Shy Girls – Salt (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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Shy Girls – Salt (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

We all know what alternative rock and roll is, but alternative pop and R&B is somewhat new territory; at least to me, it is. Leading me through this new found musical landscape is Shy Girls. Shy Girls is the performance vehicle for the solo works of Dan Vidmar, but there is nothing shy about the music employed on the Salt album. It is bold, daring, and doesn’t conform to traditional styles of music.

The album artwork is exceptional and while this is obviously a TIDAL Hi-Fi review, I have to say that this is still the reason to collect vinyl; although my iPad Pro does showcase the artwork nicely. That said, I can’t help but wonder why liner notes in the digital age seem to be more complicated to reproduce than their physical counterparts.

Intro is a sonic overture full of vocal improvisations. It reminds me of the vocal techniques used by Daniel Johns on his exceptional album Talk. It is a lovely way to start the album and a perfect introduction for You Like The Pain Too, whereby this vocal interlude continues as part of the overall harmony. In places, You Like The Pain Too feels as though there is some jazz inspiration that has been uniquely mixed with a hip-hop style sound. It is different, but truly captivating with an incredibly immersive soundstage.

Watercolor Dreams has a killer introduction with tones so low that they sound like they are coming from underwater. It instantly reminds me of the sound found on …And Then Shoot Your Cousin, by The Roots. The subsonic presentation alone will test the bass response of your audio gear, but thanks to the clarity of TIDAL Hi-Fi and the accuracy of the Oppo HA-2, the Bose Lifestyle 235 Series II system can perform at its very best. There is no unintended distortion present in this exceptional song. It is a pure joy to listen to and you will feel this track resonate with your soul. I’m a true believer of feeling music, as well as hearing it, as it brings you closer to the music.

Trivial Motion permits the body to sway and tap to the incredible bass beat. The one amazing thing about this song, and most of the songs on this album, is that the bass beats are not overused to whereby they drown out other aspects of the music. Actually, while I don’t have exact dynamic range figures to quote, this recording would have to be a 10+ out of 20. It is just so atmospheric that I am blown away. The vocals are clear and well defined and never demoted to being just another instrument in the soundstage.

Why I Love also has a gorgeous beat and it is clear that Shy Girls isn’t just a thrown together album. This is true talent and Vidmar has a real understanding of music composition both from a listener standpoint and technical execution. Plus, if I haven’t mentioned it already, he has an exceptionally smooth high-toned vocal. You will close your eyes, sway to the harmonics, and sing the chorus ‘that’s why I love’ with as much vigour as Vidmar. The grungy acoustic guitar that closes out the song creates a perfect closing point.

Say You Will is exceptional. The vocal presentation is incredible, as is the beat that despite vibrating your teeth, never distorts. It is impressive to see such professionalism and refrain shown in this song. Songs like this can be a disaster as they can be taken too far. This is not the case with Say You Will. If you like Ed Sheeran, you’re going to love this song.

What If I Can is a song that I haven’t truly connected with it. The vocal and beat feel disjointed to me. My mind is unsure of which aspect of the composition to primarily listen to as both elements are fighting to be heard. I do, however, enjoy the horn-styled instrumental ending of the song.

Time (Hell Won’t Wait For Us) is exceptional!

I Am Only A Man is a good song, but I feel the vocal tracking lets this song down. The vocal is somewhat lost in the mix and I’d love to see it further forward in the soundstage. The musical elements are very enjoyable, but this is definitely a B-side in my opinion.

Collecting is quite different to the rest of the album. The bass beat is removed to make way for a vocal and piano based performance. To be completely honest, I’m unsure of how I feel about this song. It does encourage me to listen to the album again, but I just don’t feel a strong association to this song.

Salt is an amazing album that will appeal to many music lovers of various genres. There is something here for everyone. It is immersive, unique, and will push your equipment beyond their limits. You will honestly sit in pure wonderment as you ponder how Shy Girls was able to compose such an incredible soundstage throughout the entire album.

The TIDAL Hi-Fi stream is flawless and while it is all you would ever need, I strongly encourage you to seek out the vinyl release; I know I will be.

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Ryan Hurd – An Introduction To A New Country Music Star (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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Ryan Hurd – An Introduction To A New Country Music Star (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

Country Music and I have a love/hate relationship. I truly enjoy the genre, but I find that there is a lot of country music that I just can’t relate to, therefore I don’t listen to the genre as often as I would like. That said, I can listen to Achy Breaky Heart anytime and I sincerely encourage you all to take a listen to Some Gave All as the debut album from Billy Ray Cyrus is extremely good. I feel the music we are hearing from Ryan Hurd is as revolutionary as that which Cyrus introduced in the early 90s. Hurd obviously has a different sound and technique, but he is revolutionising what country music is by combining more recording and production elements from the breadth of country, rock, and pop music. I don’t necessarily want to say that Hurd is making accessible country music, but his musical style will certainly appeal to a mainstream audience.

While Hurd’s debut album has yet to be released, he has released four incredible singles that I have been playing continuously. If these songs are any indication of the quality we can expect on the album, then I have no doubt that Ryan Hurd will be the next great country music star. After all, he has already penned music for Jake Owen, Tim McGraw, and many others including a No.1 hit duet, Lonely Tonight, recorded by Blake Shelton and Ashley Monroe.

Hold You Back has a hypnotic beat that is immediately addictive. It is easy to sing-a-long to as your body sways uncontrollably from side to side. However, the most compelling aspect is the forward presentation of Hurd’s vocal track. Actually, his vocal is prominent in all the songs currently released, ensuring it doesn’t get lost in the instrumental accompaniment. While this technique is common in country music, I feel that modern recording techniques have lessened vocal presentation due to their overly compressed nature. That all said, I absolutely adore the electric guitar solo in this song. It blends in perfectly and isn’t too long. 

City Girl is country music intertwined with soft rock and pop. It is exceptional! I particularly enjoy the variances in vocal pace throughout the song. I could honestly listen to Hurd’s vocal performance all day; he is an exceptional vocalist. 

Love In A Bar is an atmospheric song that gradually introduces musical elements as the song progresses. Personally, I love music that starts simply and becomes more involved as it takes the listener on a sonic journey. A gorgeous guitar solo makes another appearance in this song and is similarly well restrained. 

We Do Us is really upbeat and while unmistakably country, it is pop-driven country music that will appeal to a larger audience. We Do Us is, in my opinion, the weakest of the first four singles that Hurd has released, specifically in highlighting the musical talents of his vocal performance. That said, his vocal presentation is perfect for this style of song.

Ryan Hurd is an exceptionally talented country music performer that is also capable of diversification. I can’t wait to hear his debut album. Until then, I will have to be content with the four singles, and three music videos, provided by TIDAL Hi-Fi. The soundstage of these performances is wide and welcoming, with little to no dynamic range compression. The sound is most certainly country, but limiting it to this genre would be a mistake as Hurd offers a style of music that would be perfect at any country music festival, as well as any big city stadium.

Seriously, add Ryan Hurd to your music library. You won’t regret it!

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The xx – I See You (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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The xx – I See You (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

An interesting dichotomy occurs when we listen to music. The more we listen, the more we find that we like, or dislike, a particular song or album. Yet, this contrast is unexplainable as there is no guarantee which emotion we will feel. Yes, there are many who wish that Celine Dion’s songs will simply cease going on and on, and some who want to miss everything Aerosmith sings about. Then there is The xx, a band that I had completely ignored until their latest release. Initially, as I sampled the tracks from I See You, I was unsure if I even wanted to listen to the album. I felt as thought there was something missing, but I remained intrigued and kept sampling the tracks to try and figure out what it was.

This previous weekend as our family set off on a road trip, I decided to download I See You in TIDAL Hi-Fi’s offline mode. For those interested, the two other albums I downloaded for the drive were Sepultura’s Machine Messiah and the classical album Cantillation Allegra: Miserere. Yes, dear reader, my music interests are vast and I have no issue whatsoever in changing between these two styles of music. That said, my significant other rolled her eyes elegantly as I made the change. Nevertheless, the time had come for The xx’s I See You to take a virtual spin.

