Sigur Rós – () [Album Review]

Comment

Sigur Rós – () [Album Review]

Music truly is an art form. Sigur Rós have created an ethereal soundstage that soars above the clouds, yet remains grounded and relaxing to this music-loving individual. While sombre in parts, () is emotionally uplifting and extremely enjoyable to listen to. It is simply amazing, as is the vinyl layout.

I remember the moment I first heard this album, it was my first exposure to Sigur Rós. It was so compelling that I immediately placed an order for the vinyl record. When it arrived, I was further gobsmacked because the production quality was exceptional. It also included a copy of the CD, rather than the regular MP3 download code. Personally, I prefer it when artists include a copy of the CD. In a perfect world, they’d also include a download code, but we're not there yet and may never be. Regardless, I can make my own MP3 or FLAC copy from the CD if the need arises. Although, with a TIDAL Hi-Fi subscription, all my needs are catered for.

The vinyl design is beautifully bare. It’s elegant and the tactile experience is something to behold as the finish is matte and subsequently feels like a real canvas. There is a cutout on the cover that indicates the name of the album and depending on which inner sleeve is on top, the artwork will dynamically change. I don't know about you, but I love it when vinyl is produced in this manner. Think The Rolling Stones' Some Girls, or Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti. Exceptional albums in their own right but made more memorable as a result of the captivating artwork.

The inner sleeves are immaculate pieces of art with glossy elements gently imposed, thereby again signalling the album's name. However, the inner sleeves, as with all artwork contained within, is absent of any liner notes. That, however, isn't a bad thing as one doesn't need such distractions while listening to this masterpiece.

Similarly, each record label is barren of information. Even indications for Side A or B are missing, although there are slight variations in the label artwork, such as the copyright inscriptions, that over time will allow the listener to easily identify the side they’re playing. I must admit, this initially intrigued me as I had no idea which side, or which vinyl, to play first. It did dawn on me, however, as soon as I returned to TIDAL. All songs were listed as Untitled #1, #2, etc. In truth, the official track listing is simply Untitled for every song. Despite that, it was at that moment that I had remembered how no song specifically stood out from any others. It was a complete body of work and while () does have a recommended running order, the vinyl record allows the album to be played in any order the listener desires. In essence, Sigur Rós have given fans a piece of tactile interactive art, thereby bringing them closer to the music and allowing for a true subjective experience.

Of course, while this user participation is paramount to my interpretation and appreciation of the music, the recording was actually conceived as a double album; featuring one-half melancholy, the other inspirational. Truth-be-told, the music is so spectacular that either contrast blends beautifully with each other, hence the ability for the vinyl record to be played in any order.

However, in order to maintain a sense of flow, throughout this review, songs will be presented in the same order as they appear on all streaming services and the CD release. That said, I can't tell you just how addictive it is to be able to play this album, via a turntable, in so many different ways. An incredible concept!

Untitled #1 (Vaka) sets the relaxing tone by which the album will follow. You'll likely get tired of reading this but this one beautifully composed song.

Untitled #2 (Fyrsta) flows on nicely from the lead track, but the entrance to this song is a little rough for my liking. However, once the song moves into its core musical element, it’s astonishingly good.

Untitled #3 (Samskeyti) is, without a doubt, my favourite song on the album. As mentioned earlier, I consider () to be a complete body of audible art, but I could listen to this song on repeat, for eternity. It may sound morbid, but this is my funeral song. It’s uplifting and joyful as one looks towards the journey ahead while reflecting on the days that have passed. This is what music is all about; emotion and Untitled #3 (Samskeyti) has it in bucketloads.

Untitled #4 (Njósnavélin) becomes a compilation of all songs that came before it, yet it remains unique with a lovely rock edge that has sonic cues that remind me of U2. A beautiful song!

Untitled #5 (Álafoss) is simply gorgeous. That jazz-styled brush drumming is out of this world, as is the vocal instrumentation technique. Superb!

Untitled #6 (E-Bow) has a hypnotically slow beat that works perfectly with all other musical elements. It is, yet again, another beautiful song.

Untitled #7 (Dauðalagið) is probably the only song on the album that doesn't knock my socks off. It isn't bad per se, just slightly repetitive and the vocal delivery makes it less relaxing than the other songs on the album.

Untitled #8 (Popplagið) is an epically long track to close the album on, but there isn't an extraneous note to be found. The final track is exceptional and certainly commands me to listen to the entire album again, in whichever order I deem appropriate.

() is nothing short of a musical masterpiece and is one album that everyone should have in their collection. It's astoundingly good and words are really incapable of expressing just how incredible this piece of audible art is.

As for the quality of sound from the vinyl record, it’s warm and full, a complete joy to listen to. There is a little surface noise on the first few rotations, but nothing to worry about as once the music begins, there are zero distractions. You really won't be disappointed if you pick up the vinyl release. Remember, if you don’t feel like getting up and flipping the record, you’ll always have the option to sit back, relax, and enjoy this experience via the CD.

() is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC) and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, () is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Comment

SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS – “X” Chronicle Of Soil & “Pimp” Sessions (Compilation Review)

Comment

SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS – “X” Chronicle Of Soil & “Pimp” Sessions (Compilation Review)

The more music I listen to and discover, the more naïve I feel as I wouldn't have associated Jazz music with the Japanese music scene, but SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS prove just how spectacular the Japanese Jazz (J-Jazz) scene can be and it excites me to look more into this genre.

SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS play pure Jazz with a touch of Bebop, Bossa Nova, and Punk Jazz. Combine these elements together and you have a sound that the band refers to as Death Jazz. I can see it now, Jazz purists frantically trying to close this window, but by doing so you'd deny yourself of some of the most musically compelling Jazz music l’ve ever had the privilege of hearing. Yes, SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS are that good!

