Archive for Wire

Wire’s “Nocturnal Koreans”: A Band As Relevant Today As They Were In ’77

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on May 1, 2016 by johnbuckley100

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If you had told me in 1981 when I was asked to review Wire’s nominally posthumous Document And Eyewitness that 35 years on not only would Wire still be releasing records, they would continue to be one of my favorite contemporary bands, I would have said you were crazy.  But here comes Nocturnal Koreans, an eight-song mini-album recorded at the same time as last year’s gorgeous Wire, which we called one of 2015’s best albums, and even at a moment when there are fine new albums by Brian Eno, Parquet Courts, Woods, and PJ Harvey, among others, we can’t listen to anything else.

Over at NPR, Bob Boilen is clever but not entirely correct to analogize that Nocturnal Koreans is to Wire as 1978’s Chairs Missing was to 1977’s revolutionary Pink Flag.  To begin with, these two new records emerged from the same recording sessions, with the the songs on Nocturnal Koreans served up as a different approach to the moment, not an example of the giant leap in ambition and sophistication apparent between Wire’s first and second records.

No band in history ever showed as much growth between its first and second records, not the Beatles, not the Clash, no one.  Those first three Wire albums witnessed punk progenitors becoming one of the most tasteful, thrilling art-rock band of all times.  (It’s possible the only similar growth pattern, come to think of it, was Eno going from Here Come The Warm Jets to Another Green World — an album that had a profound affect on Wire’s third record, 154.)

Nocturnal Koreans finds Wire slightly less wired than they were on Wire, which while motorik in tempo, played up the warmth of Colin Newman’s voice, the melody of their prettiest songs, minus the cockney and chaos of their most raucous work.  These two albums go together, and the whole reveals that the most revelatory, and in many ways, ambitious of the British punk bands, 3/4ths intact 41 years and 15 records on from their founding, is still greater than 99 percent of the bands out there — not to mention the sum of the parts.

 

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

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

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#1. Driftwood Pyre by Driftwood Pyre.

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

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#2. 1000 Days by Wand.

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

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#3. In Triangle Time by Kelley Stoltz

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

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

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

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#5. All Yours by Widowspeak

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

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#6. Wire by Wire

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

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

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

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#8. Mutilator Defeated At Last by Thee Oh Sees

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

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#9. Starflower by The Magic Castles

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

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

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

Wire Plays A Pearl Of A Well-Made Show At D.C.’s Black Cat

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

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Almost 40 years since creating the most intriguing, and in many ways, long-lasting debut of the punk era, Wire came to DC last night to play a show that was sinewy, powerful, and occasionally transcendent. From the opening “Blogging” — which kicks off their eponymous 2015 album Wire — to the gorgeous encore close of “Used To” from 1978’s Chairs Missing, Wire proved they are no oldies act.  This was one of the strongest shows we’ve seen in years, old masters comfortable in their skins, who can still show the young ‘uns a trick or two.

When you’ve been around as long as Wire, there are distinct eras, or at least clusters of albums connected by time and personnel.  What’s most delightful about the Wire of today is that, like Dylan on his great run between Oh Mercy and Modern Times, they’ve shown themselves at ease working within the construct that made them great as young men, while still putting out music more vital than most other working bands.  With 2011’s Red Barked Tree, 2013’s Change Becomes Us, and this year’s Wire, their output is, sure, not as “important” as 154 was in 1979.  But that’s like saying Love and Theft isn’t as important as Bringing It All Back Home.  Who cares? Wire’s most recent albums make the case for one of the most vital acts in rock music history, and it’s an exceptionally high quality output for any band, not to mention one formed in 1976.

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Robert (Gotobed) Grey and Graham Lewis still have the metronomic precision of the Atomic Clock, and it was a joy to hear Lewis sing “Please Take” and “Blessed State.”  Grey looks like a beatific and elongated version of Jeff Bezos, closing his eyes in meditation as he directs the band with the certainty of a Swiss train conductor. Colin Newman has always done double duty as an effective punk shouter and a pretty pop singer; harder to do these days live, but all in, his voice was fine.  What was really fun to see was how young Matthew Simms can extend and augment Newman’s guitar playing, occasionally playing these John McGeoch-like leads, often letting Newman carry the song on his electric 12-string.