One would think that a 2016-model motor vehicle would have a respectable stereo system, but I am constantly let down by the unit’s internal DAC, so I devised an experiment to see if I could get a better, more accurate, sound reproduction from the stock stereo. Using Oppo’s remarkable HA-2 DAC, I ran the signal directly from my iPhone, via the lighting to USB adapter into the DAC. Then I ran a 3.5mm to 3.5mm stereo cable from the HA-2’s Line Output to the Line Input on the car stereo. This process bypasses the car stereo’s inferior DAC and merely requires the car stereo to handle the amplification process; a task it can handle admirably.

Listening to an album in this manner may never be a perfect way to audition and review and music, but the fact remains that through this technique the sound emanating from the car stereo was simply gorgeous. Of course, it was nowhere near the quality I experience with my main stereo system, but it was a significant upgrade to the car’s previous sonic offerings. Even my better half couldn’t believe the stark contrast in quality by simply adding the Oppo HA-2. It is true to say that every element in the audio reproduction chain is important and you should always start with the best source possible and proceed from there.

On that note, I feel it is essential to illustrate that this isn’t merely a one-off occurrence. A number of years ago, my significant other and children gifted me the Bose AE2 headphones. To be completely frank, I couldn’t stand them. They are the most comfortable headphones I have ever had the pleasure of wearing, but their sound was thin and shrill when connected to every single piece of audio-based technology I owned. When I got the Oppo HA-2, I decided to give the AE2 headphones another try and I’m not joking when I say the HA-2 breathed new life into those Bose headphones. It was proof that the DAC/Amplifier element in the process is essential to getting the very best from speakers, headphones, and digital music. Hence, TIDAL Hi-Fi + Oppo HA-2 = Beautiful Sound Reproduction even with modest headphones and audio equipment. I’m sure many of you are saying that the Bose AE2 is now the weakest link in my headphone setup and while I agree, they do tick off the all important Wife Acceptance Factor. The bottom line is that I can listen to this combination for hours without suffering any physical or mental fatigue and the sound is absolutely non-offensive and engaging.

Getting back to listening to music in the car and I couldn’t help but ponder if other albums that I had dismissed in certain surroundings, wouldn’t have appealed more to me in different situations. Yes, another crazy thought from the guy that believes metal and classical music can happily co-exist. The interesting aspect, however, is the human element. There is simply no way to predict the emotion created by the situation and the associated music at a given point in time. It is, therefore, another instance of a dichotomy that one may experience when exploring new music. Even music we know and love can sound different as time passes and our interests change. I notice this occurring more frequently as I age. While there has been plenty written on the subject, the best book I have read thus far is John Powell’s Why We Love Music. It is to the point, not overly complex or presumptuous, and insightful.

Regardless, I See You just felt right in the car and a grin formed from ear to ear that didn’t erode until it was time to exit the vehicle. It was this experience alone that ensured I became a fan of The xx. I’m even tempted to buy the vinyl release, the album is that good, but the real lesson in my never ending ramblings is that there is no perfect way to listen and appreciate music. It is subjective and if it induces an emotional response, then the music and the hardware available to you has done its job.

The album artwork is simplistic but iconic and as I looked through The xx’s catalogue of releases I couldn’t help but see the consistency of the X symbol. While some may complain about the artwork being too similar, the similarity does assist in branding and allowing oneself to be immediately identifiable. To this day I still think of Prince as a symbol. I used to find it humorous to see where music stores would try and place his albums after he undertook the transition and I can’t help but wonder how one would search for his symbol in the modern Internet era.

That makes me wonder, can you search Google for a symbol?

Anyway, that isn’t important and as always I digress, let’s get back to the review in question.

I also appreciate the difference in artwork between the digitally purchased/streaming releases and the Vinyl/CD releases. It gives me, as a collector, another reason to seriously consider adding the physical release of the album to my collection.

Dangerous sets the tone of the album and the horn introduction is pure perfection. The bass beat throughout, while predictable, is pleasing to the ears with more than enough depth to encapsulate you in the middle of the soundstage. It isn’t my favourite song on the album, but I do enjoy it.

Say Something Loving has a really unique vocal introduction that I’m unsure of. However, it is strangely well suited to the track and as the song progresses the vocal tonality and variance in the beat is superb. It is an exceptional song, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that it could be more dynamic as the soundstage feels a little too restrictive and fails to completely absorb the listener in the music.

Lips begins with a glorious vocal interlude that reminds me why I consider vocals to be more aligned to an instrument, than a literal storytelling aspect of music. Lips is possibly my favourite song on the album, but there are so many wonderful tracks. It has a perfect harmonic presentation and is thoroughly engaging. If you only listen to one song from this album, make it this one!

A Violent Noise slowly builds a sonic masterpiece from elements that are continually added as the song progresses. It pulls you in and captures your soul. It is spectacular!

Performance is a lovely ballad-styled song that presents Croft’s vocals so clearly and forward in the soundstage that one would believe she is present in the room with you. It is a performance that has to be heard to be believed.

Replica follows the ballad pace of Performance beautifully and is equally compelling. While I love my physical library of music, the lure of TIDAL Hi-Fi can be seen in the ability to be exposed to so many great musical talents, such as that of The xx. For all of life’s worries, music lovers certainly live in exciting times.

Brave For You is perfectly tracked and isn’t merely there to provide filler for the album as it, along with the previous two songs, is amongst some of the best compositions on the album. The bass track throughout this song has an incredible timbre that simply amazes me every time I hear it.

I simply love On Hold.

I Dare You has a fantastic beat and is a perfect song for any road trip.

Test Me is a lovely song to end the album on. While not as upbeat as the rest of the album, it does encourage me to listen to the album again and stay within The xx catalogue.

It is important to note that the above opinions were a culmination of my experience with both the Oppo HA-2 via the car stereo and the Oppo BDP-103’s analogue stage via my home stereo. While both platforms utilise different DAC’s, the house sound of Oppo is somewhat similar and therefore the differences between the experiences are minimal.

Both playback methods presented a nicely balanced soundstage that was immersive. There are a number of elemental aspects to the entire album that I truly appreciate and they became even more apparent in my higher resolving main stereo setup. I found the low end of the album to be on the precipice of distortion but it never went so far as to drown out other musical elements.

While the average dynamic range of the digital releases, including the Audiophile 96kHz/24bit HDTracks edition, was 6 out of 20, the vinyl release is reported to raise that average to a 9. It is disappointing that the loudness wars once again plague modern recordings, but as I was listening to the album, I did not feel it was compressed as badly as these numbers may suggest. While I would welcome an increased dynamic range, I feel it is important to also consider that certain musical styles and sound signatures are well suited to lower dynamic ranges. After all, this is not a symphonic release. That said, it is disappointing the HDTracks has an edition that is inferior in dynamic range to the vinyl release, especially when the marketing team are content with declaring it as being an audiophile release. In light of this, is there any reason in wondering why the average consumer classes high-resolution audio as snake oil? I guess that is why I find TIDAL Hi-Fi to be the happy medium as albums are presented in CD-quality with many thousands being released as TIDAL Masters (I See You is not one of them), thereby competing directly against HDTracks, but included in the price of TIDAL’s Hi-Fi monthly subscription.

Despite all of this, I found the sound presentation to be exceptionally engaging. The xx have released a sonic masterpiece and I’m certainly looking forward to listening to the rest of their catalogue and all future releases.

I See You is also available on Vinyl, CD, and in 16/44 FLAC at the TIDAL Store.

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The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

Experimental rock can be hit or miss and when I noticed The Flaming Lips had just released a new album, I was sceptical as I absolutely detested their album The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs With Henry Rollins And Peaches Doing The Dark Side Of The Moon. At the time I swore that I would never listen to another Flaming Lips album again, but a second chance should be given to all.

Interestingly, as I began listening to Oczy Mlody, I started to question my previous thoughts and decided to revisit the before-mentioned album. Perhaps I was too harsh in my initial opinion.

Nope. I still detest it!