Formed in 2001, SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS have been rather prolific, releasing 13 studio albums and a live album. This review, however, is based on their compilation album “X” Chronicle Of Soil & “Pimp” Sessions. The artwork is exquisite in its simplicity, demanding a larger canvas, but sadly a vinyl release has yet to be produced with only a CD release and associated digital download and streaming availability.

Speaking of streaming, the impact and glorious soundstage that is present, in the original master recordings, sound magnificent when streamed via TIDAL Hi-Fi. Yes, I want a vinyl copy, but the CD-quality FLAC from TIDAL is flawless.

First Lady has an interesting intro. I can't place that particular instrument, if anyone knows what it is, could you please let me know. Nevertheless, First Lady quickly establishes itself as a Bossa Nova-styled Jazz track. It is so good that I want to get up and play Quincy Jones' Big Band Bossa Nova as I consider them to be peers. An exceptional song and a superb way to commence the “X” Chronicle Of Soil & “Pimp” Sessions compilation.

Mature continues the bossa nova feel with some exceptional musicality. While the lyrical content, in Japanese of course, may deter some listeners, it would be a mistake to skip this track as it offers a fresh interpretation of the Jazz sound. That bass is played beautifully, as are all other instruments. It’s simply gorgeous! These are some truly talented Jazz musicians that are easily amongst the best in the world.

Suffocation is more freestyle than the previous tracks but one could imagine how the band could change this song up every time they perform it live. It certainly has the improvisation cues that would make for a killer jam session.

Waltz For Goddess slows the album a little but remains jazzy. A sensational track!

No Taboo is a little more frantic than I like my Jazz to be. It isn't a bad song per se, it just isn't in the style that I subjectively prefer.

Crush! is a jazzy song. The Death Jazz element may not be to everyone’s tastes, but I like it as it fits the style of song and doesn’t feel out of place. Plus, I love that piano/sax solo that is positioned at the midpoint of the song. Crush! is an absolutely fantastic composition.

Summer Goddess has similar sonic cues to Waltz For Goddess and while that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it can feel a little repetitive. Nevertheless, as the song progresses, it comes into its own and is a killer Jazz track.

Sahara is a little too free-flowing for my liking. While the song is perfectly adequate and will likely appeal to many people, I find it difficult for my mind to latch onto the rhythm until about midway through the song. That said, cut out the first couple of minutes and the rest of the song is superb.

A.I.E is a brass-driven mid-paced song that I particularly like. The rhythm is addictive and highlights each instrument beautifully. An absolutely gorgeous recording.

マシロケ has a great beat and those hi-hat taps are intoxicating. Actually, every element in this composition is captivating.

Storm is a solid track, but I consider it filler. A B-side at best.

Fantastic Planet is a lovely song. Frantic in places, but that piano element mid-song is pure class. I love it!

Paraiso is a song that I could play on repeat for hours at a time. It’s a solid Jazz number, nothing spectacular, but has just what this Jazz listener is looking for.

My Foolish Heart - Crazy On Earth reminds me of some 1940s big band numbers. As a fan of the Glenn Miller big band style, I love it. The vocalist has an amazingly unique voice with a touch of Amy Winehouse. Sensational!

Pop Korn is a great song with an upbeat melody. This will get you dancing.

Sexual Hungry is too obscure for my liking. As a song on its own, it's tolerable, but it simply doesn't fit well in the tracking of this compilation. Hence, if I were making the decision, I would have left this song off this particular release.

Movin' (feat. Maia Hirasawa) is a solid vocal Jazz track. Nothing to write home about, but a solid B-side nevertheless.

Are You Ready? is another B-side. It sadly doesn't compel me to listen to the compilation again, but thankfully I know just how good the rest of the songs are, so you can be guaranteed this compilation will be frequently played.

Overall, “X” Chronicle Of Soil & “Pimp” Sessions is a sensational Jazz-based album that will appeal to purists as well as those looking for a little more interplay and improvisation. While I rarely attend live performances, SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS is one band I would love to see perform live. If the energy and passion present in their studio recordings are even remotely present in their live performance, it would be a memorable evening.

“X” Chronicle Of Soil & “Pimp” Sessions is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC) and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, “X” Chronicle Of Soil & “Pimp” Sessions is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Comment

REO Speedwagon/Chicago (Concert Review)

Comment

REO Speedwagon/Chicago (Concert Review)

I went to high school and college in the 1970s and 1980s. As a result, the music I prefer is from that time period. And the many concerts I attend are artists and groups from those eras. Recently I had the pleasure of enjoying a band that has been making music for over 50 years: Chicago.

But first, let’s start with the opening act, REO Speedwagon.

The first time I saw REO was in July 2003. I remember thinking at that time that lead singer Kevin Cronin talked a lot! In the 15 years that have elapsed, nothing has changed! However, his talking between songs was showing appreciation to the fans. He acknowledged that without us, there would be no REO Speedwagon. As fans, we pay good money for concert tickets, merchandise, physical media, and streaming services. It’s nice to hear that the artist is aware of this, and recognizes it. Many artists don’t.

REO played their hits, including, “Take It On The Run,” “Roll With The Changes,” “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” and “Keep On Loving You.” REO performed like they wanted to be there, not as if they were begrudgingly fulfilling an obligation. At 66 years old Cronin can still sing the hits like it’s 1980.

The show ended with a tribute to Tom Petty. Cronin told the story of how Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers was his favorite band (as is mine), and that he and Petty were neighbors in Southern California. The band dedicated “Listen To Her Heart” to Petty. REO kept it simple and beautiful.

