Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Epic
Format: 16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC download (CD and LP editions to be released July 17, 2020)

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****1/2

“I Want You to Love Me,” the first song on Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters, begins with a stuttering Casio drum machine and firmly struck bass notes. Apple enters with piano arpeggios that shift between major and minor, and sings in a firm, almost angry voice. As the track gathers in force and intensity, her voice roughens and grows more defiant, occasionally even going off pitch. The song is about the ebb and flow of love and sex, the frustrations that grow out of them, and the strength needed to get past those frustrations. When Amy Aileen Wood’s drums enter halfway through, they sound like literal gunshots. Apple ends the song on a high note that becomes a strange howl sounding very much like Yoko Ono.

Jagjaguwar JAG361
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

The rock quartet Nap Eyes, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, has been around since 2011 and released their first album, Whine of the Mystic, in 2014. Singer Nigel Chapman owes something to Lou Reed, both in his vocal phrasing and in the sophistication of his lyrics, and Nap Eyes has a knack for setting those words to surprising chord changes and ear-catching melodies, all with a garage-rock sensibility. In short, this band writes good songs.

Opal Music/Deutsche Grammophon 0289 483 7771 8
Format: 24-bit/44.1kHz FLAC download

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Roger Eno, the younger brother of the far-better-known Brian Eno, has built his own impressive reputation as a composer and instrumentalist. Roger’s first recording, Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks (1983), was a collaboration with Brian and Daniel Lanois. Since then Roger has recorded some 20 albums of his own and has worked with other musicians, including Bill Nelson, of Be Bop Deluxe, and Kate St. John, of Dream Academy. Brian has collaborated on some of these, including the album with St. John, The Familiar (1992); and on 18 Keyboard Studies by Hans Friedrich Micheelsen (2002), which he produced.

Fantasy FAN00619
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

In his liner note for American Standard, James Taylor describes the album as “a collection of guitar pieces, with solos and support from my regular family of players.” Taylor has often covered tunes by songwriters -- including Chuck Berry, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and Otis Blackwell -- whose work is part of the great tradition of American songcraft. The 14 tunes on American Standard are all from the Great American Songbook, all but one of them pre-dating rock’n’roll -- as Taylor writes, “These are songs I’ve always known.”

ECM 2680 (B0031718-02)
Format: CD

Musical Performance
***

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

When I received Avishai Cohen’s new album, Big Vicious, and saw that he plays on it trumpet, effects, and synthesizer, I was confused. I’ve written about the jazz double bassist Avishai Cohen, who, it turns out, has not switched to all those other instruments. This world contains at least two Avishai Cohens who are jazz musicians from Israel.

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.