to-back showstoppers of “Rio Grande” and “Airplane.”

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.

But after a while I began to get it — Cory’s voice, while not as pretty as Thom Yorke’s, has some of the same delicacy and range, and they are now operating on a sonic scale comparable only to bands with the ambition of Radiohead and Wilco. Yes, arena bands, considered the finest of their era. And the last time we saw Wand play, it was at DC9 with its sub-200 capacity. (This is the tragedy of modern music, and don’t get us started.)

Sofia Arreguin’s voice is genuinely welcome addition, and the interstitial electronica that punctuates the album sounds like old school Cluster/Harmonia, which you must know makes me happy. We don’t often invoke Pitchfork’s writers, but Brian Howe got off a good ‘un in his stellar review a month ago when he allowed as how, on the album opener “Scarecrow,” “it sounds like Evan Burrows is playing his drums with dinosaur bones.” Yeah, from its opening notes the album packs a wallop, and one song in, on “Xoxo,” we are mesmerized.

The expanded band — two guitars, bass, drums and keyboards — plays brilliantly, flawlessly on this magical album with its poignant invocation of travel and love and traveling with and without one’s love. While wholly original, yes, we understand how Wand has absorbed lessons from both Radiohead and My Bloody Valentine. Which if you think of this last sentence, is like saying a writer has absorbed lessons from, say, James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon — I mean if you are going to be in any way derivative, aim high.

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.

Ty Segall’s “Freedom’s Goblin” Is Tulip Frenzy’s 2018 Album O’ The Year

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Who are we kidding? Everyone knows the best record of 2018 is the reissue of The Beatles. Unless it was Bob Dylan’s More Blood, More Tracks. But given that technically neither album saw its original release in 2018 — the Beatles record came out half a century ago, and you’d be middle aged if you were born the year of Dylan’s album — let’s make way for the young ‘uns. And in this, 2018 was a good vintage.

1. Ty Segall     Freedom’s Goblin

We could not be happier that Ty released a double album that was chock full o’ classic songs, cooked up on his own or with the usual suspects, Mikal Cronin in particular.  We have been waiting for the better part of the decade for Ty to put everything together, and on Freedom’s Goblin he really did.  Full-band renderings of complete songs, stylistic impatience that heard him sound like Neil Young and No Wave bands nearly back to back, Freedom’s Goblin cemented Mr. Segall’s standing as his generation’s brightest light, even as it stood heads and tails above all others as the Album of The Year. That he subsequently released a prett-y fine rec of covers only brought even deeper appreciation for his version here of Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s A Winner,” which would have had Prince clamoring to join Ty’s funky band.

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2. Amen Dunes    Freedom

When Damon McMahon released Love in 2014, it might have landed from outer space; it was so original, so unique in its Freak Folk sound that  it was hard to get a grip on it. We looked forward to its follow up, and when it didn’t arrive the next year or the one after that, we got concerned. In January, though, “Miki Dora” was released and it was astonishing, a song about a real-life ’60s surfer that literally crested at the end, crashing on the beach with melody and power sufficient to sweep us all to sea. Freedom is a beautiful, ambitious and accomplished album, an attempt by McMahon to reach a bigger audience.  It succeeded on all fronts: strong songwriting, incredible singing, and a band that Dylan could snatch for his Never Ending Tour and it would all make sense.

 

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3. Menace Beach      Black Rainbow Sound

We admit that we’d never heard of the Leeds duo until Brix Smith, ex-Fall and current chief pirate in Brix & the Extricated, tweeted in August that she’d contributed to the new Menace Beach album.  One listen and we canceled our summer plans. Black Rainbow Sound may have spent more time in our earbuds than any other record the whole year long. While there were some reference points those of us lucky enough to have heard Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark the first time round, and even Young Marble Giants, could use to place them in their proper taxonomy, we’ve previously written that the combo of AC Newman and Neko Case, otherwise known as the New Pornographers, may be the portal through which to approach Menace Beach. All we know is that there wasn’t an album we listened to the whole year long that trawls as many hooks. Despite its synthetic composition, Black Rainbow Sound is the most natural power pop album of this year and many others.

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4. Brian Jonestown Massacre      Something Else

The Tulip Frenzy conference room erupted in more charges of cheating than were heard anywhere this year other than in the North Carolina Board of Elections, but the prevailing consensus, if not the rulebook, dictated that Anton Newcombe gets special credit unavailable to others.  The fact is, we listened to more good music produced by Anton this year than any other artist, but he’s so fucking prolific, he tends to drop songs that should go on the main album just because they’re done and he has a single he wants to put out. So in our mind — and in our judging — we included “Drained,” the B-side to “Hold That Thought,” which was both the first single and the first song on Something Else, the umptyumpth BJM album of the last decade.  And this put it over the top. Adding just that one song rendered an album featuring “Who Dreams of Cats” — among the best songs of Anton’s career — into something really special.  (The Full Newcombe this year would have included the second album Anton made with Tess Parks, plus that combo’s E.P. featuring “Grunwald,” a song so great Iggy Pop covered it in August.) So, yes, we apply special rules to Anton’s records.  He deserves it, and if you don’t know that, we have nothing to talk about.

