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A-Ha – Hunting High And Low (Album Review)

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A-Ha – Hunting High And Low (Album Review)

Few debut albums reach the commercial success a-ha had with Hunting High And Low, yet I dismissed it as just another campy 80s synth-pop release that wasn’t worth exploring. Well, dear reader, I was wrong, but you have to promise not to tell my better half as she has always enjoyed a-ha and whenever she spoke about them my sarcastic response was a-ha, yeah, a-ha! Don’t worry, I did the same with Wham!, yet I absolutely adore their music today. Many who know me well know that I can be fickle, but I also feel that we should never be entirely closed off to experiencing new music, outside of our comfort zones, for one never knows just where that experience can lead. In this case, it has led to a true appreciation of a band that I had previously ignored. 

Thanks, in part, to streaming, one can now explore a world of music beyond their own tastes and Apple Music’s 2015 Remastered Version, also Mastered for iTunes, is sonically pleasing without a single digital artefact to worry about. Remastering often gets a bad wrap, even here on Subjective Sounds, and while I can’t comment on how the album originally sounded, this Apple Music stream sounds just right. While I’m keenly interested in picking up Hunting High And Low on vinyl, along with their career perspective, Headlines And Deadlines: The Hits Of A-Ha, I’d be perfectly satisfied with this digital stream. It’s really that good!

Take On Me may be a-ha’s most successful song, but it is also the campiest and the one which probably kept me at arm’s length for so many years. It isn’t bad, but I do feel that it has been excessively played and that can, unfortunately, create boredom and disdain for an otherwise solid song. All one needs to do is look at how loathed Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On and Aerosmith’s I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing are to know that overplaying of a song can ruin it. 

Train Of Thought has a great rhythm and reminds me in places of Elton John and Grace Jones. Subsequently, I love it!  

Hunting High And Low is absolutely stunning. While stylistically different from the first two tracks, Hunting High And Low sounds familiar while taking a-ha in a completely different direction musically, showing just how talented these musicians are. 

The Blue Sky returns the album to a more synth-pop styling and while solid, I’d class it as a B-side. It has a sound that is very alternative and one which I feel takes a few listens to fully appreciate. Still, it isn’t the strongest song on the album, but there is a solid tune hidden here, if only the tempo was shifted a little and the lyrical delivery was more in-line with the musicality.  

Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale is great! You’ll want to turn the volume up when listening to this. The soundstage is incredible and that initial gradual build is extremely compelling. 

The Sun Always Shines On T.V. is one of my favourite songs on the album. Yes, it is borderline campy, just as Take On Me is, but it has been played to a less excessive degree. Plus, it rocks! Turn that volume up and you’ll be amazed at just how enjoyable The Sun Always Shines On T.V. is. It’s a stadium filler if there ever was one. 

And You Tell Me isn’t a bad ballad-styled track, but I’m unsure how I really feel about it. In one way I thoroughly enjoy it, but in another I question myself as to why. I also feel it is a little too short. Nevertheless, Hunting High And Low wouldn’t be the same without it. 

Love Is Reason is a classic B-side. It isn’t bad, but that repetitive chorus does become tiresome. Great musicality, however. 

I Dream Myself Alive is a solid tune. Nothing to write home about, but worthy of inclusion.

Here I Stand And Face The Rain has a very unique opening with the vocal delivery. I do thoroughly enjoy the acoustic styling, however, when the synth elements enter the mix, they do so in a manner that is complementary, thereby ensuring fluidity. Without a doubt, Here I Stand And Face The Rain compels me to listen to Hunting High And Low again and stay within a-ha’s catalogue of music; exactly what a closing song should compel the listener to do.

Overall, Hunting High And Low is an incredible debut and an album that represents some of the very best music in both the synth-pop and new wave eras. Yes, it retains an 80s feel, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing and to be completely honest, the album hasn’t aged nearly as badly as one would have thought. 

Hunting High And Low is available to own on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).   

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Icehouse – In Concert (Live Album Review)

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Icehouse – In Concert (Live Album Review)

Have you ever purchased an album by an artist you love, yet disliked it upon the first play? Well, I have, and this release was one that I just couldn’t get into. It didn’t matter that I had both the vinyl and CD editions, as well as an autographed placard of the album cover. I just didn’t connect with the live performance as I had hoped I would. Subsequently, both releases remained unplayed in my collection since their release in 2015. That, of course, changed when my son asked if he could have the CD edition for his own collection.

