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The audio product that stood out for me this year past was MIT’s Magnum Series M1.3 cabling system. Having lived with the Magnums for the better part of a year, they continue to impress with how they flood my room with music. Talk about being immersed in the music. Sheesh it’s more like a tidal wave. Interestingly MIT states that the 2C3D technology in the Magnum M1.3 is primarily aimed at achieving an ideal balance between detail, imaging and soundstaging—which they do—but more importantly for me the M1.3 line conveys such outstanding drama, tactile presence and visceral palpability that listening is simply more fun. I can hear more of the humanity and artistic intent too.

Another key trait that continues to thrill is the way the Magnums unravel musical textures. Take those great Stones albums Beggars Banquet through Exile on Main Street, especially the later which is often described as murky or muddy. It isn’t. It’s textured. Compared to previous albums, Exile was built upon complex arrangements with Mick’s vocals slightly pushed back in the mix. A decent playback chain will reveal Exile’s thick layers, which are certainly more obvious to me now than prior to the Magnums' arrival. As I said in my review, "…the way the Magnums revealed the myriad of musical textures on recordings was akin to peeling back the layers of an onion…"

It’s also a relief to find a contemporary audio product that maintains a proper balance throughout the spectrum. No upward tonal shift masquerading as greater detail here. The Magnums just get it right along with the added bonus of fleshing out the bass region without impeding musical flow or creating excessive bloat. Adding MIT’s similarly impressive Magnum Digital and Magnum AC 1 power cables goes a long way in proving that a coherent cabling system strategy specifically designed to interface optimally with audio components will reap more consistent and substantial rewards than the traditional mix-and-match (and hope it sounds good) method. Awesome stuff.

Releases this year that particular floated the good ship Candyman:

Floating Seeds Remixed by Ozric Tentacles [Snapper SDPCD162]. The description on the Canadian distributor’s website says it all: “For lovers of electronica, this is a must-have album not only for its hugely dynamic, shit-kickin' remixes but for the superb demonstration quality sound! It has depth and a huge soundstage that seems to stretch outside the boundaries of your walls.”

by Charlie Haden and Keith Jarrett [ECM 14231]: A wonderfully understated and intimate recording of two jazz greats in perfect sync with each other rather like listening to one four-armed musician. A suave deeply felt in-the-pocket performance that ought to melt your heart.

Gustav Mahler Symphony N°. 2 [LPO 0044]: Klaus Tennstedt’s studio Mahler recordings have generally bored me but this live account from 1989 is a barnburner with suitably flammable sonics. Tempi are dangerously slow at points but Tennstedt’s superb preservation of tension keeps the train from derailing. The soloists are more than adequate and the finale is as huge, powerful and uplifting as you could want. Definitely right up there with Mehta and Bernstein. This is also one of only a few recordings of the 2nd where the organ is actually felt let alone audible.
Shostakovich Symphonies 8, 10 & 11 [Naxos]: Vasily Petrenko is garnering considerable praise for his Shostakovich cycle. So far I’ve picked up these three works and they are almost up there among the great recordings. His reading of the 10th is stunning in its power and excitement. This is a cycle worth considering if you’re at all interested in Shostie.  

Australian Eloquence: Decca is currently reissuing many terrific albums via their Australian division’s Eloquence series that will have collectors whipping out their credit cards and furiously clicking away online. Some of these recording have never been released on CD until now. There’s Ernst Ansermet’s treasured 50’s mono recordings of Ravel [Decca 4428321] and Debussy [Decca 4800127], the Vienna Octet’s many chamber recordings, William Kempff’s Schubert [Decca 4769913] and Alicia de Larrocha’s recordings of Montsalvatge and Surinach [Decca 4762971] to name but a few. At last check there were over 400 titles with more releases forthcoming. I am not sure of their availability worldwide but in North America they tend to be difficult to find and/or expensive. Forget your local music store if you still have one. You can order them online at excellent prices from Presto Classical

Rued Langgaard was an unpredictable eccentric so adept at pissing off the musical establishment that his music still languishes in obscurity. Record label Dacapo along with conductor Thomas Dausgaard have sought to rectify this and a brilliant job they are doing too. I’ve become captivated with Langgaard and his quirky yet always interesting musical language. Music of the Spheres [Dacapo 6.220535] for soprano, chorus and two orchestras is perhaps his greatest work and worth hearing. Yes you can forget anything resembling a conventional melody or pulse but give it a listen and perhaps you too will fall under Langgaard’s spell. Picture constantly evolving textures and a series of sonic vignettes with odd sounds and voices that appear out of nowhere. The other two works include The Time of the End which features reworked elements from Langgaard’s opera Antikrist; while From the Abyss demonstrates his deep religious faith. If you’re keen for a musical adventure off the beaten track combined with great sonics, this disc just might be the ticket.

