Album Reviews

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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.

Nicholas Coleman  |  Mar 20, 2022  |  6 comments
Radiohead has re-released two of its most experimental and critically acclaimed albums, Kid A and Amnesiac remastered at half speed from the original digital files for phenomenal fidelity, in a set that includes another record of previously unreleased material from those sessions. The transfer conveys a slightly new listening experience for fans, and unique aspects are brought out in the music, making it feel like listening to an old friend for the first time.

Malachi Lui  |  Mar 16, 2022  |  8 comments
Following a snooze-inducing headlining performance (based on the recording) at the 2000 Glastonbury Festival, David Bowie and his band (guitarist Earl Slick, bassist Gail Ann Dorsey, pianist Mike Garson, drummer Sterling Campbell, and musician/producer Mark Plati) entered New York’s Sear Sound to re-record his early, mostly pre-Space Oddity catalog highlights. Bowie intended the quickly recorded result, Toy, as a surprise release, though in 2001 the financially struggling Virgin/EMI balked at the idea and eventually rejected the album altogether. For the following year’s Heathen, Bowie signed to Columbia and left uncertain Toy’s future. Leaked in 2011 and recently officially released by his estate and Parlophone, Toy now has its proper place in his studio discography. Yet, is it worthy of its legendary—and in some circles, almost mythical—status?

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 07, 2022  |  9 comments
Danish immigrant Jacob Riis’s photojournalism book “How the Other Half Lives” published in 1890 documents the squalid life in New York City’s teeming Lower East Side slums crowded with Irish, Jewish, Italian, Chinese and other newly arrived immigrants. The muckraking book made an immediate impression upon New York’s upper classes and led to many reforms.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 05, 2022  |  4 comments
Surfacing on Nonesuch with Ghost Song, a personal, highly introspective album that intersperses covers and seven originals in service of a cautionary look at love and love lost, the always unpredictable Cécile McLorin Salvant dispenses for the most part with standard jazz backing, replacing it with imaginative instrumentation and ear-catching production techniques more reminiscent of a rock album, to deliver a series of fanciful mind flights sure to delight longtime fans and win her new ones.

Malachi Lui  |  Mar 01, 2022  |  12 comments
In November 2021, Radiohead combined their “twin albums” Kid A (October 2000) and Amnesiac (May 2001) with a previously unreleased outtakes collection, Kid Amnesiae, for the highly anticipated three-disc Kid A Mnesia. Several formats are available: US and EU standard weight 3LP pressings on black (standard) and red (limited) vinyl, a similar 3CD set, a Japanese 3CD featuring Amnesiac B-sides excluded from most other Kid A Mnesia releases, a Kid Amnesiette limited edition double cassette (also featuring those Amnesiac B-sides), and the sold-out “Scarry Book.” The latter, a super deluxe 3LP package, lacks the Amnesiac B-sides but features a 36-page large-format art book and the 3 LPs on 180g cream-colored vinyl.

Michael Fremer  |  Feb 28, 2022  |  5 comments
Oscar the entertainer, Oscar the speed demon, Oscar the classicist, Oscar the sensitive listener, Oscar the composer, Oscar the nimble improvisor. All the Oscars you know and love were onstage in Helsinki's Kulttuuritalo concert hall, November 17th, 1987 along with Joe Pass, Dave Young and Martin Drew for an evening of great entertainment and music making recorded by the Finnish Broadcasting Company.

Malachi Lui  |  Feb 25, 2022  |  4 comments
Four years after his addiction-and breakup-themed magnum opus Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space, Spiritualized’s J Spaceman (Jason Pierce) reemerged with the band’s fourth album, 2001’s Let It Come Down. Greeted with high anticipation—and recently reissued as the final installment in Fat Possum’s Pierce-supervised Spaceman Reissue Program—Let It Come Down is now commonly seen as the moment when Spaceman lost the plot. “It all fell apart a little bit during this period,” he admits. Two decades later, Let It Come Down stands less as a great Spiritualized record and more as a product from the bygone era of expensive recording budgets and ample studio time.

Michael Fremer  |  Feb 08, 2022  |  11 comments
First their Woodland Studio took a direct hit from the tornado that tore through Nashville March of 2020, and then came the Covid lock down.

Michael Fremer  |  Feb 02, 2022  |  19 comments
Crescent, John Coltrane’s 9th Impulse! Album, released in the summer of 1964, followed a pair of live albums (Live at Birdland and Impressions [mostly live tracks from the Vanguard dates]) and a pair of collaborations (Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, and John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman) with Ballads—a quickly recorded album of standards sandwiched in between.

Nathan Zeller  |  Jan 31, 2022  |  12 comments
We know that relationships dictate our life’s outcome. However, what isn’t obvious is the way relationships exist not only between people, but also within and beyond them. Singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey fortunately knows this well, though now more than ever she understands their utility. On Lana Del Rey’s second 2021 album, Blue Banisters, she proves that intrapersonal, environmental, and especially interpersonal relationships all teach valuable lessons promoting future wellness.

Michael Fremer  |  Jan 27, 2022  |  23 comments
Listening today to this record originally released February, 1962—60 years ago—it’s difficult to understand why it created controversy so intense that Downbeat’s editor at the time invited Coltrane and Eric Dolphy to “defend” it in print. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a jazz album entry point, this live album probably wouldn’t be it—especially side two. Sixty years on, “Chasin’ The Trane” (name given by RVG who said he literally had to “chase Coltrane” on mic to capture him during the performances) might still send some running for cover (or covers, of which there’s but one on here, Hammerstein and Romberg’s beautiful “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise”).

Michael Leser Johnson  |  Jan 24, 2022  |  8 comments
Last year Deutsche Grammophon surprised me by releasing a double 45rpm pressing of American violinist Hilary Hahn’s latest album Paris. For those not familiar, Hahn is one of the violinists of our day, selling out concert dates with major symphony orchestras around the world, and releasing a slew of well received solo albums over the last 25 years. I first heard violinists singing her praises when I was a 16 year old student at Interlochen Arts Camp, and have enjoyed countless recordings by her in the years since, particularly her 2003 Bach Concertos recording with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which has never really left my rotation since I bought it a decade ago.

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