Chicago was the headliner, and based on the crowd reaction, they were ready to party. But the mood grew quiet as Chicago announced they would be playing their album, Chicago II in its entirety. The only songs most fans recognized were “Make Me Smile,” “Color My World,” and “25 or 6 to 4.”  While they sounded great, it was a bit of a bore, as most people, including myself, like to hear the hits from a band that has been around more than 20 years, and in this case, more than 50.

The crowd woke up once the classic rock section began: “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,” “Beginnings,” “Saturday In The Park,” “If You Leave Me Now.” The brass section, including original members James Pankow and Lee Loughnane, were having the time of their lives, and sounded amazing. Another original member, Robert Lamm, sang with as much enthusiasm as he did when he first performed these songs 40 plus years ago.

The highlight of Chicago’s set was the Spencer Davis Group cover of, “I’m A Man.” Drummer Walfredo Reyes, Jr., and percussionist Ramon Yslas couldn’t have enjoyed themselves more banging on the drums, bongos, tambourine, occasionally trading places without missing a beat.

I would have preferred for Chicago to skip playing the album and focus on the hits. Their catalog is so vast, ranging from rock to brass to pop, that there’s a little something for everyone. While this wasn’t my favorite Chicago concert, if they come back to my area I will be in the audience once again.

Comment

Alice Cooper – DaDa (Album Review)

Comment

Alice Cooper – DaDa (Album Review)

Alice Cooper may have no recollection of writing and recording DaDa, but I personally consider it one of his greatest achievements.

While it pleases me to know Cooper emerged from this era sober, one can't help but consider just how much his alcohol addiction influenced this opus. While I don't condone substance abuse in the name of art, and I’m a teetotaller, one can't deny that the music we have in our culture today would likely not exist should experimentation with mind-altering substances have not occurred. That said, not all of Cooper's intoxicated albums are as special as DaDa. There is something mystical here that truly defies explanation, so much so that Cooper has previously suggested that he has no idea as to the meaning of the album, only declaring that it’s the most frightening album he has ever made. From my perspective, it’s a sonic wonderland and not foreboding at all.

This review is based on the 2018 vinyl reissue from Warner Music. Specific mastering details are omitted, but let me assure you this is one album you simply have to hear to believe just how good it is. Most modern reissues are pressed from high-resolution digital files, but it sounds as though this pressing was sourced from the analogue master tape. It’s incredibly warm with that familiar analogue sound while being totally absent of the sterile and cold reproduction that is often associated with CD and digital music reproduction. The CD release I have (cat: 7599-23969-2) was never bad, but this vinyl pressing is significantly better. Plus, that orange swirl vinyl, which looks more like a splattering, looks really cool and is a value-added proposition for this collector.

Having owned the CD for a number of years, this was one album that I desperately wanted on vinyl. The exquisite cover art simply demands a larger canvas and while the CD-sized artwork still looked excellent, it just isn’t the same. The liner notes on the rear cover pay homage to the original pressings, as does that Warner Bros. Records label. I don't know about you, but all these elements matter to me. It just makes the tactile experience all the more rewarding. Nevertheless, it is ultimately all about the music.

Side One

DaDa is a Bob Ezrin masterpiece. Yes, Ezrin alone wrote this lead song and as the producer and engineer, the entire album certainly has his sonic fingerprint. Ezrin and Cooper are akin to Elton John and Bernie Taupin or Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman; an incredible collaborative team! Largely instrumental, with near incoherent spoken words, DaDa sets a sombre tone that is eerie, yet riveting to listen to. In some respects, this lead-in song is as spectacular as Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding from Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. Hence, I’d have to say that DaDa is one of the greatest lead-in songs of any album ever recorded.

Enough's Enough changes the tempo quite significantly, but despite this change, it does not sound so different that one may think they were listening to a different album. Enough's Enough is classic rock with a pop-influence. The rhythm is toe-tapping and head-bopping heaven. Dick Wagner's guitar presentation here and throughout the album shines. Enough’s Enough is simply a fantastic song and I find it perplexing that Cooper has never performed this, or any other song from DaDa live. What a waste!

Former Lee Warmer is epic! The musicality is beautiful, as is Cooper's vocals. Such a relaxing song. I could listen to Former Lee Warmer on repeat for hours.

No Man's Land picks up the pace again. While there isn't a bad song on the album, No Man's Land comes close. I say that partially because, as an earworm, it has the tendency to play like a broken record. It’s catchy and a little campy, but it does fit DaDa perfectly.

Dyslexia starts a little slowly, but by the time the first chorus kicks in, the song begins to grow on you. It’s an interesting composition, but to be quite frank, I'm not sure if I like Dyslexia or not. Yet, I can't imagine this opus without it.

Side Two

Scarlet And Sheba is one of Cooper's greatest songs. Absolutely sensational rock and roll and I love the eclectic musical overture that introduces the song. You'll find yourself singing along, as I do. The shifting style between chorus and verse is sensational. The team of Cooper, Wagner, and Ezrin hit the ball out of the park on this song, and quite frankly the entire album. Alice Cooper doesn't get much better than this! If only he would play it live, it would become a fan favourite as it flows seamlessly into I Love America and would seem like a no-brainer when touring stateside.

I Love America is campy 101 and brings a snigger to this non-American. Who knows, perhaps my American friends also find some humor in this song. It isn't bad, quite enjoyable actually, but it is unlikely to ever become an anthem. It’s no Lost In America or Born In The USA, but I still love it!