 

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5. Wand      Perfume

It was a free for all, the judging room this year.  Some of our editors held out the verdict that, at just under 30 minutes, Wand’s Perfume was more like an E.P.  At least not like a proper album, especially since last year’s Plum was clearly deserving of its (Co-) Album of the Year status.  But then we sat down the recalcitrant judges and played them the beautiful “I Will Keep You Up” and they began to weaken, one of the holdouts even willing to say, “That’s the most sublime song Cory Hansen has ever written and Wand’s ever released.” It was when we all listened together to the Tom Verlaine-like guitar perfection of “The Gift” that towels were thrown in and it was clear: Wand’s Perfume is a real album, and the 5th best of 2018.

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6. Spiritualized      And Nothing Hurt

Jason Pierce famously claimed that And Nothing Hurt would be his final album, until people listened to it, went crazy, and petitioned him to do some more. Happily, we think he’s agreed. This was not as fine an album as 2012’s Sweet Heart, Sweet Light, but that was Spiritualized’s best album since Ladies and Gentleman, We Are Floating In Space, which was only the best album of the 1990s, which was only the best decade of music since the ’60s. So, you can see what And Nothing Hurt was up against, and what it pulled off: a soulful album, sung in Pierce’s typically exhausted voice, but backed up once again with a big band and chorus revolving around the tracks he put down in a home studio. This is a road album, something to put on the cassette deck strapped to the dashboard of the dark green 1971 XKE as you motor on up to the Cotswolds.  Gorgeous stuff.

 

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7. Oh Sees       Smote Reverser

John Dwyer has now recorded five albums with this version of Thee Oh Sees, and in the studio, the double-drum arrangement with him playing guitar like some combo of Hendrix, John McLaughlin and Pere Ubu’s Tom Herman really works.  Smote Reverser had the same combination of well-strategized opuses and songs that crush the skull.  On a song like “Last Peace,” which opens up into free-wheeling punk jazz that thrills the soul while still stunning the senses, it works.  On Deep Purple-inflected crushers like “Enrique El Cobrador,” we admit we yearn for the comparative delicacy of earlier incarnations. Still, in a year when Ty Segall takes top honors, we’re glad that Dwyer’s still in scoring distance. Next year could be his year.

 

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8.  Parquet Courts     Wide Awaaaake

The Parquet Courts have, since 2013, been such a reliable producer of great records we’ve overlooked ’em when it comes time to hand out the prizes.  Parquet Courts? Oh yeah, sure, I only listened to their record for, like, the entire summer, but now I’ve moved on to other things… Not this year! Like fellow Brooklynites Woods, Parkay Quartz have figured out how to incorporate reggae, Latin and ’70s funk into their output, and it’s all really good! These guys are so much of an institution that a band like Bodega could put out an album that is to Parquet Courts as, say, Teenage Fanclub were to Big Star, and no one even mentioned the pure homage! We love this band, and Wide Awake is just begging for the uninitiated to take the plunge.

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9. Calexico       The Thread That Keeps Us

Seeing Calexico again was one of the highlights of 2018, and so was listening to The Thread That Keeps Us, their best album since 2008’s Carried To Dust. The sheer conceptual grandeur of Joey Burns and John Covertino’s particular take on music that straddles our southern border had tremendous resonance in a year when evil forces tried to turn that permeable membrane into cement. When we hear the Mexicali horns on “Under The Wheels,” synapses fire like our taste buds after biting into a pepper. This is the soundtrack of America as it actually is, not as it is wished to be by MAGA-hatted assholes.

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10. The Limiñanas      Shadow People

Our year began in the cold of January listening to the hypnotic, glorious sounds of The Limiñanas, a duo from Perpignon, France caught deep in Anton Newcombe’s orbit, Praise the Lord. In fact, the song “Istanbul Is Sleepy” features Anton on vocals, and it may be his most powerful singing performance of the year. There is something about the infectious, garage propulsion of this band that makes one think of late night bacchanalia after the grapes are in, when Peter Hook plugs in his bass, as he did on this record, and Anton plugs in his guitar, and we’re all crawling over the stage in some cavernous warehouse, grokking deeply the global glories of rock’n’roll where you don’t even need to speak the language to know what’s great. Shadow People was incredible, and so are The Liminañas.

