Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Reference 160M Amplifier (February 2019)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Livio Cucuzza on Audio Research's Industrial Design (November 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Audio Research Past, Present, and Future (October 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - KEF's New R Series for 2018 (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio Moon 390 Digital/Analog Preamplifier and Streamer (September 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - EISA 2018-2019 Awards Introduction (August 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Simaudio's $118,888 Moon 888 Mono Amplifiers (June 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Totem's Tribe Tower (May 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion's Three Newest Argon Loudspeakers (April 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Making the Hegel Mohican CD Player (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Estelon Lynx Wireless Intelligent Loudspeaker (March 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh's Five New Solid-State Integrated Amplifiers (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Amphion's Krypton Loudspeaker (January 2018)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Anthem STR Preamplifier and Power Amplifier (December 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - McIntosh Laboratory MA252 Integrated Amplifier (November 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Hegel H90 and H190 Integrated Amplifiers (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - How Hegel's SoundEngine Works (October 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight  - Estelon History and YB and Extreme Loudspeakers (September 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - What Makes Hegel Different? (August 2017)
  • SoundStage! Shorts - Estelon Extreme Legacy Edition Loudspeaker (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! InSight - Amphion Overview and Technologies (July 2017)
  • SoundStage! Insight - Totem Acoustic Signature One Loudspeaker (June 2017)
  • SoundStage! Encore - The Cowboy Junkies'
  • SoundStage! Shorts -- Anthem's STR Integrated Amplifier (May 2017)
  • 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)

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.

It helped that they write artfully crafted songs filled with literate and fun, if occasionally arcane, lyrics. The band members met while attending Columbia University, and they’re a good advertisement for a liberal arts education. Their new release, Modern Vampires of the City, moves away from the world-music influences of the first two albums, but they’ve retained their tendency to write songs that stick in the mind. The first CD single, “Diane Young,” is a little noisy, and I could have done without the Auto-Tune, but the melody is undeniably catchy.

That single also included “Step,” which is as delicate as early Simon and Garfunkel and even includes an electronic harpsichord. Despite that, the song sounds current, in part because it quotes, recycles, and even subverts “Step to My Girl,” by the Oakland hip-hop group Souls of Mischief. That Vampire Weekend has remade for their own purposes a hip-hop song that sampled Grover Washington covering a song by Bread is almost more postmodern than I can bear, but the result is charming and ethereal.

A quick Google search reveals among fans a healthy obsession with trying to figure out what co-writer (with Rostam Batmanglij) Ezra Koenig means in lines like “I used to front like Angkor Wat, Mechanicsburg, Anchorage, and Dar es Salaamwhat.” I’m still not sure, but the message of “Unbelievers” about the afterlife, and what we on earth think about it, is clear and profound. “Ya Hey” also looks at God and religion, this time with awe and puzzlement. Koenig is not yet 30, but themes of age, death, and the afterlife run through Modern Vampires of the City.

Despite those themes, the album is playful, not sad or morbid. It’s filled with the sounds of musicians who’ve discovered how much fun they can have in a recording studio. Sound effects, tape manipulation, processing, doctored drums, and more give the music a layered complexity you can lose yourself in. Only occasionally do those tricks become precious -- depending on your mood, the strangely morphed voices in parts of “Unbelievers” will sound clever or annoying.

Vampire Weekend made a point of giving Modern Vampires of the City a warm, analog sound by using a mixture of newer and older recording technologies, such as vintage microphones and Ampex tape machines. The resulting sound is luxurious without the distancing coldness that can result from an overreliance on technology. At times on this record, the band sounds a bit too enamored of its own accomplishments, but I keep coming back and hearing new things to like. I think I’ll be saying that for a while.

. . . Joseph Taylor