Album Reviews

Sort By:  Post Date TitlePublish Date
Malachi Lui  |  May 31, 2022  |  12 comments
Between the excessive sprawl of 2013's James Murphy-produced Reflektor and the failed experimentation of 2017's punchable Everything Now, it might seem as if Arcade Fire spent the last decade actively trying to lose people's interest. Now, however, they're back; at least, that's what their Nigel Godrich-produced new LP WE wants you to think. Split into more introspective "I" (A) and outward-facing "WE" (B) sides, WE is a concise 40-minute summation of the band's previous work. Every Arcade Fire record finds them striving for epic heights and always falling short, though you can't say they're not trying really hard.
Michael Leser Johnson  |  May 16, 2022  |  1 comments
In my previous review of the Korppoo Trio by the Sibelius Piano Trio and Yarlung Records, I spoke a great deal about the recording philosophy of this boutique classical outfit and their AAA, 45rpm chamber music records. From the same recording sessions that brought us that exquisite romantic delight, we have another outing with musicians Petteri Iivonen, Juho Pohjonen, and Samuli Peltonen, this time with a decidedly different program.

Malachi Lui  |  May 14, 2022  |  4 comments
Last year, British electropop star Charli XCX tweeted, “rip hyperpop.” The tweet shocked many—especially coming from the artist who brought bubblegum bass and hyperpop to broader audiences through projects like 2016’s SOPHIE-produced Vroom Vroom EP or 2020’s quickly recorded quarantine album how i’m feeling now—but Charli has always gone at her own pace, on her own terms. Yet, her new album Crash presents her as merely another generic pop star, supposedly as a performance art piece about selling out that doubles as her last record on Atlantic (and therefore her as-of-now last chance to use those major label resources). Crash is Charli’s Let’s Dance: the album where a pop star fully embraces the mainstream after years of artsier excursions. Unfortunately, the end result lacks personality, trading her strengths for lyrically emptier and sonically blander songs laser-focused on mass appeal.

Michael Fremer  |  May 08, 2022  |  16 comments
What seemed like an unlikely pairing in 1962 of “jazz elder” 63 year old Duke Ellington with John Coltrane, who had just assembled his ”classic quartet” destined to explore uncharted musical (and spiritual) territory, produced a surprisingly cohesive and satisfying album.

Malachi Lui  |  May 01, 2022  |  94 comments
There’s plenty already said about the musical content of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic What’s Going On so I’ll avoid redundancy and just say that its scope—from the sociopolitically-minded lyrics to the carefully assembled song cycle structure and luscious musical arrangements—pushed the boundaries of what a Motown release could be, and truly stands the test of time. It’s an endlessly relevant record (decide yourself if that says more about the album’s excellence or society’s failures), and also one of the most exhaustively reissued: in the past 20 years, we’ve seen Universal’s 30th anniversary 2CD featuring the original Detroit mix, more alternate mixes, and a Kennedy Center live recording from 1972; Mobile Fidelity’s SACD and 33rpm single LP releases; UMG’s 40th anniversary “super deluxe” edition adding further session material and alternate versions; quite a few run-of-the-mill digitally-sourced vinyl reissues of the core album, done at United for the US and GZ for Europe; an Abbey Road half-speed 4LP mirroring the 2001 2CD; and MoFi’s 45rpm double LP UltraDisc One Step cut from tape. That’s not including the “Vinyl Lovers” Russian reissues of dubious legal origin cut and pressed at GZ, the 192kHz/24bit hi-res download, a Blu-ray Audio release (remember that format?), and the Japanese SACDs, CDs, and MQA-UHQCDs featuring a flat transfer of the original master tapes (yes, really!).
Michael Fremer  |  Apr 21, 2022  |  5 comments
Jazz historian, Resonance Records Co-President and tireless searcher for unreleased jazz treasures Zev Feldman in 2015 was searching the French Institut National de la audiovisual (INA) archives when he came upon the complete, never before released in their entirety, Albert Ayler’s 1970 ORTF 1970 Fondation Maeght Recordings, recorded by Radio France, using professional recording equipment—a completely different STEREO source for this material than the radio broadcast, parts of which had previously been issued.

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 20, 2022  |  19 comments
For an artist who passed away at a relatively young age (51) Bill Evans left a rich and varied recorded legacy—more music on disc than even the most dedicated Evans fan could possibly consume, yet more rare and often precious gems continue to be discovered and released, particularly by Resonance Records, whose Co-President Zev Feldman is a huge Evans fan.

