Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Ground Up GUCD 57560 10
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

I first heard the psychedelic power-pop quartet the Grip Weeds in 2007, when I reviewed a reissue of their 1994 album, House of Vibes. I instantly became a fan, and reviewed more of their albums, including Infinite Soul: The Best of the Grip Weeds, released on Steve Van Zandt’s Wicked Cool Records. I’ve caught them live in their New Jersey stomping grounds, where they delivered powerfully searing shows. Their music captures the spirit of late-1960s AM radio, when psychedelia and garage rock were transforming pop music, while managing to sound fresh and innovative.

Trouble in Mind TIM151
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

The French post-punk quintet En Attendant Ana (the name means While Awaiting Ana) debuted on record in 2016 with the 19-minute EP Songs from the Cave, an aggressive and somewhat noisy half-dozen songs, all sung in English, in which loud guitars and old-style keyboards are combined with Margaux Bouchaudon’s sensitive, witty vocals. The EP’s DIY sound gave way in 2018 to Lost and Found, the group’s first full-length album. More polished and tuneful, Lost and Found still had an edge, and continued to find places for Camille Fréchou’s trumpet to add unusual and welcome textures.

Capitol B003113602
Format: CD

Musical Performance
***

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

Beck’s last album, Colors (2017), was frothy and bouncy. It wasn’t profound in any way, except in its attention to the musical details that make for fun pop music. Though the lyrics lacked the depth of Modern Guilt (2008), Morning Phase (2014), or even The Information (2006), they were more emotionally layered than the songs’ sunny exteriors at first led one to believe. The charms of Colors were its hummable melodies and the obvious enjoyment Beck took in playing and singing them. I liked it a lot.

Columbia/Legacy 19075978662
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

When, after an eight-year pause, Leonard Cohen returned to the studio in 2012 with Old Ideas, he was 78, and mortality was already very much on his mind. That album and the ones that followed, Popular Problems (2014) and You Want It Darker (2016), looked at spirituality, past loves, joy, and pain -- life, in other words, in all its glory and awfulness, its redeeming moments and its agonies. Cohen’s health was failing when he worked on You Want It Darker, recorded in his home with the help of his son, Adam Cohen, a well-regarded singer-songwriter in his own right.

4AD 0070 LDX
Format: 2 CDs

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

Singer-songwriter Gene Clark’s career was filled with the kinds of bad decisions, personal problems, and bad timing that lead to cult status for someone who should have been a star. As a founding member of the Byrds, Clark wrote or cowrote some of their most popular songs, including “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” and “Eight Miles High.” He left the Byrds in 1966, after three albums, and over the next few years released two solo albums, Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers (1967) and White Light (1971), that were early examples of country rock and Americana.

Interscope/Polydor B0031280-02
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
***1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

I reacted to the news that the Who were releasing a new album with “Ho-hum. [pause] Oh, man -- really?”

Blue Note 00602577888090
Format: Vinyl EP

Musical Performance
***1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Overall Enjoyment
***1/2

One of my favorite albums of 2018 was GoGo Penguin’s fourth album, A Humdrum Star, which showed the piano trio’s versatility and its ability to use a number of current influences, from electronica to the experimental rock of Radiohead, to create jazz that’s smart, fresh, approachable, and potentially appealing to younger listeners. While the group, based in Manchester, England, plays acoustic instruments, pianist Chris Illingworth, bassist Nick Blacka, and drummer Rob Turner are not averse to using studio technology and electronics to occasionally alter the sound and impact of their music.

Republic B0030192-02
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

On October 1, 1969, James Brown performed with his band at the Bell Auditorium, in Augusta, Georgia, the city in which he spent much of his childhood. Brown’s time in the state’s second largest city was troubled, to say the least, but by 1969 he was a huge international star, and the city claimed him proudly. He was going to record his show there for release that December, but his plans changed, and instead he released Ain’t It Funky, a compilation of mostly instrumental tracks recorded between 1966 and 1969.

dBpm DBPM-010-20-LP (LP), DBPM-010-20-CD (CD)
Formats: LP and CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

I was three songs into my second playing of Ode to Joy, Wilco’s 11th album, when I realized that drummer Glenn Kotche wasn’t using cymbals anywhere. He plays drums and other percussion, but no ride or crash cymbal, no hi-hat to fill in time or sound. That doesn’t keep him from providing a rhythmic foundation for these songs, even as he helps them flow and adds texture -- much as jazz drummer Paul Motian did on many of his recordings.

ATO AT00505
Format: CD

Musical Performance
***1/2

Sound Quality
***1/2

Overall Enjoyment
****

Singer and guitarist Brittany Howard is best known as the lead singer of the Alabama Shakes, and for her side project and alter ego Thunderbitch. Although the Shakes are steeped in Southern soul, their second album pulled in other influences, including funk and 1960s psychedelia. Thunderbitch is searing garage rock. But Jaime, Howard’s first solo outing under her own name, is harder to classify. While rooted in the well-established genres of funk and neo-soul, it has an exhilarating immediacy.