January 30, 2012

Excellent Music - Part 1

I'd like to follow Big E in naming a few excellent albums I discovered in 2011. These selections fulfil my two criteria – a) the music must be interesting and the performance good enough to stand up to repeated listening and b) the recording quality must be high, since this is an audiophile oriented blog.

Let me start off with a Malaysian effort:

2V1G Second Album

Well, this one is not a discovery but a re-discovery. I totally underestimated this second effort from Pop Pop Music’s 2V1G trio. I bought this CD for more than a year and hardly played it, while 2V1G’s first album remained one of my favourites and reference for female vocal, not least because of Regine Tai who, sadly, has since left the group.

My first impression of 2V1G’s second album was that it was a competently done album but did not reach the artistic height of the first one. The performance came off as a little dull and flat.

I was proved wrong entirely with the arrival of the TAD Compact Reference loudspeakers in my system. The ultra-detailed TAD finally allowed this album to be showcased in its full glory. This second 2V1G effort by Leslie Loh turned out to be a more natural and balanced recording than the first one. The TAD-CR1 showed up all the ambient cues in the recording venue and the little nuances in the performance, it was like the entire event was transported into my listening room.

All the songs on this album don’t go much faster than andante. They are mostly about sadness, lost love, nostalgia. The entire album has a melancholic mood. There is no dynamics, speed or transients to impress the listener. The whole thing hangs together, and hang together it surely does, with the craftsmanship that Winnie Ho and Jeffrey put into their singing and Roger Wang into his guitar playing.

This album is like my first encounters with Japanese food, which can be described as ‘light’, ‘bland’ and ‘flat’ when compared to our local fare (think char koay teow or nasi kandar). However, as time passed, I started to appreciate that the album, like Japanese food, is about subtleties, balance and texture.

Roger Wang ‘s guitar accompaniment complements the two voices beautifully. His arrangement can be described as sparse, even more so than the first album; but it is so appropriate for the mood of this album that any additional notes may be considered superfluous and any less the whole thing will just collapse.

Winnie Ho outdoes herself compared to her last outing. She is always dependable in her technical prowess but when it comes to emotion, she holds back just a little too much in the first 2V1G outing, in my opinion. It is no longer so here - in track 4 “Trying to understand”, which is about a couple whose love has cooled, listen to Winne at the last phrase where she asks why her man no longer wants to understands what she thinks in her heart, you can hear the wretchedness in her voice and her total surrender to the situation. In track 9 ‘Rucksack’, about a girl hanging onto a rucksack a loved one left with her for years, the memories and the longing she expressed through her voice was simply moving.

Jeffrey is a worthy addition to the trio. His style is less showy but no less effective in conveying the emotional message. I like his solo tracks most – tracks 3, 5, 7. The best is track 5 ‘Looking from Afar’, again about lost love - He beautifully conveyed the picture of a guy who can’t shake his memory of his ex and how his thoughts drift to her time and again in the depth of night.

Want to know how a good hifi system can convey emotion? Listen to this album, if you don’t feel touched by these 2 voices and a lone guitar, you still have some work to do on your system.

How does this second album compared to the first? At the end of the day, I’d still rate 2V1G’s first album higher, but just by a hair. This 2V1G Second Album now stands proudly shoulder to shoulder with its older sibling.

This post has taken up more space than I planned. I’ll do a second post on a few more excellent albums from 2011.

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