It’s hard to avoid comments such as “all new music sucks” when you frequent high-end audio websites. And if you look at what titles are prominently displayed on music sites that cater to audiophiles you might well even begin to believe it. But the truth of the matter is that if you are willing to some exploring (I do mine via TIDAL) and devote time to listening to new music from artists who might be less than half your age, there’s lots of new music which will challenge not only your stereo system, but also expand your musical horizons. Last week I found two new artists whose work was completely new to me that make getting up this morning even more exciting since I have a chance to listen to them again.
As regular Audiophile Review readers know, Mark Smotroff does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to music reviews, but for my contribution to this week’s offerings I’m going to share with you several of the new albums that have made my life even more worth living.
Several words of warning – all the albums on my list are heavily processed with no relation to a natural soundstage or live recording. No, instead these are all aural confections created in the studio with multiple sonic viewpoints. None can be directly related to “The Absolute Sound” of live instruments in a natural acoustic space because there was no acoustic space or acoustic instruments to begin with.
You might find it ironic that someone who’s a senior editor for a publication whose primary tenant is the reproduction of music should be as close to the sound of real instruments in a real acoustic space as possible could embrace completely “artificial” music, but my primary reason for being involved in high-performance audio is so I can hear music as clearly a possible. While for me it’s easier to hear how (and if) a particular component differs from absolute neutrality and transparency when I use my own live recordings that I’ve made in known acoustic environments, but listening to the same selections over and over makes jack a dull dead boy…so here are some ear-stretching albums for your perusal.
Fences – Lesser Oceans – Founders Christopher Mansfield and Benjamin Greenspan call Fences a “project” rather than a band. Their debut album was released in 2010, but the release I’ve glommed onto is Lesser Oceans, which was released in 2015. On cut from Oceans, that you may have heard on mainstream media is the single titled “Arrows” which was a collaboration with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. The single reached number one on Billboard Magazine’s Emerging Artists chart. Chris Walla an Ryan Lewis produced Oceans, which is an aural smorgasbord with ambient, and treated sounds joining with “traditional” electric instruments. On some cuts such as “Dogs at the Table” the vocal tracks are treated as instrumental tracks, woven deep into the mix. The soundstages on every cut are huge affairs with multiple aural POVs piled in layers. You’ll need a highly resolving playback system to hear it all.
Au Pair – One Armed Candy Bear – If you’re a fan of the Jayhawks you’ve probably heard or heard of AuPair, which is a side project formed by the Jayhawks’ Gary Louis and The Old Ceremony’s Django Haskins. I was not familiar with the Jayhawks so “discovering” Au Pair also led me back to the Jayhawk’s wonderful catalog of albums. Au Pair is a pop confection that is so Beatlesque at times that my wife asked me to “listen to something other than the Beatles” when I played the album for the third night in a row just before bedtime., but their music is THAT addicting – full of clever twists and turns. The sound is equally arresting with enough ear-candy to make even the most jaded ears perk up.
Bleachers – Terrible Thrills Volume II – Jack Michael Antonoff is the primary creative force behind Bleachers. He’s also the lead guitarist for the band Fun. His first project was Bleachers: Strange Desire, which included Antonoff on lead vocals on eleven original songs (Yoko Ono joined Antonoff on one cut). 2015 saw the release of Bleachers: Terrible Thrills Vol. II, which has those those same eleven songs, but this time the lead vocals were done by Sara Bareilles, Carly Rae Jepson, Elle King, Sia, Susanna Hoffs, Natalie Maines, and others. The basic backing tracks are from the first album but they were heavily modified compared to the first versions on Strange Desire. The final result, Terible Thrills Vol II, is one of the most aurally interesting and melodically addicting albums I’ve heard in recent memory.
A Great Big World – When the Morning Comes – Based out of New York, the Duo A Great Big World consists of Ian Axel and Chad King. When Morning Comes is their second album, and features the Single “Hold Each Other” which the group liked so much they recorded two versions, the first a collaboration with Futuristic. I dare you to only listen to this track only once – between the melody and the gloriously dramatic arrangement it is more addictive than any potato chip on earth. Other tracks have a wonderfully upbeat yet naïve aura that should cheer up almost anyone who needs a musical bromide for lifting their spirits.