Compared to the nocturnal New York cool of the Strokes, Albert Hammond, Jr.'s solo album Yours to Keep is a sunny California afternoon. It's not quite as radical a departure as, say, James Iha's solo album Let It Come Down was from his work with the Smashing Pumpkins, but Hammond's endearing pop miniatures have their own identity without feeling too self-consciously different from the Strokes. Even the songs that were adapted from his music for the Strokes' fan club tour DVD, like the chugging "In Transit," aren't as hard-edged as his day job's music, and Hammond's sweet, unaffected voice gives lyrics like "Everyone Gets a Star"'s "I know it gets so confusing/Sometimes it all seems to drag me down" a much different feel than they would coming out of Julian Casablancas' world-weary mouth. Actually, two of the most notable influences on Yours to Keep are the Beach Boys and Buddy Holly, artists both far removed in time and sound from the Strokes and the main inspirations on their music. The opening track "Cartoon Music for Superheroes" sounds like a lullaby version of Brian Wilson and company's take on "The Sloop John B." and "Holiday" rhymes "Jamaica" and "take ya," conjuring up "Kokomo." The affectionate covers of Holly's "Well...All Right" and Guided by Voices' "Postal Blowfish" which appear on the U.S. version of the album, give further insight into its friendly, unpretentious vibe and immediate melodies.
Yours to Keep's eclectic feel adds to its unassuming charm, with whimsical tracks like "Call an Ambulance" and the folky "Blue Skies" sounding natural but not predictable next to "101" and "Bright Young Thing," which both have surprisingly bittersweet passages that come on like sudden rain showers. And while most of the album's songs are to the point -- which only adds to their appeal -- "Hard to Live in the City"'s lengthy, brassy coda makes it feel like an impromptu party breaks out at the end of the song. A small-scale project with big results, Yours to Keep is a very enjoyable musical sketchbook. In its own concise, unassuming way, it could even charm those who aren't fans of the Strokes.
With its original members taken from the principal chairs of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, the Leipzig String Quartet has been a strong force on the chamber music scene since 1988. Its dozens of recordings have covered repertoire from the early classical to the most cutting-edge avant-garde. In 2009, the ensemble returns to the roots of its repertoire with the beginning of a survey of the Haydn quartets. Curiously, the group has chosen the Op.
51 String Quartet, known better as "The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross." Haydn originally composed this commissioned work for full orchestra, but his own versions for string quartet and oratorio are much more commonly known today. The work is, as would be expected, deeply solemn and earnest. Haydn himself commented on the difficulty in composing a piece with all slow movements, and the same difficulty exists in its performance. The Leipzig Quartet, however, succeeds in maintaining a great deal of energy and forward momentum while retaining the dignity and tone of the piece. Intonation and articulation are splendidly refined throughout. Haydn assigned the majority of the melodic duties to the first violin, and Stefan Arzberger's sound definitely comes to the forefront, but the important and often descriptive accompaniment is still clearly audible. MDG's sound is clean and pure without being dry. Listening in SACD mode gives listeners the sense of being surrounded by the quartet in a church.
MDG also offers its 2+2+2 sound, but listening to it requires the addition of more front speakers and rewiring existing setups, something with which few listeners are likely to bother.