Take a listen to the horrid version of Pink Floyd’s Money and you will see what I mean. While I understand the reimagining concept behind the recording, I don’t feel it was executed well. That said, I’m sure there are plenty of people who consider it to be an amazing interpretation. Thankfully, we are all welcome to our subjective opinions.

The album artwork of Oczy Mlody is clearly psychedelic in intention with a contrasting colour scheme that you can’t help but look at. I’m sure it would look striking on vinyl, but is it worthy of adding to my vinyl collection and TIDAL Hi-Fi music library?

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Oczy Mlody is just an odd title for both the song and album. Nevertheless, it is an instrumental only tune that sets the mood for the entire album. It is atmospheric with a soundstage that appears larger than it really is. It tricks the ears as your mind ebb and flows through the soundscape. It is uplifting while being simultaneously sombre. I love it!

How?? starts off beautifully smooth, but while I am a proponent of profanity in music when it is of artistic benefit, I find the first instance of profanity to be disjointed to the overall musicality of the song. Other than that, I would class the song as a vocal and atmospheric masterpiece. The low-bass distortion is particular pleasing as it doesn’t detract, but adds to the depth of the song.

There Should Be Unicorns steps up the tempo but retains that gorgeous atmospheric sound. I’m literally held captive by the music, in that special place where we should all be when we are thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Sunrise (Eyes Of The Young) is perhaps the most experimental track on the album. It shifts direction within the song itself and will appeal to music lovers who appreciate not only musical experimentation but the extreme edges offered by alternative recordings. That said, The Flaming Lips sound signature is still present. While it isn’t a favourite track of mine, it will likely grow on me after a series of listens.

Night Nie (Never No) pans the music from the left and right stereo channels perfectly. You literally follow the sound around the soundstage as you become immersed in the virtual reality that the artist has created. I love it, but there are a few audible shocks along the way that prevent you from getting too relaxed.

Galaxy I Sink is cold and isolated from a subjective perspective. It is distant and somewhat haunting. While I feel the idea is superb, I just don’t like the lyrical approach and I feel the lyrics become distracting in an otherwise excellent composition. To be honest, the musicality of The Flaming Lips is so strong that vocals are not needed. While I understand this isn’t the approach they are aiming for, it would be fantastic to have just an instrumental only edition of the album as I feel there are two distinct ways this album could be appreciated.

One Night While Hunting For Faeries And Witches And Wizards To Kill certainly presents a soundstage that is relatable to the song title. The beat, however, is somewhat predictable and the vocal elements again are a slight distraction. It is as though the two elements are simply not co-existing cohesively. Of course, one needs to remember that in the spirit of experimental rock, this style of vocal delivery is perfectly acceptable.

Do Glowy seamlessly continues from the previous track but varies the beat and vocal delivery. The vocals in this instance are purposely auto-tuned a little too far, but it works perfectly with the song and I feel that the vocals are once again in sync with the instrumental elements.

Listening To The Frogs With Demon Eyes is not as demonic as one would like and I feel that the soundstage is a little too shallow, compared to the rest of the album, especially in the initial elements of the song. It does open up a couple of minutes into the track, but at over 7 minutes in length, there are a number of changes that will either appeal or become distracting to the listener. It is an interesting song as I neither like or dislike it. It merely exists. However, post 5 minutes in duration, the song changes character and I truly appreciate the immersive soundstage.

The Castle picks up the beat and while I enjoy the song, I find that the beat is a little too distorted in the low end. I’d say this has been done purposefully as it is consistent throughout the song. I thoroughly enjoy the track, but when I have to turn the Bass+ feature off on my Oppo HA-2, and the distortion is still present, then I question if that level of distortion was truly needed and what purpose it ultimately serves.

Almost Home (Blisko Domu) is a sonically beautiful song that I truly adore. I could listen to it for hours on repeat.

We A Family continues with the smoothness of Almost Home (Blisko Domu), but shifts focus somewhat. It isn’t a bad song, but it isn’t one of my favourite on the album. That said, it does encourage me to listen to the album again.

While I have openly disliked a previous recording by The Flaming Lips, I’m overjoyed that I gave them a second chance and accept that I don’t need to like every album in an artist’s catalogue to be a fan of their work. It merely means that I will be selective regarding the albums I include in my TIDAL Hi-Fi music library. Similarly, I’m still not sure if Oczy Mlody is worthy of inclusion in my vinyl collection, but I have a feeling that it will grow on me exponentially as I listen to it over the coming weeks and months.

Oczy Mlody is also available on Vinyl, CD, and in 16/44 FLAC at the TIDAL Store.

The album is also available on HDTracks in audiophile 24/96 FLAC, however, that edition is reported to have an average dynamic range of 4 out of 20. While I haven’t heard that edition as it is not available in Australia due to region restrictions, I wouldn’t describe the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition as being dynamically compromised. That said, there are areas where increased dynamic range could have changed and probably improved the tonality of the album, but as this comes under the banner of experimental rock, could we say that the lower dynamic range is done intentionally?

Regardless, I am completely satisfied with the musicality of the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition, but reports of such a low dynamic range cannot be ignored.

I did do a quick comparison of the album on Spotify Premium and while it is very similar to the TIDAL Hi-Fi release, it does sound more boxed in and subsequently more compressed. However, that could simply be due to the variance in codecs and the fact that the Spotify Premium stream is a lossy presentation in comparison to TIDAL’s CD-quality FLAC stream.

Interestingly, there are two identical editions of the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi, versus only one on Spotify. As The Flaming Lips are distributed by Warner Bros. Records, I can’t help but wonder if one of the editions will be assigned to the TIDAL Masters (MQA) program. Although, neither album would play as a TIDAL Master. If this changes, I will update this review, in the comments, with any information I feel would be relevant. 

How about you? What has been your experience? Do you feel Oczy Mlody is sonically compromised? Your subjective thoughts are always welcome!

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Sepultura – Machine Messiah (Tidal Hi-Fi Review)

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Sepultura – Machine Messiah (Tidal Hi-Fi Review)

Music discovery is like love, it’s a wonderful thing!

Hold on a second there Mark, are you really quoting Michael Bolton in a Sepultura review?

Well, dear readers, I had to come up with something as the truth of the matter is I know next to nothing about Sepultura. Sure, I’ve heard of the band. Even listened to the odd song when it has been playing somewhere, but the band has never made it into my collection. As Machine Messiah is their fourteenth album, I thought I better sit up and take notice. Plus, that artwork is extraordinary. While I’m obviously pro-TIDAL Hi-Fi, artwork like this is one of the reasons why I still enjoy collecting vinyl.

So, will this album have what it takes to ensure I become a Sepultura fan?

If the album, and band, can be represented by the lead song and album title Machine Messiah, then I can say unequivocally yes.

Machine Messiah is a sonic wonderland with a slow burn towards each chorus. I love it! The guitar work is exquisite and the first thing I notice is that the recording and mastering are not overly compressed. There is plenty of depth in the soundstage and everything is in its place. That said, the CD is said to have an average dynamic range of 6 out of 20. While I don’t have the CD to compare, that number doesn’t seem accurate as the release on TIDAL Hi-Fi is exceptional and would put many other heavy metal albums to shame.

 I Am The Enemy is pure thrash metal. It is hard hitting and doesn’t let up. While I miss the more melodic Machine Messiah, I am thoroughly enjoying the energy of this track. It takes a very special vocalist to sing like this and Derrick Green has a massive amount of talent that I would liken to Corey Taylor’s vocal range and shifting capabilities.

Phantom Self continues to damage my hearing as I can’t help but turn up the volume. Is it worth it? Ask me when I get to 70! I like to feel the music, not just hear it. While I may regret that later on, songs like Phantom Self reach the soul in a way that is simply not possible without excessive volume levels. The oriental tunes throughout this song initially sound a little disjointed but make perfect sense when you hear the epic duel that takes place during the guitar solo.

Alethea thankfully slows the pace to allow the soul to recover from the onslaught that was Phantom Self. That said, while I enjoy the tempo of the instrumental backing, I find that the vocals don’t fit the song well. To me, it sounds as though the vocal track has been unnaturally slowed down.