New Albums By Courtney Barnett, Parquet Courts, Wand, And The Brian Jonestown Massacre Get Summer Off To A Strong Start

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on June 10, 2018 by johnbuckley100

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Courtney Barnett  Tell Me How You Really Feel

Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, which came out in 2015, is credited with being Courtney Barnett’s first album, and it certainly put her on the map.  But it was the 12 songs on The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas that stole our heart. Released in the States a year before her left-field hit, the double EP was less caffeinated, less torqued in its production, and the deceptive ambiance — it seemed like the work of a slacker, but she’s no slacker, as events have proved — was gorgeous and charming.  Sometimes I Sit thunders, while A Sea of Split Peas could have been recorded with Joe Jackson’s band from Look Sharp, vintage alterna-punk with classic pop songwriting.

Which is why Tell Me How You Really Feel is such a delight.  It takes things back down a notch. After it seemed like Barnett might have been a bit lost on her own — touring with Kurt Vile in support of their duet last fall, then arriving in the states early this year supporting partner Jen Cloher — Barnett’s new album is sure-footed, charming and in so many ways the proper successor to A Sea of Split Peas.

“Nameless, Faceless” revs up like Elastica, and “Crippling Doubt And A General Lack of Confidence” hit precisely that sweet spot of self-deprecating humor and Stiff Records swing that makes Barnett’s brand of punk so beguiling.  That Courtney Barnett seems to have found herself without having to turn the amps up to 11 is all you need to know about one of the season’s true highlights.

191402000108 Parquet Courts  Wide Awake

The distance covered by Parquet Courts between 2013’s Light Up Gold and Wide Awake, by our count, their sixth full album, is not unlike the journey Joe Strummer & Co. took between The Clash and Sandinista.  Wide Awake is clearly an album by the same group of Texas transplants whose debut reeked of spilled beer in late night Brooklyn clubs, but it incorporates their advanced degrees in musicology that they’ve picked up along the way.

We first saw Parquet Courts play on their 2013 tour with Woods, a Brooklyn band just a little older than them, but kindred spirits.  After Andrew Savage’s solo album last year revealed him having spent many hours listening to that first Little Feet album, it isn’t a wonder that a band who previously could claim kinship to Television would now populate their extremely literate storytelling with a dive into idioms, from reggae to funk, just bit more sophisticated than the high-speed rockers they entered playing.  Woods is a reference point, for they’ve done something similar.  But Parquet Courts do it here in a way that seems a summation, a culmination, their best, most comprehensive album.  Wide Awake is at once the album that makes you love where Parquet Courts have been and excited about where they’re going.

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Wand   Perfume

Longtime readers of Tulip Frenzy will remember that we gave Wand’s Plum Album O’ Ye Year in 2017, and on Perfume — which might have been called Mini Album Thingy Wingy if BJM hadn’t gotten their first — they continue their development toward becoming the greatest band on the planet.  Sure, Cory Hanson may be a junior partner to Ty Segall, Thee Oh Sees, and White Fence strictly in terms of his years on Earth.  But when measured against his West Coast peers in terms of recent output, who you calling junior, Junior?

“The Gift” sounds like an outtake from Plum, if only because we know that album was recorded in homage to Marquee Moon, and here Hanson’s guitar work is at least the equal of Tom Verlaine’s (or Nels Cline’s, for that matter.)  It’s simply a stunning song.  “Pure Romance” continues in the same vein.  They’ve come a long way from the tuneful prog of  Ganglion Reef, their debut from 2014.  We hope that the album’s closer, “I Will Keep You Up,” is a preview of coming attractions, for letting Sofia Arreguin carry half the vocal duties makes what is already a beautiful song utterly sublime.

We don’t think of this as the full album follow up to Plum. More like a teaser of future greatness.  There is no doubt in our mind that Wand will someday put out a masterpiece, and given the way they work, that someday could be, like, October.

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The Brian Jonestown Massacre  Something Else

When Something Else was released in May, we updated the Brian Jonestown Massacre playlist we began in 2012 when they released Aufheben. We titled that six-year old playlist “Late Phase BJM,” and have populated it with just the very best songs Anton Newcombe and his remarkably stable set of musicians have since put out on their various albums, short albums, EPs, singles, etc.  There are now 40 songs on the playlist, including six from Something Else, seven if you include the excellent “Drained,” the B-side of the single “Animal Wisdom,” which kicks of the record.

Are there any other bands who, since 2012, have produced that much good music?  If you think of the long and gloriously twisted history of the BJM, I’m not sure how many of the albums from the 1990s had as *many* good songs as Aufheben, Revelation, Third World Pyramid, and now Something Else — and this doesn’t even count releases like E.P.+1 and great songs like “Revolution Number Zero” and “Fingertips” put out as singles or on EPs.

Some time ago, we compared Anton to Dylan — an artist known for, principally, his earliest work, when the late work is, to our ears, of such high value, we’re convinced we’d be happy listening only to the recent stuff.

With the exception of “Who Dreams of Cats,” it’s possible no song from Something Else would be put on a 10-song assemblage of Anton’s greatest hits. And yet, six really good songs on an album, seven if you include the B side, shows what high quality his output is. And why we are so lucky to have it.

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!

 

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.

 

 

 

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