As I thought more about my son’s request, I found myself at an interesting crossroads regarding my love of collecting the music that brings me joy. Not only have I acknowledged that I’ll never be able to own all the albums I desire in my own personal collection, but I also acknowledge that it is somewhat foolish to have multiple copies of the same album as I find little joy in trying to decide which edition of an album I should listen to. It is the old Vinyl vs CD argument and rather than enjoying the music I find myself focusing on the formats; a rather tedious and often soul-destroying process that yields no enjoyment. A great example of this predicament is Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms of which I have two copies; one vinyl, the other the 20th Anniversary SACD release featuring not only the standard CD edition but the HDCD, SACD stereo mix, and SACD 5.1 surround sound mix on a single disc. The vinyl edition is the incredible Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab release. Yes, all this jargon will likely drive non-audiophiles to the hills, with those remaining wanting to declare me insane; quite frankly I couldn’t blame them. It is insane and given I can only listen to one album at a time, I think it is time to cull down my collection and select the edition that brings me the most pleasure. After all, there is no point in listening to one version of the album only to wonder how a song would sound on another format. 

Of course, the big winner in all of this is my son. He was always going to inherit an incredible music collection, but I can start giving him some of my duplicates, knowing that he will enjoy them. Also, selfishly on my part, I get to see the excitement in his eyes and truth-be-told that is the greatest gift of all. Although, I didn’t quite say that when he woke up the entire household singing along to Electric Blue from the In Concert album, I had given him the night before. Still, I had a grin from ear to ear because I’m sure I did exactly the same thing when I first heard Electric Blue so many years ago. 

As I no longer have the CD release, my son will have to write that review, this review will be based solely on the vinyl release that is nothing short of spectacular now that I am no longer comparing it to the digital counterpart. 

Spread across three records and six sides, the entire near two-hour performance is presented on the most beautiful black vinyl you’ve ever seen. The label itself is gorgeous and while some may think of it a simple, I appreciate how it connects back to the ultra-successful Man Of Colours era; a theme that remains consistent throughout the artwork.  

Photographs and typography are simply gorgeous and the message from Icehouse front man and founder, Iva Davies, is a welcome addition. His acknowledgement of the work bassist Steve Bull put into making this release a reality is one of those rare moments in the music industry where credit is given where credit is due. Similarly, Davies also informs us through the liner notes that while this live album is not from a singular show, it matches the setlists that were performed throughout late 2014 and the subsequent best versions of each song were selected with no overdubbing or re-recording. The result is exceptional and it’s utterly flawless as the songs flow so smoothly you’d swear they were recorded on a single night in the same concert hall. 

Perhaps the only element that is a little disappointing for the vinyl release is the rice paper record sleeves as they have a tendency to scuff records and deposit additional pop and click inducing fibres into the grooves. Thankfully, my Pro-ject anti-static record cleaning brush solves that problem as does replacing the sleeves with anti-static inner sleeves; admittedly an additional cost, but one that I thoroughly recommend to all vinyl music lovers.  

The noise floor of the records, however, is incredibly low. You’ll be hard pressed to hear any surface noise, even when pumping the volume to ear-bleeding concert levels. The records have also been cut with audible quality in mind as there is no chance of inner grove distortion as each record ends before the dreaded inner grooves can become an issue. Yes, you’ve got to get up and turn the record over more frequently, but it is worth it for the additional sonic benefits. Plus, who doesn’t like a 3LP set? You really feel like you own something with a package that large and it reminds me fondly of my six-sided Wings Over America; another truly exceptional concert that I have on both CD and vinyl and will have to decide which edition truly brings me joy, gifting the other to my son. 

Anyway, without further ado, let’s take a look at the songs that make up Icehouse’s In Concert

SIDE ONE

Walls was an interesting choice to open the live performance. I’m unsure if I agree with the helicopter introduction. Yes, it works well, but how does it apply itself to the music? Given many of Icehouse’s recent live performances have been in theatres, I’m struggling to see the relevance. Nevertheless, Walls is an excellent song that has always been a favourite of mine since first being released on Icehouse and this live performance maintains the energy of the original, ensuring the listener knows exactly what to expect from the entire live album.

Mr Big has a sensational rhythm, but that chorus-driven drum element is a little too shallow for my liking. It isn’t bad, it’s just different to the way the original studio release sounds and my preferred live performance of this song can be found on Live From The Ritz, available on the 25th Anniversary CD+DVD release of Man Of Colours.