Fresh Blood is seriously groovy with a rock/jazz feel that is most certainly locked into the 80s sound. They don't make music like this anymore and that's okay as the nostalgic element is extremely satisfying. Nevertheless, it also has a dance/disco feel to it, not unlike many of the songs found on Elton John's excellent Victim Of Love.

Pass The Gun Around takes a while to get going. So long, in fact, that upon the first couple of listens you may think DaDa has come to an end. It’s likely done to separate the varied styles between this song and Fresh Blood. Nevertheless, once the song starts, you’ll be met with an astounding song that simply blows my mind every time I hear it. It is psychotic, yet relatable. The only other song I can think of that has such an effect on my psyche is the Guns N' Roses song Coma. The haunting chorus and overall musicality is magical as it connects with the pleasure centres of the brain. Yes, the song is slightly disturbing, and perhaps it takes a slightly disturbed mind to enjoy it, but it is sensationally hypnotic and makes me want to listen to this entire masterpiece again and again. Although, that inferred bullet shot always shocks me, despite knowing it’s coming. I think that is part of the appeal of the song as it not only brings ultimate meaning to the song but breaks the hypnotic hold it has on you.

While I’ve always been captivated by Alice Cooper and consider his body of work to be amongst some of the very best in recorded music history, DaDa is exceptional. It’s an album I can't live without and I dare say people will be dissecting this record forever, trying to figure out exactly what it’s about and what was going through Cooper’s head at the time. Well, I say good luck to them as Cooper, himself, has no idea. I'm equally naïve, so if you’re reading this via The Wayback Machine, I don’t have the answer either. I just know I love DaDa and if I could only have one Alice Cooper album, it would most likely be this one.

DaDa is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, DaDa is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Comment

Magnetic - Miriam Clancy (Album Review)

Comment

Magnetic - Miriam Clancy (Album Review)

 Miriam Clancy at Mighty Mighty, 7 July 2011. Copyright © A Jenks 2011

Miriam Clancy at Mighty Mighty, 7 July 2011.
Copyright © A Jenks 2011

I don’t go to live music gigs. I’m a huge fan of well produced, polished music, presented in a crisp package, that I can enjoy in my own time and space. I have, however, been to one live gig. One artist I cared enough to see live and to meet.

This is a difficult review for me to write because the album is a very dear one to me, but my review of the gig was not taken well by the artist. While I don’t think I was unfair or inaccurate, I do regret the effect it had. If you know where to look, you can find that original review, but I am going to try to forget that history (and not draw it out again here) to do this review justice.

Magnetic is Miriam Clancy’s second album, released three years after her debut album, Lucky One. The two albums could not be much more different and yet both are unmistakably Miriam. Magnetic marked a new phase for Miriam, as she transitioned out of what she herself called “GarageBand-ville.” With an accomplished producer, Miriam has taken her fantastic range and applied it to a variety of styles with layers of panache and polish.

The Best is the first track on Magnetic. Proverbially, one is supposed to save the best to last, but is it the best track on the album? I’d say it’s a handy second place. Straight away the listener is introduced to the careful layering of instruments that is a strong feature of many tracks on this album. The song begins with what I feel as a restrained energy. From the first bar there is something pent up and, sure enough, it is eventually let loose in a classic Clancy crescendo. Miriam likes “light and shade” in a song and this one delivers that contrast in spades.

This track is one of a handful in my entire music collection that invokes chills down my spine, as Miriam hits that crescendo with a powerful delivery that she is so, so good at.

When I Do switches styles to a plucky pop number and was released as a single. While the energy doesn’t reach the levels of The Best, the tempo starts and remains high and the tone almost frivolous. Miriam’s vocals are almost… cheeky. Like all good singles, the chorus is catchy and leaps out of the surrounding verses. Miriam once again manages a diverse vocal delivery to fit the phase of the song, including her, perhaps trademark, breathy style.

If you thought there would be a distinct style to this album, you’d be disavowed of that notion by the time Join the Chorus begins, as yet another vibe is invoked.

It would be wrong to call this an acoustic track but I believe it would translate well to a simple vocal and guitar. A strong illustration of the layering approach, this track builds from a few plucky instruments to a rich tapestry of many more traditional ‘mainstream’ sounds, while the melody evokes a church singalong.

You Ain't the Worst Mistake I Made is another plucky number not unlike the early part of Join the Chorus but with a much evener delivery and some definite sass, as you might expect from the title. This track is, I think, one of the best showcases for Miriam’s voice, as she walks those vocals all over the map, bringing each line, each phrase, the tone it deserves.

Southern Cross is the song that, for me, beats out The Best for the actual accolade of the best song on the album. Perhaps you have to be a Kiwi (the person, not the bird^) to capture the full feeling of this song. I asked Miriam if she was away and homesick when it was written. In fact, she was at home and contemplating her move to New York. That fact makes the longing lyrics and sad timbre seem all the more poignant. I also asked if she had offered it to Air New Zealand as an anthem. Apparently, I was not the first to ask. I still think it’s perfect for them.

If I had to pick a single word to describe this song, it would be “stirring.” It makes me proud to be a Kiwi… and proud that someone as talented as Miriam is a Kiwi, too.

The liner track listing for Only Lonely One includes the words “For Dad.” I asked Miriam about this and all she said was that she included it so he would know it is about him (she didn’t think he realised at the time) and so that everyone else wouldn’t think it was “just another break-up song.”

This is a very personal story set to a simple guitar, though with some atmospheric backing and a noticeable echo on the vocals. There is probably no better example of the singer-songwriter art on this album. Although I make it sound simple, Miriam’s delivery and a catchy vocal melody make it very enjoyable.

Real Love brings back the higher tempo and layering in abundance. This is another song that makes use of vocal echo to good effect. Although it has an interesting arrangement, the structure of the track is quite straightforward with just a little escalation toward the end. Just not in the same magnitude of The Best.

