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Tapes ’n Tapes, "Walk it off" (XL)

The 2006 debut of the Minneapolis quartet was a series of quick jabs to the ribs, aquiver with pure energy and joy. "The Loon," with its infectious opener "Just Drums," was the best kind of rock ’n’ roll — simple, urgent, funny and chock full of juicy hooks big and small.

The group chose producer Dave Fridmann, best known for his work with the Flaming Lips, to help with their all-important second album. His presence is palpable in the circumspect song structures, denser sound and a few fuzzy Lipsian strokes of psychedelia.

Overall, Tapes ’n Tapes sounds like a band very much aware that everyone is watching, and doesn’t flub the moment.

Singer Josh Grier comes off like Stephen Malkmus’ precocious nephew, all cocky good times and razor-sharp staccato from his guitar on "Hang them all" and "Headshock." And drummer Jeremy Hanson seems to benefit most from Fridmann’s presence with an impressive array of textures and tempos like the slow country swing of "Say back something" or the five-speed fire of "Demon Apple."

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— Chris Talbott, Associated Press

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Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1

Vienna Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, conductor

Svjatoslav Richter, pianist

(Deutsche Grammophon)

The centenary of Karajan’s birth has brought a flood of re-releases, including this uneven 1962 recording of Tchaikovsky’s familiar concerto, paired with a 1968 recording of the composer’s far less interesting Variations on a Rococo Theme, with the Berlin Philharmonic and Mstislav Rostropovich.

The German maestro had many virtues, but a touch for Tchaikovsky probably wasn’t among them. The performance is by turn sumptuous and stately but rarely conveys the richness of Tchaikovsky; Richter seems almost disengaged in the first movement, and the odd balance problems and other technical flaws in the recording don’t help. A safer bet in the Karajan collection might be the Beethoven and Strauss discs.

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— Jay Furst, Post-Bulletin

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Van Morrison, "Keep It Simple" (Lost Highway)

"Soul is not the color of your skin," Van Morrison observes on his new album. He would know: The great Irish bard has been proving the truth of that statement for decades now. With "Keep It Simple," Morrison may keep his Celtic soul on low flame, but it still burns true.

The Belfast Cowboy has become the bruised voice of experience — a graduate of the "School of Hard Knocks" who has given up his hard-living ways ("Don’t Go to Nightclubs Anymore").

But his clear-eyed view of life and its disappointments comes with a sense of acceptance and understanding, rather than churlishness and self-pity, and he’s still capable of joy and wonder ("That’s Entrainment").

It’s a mood that’s reflected by the inviting warmth of the easygoing R&B grooves that dominate the album.

— Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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