Love In Motion is sensational and while the Chrissy Amphlett duet was off-the-charts good; sadly Amphlett is no longer with us, but her legacy with the Divinyls lives on as does her spirit, captured on the 1992 re-recording of Love In Motion for the compilation album Masterfile. While Masterfile is long out-of-print, you can find this exceptional version of Love In Motion on White Heat: 30 Hits.Yes, Love In Motion was written and recorded well before the Amphlett/Icehouse collaboration, but she really added something special to the song and while I don’t think there was a ever a live performance of the song with Amphlett, she is remembered fondly when listening to this live rendition.

Crazy has one of my all-time favourite guitar hooks. So good! The live performance is perfect as it is reminiscent of the original studio recording, while being unique in its own right.    

SIDE TWO

Hey, Little Girl is a song that I have a love/hate relationship with. That’s a subjective viewpoint and not indicative of the song itself, but sometimes I feel this song is simply too campy and other times I thoroughly enjoy it. The live performance is excellent, minus the spoken word elements before the start of the song. However, if you really like this song, you’ll definitely want to track down a copy of the Hey Little Girl (’97 Remixes) as the remixes are seriously good on that long out-of-print maxi single. It also has one of the most unique CD designs I’ve ever seen as the CD is partially clear. 

Electric Blue is iconic; such an 80s song! It’s one of my favourites and you may remember earlier that my son woke up the household singing Electric Blue as it is also one of his favourites. Electric Blue makes you want to sing and while my son still gets some of the lyrics wrong, he’s giving it his all, not worried about how he sounds and how much taunting his sister dishes out to him. It would be a proud moment for this music-loving father if he did something music related when he grows up. If not as a career, certainly as a hobby. I’m thinking about an Icehouse cover band, what do you think, dear reader? 

Baby, You’re So Strange is a fun song and I love the live rendition on In Concert as it really takes the song to another level of moody and brooding musicality. 

SIDE THREE

Heartbreak Kid is lovely. Davies decision to talk about the history of the song, prior to commencing the performance, is invaluable as it’s fascinating to hear about the origins of the tune and see just how smoothly Davies transitions from a Bob Dylan impersonator to Iva Davies. Exceptional!

Dusty Pages has always been a favourite song of mine. It’s the best song off Sidewalk with the exception of Don’t Believe Anymore. This acoustic-based rendition is absolutely lovely and complements the original perfectly.  

Street Café had a great music video when first released in 1982. No, it wasn’t quite as epic as Great Southern Land, but this live interpretation is. It’s magnificent and a pleasure to listen to, as are all the acoustic-based songs on side three of the vinyl collection. 

Man Of Colours is Davies’ song, so I was quite surprised to find that Michael Paynter was the lead vocalist on Man Of Colours. His performance is absolutely stunning, but I still miss Davies performing this masterpiece. Sure, Davies is there in a backing vocal capacity, also allowing him to play the Oboe while Paynter vocalises the song, but it isn’t quite the same. That, of course, shouldn’t take anything away from Paynter as he is incredible, and I look forward to following his career in the years to come. He really did pay homage to the original while making it his own. 

SIDE FOUR

Miss Divine is one of the best songs off Code Blue and I have always thoroughly enjoyed it. However, I’m torn over this live performance as I feel it’s a little disjointed in the vocal department and that acoustic guitar strum is too forward in the mix. Of course, loving the original as much as I do, I could simply prefer the studio recording which I believe is impeccable. Subsequently, this live performance just doesn’t do it for me. 

Don’t Believe Anymore would have to be my all-time favourite Icehouse song. Okay, perhaps I have a few that that could be said about, but the saxophone element in both this live performance and the original studio release is nothing short of spectacular as it captivates me beyond belief. 

Great Southern Land is the quintessential Icehouse song and requires no hyperbole. 

SIDE FIVE

Can’t Help Myself has an addictive beat, but it’s one Icehouse song that I neither love nor hate. It merely exists. It isn’t a bad live recording, but it isn’t great either. 

Nothing Too Serious is one of Icehouse’s best and is certainly a highlight from Man Of Colours. It’s a great live performance but the tuning on those cymbals sound a little off as they’re very shrill. I’d love to say it is only on the vinyl edition, but I’ve heard it both on the TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music streams.