The premise of Mixtape is cute, but not cutesy. Another simple arrangement, it explores various aspects of the love that goes into things you make for a loved one — that the love that goes into it should outweigh any less than perfect execution. Mixtapes, pictures, and poems that come from the heart are beautiful for what they mean, not what they are. This is, perhaps, the track that sits closest to the style of the previous album, Lucky One.

The title track of the album, Magnetic, is a great piece of pop art. While starting like a typical Clancy track, with those gorgeous and largely unchallenged vocals, the break after the second verse leads to a change in tone and that other Clancy classic tool — the escalation of energy (and noise levels). Magnetic, however, does not have a crescendo, instead holding the energy before an uncharacteristic fade-out.

If you’ve ever wondered about life in a semi-rural New Zealand town at a time when cities were starting to take the shine off the country lifestyle, then be sure to listen to Ghost Town, for it is about Miriam’s hometown. Home to Foxton Fries and (originally) Foxton Fizz, these days it is more known as a marker on one’s journey north from Wellington. Indeed, for those who like a good drive, the “Foxton straights” may eclipse them all.

If I have painted an unflattering picture of Foxton, Miriam isn’t going to up the ante. A simple song, Ghost Town has an energy level to match the subject, playing out like a story, in fact a documentary, set to music more than an epic song. As if some memory test, be sure to note how many boyfriends were had!

Another track to receive the full production treatment is Baby Blues, a song about Clancy’s son. The song tells of how having a son changed her life. Part introspective, part love story, this low tempo song is another that would translate well to acoustic despite a plethora of sounds being added in this version.

Another song that harks back, somewhat, to the style of Lucky OneThe Knife has some of the most alluring, and interesting, vocals backed with minimal instruments.

Once again, Miriam returns to a familiar formula with My Heart is a Traitor. Beginning with a quiet vocal over a simple piano line, the track slowly builds. Drums are added in the third verse, along with a bass, before the tempo picks up a little another couple of verses in and the vocals gain some extra punch. Before long, the vocals strain against the crescendo of instruments before both fade to an acoustic finish. Classic Miriam.

As an album, Magnetic is in many respects a clear progression from Lucky One, but there are a handful of standout tracks that really deserve attention: The BestMagnetic, and When I Do should be elevated as important markers in Miriam's career. Southern Cross... well... deserves a place alongside Hello Sailor's Gutter Black as a New Zealand anthem.

Magnetic is available on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Magnetic is also available on TIDAL Hi-FiSpotify, and Apple Music.


For Americans reading this, “Kiwi” is properly attributed to either a New Zealander, or the flightless bird of the ratite family. It is not correctly applied to a fruit, which is trademarked as “Kiwifruit.”

Comment

Aesthetic Perfection - 'Til Death (Album Review)

Comment

Aesthetic Perfection - 'Til Death (Album Review)

While you can't always judge an album by its cover, Aesthetic Perfection 'Til Death drew me in with its captivating cover art.

I’ve had this album on my wishlist since 2015, yet have never placed the order for the vinyl release. Although, I remember enquiring about the release through Goldmine Records, but Ben, the proprietor, sadly informed me that the glorious-looking purple vinyl edition, that matches that cover art perfectly, was unavailable. At the time, the standard black edition was still available but was not nearly as appealing to this collector. It's a shame really, especially considering the artwork demands a larger canvas. Nevertheless, for now, I'll be reviewing this electronic album based on the digital edition available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

Happily Ever After opens the album with a bold sonic presentation that is akin to many symphonic metal albums. I love it! The lyrical delivery is perfect and Happily Ever After sets the tone for the entire album.

Antibody moves us to the dance floor with a more upbeat tune that perfectly follows on from Happily Ever After. It's fantastic and I challenge you to sit still throughout. While some may find the tempo familiar, I feel it’s perfect and I could listen to Antibody on repeat for hours.

Lights Out (Ready To Go) continues to influence involuntary body movements as the rhythm is simply addictive. Lights Out (Ready To Go) is a truly great song that is electronica 101.

Death Rattle changes the tempo ever so slightly. It’s a brilliant move that keeps the album fresh, yet familiar. Although, I’m not a fan of the chorus as it shifts the song a little too much and the vocals, aiming for a death growl vocal technique, are too shallow and brittle. Death Rattle is a solid song despite these complaints.

Big Bad Wolf is a play on the Three Little Pigs fairytale and the merging of a love song. It isn't bad and somewhat reminds me of Green Jellÿ’s Three Little Pigs.

Showtime is a solid song, but it isn't anything to write home about.

Oh, Gloria! has an incredible rhythm that reminds me in part of Marilyn Manson's catalogue of work. I love it!

The Dark Half is nightclub gold!

The New Black is a killer song. So many different musical styles are presented perfectly in this one song. The chorus shift, alone, is bloody brilliant!

Lovesick is reminiscent of the slower, more moody, melodic, and demonic natured opening track Happily Ever After. It’s the perfect closer with sensational vocals and a soundstage to match.

'Til Death is brilliant from start to finish. Yes, there are a couple of songs that aren't spectacular, but as an album it is flawless; recorded, mixed, and mastered beautifully.

The TIDAL Hi-Fi stream is all anyone would ever need, but I still long for that purple vinyl copy to add to my collection. It really is that good!

'Til Death is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, 'Til Death is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Comment

Slipknot – .5: The Gray Chapter [Special Edition] (Album Review)

Comment

Slipknot – .5: The Gray Chapter [Special Edition] (Album Review)

Slipknot, minus two founding members, Paul Gray and Joey Jordison, was always going to cause controversy amongst fans. Yet, incredibly, the remaining members of Slipknot produced an album worthy of their reputation.