Many years ago, when assigned to review Document And Eyewitness for NY Rocker, and thinking that the band was kaput (they broke up in 1980, only to come back five years later), we said that Wire was at its most interesting precisely at the moment when its reach exceeded its grasp.  That was true then, but there’s little outside its grasp today.  Last night’s show at The Black Cat saw a band pulling off the hardest trick imaginable: playing a set mostly with songs from albums four decades into their run, leaving no room for nostalgia.

Wire, Last Of The Class Of ’77 British Punk Bands, Returns Anew With A Gorgeous Album

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 17, 2015 by johnbuckley100

Next year, when Wire celebrates its 40th birthday as a working band, only they and the Fleshtones may be entitled to lay claim to having played CBGB in its prime and still be intact.  Yes, guitarist and guiding spirit Bruce Gilbert left in 2003, but the core of Colin Newman, Robert (Gotobed) Grey, and Graham Lewis have just released their 14th album, the eponymous Wire.  It should be no surprise to readers of Tulip Frenzy that it is melodically beautiful, occasionally thrilling, and completely worthwhile.  We still haven’t listened to the new Calexico, because Wire is the only band we can listen to this week, on our iPad, in the car, at home before the computer.

Forget the Halley’s Comet reunions of the Buzzcocks and Sex Pistols, and even that ephemeral episode where Magazine thrillingly came back from the dead.  Of the British bands who set our ears on fire in the late ’70s, it is only Wire that we have been able to rely on, at least since they reformed in the mid-’80s following their having been dropped by EMI upon the release of their third album, and masterpiece, 154. That album was the most fascinating document of a fascinating era: Wire’s three-chord rhumba having given way to gorgeous Eno-inflected experimentation all within the construct of pop songs, on an album that symbolically closed the punk era they’d helped create by being titled with the address of New York’s preeminent disco.

Since Gilbert left in the early Aughts, his replacement, Matthew Simms, plays with, not against the grain, and sure, something is lost in the process, same as the way Pere Ubu was never the same without Tom Herman, the Stones without Mick Taylor.  But on three successive albums, particularly 2011’s Red Barked Tree, and 2013’s Change Becomes Us, the band has touched past glories and updated the story.  With Wire, the foursome consolidate much of their gains in an upbeat, occasionally beautiful record that is more than a reminder of what has been.

Colin Newman has always been a schizophrenic vocalist as comfortable playing the Cockney punk as the pretty-voiced pop singer.  On the new one, it’s really all the latter, a series of songs for adults to listen to on a late-night car ride when they want to stay awake and engaged but not on edge.  We might not rave about it the way we did Change Becomes Us, but we welcome it, and Wire, as old friends, here for the long haul.

Tulip Frenzy 2013 Top Ten List ™ Shortlist Announced

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 30, 2013 by johnbuckley100

So we promised Magic Trick that we would wait for River Of Souls, out Tuesday, before locking the ballot box on the Tulip Frenzy 2013 Top Ten List ™.  We  will save them a spot on the shortlist, okay?  Below, in NO PARTICULAR ORDER are the bands in consideration.

At Tulip Frenzy World HQ, the horse trading, lobbying, and outright bribery are in full force.  We’ve cast a sideways glance at our competitors, and let us just say that this was one of the rare years in which we did not automatically scoff at the Uncut Top 50 list, and they did settle one thing for us:  yes, the Parquet Courts album is to be considered this year, even though it actually was released last November.  But no one listened to it until January 1, when we were all suddenly forced to grapple with a) 2013, and b) the Parquet Courts’ greatness.  But mbv as the Album of The Year?  Please, nice to have Kevin Shields back but it’s not really that good.  Still, could have been worse.