We Can Get Together is another fantastic song from Icehouse and I’m consistently amazed as to just how good the debut, by Flowers at the time, really was. This live performance is incredible and has all the energy that one would expect from the song. Incredibly, while it may be over three decades old, We Can Get Together remains timeless.

SIDE SIX / FIRST ENCORE

Icehouse, of course, became the band’s name following the shift from Flowers to Icehouse in 1981. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’ve never heard a better version of Icehouse than that which appears on In Concert. Exceptional!

Cross The Border is another of my all-time favourites. It has a sensational rhythm and is the best song from Measure For MeasureThis live performance isn’t bad either. It doesn’t stray far from the original composition, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when the song was perfect to begin with. 

/ SECOND ENCORE

Sister closes the live album nicely with the energy that has always existed in this song. It, without a doubt, encourages me to listen to the album again and stay within Icehouse’s extensive catalogue of music. 

In Concert is an exceptional live album with a selection of songs that cover the greatest eras of the band. However, it’s a little disappointing that nothing from Big Wheel or The Berlin Tapes was included. Satellite would have worked well before or after Nothing Too Serious. Heroes, the David Bowie song that Davies performs immaculately well, would have been perfectly suited to appear after Man Of Colours. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, these songs were excluded and while they are missed, it doesn’t detract from the astonishing performance and album that is In Concert. 

In Concert is available on VinylCD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

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

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Air – 10 000 Hz Legend (Album Review)

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Air – 10 000 Hz Legend (Album Review)

I remain, as I was in 2017, naïve about Air. What I do know, however, is that Air is a musical duo that is unlike any other I’ve ever encountered. While I’m curious to know more, I’m not sure I really want to know the individuals behind the music, for if I look behind the curtain will the magic that is Air, dissipate?

Perhaps I’m being a little melodramatic, but long-time readers will likely note that I tend to avoid discussing the artists directly and focus on their creative output instead. There are a number of reasons for this. Perhaps if I knew more about their personal lives, such knowledge would deter me from appreciating their art. Similarly, if I know the artist’s meaning behind a song, can I then make it my own? I think there is a case-by-case argument to be made here that would provide validation to that thought process. Most importantly, however, I don’t know why I love music, I just do. Subjective Sounds allows me to explore the reasons why, but I’m also terrified of knowing the answer for when you know why you love something you can subsequently fall out of love with it. Hence, naivety is a blessing, rather than a curse, and with that in mind let’s allow our minds to explore the sonic wonderland provided by Air on their second album 10 000 Hz Legend.

Electronic Performer is a perfect song to commence the album with. The overall styling can be heard throughout the entire album, so it sets the listener up perfectly for what they’re about to experience. Yes, there are shifting segments in the song that may seem out-of-place once you have settled into a groove, but it isn’t disjointed enough that it feels like another, completely unique, song. 

How Does It Make You Feel? is a fantastic song. I adore that musicality as it is deep and moody. The spoken vocal overlay can be a little distracting, but Pink Floyd fans will appreciate the linkage between How Does It Make You Feel? and Keep Talking. While Pink Floyd acknowledged using samples of Stephen Hawking’s electronic voice, there is no detail in the digital liner notes relating to this aspect of the song. If anyone knows if they used samples or computer-generated sampling, I’d love to know as even a Google search yielded no specific information and the lack of knowledge has subsequently left me intrigued. 

Radio Number 1 gets the body moving to a beat that is welcome after the mellower tone of How Does It Make You Feel?. It’s a great song and while I may be critical of the vocal repetition, I find it thoroughly enjoyable. Yes, even the dramatic vocal shift throughout the second half of the song. Radio Number 1 is a little left-of-the-centre but perfectly suited to the type of music Air creates. 

The Vagabond is exceptional, and Beck truly takes this song to another level, not only with his written and sung vocals but with that harmonica that is amongst the greatest I’ve ever heard that little instrument played. If you enjoy this song, you should check out Beck’s 2002 Sea Change, as it’s almost an evolution from The Vagabond, albeit it with a more sombre tone. 

Radian reaches you internally. It’s a weird sensation when you feel the music infiltrating your body, rather than your ears and consciousness. Yes, it is the low tone that vibrates at a frequency that gives the body this response, one that is akin to goose bumps, but one that is thoroughly enjoyable. Seriously, sometimes words can’t describe the feeling, but I suggest turning the volume up because the first half of the song will affect you in a way that is near indescribable before morphing into a song that will encapsulate you in the soundstage and allow you to unwind following that internal body sensation. No, I’m not nuts, dear reader, this music is just that good!