XIX is a sonic wonderland that is the perfect precursor to all other songs on the album. I don't know about you, but I love Taylor's lyrical delivery on this song. Although, while the abrupt ending doesn't appeal to me, I can't deny that it flows beautifully into Sarcastrophe.

Sarcastrophe has an early guitar riff that reminds me of Metallica's sound signature from their St. Anger album. That isn't a bad thing, just an interesting observation. Overall, Sarcastrophe is fast and hard. Classic Slipknot.

AOV is an incredibly well-balanced song with something for every Slipknot fan. Taylor delivers his vocals perfectly and the musical accompaniment makes this one of the best songs on the album.

The Devil In I is rhythmic heaven. I absolutely love it! Although, as good as Jay Weinberg is on drums, there is something missing. In a perfect world, I’d love to hear Joey Jordison lay down a drum track for this song. I'm not suggesting Jordison would have done a better job, but that his styling is different and may have worked well with this song. Regardless, Slipknot doesn't get much better than this.

Killpop has a killer rhythm throughout the chorus with an interesting, near mainstream rock, verse delivery. It’s a mismatched performance that ironically works perfectly. While it isn't the strongest song on the album, .5: The Gray Chapter wouldn't be the same without it.

Skeptic is largely a tribute to Paul Gray. It’s a solid Slipknot track with an addictive chorus, but it also sounds a little disjointed in places. It isn't one of my favourite songs but remains worthy of inclusion.

Lech is nothing special. A B-side at best.

Goodbye is another song discussing Paul Gray's death and the impact his passing had on the band. It’s an exceptional song with a gorgeous soundstage and vocal delivery. Its placement, mid-album, is interesting though. I would suggest it would have been better placed towards the beginning of the album or as the final track. Nevertheless, it blends seamlessly into Nomadic.

Nomadic is superb!

The One That Kills The Least has an addictive rhythm and those guitar licks are incredible, as is Taylor's vocal delivery and the overall performance.

Custer is classic Slipknot!

Be Prepared For Hell is pure filler. It really should have been left off the album.

The Negative One will keep long-time fans happy, but there is little evolution in this song.

If Rain Is What You Want is an intriguing song, but is it really a Slipknot song? I'm not sure. I’d say it sounds more like a repurposed Stone Sour song, but that’s just me. That isn’t to say it's bad, just that I don't feel this qualifies as a Slipknot song per se. It’s also a questionable way to end the vinyl and standard edition releases.

Override is a hard-hitting song that suits Slipknot significantly more than If Rain Is What You Want.

The Burden is a solid track to close the album with, although it should be noted that the additional three hidden tracks, available on the CD Special Edition release, are absent from all streaming/digital delivery services. That isn't a bad thing as it offers fans a reason to pick up the CD, unless, of course, you no longer have a CD player. 

.5: The Gray Chapter (Special Edition) is largely perfect, but I would argue it’s too long. Chop up to 20 minutes off the album and you'd have an amazing album. Nevertheless, it was just good to see Slipknot continue with new material after losing two key members.

Sonically, this is one of the best sounding albums available for this style of music. It is recorded impeccably well and mixed and mastered beautifully. I dare say the vinyl release would amplify this and as such, I'll have to order myself a copy. Until then, I can attest that the CD-quality FLAC edition, delivered via TIDAL Hi-Fi, is exceptional.

.5: The Gray Chapter (Special Edition) is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, .5: The Gay Chapter (Special Edition) is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Comment

Metallica – ...And Justice For All (Album Review)

Comment

Metallica – ...And Justice For All (Album Review)

Metallica's ...And Justice For All has been marred with controversy since its release in 1988. While I wouldn’t experience the album until I became captivated by Metallica, following their self-titled (black album) and Load-era releases, I found an instant liking for the raw production of …And Justice For All

Yes, there are those who dislike the album, often due to the minuscule bass element with the new bassist, at the time, Jason Newsted following Cliff Burton's death. However, while I acknowledge the bass is lacking, I look at the album from a different perspective whereby one could suggest the lack of bass emphasis was a fitting tribute to Burton. Subsequently, I don't subscribe to the ...And Justice For Jason memes. While anything is possible, and the release of a super deluxe edition box set may yet reveal the lost bass tracking, I’ll also be content if it is never released. In some way, I feel it wouldn't be the same album. There is an undeniable sonic signature to the album, similar to the rawness of St. Anger, that I admire. Change the mix and you risk changing the magic that is ...And Justice For All.

For this review, I have been listening to the 2014 Blackened Recordings Reissue (BLCKND007-1).

As you would expect, Stephen Gorman's artwork is exquisite on the larger canvas. Although, the green lettering hasn't aged well in my opinion. It always reminds me of Mötley Crüe’s Dr Feelgood cover art as the green tonality is so similar.

While I’d love to say the artwork has been faithfully reproduced, the liner notes in this pressing are available as an extra slip-in sheet, versus being used as vinyl inner sleeves. Instead, we get the most god-awful rice paper sleeves that scuff the vinyl. Seriously, I know these sleeves are cheap to produce, but if you release a premium product, commanding a premium price, you would be best advised to invest a little more in the manufacturing. Perhaps most disappointing is that this is released on the artists' own record label. Metallica has full control over Blackened Recordings, so this cheapness amazes me and is an insult to fans.

Another change that defies explanation is the removal of the album artwork from the centre of the records. We now get a black background with green text. While it doesn't look bad, it doesn't look nearly as good as early pressings in my opinion. Nevertheless, it is all about the music, so let’s check it out.