We should note that we are NOT considering the Bob Dylan 1969 Isle of Wight release, even though it finally came out this year, and even though it is simply amazing.  Why is it ruled out by the judges? Because we don’t think that’s right to knock a band in their prime out of consideration just because another incredible album fought its way out of the Dylan archives.  But here’s a pretty great set of bands/artists who will be considered:

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David Bowie

Kurt Vile

Phosphorescent

Crocodiles

Robyn Hitchcock

Parquet Courts

Thee Oh Sees

Kelley Stoltz

Magic Trick

Neko Case

Capsula

Deathfix

Secret Colours

Kevin Morby

Wire

First Communion Afterparty

Mikal Cronin

In consideration: 18 artists.  It’s going to be a long few days of wrangling in these here parts. Stay tuned.

 

Unknown Fact Revealed In The Saga Of How Wire Came To Record “Change Becomes Us”

Posted in Music with tags , , on April 23, 2013 by johnbuckley100

A few weeks ago, we posted a review with some of the backstory on how it came to be, more than 30 years hence, that Wire would record in a studio many of the songs first released in 1981’s mess of a live album, Document and Eyewitness.  Change Becomes Us is a really interesting album, judged strictly by the standards of contemporary music.  That it actually comprises a baker’s dozen songs that were meant to be Wire’s follow-up to their opus 154, which came out in 1979, makes it all the more remarkable.

What we did not know three weeks ago — what we did not know many years ago, when we were assigned by Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo) to review Wire’s posthumous mess of a live album — was that after the band had released, in 154, probably the most accomplished record of that ephemeral post-punk era, EMI dropped them from the label!  The artsy/sloppy implosion that took place on the stage of the Electric Ballroom, and at Notre Dame Hall, captured on Document and Eyewitness, was the result of a band that had just produced a masterpiece yet suddenly had no place to stand.  Their vulnerability, which led not only to a wildly unsuccessful show, but to the band’s demise (they reformed again in 1985, and a few times since, and as of this moment, are a thriving concern) came from having the rug pulled out from under them by EMI.  The bastards.

In Mike Barnes’ excellent liner notes to the just-arrived-courtesy-of-the-Royal-Mail deluxe CD, the story is told thusly:

“Crucially, Wire’s record label, EMI, decided not to renew their contract option, and having survived on advances, the group were now label-less and penniless.  They had been approached by Factory Records, but couldn’t agree on terms.  They had also recently endured a spectacularly mismatched European tour supporting Roxy Music, who by then were well into their airbrushed easy-listening phase.  The group had to effectively pay out of their EMI advance for the pleasure of this exposure to audiences who largely hated them.  They had also parted company with their manager. Thoroughly disenchanted with the music business, Wire decided it was time to give their willful side free reign.”

It, uh, didn’t work out,  at least not then, judging from the boos to be heard on Document and Eyewitness, and the album itself was, we wrote at the time, a disaster.

And now they are back, having reworked those songs 33 years later, and it sounds magnificent.  Maybe they were just thirty years ahead of their time…

On Wire’s “The Black Session – Paris, 10 May, 2011”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on April 5, 2013 by johnbuckley100

In yesterday’s rave about Change Becomes Us,Wire’s excellent brand new album of songs that actually had a prior life on the 1981 Documentary and Eyewitness album, we referenced the release, earlier this year, of a live album but didn’t say much about it.  The Black Session — Paris, 10 May, 2011 would, in another year, be cause for celebration in and of itself.  That it comes out the same season as Wire’s excellent studio album, it may well be overlooked by anyone who isn’t a Wire completist.  (And now that we’ve registered for the forums on the Pinkflag.com website, allow us to observe that there are a lot of people out there, we now know, who make our Wire obsession seem moderate.)

Recorded with Wire as a four-piece, with Matt Simms having by early 2011 joined the band on guitar, it is genuinely fine live album.  Colin Newman sings in fine form, with the courage to navigate “Map Ref. 41degrees N, 93degrees W,” which is not easy to do live, as a man in his mid-50s! With a decent balance of songs from late and early Wire, this is an album well worth picking up.  Moments after you download Change Becomes Us.

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