Iceberg Dances is a purely instrumental track and I love it!

Sworn Oath made the hair on the back of my neck stand up when it started. In an interesting dichotomy, it has a demonic sound, yet not an evil sound. I can’t put my finger on the contrasting factor, but Sworn Oath is thoroughly enjoyable and the vocal delivery is masterful. Actually, one element that I feel is important to note, on the entire album, is how clear the screaming vocals are. With this style of music, vocals can often become incomprehensible, but this certainly isn’t the case with this album.

Resistant Parasites has some killer bass notes. I love the sound of the bass guitar and while I know that everyone wants the guitar solo, I also love it when the bass guitar is featured prominently in a recording. The overall rhythm of this song has me moving uncontrollably.

Silent Violence isn’t a bad song, but I’m not locking in with the beat as much as I would like. It is causing me to listen, rather than become enveloped in the music.

Vandals Nest has a killer guitar intro that immediately reminds me of Metallica’s thrash days. There is so much going on in this song that you simply don’t have an opportunity to rest. Believe it, or not, this is a good thing!

Cyber God is an interesting song as it reminds me of Avenged Sevenfold, yet it is completely unique. The guitar work and drum beat are simply exquisite and world-class. Green’s vocal style is also amazing as he shifts tone and pitch seamlessly throughout the song.

Chosen Skin is a skull shattering song that has a rhythm and attitude that invokes movement in the listener. When I listen to a song like this, I am continually amazed at how music is captured and distributed. It is pure magic and while I know the fundamentals of how it is done, it never ceases to impress me.

Ultraseven No Uta is a song that should have definitely not been included on the album. That said, this is a bonus track that, along with Chosen Skin, is not included on all formats. Ultraseven No Uta is awful and sounds like a pop song with rock and roll distortion added. What was Sepultura thinking?

While Ultraseven No Uta doesn’t encourage me to listen to the album again or stay within the Sepultura catalogue, it doesn’t destroy the sonic perfection and musicality of Machine Messiah.

As regular readers would know, I don’t listen to music for the literal interpretation of lyrical meaning. Thankfully, Sepultura discuss the meaning behind the songs, in the following videos, for us all to enjoy.

Without a doubt, this is one of the best metal albums I have heard in recent years and it will be a welcome additional to my TIDAL Hi-Fi music collection. Most likely I’ll aim to pick up a vinyl release at some stage in the near future, but I’m not sure which one as there are a few versions including an incredible picture disc version.

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Yes, I’m still jaded by Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son picture disc, and I acknowledge the limitations of the picture disc format, but I also have a number of picture discs that play extremely well. The problem is knowing if Machine Messiah will be one of them.

Overall, the edition that is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi is nothing short of an unforgettable sonic experience. While I also have a Spotify Premium subscription, when music sounds this good, I wonder why I bother with other streaming services. As John Darko intimated, TIDAL Hi-Fi really is a CD-store in your home.

Sepultura’s Machine Messiah is also available on Vinyl, CD, and 16/44 FLAC at the TIDAL Store.

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Big Star - #1 Record (Vinyl Review)

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Big Star - #1 Record (Vinyl Review)

While the #1 record position remained elusive for Big Star, time would end up being kind to this iconic 70s band as their #1 Record remains relevant over four decades later and has finally achieved the success that it should have at the time of release.

Big Star’s music sounds familiar, likely as a result of combined sound elements from numerous late 60s influences, but their sound signature is unique. While Big Star’s music can be seen as having influenced the alternative music scene, I also can’t help but see a correlation between their musicality and the often criticised, but secretly loved, ballad recordings by most of the 80s hair metal bands. I feel The Ballad Of El Goodo is a good example of this and while clearly inspired by those who came before, Big Star would take rock and pop and subsequently merge the two into the power pop subgenre.

While I have always adored power pop and the ballad-esk sound, the first time I recall noticing Big Star was when I was crate digging at a local record store a few years ago. The #1 Record cover is hard to miss and while rather nondescript, it is compelling. At the time I wasn’t confident enough to blind-buy the record, but I did sample the album on iTunes. This process was how I decided if I wanted to take a gamble on new music at the time. It was a poor man’s approach to music discovery, but it was essential at the time. Thankfully, TIDAL Hi-Fi has since assumed that role. The problem with the iTunes sample method was the best bits, such as the killer guitar solo in When My Baby’s Beside Me, began after the 90-second sample has elapsed. Hence, it was difficult to fully evaluate the song or an album. That said, it was significantly more helpful than the 30 seconds iTunes began with when the iTunes Store opened in 2003. Regardless, I had heard enough and knew that I had to have this #1 Record.

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The vinyl reissue that I own was pressed in 2009, just as the vinyl revival was starting to gain significant momentum. Sonically, the vinyl is silent and presents a very pleasing tonality and soundstage. That said, there is a little sibilance on side two, during the final couple of tracks, most likely due to the slightly off-centre pressing. It isn’t detrimental, just noticeable.

Overall the sound signature of the vinyl reissue is pleasing and while I would love to be able to let you know which master was used, the information on the sleeve is sparse and doesn’t even include production credits. Although, the cover-art design team were thankfully acknowledged.

As with many classic albums, the reason mastering is important is that to reissue an album, many record labels believe that the audio must be remastered. As a result of this mentality, #1 Record was remastered in 2009 and that remastering session reduced the overall dynamic range of the recording. While it wasn’t brutalised as much as many other remastered releases, it is still different to the original and that personally drives me insane. The remaster is currently found on post-2009 CD releases and TIDAL Hi-Fi et al. Having listened to the CD-equivalent TIDAL Hi-Fi remastered edition, I can say with certainty that the musicality of the album is still present. It is actually quite similar to the vinyl reissue, although the organic vinyl sound signature does create a difference in tonality. The truth is, the vinyl reissue is probably from the same 2009 mastering session, but who really knows?

Seriously, is it so difficult for record labels to add this information to a release?

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While this reissue is largely reminiscent of the way many albums were released in the 70s, the nondescript album sleeve and lack of liner notes is disappointing in the modern era. Perhaps we have been spoilt with the production qualities of reissues from The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Queen etc. Granted, Big Star never saw the success that these before mentioned bands did, but I don’t believe that should factor into the design of an album. After all, when you look at the amazing albums released by independent artists, the major record labels should be ashamed of the substandard products they release. Yes, I know they are in the business of making money, not music or art, but a little more effort can go a long way to ensuring that business expands through word of mouth and continued interest.

That said, I’m not sure if I can recommend the vinyl reissue of Big Star’s #1 Record, although the vinyl sound signature may be enough to sway my opinion.

Granted, the original pressings were never extraordinary from what I’ve seen, but the print quality of the record sleeve is disappointing. An enlarged Polaroid photograph wouldn’t look as blown out as the photograph used on the rear cover. Yes, I understand it was the 70s and it was likely seen as artistic, but the reissue is still substandard in comparison to the original pressings.

Unfortunately, it is just too barebones for my liking. The record is housed in a plain (cheap) rice paper inner sleeve with no liner notes and no download code. The value proposition is ultimately decreased exponentially as a result of these omissions. Purists will most likely not be bothered by these concerns, but it doesn’t compel me to go and purchase their follow-up album, Radio City, on vinyl.

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SIDE ONE

Feel has a really unique offbeat entrance that I enjoy. The distortion in the recording is reminiscent of many Rolling Stone recordings, but I’d say Feel is a little less jarring than some of the Stones tracks. That said, this isn’t one of my favourite tracks on the album, despite being a solid song. It just doesn’t touch my soul and I feel something is missing, but I can’t put my finger on what it is.

The Ballad Of El Goodo is pure perfection! It sounds absolutely gorgeous on vinyl. As I have listened to both the vinyl and TIDAL Hi-Fi editions, this song alone is the reason to buy the vinyl release. When comparing the two, I found the clarity of TIDAL Hi-Fi to be too jarring across the entire soundstage.