Side One

Blackened in symphonic metal heaven, as much of Metallica's music is. It’s heavy, raw, and distorted to hell and back, but turn that volume to 11 as it’s really the best way to enjoy this exceptional album starter.

...And Justice For All has a gorgeous acoustic introduction before the metal elements take control. Such a wonderful composition. Despite its length, l’ve never felt the song is self-indulgent and every note is thoroughly appreciated. Plus, that Hammett guitar solo is what air guitar dreams are made of.

Side Two

Eye Of The Beholder has a slow burn to begin with but once the volume hits its peak, and that riff kicks in, it's fantastic. Well, that is until Hetfield starts singing. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the vocal presentation on this song and its overly processed nature. That said, the rhythmic chorus is thoroughly addictive and it’s the perfect attitude-fuelled song to listen to when you're pissed off!

One is exceptional!

Side Three

The Shortest Straw is the perfect song, with the perfect tempo, to follow on from One. It’s head-banging gold. You have to love that chorus, one of Hetfield’s best in my opinion.

Harvester Of Sorrow has a killer rhythm, but I have always felt the introduction for the song is just too long. As the first single off the album, it was an interesting choice, especially considering the intro wasn't edited. While I love this song, it simply isn’t single material in my opinion.

The Frayed Ends Of Sanity is demonic. I love it!

Side Four

To Live Is To Die, again, has that gorgeous acoustic element to it. Part of me just wants it to continue every time I listen to the song, but as a fan of Metallica's epic instrumental tracks, I know only too well that they must come to an end. If it wasn’t vinyl, I’d probably put it on repeat. Of course, that isn’t what the artist had in mind when compiling the album.

Dyers Eve is my song. I live for it. It identifies me. It may not be the strongest song on the album, but just as it is a homage to Hetfield's parents, so too is it to mine. There is literally no other song, by any artist, in any genre, that I identify with more. Dyers Eve is textbook thrash metal and while I may have a biased viewpoint, I think it’s fair to declare this as one of Metallica’s best songs and one of their last true thrash masterpieces.

Overall, there isn't a bad song to be found on ...And Justice For All. If you can get past the bass controversy, you're going to find an album that is arguably more riff-driven than any other in history.

Sonically, I would class the vinyl record as adequate. I actually prefer the mastering of the album found on TIDAL Hi-Fi. That doesn't happen often, but despite having a solid soundstage and excellent uncompressed dynamic range, it just isn't as powerful as the digital master. Perhaps my liking for the digital master is due to originally owning the album on CD. Or, perhaps, this vinyl release is just a poor pressing. Regardless, the viewpoint of which edition or format is better is truly subjective. That said, I am looking forward to an upcoming remaster.

...And Justice For All is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC) and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, ...And Justice For All is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Click here to read other Metallica reviews by Subjective Sounds.

Comment

AC/DC – '74 Jailbreak (EP Review)

Comment

AC/DC – '74 Jailbreak (EP Review)

Few EP releases are as strong as AC/DC's '74 Jailbreak. In many respects, one could call this release a mini-greatest hits had it not been for the fact that the included songs were largely unavailable to music lovers outside of Australia. Released in 1984, US audiences were able, for the first time, to easily hear five exceptional tracks that were never released in their region during the 70s. While it is difficult to comprehend the fan's joy upon first hearing this release, one only has to spin the record and turn up the volume to hear just how polished AC/DC was in those early years.

Without a B-side to be found, '74 Jailbreak is one of the greatest AC/DC releases and should be in every fan's collection. Yes, the EP is short but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially if you have a copy on CD or are listening to the EP via a streaming service. For me, I have the 2003, remastered by George Marino at Sterling Sound, vinyl record. Talk about perfect, vinyl rarely sounds better than this, although I don't feel that way about all the AC/DC reissues from 2003, especially Back In Black with its inner-grove distortion. While '74 Jailbreak could have been mastered to 45-rpm, the 33.3-rpm pressing has an incredible soundstage with a perfect mix that ensures the bass and drum beats remain prominent, but never overpowering. Similarly, Scott's vocals have never sounded better and each high-hat tap is crystal clear. The vinyl edition is so well mastered and pressed that I feel no need to even compare it to the TIDAL Hi-Fi CD-quality edition. Yes, dear reader, this is where needle dropping to local digital files comes into play.

The artwork, in the full 12-inch format, is glorious and the inner sleeves, from these 2003 reissues, show just how much time and care was taken with the reissues. Many musicians and record labels could learn a thing or two about re-issuing albums on vinyl if they checked out the quality of the AC/DC pressings; excluding of course Back In Black. They are prized possessions!

Side One  

Jailbreak was released initially on the 1976 album Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap and was also released as a single, with a reissue of the single arriving in 1980. While Jailbreak may not be the first song fans gravitate towards, it has been featured in AC/DC’s live performances for decades. The 1985 Dallas live recording, featured on Backtracks, is solid but doesn't have the power of the original. Normally, I prefer Johnson over Scott, but not in this case. The drawn-out 13-minute plus performance does hold the listener’s attention, but at times it can feel a little too self-indulgent. Similarly, the 1992 live performance, as heard on Live (Collector's Edition) suffers the same fate. Nevertheless, I feel this latter performance is more polished with Johnson's vocal delivery being stronger. Still, there is no escaping the fact that the original studio recording cannot be topped. Of course, that all depends on how much you love music videos. Featured on AC/DC's Family Jewels DVD collection, the clip is less cringe-worthy than other music videos of the same era, but Scott barely moves and appears to be singing this rock and roll tune in a polite college boy manner. It’s interesting, to say the least. Nevertheless, I'm glad it exists for posterity value if nothing else. Bottom line: Jailbreak is an exceptional song and a great start to '74 Jailbreak.