Marcel Tyberg's Symphony N°. 3 [Naxos 8.572236]: Shedding light on forgotten or unknown composers is a Naxos specialty. One wonders why the majors can’t spare us yet another boring recording of the same old warhorses and for once take a flipping risk and use some imagination. Here we have newly resurrected works from then-promising Austrian composer Marcel Tyberg who died at Auschwitz because he was 1/16th Jewish. The story on how the score of Tyberg’s 3rd Symphony found its way to Buffalo Philharmonic conductor JoAnn Falletta is worth the price of admission alone. Tyberg’s 3rd is a poetic work in the late Romantic tradition reminiscent of Bruckner and Mahler with a dash of Brahms and Schumann. His Piano Trio is also imbued with a Romantic spirit. Maybe not first-rank works but well worth seeking out.

Grinderman 2
[Anti 87125]: Lock up your wives and daughters. Grinderman is back with their second album and they are as lewd, lascivious and evil as before. Just check out their video for Heathen Child if you don’t believe me. As my seventeen year old son said after watching it, “That’s messed up dad”. My favorite lyric on the album? Well my baby calls me the Loch Ness monster, two great big humps and then I'm gone...

I love those hairy freaks.

I came across a couple of great books about music this past year. Listen to This by Alex Ross is mostly a collection of essays that had appeared in Ross’s New Yorker column. Where his previous book The Rest is Noise was a fantastic cultural history of 20th century classical music, this one covers a wide variety of musical topics. Essays and interviews of Radiohead, Bjork and Esa-Pekka Salonen rub shoulders with articles on Johannes Brahms and Robert Schumann. There are also chapters devoted to contemporary music in China and the lack of musical education in American public schools. Again this is terrifically well-written and engrossing stuff and I urge anyone with an interest in music to snap it up.

I twigged onto Evan Eisenberg’s The Recording Angel via Michael Lavorgna’s blog Twittering Machines and from one of John Atkinson’s editorials in Stereophile.

Like Michael I devoured the book in a couple of days. Eisenberg, a philosopher by training, describes how music recordings have transformed our culture and raises some interesting thoughts on the differences between listening to recordings, listening to live music and listening to radio. There are some pretty cool and subversive ideas in this book, some of which will no doubt ruffle the ascots of many a certain type of audiophile, particularly those who believe that the ultimate goal of a hifi is to recreate the original event - whatever that is. Regardless of what you believe, I think anyone with an interest in music and audio (probably everybody reading this!) would find this book stimulating and thought-provoking. It’s also quite humorous in spots. My only beef is that the book is a little disjointed and difficult to follow at times, probably because it is so full of ideas. Thus I used lots of sticky notes. How’s this for a heavy quote: “[Schopenhauer] manages to explain how it is that when we listen to music most deeply we seem to trace with one hand the furrows of the mind, with the other the folds of the universe. In other words, music is not just about people. It is bigger than that.” Somebody fire up the sacred chalice for some sacramental smoking.

Honorable mentions:
Damn the Torpedoes LP reissue by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers [Geffen 15004]
Inflammable Material LP reissue by Stiff Little Fingers [4Men with Beards 4M526]
The Stone Roses LP reissue [Sony/Silvertone 754611]
Blurry Blue Mountain by Giant Sand [Fire LPFIR161]
High Violet by National [4AD CAD3X03X]
Jordi Savall’s hybrid SACD reissue of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos [Alia Vox 9871]
Quiet Please, The New Best of Nick Lowe [Yep Roc 2618]
Per Norgard’s Symphonies N° 3 and 7 by Thomas Dausgaard [Dacapo 6.220547]
Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space LP reissue by Spiritualized [Plain 150DLP]

By the way the recent reissue (CD or vinyl) of the Stones’ Exile on Main Street is a dynamically compressed disgrace. Charlie’s drums are muffled and lack punch, that sinuous funky groove is just about MIA and where are those glorious piercing horns? Furthermore the poorly reproduced cover—especially on the LP—completely ruins Robert Frank’s terrific photos. Buy the 1994 Bob Ludwig mastered CD on Virgin or better yet, track down an older US, UK or Canadian vinyl pressing. An original US Artisan pressing is best [Rolling Stones Records COC-2-2900]. Just look for the stylized ‘A’ (looks like an alien head) on the dead wax. The surface won’t be as quiet as the new reissue but it will shake your ass.