In The Street is a solid track and who doesn’t love a cowbell in a song? The semi-guitar solo is thoroughly enjoyable and the rhythm will have you toe tapping and head bopping in no time at all.

Thirteen has a gorgeous guitar strum and vocal presentation. It doesn’t get much better than this and reminds me of Neil Young’s best works.

Don’t Lie To Me is Beatle-esk and you can really hear the influence in the guitar riff, vocal style, and drum beat. It is truly an epic song!

The India Song is an interesting, multilayered track, that has utilised what sounds like a flute. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm this as information is sparse, but I wonder if this lovely harmonic sound is actually derived from the electric piano of Terry Manning. If anyone has any more information, I’d love to hear from you. It is a multilayered track that merges all elements together extremely well.

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SIDE TWO

When My Baby’s Beside Me is a fantastic song with an addictive rhythm. It is a solid rock/pop tune that will appeal to almost anyone. Interestingly, when I first saw the incredible documentary Sound City, I heard a tune that Rick Springfield and Dave Grohl were working on and I could have sworn that I had heard that song before. The song in question is The Man That Never Was and every time I hear the song, it reminds me of When My Baby’s Beside Me. While they are clearly different songs, Springfield’s vocal delivery is the highlighting point that connects the two songs. I’d be interested to find out if you too, dear reader, can hear the similarities. I love finding both intentional and unintentional connections in music.

My Life Is Right is another song that reminds me of the songwriting skills of Lennon and McCartney. It is a lovely mellow tune, that defines power pop, with the execution of rock elements throughout. It is a superb recording and I find that I am always captivated by the clarity and immediacy of the guitar strum and depth of the drum beat.

Give Me Another Chance has the most incredible vocal presentation on the album. So smooth, creamy, and well balanced. Alex Chilton nailed it!

I really like the multi-lead vocalist approach that Big Star went with. It reminds me of the Eagles, whereby the vocalist with voice best suited for the song, becomes the lead vocalist of that track. While that process is mostly a 70s thing, and many modern day leading men and women wouldn’t give their roles over so easily, I feel it is an aspect of harmony delivery that is missing from many modern recordings. It simply adds complexity and variance that can be enjoyed by all. No doubt some of you will likely point out the various boy bands that perform in a similar manner. While I can’t disagree completely, I have to be honest and say that while they can be good, they’re not 1970s good.

Try Again carries on beautifully from Give Me Another Chance. Chris Bell’s vocal delivery reminds me of Lennon’s solo work, especially on Imagine. When I hear music this good, I simply can’t fathom how Big Star was not one of the most popular bands in the world. I acknowledge their record label suffered problems with distribution etc, but it is almost criminal when you consider how talented the band was.

Watch The Sunrise has some incredible acoustic guitar work throughout the song, especially during the introduction. It is a lovely ballad-styled song.

ST100/6 has to be the weirdest song title I have ever encountered. If you have a better one, let me know in the comments. I also feel that this song should have been excluded from the album. Watch The Sunrise would have been a perfect ending for the album. Unfortunately, ST100/6 doesn’t do what all good final tracks should. It doesn’t encourage me to listen to the album again or stay within Big Star’s catalogue. The problem is, there is a song there, it just isn’t realised as the song ends prematurely at 0:57 seconds.

Despite my complaints regarding the quality of the vinyl production, it is an album that I enjoy having in my collection and I think you would too. While I don’t spin it as often as I’d like to, the songs are iconic to the era and stand the test of time. Is it smooth rock, pop-rock, or power pop? I honestly don’t think it matters what you call it when the music is this good.

Big Star’s #1 Record is available on Vinyl, CD, iTunes, and in 16/44 FLAC at the TIDAL Store. It is also available for streaming on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.  

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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 – Wiener Philharmoniker/Valery Gergiev (HFPA Blu-ray Review)

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Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 – Wiener Philharmoniker/Valery Gergiev (HFPA Blu-ray Review)

There is something quite special and iconic about that blue and red Decca logo. For me, it symbolises quality and the assurance that a recording is going to be of the highest standard and a valued addition to my collection. I’ve yet to have a Decca album that has disappointed, though I acknowledge my collection is modest at best.

The Three Tenors – In Concert (Rome 1990) was the first Decca recording that I owned. It is a monumental concert, not only for classical music lovers but for music lovers in general. It was a pivotal moment where I believe classical music interspersed with mainstream acceptance, thereby later resulting in the ability for artists, such as Andrea Bocelli, to breach the bounds of classical music and become modern-day pop icons. Arguably, Pavarotti achieved this acceptance prior to this landmark concert, but the concert signalled what was possible to the following generation.

While classical music astounds me, regarding the way it captivates my mind and soul, I don’t class myself as a classical connoisseur. I know very little about the history, interpretational styles, and musical talents of the orchestra and conductor. To be honest, I’d like to keep it that way as I feel knowing too much about the process can become detrimental to simply enjoying the art form. This is one reason why I no longer watch the making-of documentaries for films as the magic of the fantasy world is eroded.

I like to be taken on a journey. I like to leave the vessel of my body and allow my mind to travel beyond mere conscious thought. That is how I feel about classical music. It paints a picture, a story, with music. The story is my own, for only me to interpret. It is the purest form of subjectivity and as the vision in my mind lifts my soul to that special place, the troubles of the world cease to exist. It is as cathartic as meditation and better yet, my thoughts are welcome when I listen to classical music; whereas a squirrel is ever-present in the silent world of my mind when meditating.

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In this particular genre of music, I cease to care about what the composer could have been thinking as he wrote the piece. That is irrelevant to me as I search for my own subjective interpretation. Similarly, while I acknowledge that the conductor and orchestra will interpret their own meaning, their interests don’t factor into my evaluation of the performance either. I either like the interpretation, or I don’t. Interpretations that fail to reach my soul are simply not worthy of being included in my collection. No doubt, they will appeal to someone, but I can only reiterate the importance of enjoying classical music subjectively; the way all music, of all genres, should really be appreciated.

Perhaps most interesting is the fact that very few people know of my love for classical music. How could they when they see me wearing AC/DC t-shirts almost daily? To them, I’m a hard rock fan, but behind closed doors I can listen to Thunderstruck and follow it up immediately with I Adagio – Allegro non troppo. Yes, I’m a special kind of crazy, but good music is good music. I don’t discriminate and I implore you to try it. While I am listening to this HFPA release as I write this review, I was previously listening to Carl Cox’s All Roads Lead To The Dancefloor. Switching between these albums, and musical genres, felt perfectly natural to me. Similarly, my classical music collection is interspersed with all other genres. I don’t have to be in the mood for classical music, I just have to want to listen to this particular album and seek it out in the T section of my collection. As I have more than one Tchaikovsky album, the recordings are then catalogued in order of conductor. That is about as complex as I get when it comes to adding my classical collection to my library of music.

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As an early adopter of the High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) Blu-ray format, I found myself exploring more music than I had previously before. While I have always appreciated classical music, I didn’t acknowledge the diversity until this new lossless format appeared on my radar. Yes, HFPA Blu-ray is largely a failed technology, but the discs thankfully remain compatible with all Blu-ray players. However, it was this technology that created a rebirth of musical exploration for me and would ultimately become the instigator behind my acceptance of TIDAL Hi-Fi.

As a result, I can listen to just about every interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony, but I like this one and tend to also turn to it when I only have access to TIDAL Hi-Fi. Normally, these HFPA releases would include an MP3 download code, but all Decca releases omitted that option. It was initially disappointing, but I’m glad they did that in retrospect as it forced me to search for other options for portable listening. I even purchased a few of the albums on iTunes, before I had TIDAL Hi-Fi, as I enjoyed them that much. This wasn’t one of them, but Janine Jansen’s glorious Vivaldi: The Four Seasons was. The Mastered for iTunes edition is very enjoyable and while it is unfair to compare it to the associated HFPA release, I would happily listen to the iTunes edition in a portable setting, especially with the Oppo HA-2 attached to my iPhone.