You Ain't Got A Hold On Me has an incredible rhythm. Although, I’ve always thought that Scott's vocal sounds particularly thin and forward on this song. Interestingly, you may notice when listening to Johnson-era recordings, by comparison, his vocals were always mixed in a more central position in relation to the music, whereas Scott’s always stood out in the mix. It is a minor difference, but noticeable.

Show Business is blues rock 101. I love it! The 1975 live recording, as featured on Family Jewels, is a solid performance but I have to wonder if Scott borrowed his outfit from Elton John.

Side Two 

Soul Stripper is a layered and complex wonderland. The soundstage is massive. The entrance, while lengthy, never gets dull and Scott's vocal entry and presence in the song is nothing short of perfection.

Baby, Please Don't Go is a cover, and a bloody good one at that. To say the song has been covered extensively is an understatement, but I’ve yet to hear, or see, anyone perform this song as well as AC/DC. Seriously, get your Family Jewels DVD out again and check out the larrikin-based performance on Australia's popular music show, Countdown, in April 1975. It’s hilarious and Scott would have easily made a name for himself on the streets of Sydney's Kings Cross with that outfit. It’s certainly an interesting contrast to Angus' schoolboy outfit and it’s funny to see Scott light a cigarette during the performance. That would never be allowed today and who knows maybe the Pippi Longstockings outfit would now also be condemned for fear of offending someone. Regardless, the performance shows just how much AC/DC was enjoying themselves. Their energy and smiles are addictive.

From start to finish, '74 Jailbreak is an exceptional collection of blues-based rock and roll songs that will never age and will remain part of the social consciousness for generators to come.

'74 Jailbreak is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC) and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes). The iTunes edition is also presented in the iTunes LP format for Mac or PC users.

If you prefer streaming, '74 Jailbreak is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Click here to read other AC/DC reviews by Subjective Sounds.

Comment

Bee Gees' 1st (Album Review)

Comment

Bee Gees' 1st (Album Review)

While the album title may be deceiving, given Bee Gees’ 1st is actually their third album, it would be their first album recorded outside Australia and subsequently available to an international audience.

Recorded and released in 1967, Bee Gees’ 1st was arguably released at the height of the psychedelic era and while that is clearly represented in the album's artwork, the songs also possess that mystical sound signature. That said, the soundscape of Bee Gees’ 1st isn't completely absent of influence from their earlier recordings, but it can be seen as an evolution and ultimately one of their best albums. No, every song isn’t exceptional, but as an album it’s flawless.

Turn Of The Century is an extremely enjoyable song to commence the album with. It’s only a shame that the stereo mix suffers incredibly badly from excessive flutter; especially noticeable when listening via headphones. Thankfully, the mono mix, available on the Deluxe Version, doesn't suffer from this problem. To be quite honest, I’m surprised the sub-standard stereo mix was, and remains, available to the public. Interestingly, while it is distracting, it does add an interesting, almost psychedelic feel to the song. I can listen to and appreciate either mix, although the mono mix, in this case, is beyond reproach. 

Holiday is a lovely song that is not only enhanced by the harmonising vocals but that orchestral backing is superb.

Red Chair, Fade Away is the first Beatle-esque song on the album, although it really doesn't suit the Bee Gees. That said, it would have been intriguing to see what The Beatles and George Martin could have done with this song.

One Minute Woman is a lovely song.

In My Own Time is another song that one could be forgiven for mistaking as a Beatles recording. Nevertheless, it is a solid psychedelic rock tune that works well for the Bee Gees.

Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You is exceptional! The eeriness of the song, thanks in part to the Gregorian chant and the mellotron, is beyond belief. It is one of the best songs of the 60s and one of the best tunes ever recorded by the Bee Gees.

Craise Finton Kirk Royal Academy of Arts has to be one of the most obscure song titles I've ever come across. While different in style, to the other songs on the album, it does work, even if one immediately, once again, thinks of The Beatles.

New York Mining Disaster 1941 is another stellar track and would be the first international single for the Bee Gees. While it may not be as eerie as Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You, it isn't too far removed and works remarkably well amongst the other songs on the album.

Cucumber Castle is a solid song. Nothing to write home about, but the album wouldn't be the same without it.

To Love Somebody is 60s pop gold. While the song has been covered by a Who's Who of the recording industry, I dare say the original remains superior to all others. Although, I have always enjoyed Michael Bolton's rendition. Regardless, this is one song that has not aged and will undoubtedly stand the test of time for generations to come.

I Close My Eyes is an interesting song. There is no definitive rhythm for the mind to latch onto, yet it is compellingly addictive. A solid B-side.

I Can't See Nobody is another exceptional song and Robyn's vocal pitch is simply stunning, as is the harmonious backing vocals. This is one song where you’ll likely sing along to the chorus, but allow all other verses to go by as the vocal dexterity required to adequately karaoke this song would be challenging to say the least.

Please Read Me is a solid B-side.

Close Another Door is an interesting song with shifting musical elements throughout. Despite the constant shifts, it is thoroughly enjoyable and ensures I'll play the album again and stay within the Bee Gees' catalogue.

Overall, Bee Gees' 1st is an exceptional album that is a must own for every Bee Gees fan, especially those interested in the psychedelic 60s. It’s just a shame a reissue hasn’t been delivered to fans in over a decade and the last reissue is now out-of-print. However, if you don’t mind purchasing digital downloads, Bee Gees' 1st is available on the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC) and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, Bee Gees' 1st is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Click here to read other Bee Gees reviews by Subjective Sounds.

Comment