Lucky And Unhappy isn’t a bad song, but it isn’t great either. A solid B-side and one which I feel could have been better with more focus on the vocal as the backing musicality becomes too repetitive. That said, there are some atmospheric elements in the soundstage, around the middle of the song, that builds throughout the second half and makes me wonder if this song shouldn’t have been an instrumental track. I guess I feel that I’m listening to two different songs here, both wonderful in their own right, but maybe not perfectly suited together. 

Sex Born Poison is exceptional! The musicality and vocal are initially presented so low, in a muted state, that it is spectacular. The shift in styling builds the soundstage dramatically and fills the room with sound whereby the speakers disappear, and you are taken on a sonic journey that paints an audible picture before returning you to the muted state. It is astonishingly good. 

People In The City is another fantastic song. I hope you’ve turned up the volume, it will help you enjoy this track thoroughly. When listening to this song I can’t help but wonder what Grace Jones could do with this song; obviously with a more vigorous rhythm. Nevertheless, People In The City is perfect just the way it is and is one of the best songs on the album. 

Wonder Milky Bitch has a killer twang and eerie soundstage that makes you sit up and take notice. Like all music, we too often listen to it in the background. May I suggest you buck the trend with Wonder Milky Bitch and the entire 10 000 Hz Legend album. You won’t regret it as this is one album that demands the listener’s attention as too much will be lost if you fail to focus.  

Don’t Be Light is a song that has elements I love and loathe. The introduction isn’t to my liking, but it then morphs into a style that I appreciate, followed again by a style that just doesn’t work. It is most certainly on the experimental side and while I’ve listened to the song numerous times, I still find that I’m not connecting with it in a manner that I would like. It’s far from a bad recording, but subjectively isn’t suited to me. How about you, dear reader, have you found a connection with Don’t Be Light?

Caramel Prisoner is the perfect song to close the album on as it’s reflective while also being inspirational. It certainly encourages me to listen to 10 000 Hz Legend again and stay within Air’s catalogue of music. 

Overall, 10 000 Hz Legend is a magical record that draws you in from the moment it commences. The soundstage, mix, and mastering are extraordinary and in my subjective opinion, Air is the modern-day equivalent of a Pink Floyd, a David Bowie, or a Brian Eno; experimenting with sound and making sometimes nonsensical elements meld together beautifully. Yes, there are other modern peers, specifically Beck, but he appears on 10 000 Hz Legend lyrically and vocally on The Vagabond and in a vocal capacity on Don’t Be Light, hence that comparison is rather evident. Nevertheless, if you enjoy the aforementioned artists or are interested in the genres of Space Rock, Experimental Music, Progressive Rock, or Electronic Music, you’re going to love 10 000 Hz Legend

For this review, I listened to both the TIDAL Hi-Fi (CD-quality) and Apple Music streams. Both present the album superbly with TIDAL having a slightly greater depth and separation between elements. That said, if you’re not comparing the streams side-by-side, you’d be thoroughly happy with either offering. Although, I do feel the vinyl release would trump all others as the analogue nature of the format would further enhance the sonic prowess of 10 000 Hz Legend. Plus, that stunning artwork really demands a larger canvas. 

10 000 Hz Legend is available on VinylCD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, 10 000 Hz Legend is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music.  

Click here to read other Air reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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New Kids On The Block – 10 (Album Review)

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New Kids On The Block – 10 (Album Review)

New Kids On The Block was never on my radar during their peak years, I was too cool for a boyband. Funny thing is Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, and Nirvana was just that; a sausage fest. They just we’re cutesy and just like many people ridicule Nickelback today, New Kids On The Block received as much ridicule as Nickelback and Justin Bieber. Okay, no, Bieber gets way more ridicule than the kids ever did. Truth-be-told, besides Baby, I’ve never taken the time to listen to a Justin Bieber album, so I’m not going to pile on because I may, end up, liking something that he’s released – Love Yourself, for instance, isn’t bad. A great collaboration with Ed Sheeran!