One aspect that I also find intriguing about classic music is how familiar it is. I may not have an adept knowledge of specific compositions, orchestras, or conductors, but without a doubt, I can recognise the music when I hear it. I dare say Hooked On Classics and various film scores have had a significant influence in this regard.

While my collection of Tchaikovsky is limited, I also have the HFPA release: Tchaikovsky: Ballet Suites – Wiener Philharmoniker/Herbert Von Karajan. My one-word review for that album is: exceptional!

While I am still wet behind the ears with regards to my knowledge of classical music, Tchaikovsky, Valery Gergiev, and the Wiener Philharmoniker, I hope that my thoughts on this recording will resonate with you.

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I Adagio – Allegro non troppo is initially a subtly beautiful track. The DTS-HD Master Audio 24-bit/96kHz playback option, a trademark of the HFPA Blu-ray platform, creates that desired silent vibration that allows one to feel the music, rather than simply hear it. While the album is only presented as a 2.0 stereo track, I don’t feel as though I’m missing out by not having a 5.1 mix. That said, a 5.1 mix would have been desirable as the music whisks you away and the more encapsulated you can be by the sound, the better.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m no classical connoisseur, but I feel every nuance is perfectly presented. Every high, every low, and every mid tone note is relayed in what can only be described as a masterful performance.

Of particular note is how well defined the string elements are within the mix. There are some classical recordings that pierce my ears, rather than my soul, and this is certainly not one of them. As I sit here enjoying I Adagio – Allegro non troppo, I am one with the orchestra as my system doesn’t skip a beat, running at only 50% of full capacity. Any louder and I would need to set up lawn chairs and sell tickets to the neighbours.

What is relevant, however, is how well the 24-bit/96kHz transfer is at resolving high volume levels. I find, on the same system, that CD playback at this volume is unbearable, regardless of mastering. While CD/SACD is arguably the best format for classical recording, especially in comparison to formats such as tape or vinyl, the HFPA Blu-ray is the closest thing I have heard that could be classed as a true concert-like presentation.

II Allegro con grazia is a swooshing passage that makes me want to jump up and dance gallantly around the room. When this happens, I know that the music has truly impacted my soul.

This section of the 6th Symphony will be arguably the most recognised element of the performance as it has been included in numerous film scores over the years. It is a timeless piece and a pleasure to listen to.

III Alllegro molto vivace is also well presented, but I do consider it to be the most complicated section of the 6th Symphony, from a listener’s standpoint. The constant changes in musical direction prevent me from settling into a rhythm. However, towards the end, the percussion sections are extraordinary in both their depth and clarity. It is not only an incredible recording, but it is a sonic masterpiece.

IV Finale. Adagio Iamestoso – Andante settles down in a relaxed manner as it is time to reflect on the enormity of the performance thus far. It is the perfect ending to a performance that was Tchaikovsky’s final and ultimately is said to symbolise death and a possible foretelling of his own demise. Personally, I wouldn’t class the 6th Symphony as being devoid of life, if anything I feel as it is a celebration with the finale closing a chapter of life with its sombre tones.

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Overall, I feel blessed to have such a flawless recording on the HFPA format. While the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition of the album is presented beautifully, it just doesn’t feel quite as open and detailed as the HFPA presentation. The HFPA edition is presented in LPCM, DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD formats. As usual, I prefer the DTS-HD Master Audio track and can confirm that it will shake the foundations while remaining crystal clear and free of distortion.

To their credit, Decca Classics have reissued the 2004 recording beautifully. While I don’t have the CD to compare, the HFPA cover and booklet are reformatted to fit the Blu-ray case. I mention this as a positive point merely because a number of the run-of-the-mill Universal releases have cut corners in this regard as they merely reprint the CD booklet, on the larger canvas. The booklet, while brief, does contain a short history of Tchaikovsky, particularly regarding Symphony No. 6, for novices such as myself. While a much more detailed overview would have been appreciated, it is the music that I am truly interested in and there are countless books detailing Tchaikovsky that one can explore if one wishes to be better informed.

While not all classical music is as accessible as Tchaikovsky, this recording is perfect for someone who is interested in classical music but has yet to form an appreciation for it as a form of art. While my children love Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Tchaikovsky’s Ballet Suites, they are starting to thoroughly enjoy the 6th symphony alongside Lady Gaga and AC/DC.

The Wiener/Gergiev recording of Tchaikovsky’s 6th symphony is truly worth owning and is one of my most prized possessions.

Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 – Wiener Philharmoniker/Valery Gergiev is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi while still being available on HFPA Blu-ray.

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Deep Purple – Made In Japan (Thoughts On The Many Editions)

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Deep Purple – Made In Japan (Thoughts On The Many Editions)

I have been interested in undertaking a review of Deep Purple’s Made In Japan (The Remastered Edition) CD from 1998 for quite a while. It is a live performance that captured Deep Purple at their peak and even if you’re not a fan of the band, this is one performance that you have to listen to. It set a standard for all rock and roll bands to follow and is as unique today, as the day it was recorded.

However, in 2014 a number of new editions were released that would go on to complicate my thoughts about the performance, album, and re-issues in general. While the performance had already been re-issued numerous times, this didn’t stop Universal remixing, remastering, and re-releasing the performance once again.

Rather than a linear performance, Made In Japan was initially comprised of the best takes from three different, concurrent, performances in Japan. Logically, this should be as complicated as it gets, but that isn’t the case as there are too many editions. Let me explain:

Single CD Edition

The single CD edition features the original 1972 mix, but it has been remastered during the 2013 mastering sessions.

If you want the album that was originally released in 1972, then this is the go-to release.

2CD Deluxe Edition

The Deluxe Edition features the 2013 Kevin Shirley remix, of the original 1972 album. It also includes all encores, from all three nights on the second disc.

The 2013 remaster/remix of this album uses the original 1972 analogue multitrack masters. While the original 1972 mix, found on the single CD edition, is remastered from the 1972 analogue stereo master.

Therefore, if you want a newly mixed edition of the performance, this one will service you well. It is true to the original but I am honestly torn as to the mix I prefer. The original 1972 mix is still solid, but Kevin Shirley’s 2013 mix somewhat modernises the performance without changing it. Although, I find Shirley’s edition to be a little boomy and muddy in the low end. This is most noticeable in the song Lazy.

It is also important to note that as both the single CD and double CD have been remastered, the overall dynamic range, compared to the 1998 remastered edition, is reduced. Remarkably, the ’98 remaster maintained the dynamic range of the original ’72 release. That said, none of the 2014 releases could be considered sonically poor performers.

If you’ve never heard this performance before, this 2CD edition will be a welcome edition to your collection. Although, I feel us old-timers might be best served sticking with the original 1972 mix that we know and love. Although, when it is all said and done, it really is subjective!

High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) Blu-Ray

Of course, if you want both the original 1972 mix and Kevin Shirley’s 2013 mix, you can pick up the HFPA Blu-ray Edition. However, no encores are included.

While HFPA Blu-ray is a favoured format here at Subjective Sounds, it is important to note that the dynamic range of this release is no better than the before-mentioned CD releases, hence the benefits of High Fidelity (24bit/96kHz) are trivial at best.

Given the capacity of the HFPA format, you would think that the entire three nights of recordings could be included on a single disc, along with all the encores, the 1972 mix, and Kevin Shirley’s 2013 mix. After all, The Rolling Stones Grrr… 50-song (>3 hour) epic is on a single HFPA disc and only consumes 20.02GB of the possible 50GB capacity. Yes, I acknowledge that this release is on a BD-25 disc and therefore limited to 25GB, but to my knowledge the HFPA specification does not exclude the BD-50 (50GB) option. Yes, the HFPA format didn’t last long, but as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I still don’t understand why the music industry simply didn’t move to hybrid SACD releases for every album. Those who don’t care about the ‘ultimate’ in audio reproduction can enjoy the discs in a standard CD player, while audiophiles can use their dedicated SACD players to get the most out of the disc and their system. It was a win-win format!

The music industry is full of missed opportunities and putting low dynamic range masters onto an audiophile format is almost a guarantee of failure.