Paul Seydor  |  Apr 08, 2022  |  5 comments
Chasing The Dragon, a British audiophile label that has been around for about ten years now, has distinguished itself with digital and analog releases that can fairly be said to have pushed the state of the art in recorded sound. As is not the case with many audiophile labels, the founders Mike and Françoise Valentine have paid equal attention to the musical contents of their label, notably with classical music and jazz, for which oftener than not they eschew studios in favor of venues where acoustic music is typically performed, such as concert halls or other places with appropriately sympathetic acoustics (e.g., churches). One of the best concert recordings I own is CTD’s 45-RPM album with the Interpreti Veneziani Chamber Orchestra in marvelously stylish, spirted performances of pieces by Vivaldi, Marais, and Sarasate, so beautifully captured—London’s St. John’s Smith Square the venue—that if you set the level right and close your eyes, you easily imagine yourself transported to the best seat in the house (VAL45001). Even their studio recordings are so carefully miked they don’t sound studio bound: the singer Clare Teal’s A Tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, with Chris Dean leading The Syd Lawrence Orchestra, is sonically of reference caliber and musically so stylistically on point as an example of Swing that but for the sonics you’d swear it was made in the 1940s. These are but two albums from a pretty impressive catalog. For a small label to concentrate its repertoire on classical and vintage jazz is not without risk in this day and age, and it is testament to the Valentines’ expertise, taste, commitment, and courage that they have maintained such high sonic and musical standards.

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 03, 2022  |  27 comments
The Southern California retro-band Calling Cadence signed to Hi-Res Records recently released an eponymously titled debut album recorded, mixed and mastered "the way they used to" make albums: recorded and mixed to analog tape and mastered by Kevin Gray from the analog master tape, and pressed at RTI on 180g vinyl. The cover image of an 8-track tape helps seal the retro-deal as does the music.

Michael Fremer  |  Apr 03, 2022  |  18 comments
When the CD of this release arrived months ago, I looked at it and figured it was an Armstrong compilation and so put it aside. Nothing on the "jewel" case gave any indication that it was anything but and there was no accompanying press blurb.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 25, 2022  |  49 comments
The original British pressing of Are You Experienced? (Track 612 001) was a tepid looking and sounding monophonic affair and despite the label’s name, the jacket didn’t list the tracks, nor did the front offer the band’s name.

Malachi Lui  |  Mar 24, 2022  |  52 comments
Mere months after his patience-testing yet rewarding opus Donda, Kanye West is back with its lazily titled sequel, Donda 2. Don’t expect to find it on streaming platforms or in record stores, however. The artist now legally known as Ye instead independently released it exclusively on the $200 Stem Player, a proprietary, Yeezy Tech- and Kano-developed device that allows users tactile interaction with his last three albums (more about that later). Most of Donda 2’s media coverage centers around the Stem Player situation, how everyone thinks Kanye is “crazy” to so highly value his art by making everyone pay $200 for it. Yet, Donda 2 itself doesn’t cost $200; it’s a free download accessible only via the $200 Stem Player, meaning he doesn’t technically have to pay anyone royalties or sample clearances. Kanye would tell you he’s winning, except it’s his own game designed to eliminate any threat of competition. (Either way, Billboard ruled the album ineligible to chart. Kanye’s decision to keep Donda 2 off streaming is immensely respectable, though I wish he also put out a more convenient $20 CD or tape.)

Michael Leser Johnson  |  Mar 20, 2022  |  5 comments
Grammy award winning Yarlung Records out of Los Angeles California has been releasing classical music albums on CD, LP, and R2R tape since as far back as 2006, but they had somehow managed to escape my radar. Better late than never, as they possess all the ingredients necessary to delight readers of this website; including a dedication to minimalist analog recording techniques, and the curation of the finest up-and-coming classical talent working today. This label is run by people (primarily producer and engineer Bob Attiyeh) who care deeply about classical music, and are connected to first rate performers, particularly those who orbit the many concert halls of the greater Los Angeles area. In addition to running a record label, Yarlung also has an associated nonprofit called Yarlung Artists which focuses on getting promising new artists started on their touring career.

Nathan Zeller  |  Mar 20, 2022  |  1 comments
The ‘60s fostered a music-driven cultural revolution nobody anticipated. From John Coltrane’s Giant Steps to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, history’s most iconic albums saw artists leaving timeless and influential musical blueprints. However, calling the ‘60s “influential” shows only a limited understanding; rivalries were fierce, and competition defined the decade. Neither The Beach Boys nor Brian Wilson could escape the competitive climate.

Pages

X