Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Vampire WeekendXL Recordings XLCD 556
Format: CD

Musical Performance ***1/2
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

 

I imagine that anyone buying Vampire Weekend’s eponymous first album because the band’s name evoked something sinister would have been disappointed. Their music is unusually upbeat, even bouncy. “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” a single from that disc, is a good place to begin. The song is a combination of Western and African pop, the exotic influences defining and focusing the infectious melodies. Vampire Weekend’s unique sound made them an unlikely choice for a spot on Saturday Night Live, but college-radio play and Internet buzz worked together to make them fan and critic favorites.

Black Rebel Motorcycle ClubAbstract Dragon/Vagrant VR793
Format: CD

Musical Performance ***1/2
Sound Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****

 

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s new disc, Specter at the Feast, includes a version of the Call’s 1989 hit, “Let the Day Begin.” Michael Been, the Call’s bassist, singer, and primary writer, was the soundman and an occasional producer for BRMC. He died in 2010 of a heart attack backstage, during a BRMC performance in Europe, and his loss is a current that runs through this record. Been’s son, Robert Levon Been, is BRMC’s bassist and one of its singers.

Daft PunkColumbia 88883716862
Format: CD

Musical Performance *****
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

 

Whether or not they realize it, almost everyone has heard Daft Punk. The pair of French DJs produced three full-length studio albums before Random Access Memories, and helped compose the music for the film Tron: Legacy. But despite achieving massive commercial success, and having done much to further the appeal of electronic music, they remain reclusive. The Frenchmen remain masked not as a marketing gimmick, but rather as a way to retain their privacy, while also strengthening the illusion that Daft Punk somehow transcends mere flesh and blood.

Elias HaslangerCherrywood EH 002
Format: Vinyl

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

 

Tenor saxophonist Elias Haslanger is based in Austin, Texas, where he’s a pillar of the local jazz scene. He’s toured the US and Europe with a variety of jazz and pop artists, including Maynard Ferguson, Ellis Marsalis, and Asleep at the Wheel. The cover of his newest recording, Church on Monday, is in mid-’60s Blue Note Records style, front and back, including liner notes by a prominent jazz critic, in this case DownBeat’s Michael Point.

Change of Heart: The Songs of André PrevinTelarc TEL-34021-02
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

 

Michael Feinstein is a singer and pianist, but he is also, and perhaps primarily, an archivist of the Great American Songbook. Channel surfing the other day, I stumbled on Michael Feinstein’s American Songbook, which PBS first broadcast in 2010. Feinstein was visiting the Gershwin archives in San Francisco (they’ve since been moved to the Library of Congress). Feinstein was a friend of Ira Gershwin’s, and his extensive research of Gershwin’s recordings and sheet music helped ensure that the legacies of Ira and his brother George would be accurately and fully preserved.

The Next DayColumbia/ISO 8876546192 2
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

 

In 2004, after suffering a heart attack while on tour, David Bowie made rare guest appearances onstage with other musicians, such as Arcade Fire, and helped out on a handful of recordings. For the most part, though, he laid low long enough that most of his fans assumed he’d retired. He’d earned it. After more than 30 years of image changes and musical experimentation, the most radical thing David Bowie could do was refuse to drag himself out for a nostalgia tour.

MoveTelarc International TEL-33814-02
Format: CD

Musical Performance ***1/2
Sound Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

 

Move is Hiromi’s second disc with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Simon Phillips, aka the Trio Project. Even with Hiromi’s acoustic piano dominating, Voice (2011), her first CD with this group, had more pronounced rock elements than her other jazz-trio recordings. Move continues that trend, and manages to balance even more deftly the muscle of rock music with the complexity of jazz improvisation.

Atoms for PeacXL Records XLCD583
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****
Sound Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****

 

It’s uncommon to hear new music that stands out from the proverbial pack. Almost everything is derivative in some way or another, and for good reason. Different can mean provocative, but it almost always guarantees commercial failure. Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring provides perhaps the most illuminating example of this. During its very first performance, in Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, the audience rioted in response to the avant-garde, thoroughly dissonant composition. Critics were equally unconvinced, one going so far as to label the forward-thinking piece “a laborious and puerile barbarity.” Tough crowd. Stravinsky, of course, would go on to achieve worldwide acclaim. Like so many mavericks, his unique compositions fell on conditioned ears and immutable minds that were unable to appreciate what he had to offer.

SmashConcord Jazz CJA 33676-02
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

 

It took me a while to warm up to Patricia Barber, but Café Blue and Nightclub won me over, especially in their recent vinyl incarnations. As much as I’ve come to enjoy her work, though, I wouldn’t have described it as emotionally engaging until now. Smash, her 11th release and her first for Concord, takes as its themes love and loss, and as a consequence Barber leaves behind the sense of ironic distance she sometimes conveys in her earlier recordings. She also casts her stylistic net wider, including elements of rock music in ways that enrich her songs rather than create a feeling that she’s selling out.

FadeMatador OLE994
Format: CD

Musical Performance ****1/2
Sound Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

 

The indie-rock group Yo La Tengo will be 30 in 2014, but the three-member band from Hoboken, New Jersey, formed by the husband-wife team of Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, shows no sign of becoming stale. Fade is their 13th studio album, and its title at first struck me as apt -- the music kept fading from my consciousness as I played it in the background during a few cold weekday evenings. The gentle guitar melodies and lazy drumwork offered a rhythmic listening experience that at first I misheard as uninspired. Repeated listening and reflection made it apparent that this album is the result of three decades of musical refinement.