4CD Edition

This edition features the complete performances from each night in a linear manner. You also get the encores, on a separate disc, a making-of DVD, and a Japanese 7” promo. Also included is a hardcover book and a download code for the MP3 and HD files.

Let’s just say it is a pretty impressive CD collection that gives you everything, except the original 1972 mix and the 2013 Kevin Shirley remix; although from what I understand each performance, in this collection, is from the Kevin Shirley 2013 remix/mastering sessions.

All of a sudden things got awfully complicated for this completist collector!

It is clear that each edition has been purposely designed to have something that is not available on another edition. Therefore, those wanting to purchase the complete recordings of this iconic performance will need to dig deep and hide the expenditure from their significant other.

That said, let’s take a look and see how the analogue formats fit into this equation.

Double Vinyl

According to the production notes, this edition was cut at Abbey Road Studios from the original 1972 stereo analogue master. It is, however, the 2013 remastering and hence the dynamic range would be on par with the digital releases.

That said, the track listing mimics that of the original 1972 mix, so purists looking for a new copy of the original compiled performance will be pleased with this version. However, this edition includes no encore performances and therefore it is the analogue equivalent of the 2014 single CD edition.

9LP Collection

This monolithic collection should have everything, shouldn’t it? Well, not exactly!

Just like the 4CD edition, the 9LP includes all three performances in their linear 2013 mix. However, the making of DVD, original 1972 mix, Kevin Shirley 2013 mix (of the original track-listing), encore performances, and Japanese 7” promo aren’t included. From what I understand, the DVD that is included in the 4CD edition is the same as the standalone DVD that was released at the same time. It is important to note that while the DVD has the same cover art as the album releases, it is a documentary and not a live recording of the performance. A quick view at some of the feedback on Amazon, for the standalone DVD, shows that it caused significant confusion amongst fans.

If you’re interested in watching the documentary, it is available for streaming on TIDAL. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t worth owing.

The 9LP collection also includes the hardcover book and album download code with both MP3 and HD download options. That said, there have been inconsistencies reported regarding the availability of HD files in some regions, therefore you should take that into consideration prior to purchasing.

It is also important to mention this 9LP collection features a number of significant typos such as Oaska instead of Osaka and Somoke instead of Smoke. Perhaps one could forgive the misspelling of Osaka, but how could they possibly release a Deep Purple album with the misspelling of Smoke On The Water?

It doesn’t exactly generate consumer confidence, does it?

Personally, I would stay clear of this release and hope Universal have the good sense to re-issue this set with relevant corrections. Although, I wouldn’t hold my breath as Universal’s atrocious pressing of Abba’s Live At Wembley Arena (pressed and released in 2014) was never rectified. Interestingly, both this album and Deep Purple’s Made In Japan were pressed at GZ vinyl and their reputation isn’t the greatest.

Now, most normal people are probably rolling their eyes by now and truthfully I can’t blame them. The problem is, there are just too many different editions. While I have wanted to purchase one of the 2014 releases, to go with my 1998 remastered edition, the variety has been too daunting to even consider and therefore I have not made a single purchase.

For the moment, the single and double CD editions are available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, hence I feel no need to pick those up. Plus, besides the 2013 remix on the double CD, they mimic the 1998 remastered edition exactly. It is important to note that the full linear concert performances, as found on the 4CD and 9 vinyl box set are not replicated on any digital music stores or streaming services. Subsequently, if you’re interested in the full performances, you will need to purchase the physical releases. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it offers fans a value-added proposition; it is just a shame that the options are so convoluted.

…and with that, I have decided that the best approach for me would be to ignore my completist mind and simply pick up the HFPA Blu-ray release as it contains the original tracking and mix of 1972 stereo master, as well as the 2013 mix. Yes, I remember my earlier comments regarding the reduced dynamic range, but every time I look at my HFPA Blu-ray collection, this album is one that is sorely missed.

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Crowded House – 2016 Re-Issue Thoughts

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Crowded House – 2016 Re-Issue Thoughts

Regular readers of Subjective Sounds would be aware of my inclination towards collecting a physical library of music. Adding TIDAL Hi-Fi to the mix offers a perfect solution for both the audiophile and music lover within as I acknowledged a couple of years ago that it would be financially and physically impossible to own all the albums I truly adored. As my music interests continue to evolve, so has my reliance on TIDAL. Now that TIDAL has implemented Masters (MQA), that proposition is even more compelling. I can sample music, up to studio-master quality, prior to making a physical purchase. The result is that my TIDAL Hi-Fi subscription has saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars by eliminating the blind-buy process. While I will always collect some form of physical media, the physical product has to provide additional value that exceeds TIDAL’s sonic benefits. This is where artwork, packaging, and additional media elements become paramount as there is no use buying a standard edition CD, or basic vinyl pressing, when I can stream the same music at an astonishing level of quality.

This conundrum is one that I have faced with the recent re-issues of the Crowded House catalogue. As a fan of the band, since their Temple Of Low Men album, I was in seventh heaven while floating on cloud number nine when I heard these beloved albums were being reissued on vinyl. Despite these initial heavenly viewpoints, I have my reservations with both the vinyl and CD re-issues.

Universal Music has been doing an excellent job of re-issuing vinyl in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that all releases have been perfect. While I can not attest to the sonic quality of these new Crowded House pressings, I can say that I was disappointed with the packaging. They simply appeared like any other budget, run-of-the-mill, release that has been rushed to market to capitalise on the vinyl revival. Given the packaging quality of the CD reissue, I don’t feel that it is unreasonable to suggest that Universal could have done more for the vinyl reissues.

Given the entire catalogue was reissued, there really is no reason as to why a vinyl box set, with a hard-covered book, could not have been released for this reissue project; subsequently offering fans significant value.

Part of the problem is these vinyl releases are priced at AU$37.99. They simply aren’t worth that asking price, especially when you consider the expanded CD reissues are priced at $29.99. Yes, I acknowledge the vinyl reissues are said to have been cut from the analogue masters, at Abbey Road Studios, but that alone is no guarantee of sonic perfection. Although, it is an aspect that can’t be ignored.

The only additional value presented by the vinyl reissue, versus my existing CD collection and the CD reissues, is the increased size of the artwork. While I would prefer to own the Crowded House catalogue on vinyl, there just isn’t enough value in these re-issues to justify the cost.

We also need to remember that these reissues are remastered (a marketing term that simply means we unnaturally turned up the volume). While digital masters, pressed to vinyl, can sound amazing, the vinyl mastering and pressing process can’t eliminate the brick-walling that has occurred through the mastering of an album.

While I have yet to see the dynamic range scores for the vinyl reissues, the CD reissue of Temple Of Low Men has a dynamic range of 9, compared to 14 out of 20 on my original 1988 CD release. That is a considerable difference and shouldn’t be overlooked, especially considering I love the sonic reproduction of the original release. Interestingly, the original release is still available for streaming on TIDAL, along with the 2016 remastering. Using TIDAL I was able to quickly switch between the versions of Better Be Home Soon. While my subjective testing is far from an ABX-style test, there is significantly more volume in the remaster and the smoothness between musical elements is harsher when compared to the original. As a result, I’m confident in saying that I prefer the original 1988 mastering as it is more subtitle and subjectively represents how Crowded House should sound.

It is disappointing when the re-issuing, and expansion, of a great album can’t merely be done with the original mastering left intact. Even when I look at their debut self-titled album, the original 1986 vinyl release is an impressive 13 out of 20, while the 2016 remastered CD has reduced that to a mere 7 out of 20. That is simply unconscionable!

I, along with many other audiophiles, will often lament the effects that compressed lossy formats such as MP3, AAC, and Ogg Vorbis have had on the music we love. However, the truth is the loudness wars and subsequent reduced dynamic range has had a more significant impact on musicality than the artefacts present in the before-mentioned lossy file formats.

I’m more than happy at this juncture to go on record and say that a well-mastered album can sound incredible when compressed into a lossy transport format.

The same can’t be said for a brick-walled master.

Seriously, if I have to turn my amplifier down by 10-20%, to listen to and attempt to enjoy a remastered release, they’re doing it wrong!

