Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

  • 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)
  • SoundStage! InSight - McIntosh History and Autoformer Technology (June 2016)

Blank ProjectSmalltown Supersound STS248
Format: CD

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


Even Neneh Cherry’s fans might be surprised by the unusual sound of her new disc, Blank Project, although anyone who’s followed her career, with its many experimental turns, may not be too shocked by how avant-garde she is here. As versatile and surprising as her own work has been, her other musical projects have often strayed even further from the mainstream. Her trip-hop group cirKus, which she formed in 2006, included elements of electronica, but with Blank Project she moves fully into that genre.

The London duo RocketNumberNine accompanies Cherry here, and producer Kieran Hebden also engineered and mixed. The backing is spare, often just a keyboard line and drums, with Cherry’s voice carrying the songs’ weight. “Across the Water” is just a basic drumbeat over which Cherry recites a few lines before singing the melody that brings the song into focus. She’s openly emotional about the death of her mother, in 2009 (“Since our mother’s gone, it always seems to rain”), and her own responsibilities as a parent (“My fear is for my daughters / But good God will show them me”).

The distorted keyboards in the title track underline the mixed emotions expressed in the lyrics: “I got a man, I love him so much / Sometimes, I hate him just can’t let go.” Processed drums and multiple keyboards dart around Cherry in “Naked,” but the humanity of her voice reaches out to give the tune life and form. On this album, RocketNumberNine often creates ominous, swirling undercurrents that give Cherry’s lyrics a powerful backdrop. It’s her openness and her firm control of the melodies, however, that inspire such compelling accompaniment, turning what could be novelty into something truly bracing.

Kieran Hebden lets you hear every texture of the keyboards and drums, and he’s probably added some postproduction effects to help emphasize Cherry’s lyrics. I’d be hard-pressed to call this an audiophile recording, but I noticed a significant change in the sense of scale and the amount of detail when I listened to it through my reference system, in contrast to the computer speakers and car stereo that I first play review CDs on.

Although Blank Project isn’t an easy recording to listen to the first time through, I found it powerful enough to want to hear it again. Some of what are now my favorite records -- Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica or John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, for instance -- puzzled me the first time I heard them, and, after several plays, this one, too, cohered. Anyone familiar with Scott Walker’s work should have no problem understanding what Cherry and Hebden are trying to achieve with this mixture of sound and music. And anyone entering middle age -- Neneh Cherry turned 50 this year -- will cling to Blank Project’s message about the struggles and occasional triumphs of that time of life.

. . . Joseph Taylor