• SoundStage! Shorts -- Paradigm's Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) Lenses (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Paradigm's Persona 9H Loudspeaker (March 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight -- Contrasts: Dynaudio's Contour and Focus XD Speaker Lines (February 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - New Technologies in MartinLogan's Masterpiece Series
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Dynaudio/Volkswagen Car Audio (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Gryphon Philosophy and the Kodo and Mojo S Speakers (January 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- What's a Tonmeister? (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - AxiomAir N3 Wireless Speaker System (December 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 (November 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Gryphon Diablo 120 Integrated Amplifier (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Dynaudio History and Driver Technology (October 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - The Story How Gryphon Began (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Devialet History, ADH Technology, and Expert 1000 Pro (September 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Devialet's Phantom Loudspeakers (August 2016)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh Home Theater and Streaming Audio (July 2016)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh MC275 Stereo Amplifier (June 2016)

InnocentsMute 695741
Format: CD

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

 

No one will argue with the notion that, since the critical and commercial success of his fifth album, Play (1999), the music of Moby has been in gradual decline. That album’s success was a surprise even to its creator, who captured lightning on a disc by building, on a largely electronic foundation, an eclectic combination of samples. The result has sold ten million albums.

Another Self PortraitColumbia 88883 73487 2
Format: CD (2)

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

 

When Bob Dylan released Self Portrait in June 1970, critics pounced on it. The most famous review is probably Greil Marcus’s, for Rolling Stone, which began with the famously blunt, “What is this shit?” A more insightful comment in the review was, “I once said I’d buy an album of Dylan breathing heavily. I still would. But not an album of Dylan breathing softly.”

Chet Lives!Le Chant du Monde 2743 2258
Format: CD

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

 

Chet Baker has long been held in high regard in Europe, where he spent much of the last ten years of his life and where, in 1978, he died. The release of Chet Lives!, by the Italian jazz singer and guitarist Joe Barbieri, marks the 25th anniversary of Baker’s death, in Amsterdam. Interest in the great trumpeter and singer seems to be at a peak -- just a few months ago I wrote about Eliane Elias’s highly enjoyable I Thought About You: A Tribute to Chet Baker, which captured Baker’s spirit and celebrated his influence.

Steve Gadd BandBFM Jazz 302 062 418 2
Format: CD

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

 

Drummer Steve Gadd has had a busy recording year, appearing on discs by Eric Clapton, Bob James and David Sanborn, and the Gaddabouts, his collaboration with Edie Brickell. Gadditude adds to the list a recording made under his own name. The Steve Gadd Band’s debut benefits from the comfort these musicians have from playing together as James Taylor’s touring band -- even the most difficult passages flow easily.

Smith WesternsMom and Pop Music MP111-2
Format: CD

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

 

The first time I heard the Smith Westerns, the DJ called them “Beatles-esque,” a term they probably hear a lot. It’s true that “3AM Spiritual,” which opens the Chicago band’s new album, has some late-Beatles flourishes, but nothing else on Soft Will is so overt an homage. The album contains hints of so many groups that it’s tempting to drag in one or half a dozen names in an attempt to nail down this band’s sound. But like Big Star, another group writers evoke to try to describe them, the Smith Westerns have a clear affection for pop craftsmanship, they borrow freely, and they create something wholly their own.

Kanye WestDef Jam 3743213
Format: CD

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

 

“I’m not going to sit here and defend shit. That shit is rock’n’roll, man. That shit is rap music. I am a god. Now what?”
-- Kanye West

Kanye West sucks. A simple Web search of his choice quotes over the years yields some real gems, and would lead most people to question how on this vast blue planet of ours he became popular. His lyrics offer little illumination. The words on his newest album, Yeezus, appear to have been written over the course of a few hours, by someone capable of rhyming and little else. This isn’t far from the truth, as it turns out; producer Rick Rubin -- responsible for producing Adele’s 21, among other legendary albums -- claims that the last songs on the album were written in two hours. Mind you, these two hours fell between Ye’s (short for Kanye, hence Yeezus) attending a baby shower and flying off to Milan, Italy . . . two days before his album was due to his label. Rumor has it that Rubin was still tinkering with songs just a week before the disc dropped, almost assuredly as a matter of necessity rather than artistic liberty.

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.