As a result, it looks as though I have talked myself out of buying any of the Crowded House re-issues. While it is a shame, I refuse to spend my hard-earned dollar on a product that is substandard.

Yes, the packing for the CD-reissue is glorious, but it seems superfluous when the associated sound quality is dynamically compromised; even with the additional second CD of demos, out-takes, and live performances. Similarly, while the vinyl reissues may sonically be derived from a superior master, the packaging is lacklustre and while I believe the additional tracks are available with the included MP3 download code, it just doesn’t feel complete and worthy of the cost.

If you’ve picked up any of the Crowded House vinyl re-issues, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below. Are they worth the purchase? Am I being overly harsh? Your subjective thoughts are welcome!

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The Alan Parsons Project – The Turn of a Friendly Card

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The Alan Parsons Project – The Turn of a Friendly Card

It is such a long time ago that my memory is blurred on the fact, but I am pretty sure that The Turn of a Friendly Card (ToaFC) was the first music I owned.

My sister had a number of Alan Parsons Project albums on vinyl and I heard them in the house when I was a teenager. The sound must have captured my fancy because I soon owned ToaFC on cassette which I would play on my Sony Walkman. It is interesting to note that such an early discovery would really stand the test of time, as The Alan Parsons Project remains my second favourite act/artist of all time, after Jean Michel Jarre. I own a copy of every readily available album, including follow-up works by Parsons after the Project was dissolved.

ToaFC is the band’s fifth album, released in 1980, and like all preceding and indeed all following Project works is a concept album. In this case the concept is the temptations of gambling. Parsons and Eric Woolfson, the partnership that underpinned the Project, both lived in Monte Carlo within walking distance of the big casinos. Personally, as someone who often just doesn’t hear lyrics, I can forget that the theme is there most of the time and I don’t think that takes away from the listening experience.

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The opening track, May Be A Price To Pay, has the typical sound of a Project work, but the track is otherwise a relatively standard “vocals and instruments” performance. The Project’s sound has an electronic timbre but typically they had a full complement of traditional instruments. The electronic sound likely came from the electronic keyboard and electric guitars, but there are also acoustic guitars and pianos, clavinets and harpsichords at times.

"May Be A Price To Pay – Live at Rock of Ages Festival 2013"This recent live version of May Be A Price To Pay shows that the more mainstream tracks are more easily replicable outside of the studio and with new band members and vocalists.

An interesting feature of Project works is that there is no “lead vocalist” in the band. May Be a Price To Pay is sung by “Elmer Gantry” (Dave Terry of Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera), one of four lead vocalists on this album alone, with at least a dozen over their entire catalogue. The key protagonists, Parsons and Woolfson, preferred to choose the right vocalist for the track. While Woolfson did sing on many of their songs (including some of their most successful), Parsons only sang lead once, on their debut album Tales of Mystery and Imagination, and even that was through a vocoder. (After dissolution of the Project and with live touring, Parsons has taken on a much greater role with vocals.)

While May Be a Price To Pay is very much a “standard” song with a distinctive Project feel to it, Games People Play is overtly more of a Project sound. Sung by frequent lead Lenny Zakatek, the song may sound almost normal in places, but slips into very electronic breaks and in fact has a consistent 4-note keyboard phrase from start to finish, clearly marking it as a work of the Project. It was released as a single and made number 16 on the Billboard Top 40, making it their 4th most successful.

Next is one of two tracks on the album sung by Woolfson. Time was his first for the Project and also features Parsons on backing vocals. It was their second most successful single, making it to number 15 on the Billboard Top 40, and it only takes a few moments of listening to understand why. A very simple, slow ballad, it is sung with soft, almost dreamy vocals and yet at times they soar to neck-hair tingling heights. It is one of my favourite Parsons tracks of all. It has been said of Woolfson (and ratified by himself) that he was not the most technically adept singer, but this track must surely be one he was proud of.

Alan Parsons Project – Time (Live 2014 Mainz). Because the band did no live performances until after Woolfson split from them in 1990, live performance videos authentic to the albums are very hard to come by. This Alan Parsons Live Project performance of Time from 2014 is a reasonable facsimile of the original.

Just when you were relaxed and chilled out by Time, along comes Lenny Zakatek again and, despite a soft start, I Don’t Wanna Go Home ramps up quickly to moderate pace with punchy vocals and equally punchy instrumentation, once again with that clear Project sound.

In the days of my cassette tape, this was the time to turn the tape over or, on more modern equipment, wait for the auto reverse to kick in.

This next track holds the honour of being the first one I absolutely fell in love with. For a time it was by far and away my favourite track, though it was not to last in that slot for long once I discovered Jarre’s works. (One day I will write about what Oxygene (Part II) does for me.)

The Gold Bug is an instrumental number that begins with Parsons whistling, rather well. He also contributes finger clicking to the percussion track. The basic makeup of this track is the unadulterated Project sound including electronic keyboards. It is lead for a time by an alto-saxophone that, like many great saxophone parts, soars to impressive heights. There are also a lot of backing vocals as instruments, to great effect. As I listen again while writing this, I can understand why this clicked with me so much in those early days. It is a stirring track.

The Gold Bug – Live at the World Liberty Concert 1995. This rendition of The Gold Bug was performed during the World Liberty Concert which commemorated 50 years since the liberation of Europe at the end of World War 2. Despite a technical difficulty that affected the saxophonist’s opening bar, this is a pretty good facsimile of the album track.

The remainder of side 2 is taken up with the five parts of the title work, The Turn of a Friendly Card, wherein we hear the chorus line “the game never ends when your whole world depends on the turn of a friendly card,” with the title phrase spun out into far more than just a sung lyric.

The Turn of a Friendly Card, Part 1 opens with a flute which then leads to the beautiful vocals of Chris Rainbow. It’s a pretty laid back track opening with piano backing and closing with acoustic guitar. It is the shortest on the album, at a mere 2:43, but sets the tone, especially with the final line, “as he enters inside the cathedral,” punctuated by a loud gong. The cathedral, I assume, being a reference to the casino.

Rainbow then brings us the most overtly themed song of the album. After an instrumental opening to the basic melody, we get the opening line. “Snake eyes. Seven, Eleven. Don’t let me down boys.” Snake Eyes fits much the same musical model as I Don’t Wanna Go Home but briefly adds some background soundscape of a casino to support its message.

The Ace of Swords adds a harpsichord to the instrumentation before taking on a strong beat with another Project-identifiable instrumental. Once again, this track does not reinforce the album theme for me excepting, of course, the title, but is nevertheless an enjoyable listen and leads nicely into the lovely, balladic Nothing Left to Lose.

In this track, Woolfson reprises the same vocal style as Time making this another beautiful track, though this time backed with additional, layered vocals. I recently purchased my third copy of ToaFC – another CD – in order to get the Digital Remaster version of the album. This version contains bonus tracks including a raw version of the over-dubbed vocals for this track by Chris Rainbow. It really is magical to listen to without the strong presence of instruments.

The sadder tone of the song neatly fits the theme and begins to close the story with “nothing left to lose” and including the final line that just leaves off one word. “‘Cause you’ve got nothing left.”

Finally, Chris Rainbow returns for The Turn of a Friendly Card, Part 2 which is very much a continuation to Part 1 but with far more emotion pumped into it and ending on a long instrumental. The level of “the game is over” I get from this track is typical of final tracks on Project albums. I’m no audio engineer, but I’m sure there’s something that goes into this work that marks it as a final track. Disappointingly, the song completes with a fade out.

I couldn’t tell you which is my favourite Project album of all, but ToaFC would surely be a contender. It holds a special place in my collection, having been one of my first. There is no track out of place, no track which I feel lets the album down, and I never tire of listening from end to end, while also enjoying the singles in their own right.

I think my favourite Project tracks are from the earlier Pyramid and the later Eye in the Sky, but neither of those albums achieve the overall coherence of ToaFC.

Allister Jenks is a freelance music reviewer and podcaster. You can listen to him on The Sitting Duck Podcast and find him on Twitter at @zkarj

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