Long-time readers would no doubt be aware of my erratic music tastes. After all, I just finished writing my review for Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All and went straight for this album. No, I’m not insane, I just love music and good music is good music. Actually, my eclectic music tastes have been a source of ridicule by friends, family, and peers for years. So many people don’t understand how one can appreciate such a broad range of music. For me, there is no other way and it makes perfect sense. Most important of all, it brings me true happiness. So, laugh if you will, cause when I put 10 on, I turn the volume up and I’m transported to my happy place. The place where no one can touch me. Where I’m alone. Me and the boyband that I once rolled my eyes at but now acknowledge just how talented these musicians are.  

I enjoy the album so much that I purchased the CD (unfortunately 10 has never been released on vinyl), but the moment my daughter saw it, she asked if she could have it as she loves We Own Tonight and Remix (I Like The). Well, what could I say? I rolled my eyes but in hoping that my children will love music to the level that I do, I passed my brand-new unplayed CD onto her. I still haven’t bought a replacement. I’m waiting for her to tire of it and give it back to me, but I’m starting to think that will never happen. Nevertheless, while I enjoy listening to music alone (okay, so I like to sing and dance without anyone seeing me), sharing music with those you care about is one of the greatest gifts you can give anyone, and it is one of the reasons why I love sharing my passion with all of you.  

In the absence of the CD, I turn to TIDAL Hi-Fi’s CD-quality stream that is indistinguishable from the CD counterpart. I still move uncontrollably to the beat and sing-along where appropriate. Sure, my daughter would let me borrow her copy of the CD, but maybe instead of me reviewing that copy, perhaps she will one day add her own review to Subjective Sounds, of the CD, even if it is only via the comments section. Regardless, the TIDAL Hi-Fi stream is magical as 10 has been recorded and mastered beautifully. It is dynamic and not at all jarring on the senses thereby ensuring that I could listen to the album on repeat for hours. Similarly, the lossy Apple Music stream is beautiful as the mastering is the same, although, as is to be expected, it is a little more concealed by comparison to the CD-quality stream. That said, unless you compare them side-by-side, as I have, you’ll likely be more than satisfied with either stream. 

We Own Tonight is the perfect song to open the album with. The shared vocals and harmonies are lovely as is the soundstage that has been created. It is one of those songs that gives me goose bumps and it’s incredibly addictive, resulting in the song being played on repeat and sung along to more times than I can remember. Music should impact you on an emotional level and We Own Tonight certainly does that.   

Remix (I Like The) picks up the beat and all I want to do is dance. Yes, it would be embarrassing to witness so I’m glad I’m a writer and not a YouTuber. When I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever stood or sat still when this song is playing. Even as I’m typing this review, my legs are moving to the beat. Thankfully, my hands know their way around the keyboard and can type while the rest of my body is moving to the rhythm. 

Take My Breath Away is initially less energetic, but the ballad-pop-styled tune is absolutely perfect for the New Kids On The Block style. Take My Breath Away is a killer song and if I have one criticism it would be that I would like to have the backbeat more pronounced in the soundstage as it sounds a little hidden when I feel it should be at the forefront of the song.

Wasted On You is sensational. I love the beat. The atmosphere. The vocal performance. That mid-song sonic shift is incredible. Wasted On You is a perfect pop song!

Fighting Gravity is a little predictable and campy, but if we class it as a B-side, then it is perfectly acceptable and suited to the album and the New Kids On The Block legacy. 

Miss You More has a sonic introduction and backing that I adore. I’d love to hear just the instrumental of it, but I absolutely love the vocal delivery on this song. It’s sensational and one of the best songs on the album.

The Whisper has an addictive beat that will get you toe-tapping, but it’s a largely forgettable B-Side. 

Jealous (Blue) has a fantastic vocal presentation and unlike The Whisper, my entire body moves with this song. I adore the depth and width of the soundstage on Jealous (Blue). Exceptional!

Crash reminds me of the entire A Night At The Roxbury soundtrack. Good soundtrack! Crash does feel a little out-of-place with the other songs on the album, but it’s done so well that the campiness of the song is absent and it will encourage you to get up and move to the dancefloor. Seriously, if you’re sitting still while Crash is playing, you’re listening wrong.

Back To Life is a fantastic vocal-led song that while fundamentally different from Crash, flows perfectly. While it isn’t one you can sing along to and you’ll likely not have the inclination to toe-tap, or head-bop, Back To Life is thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable. 

Now Or Never is campy, but it’s a good song. Yes, I can roll my eyes and be embarrassed when this song comes on the speakers and everyone looks at me, but that subjective response doesn’t mean it’s bad. 

Survive You / Let’s Go Out With A Bang is a sensational way to close the album. Survive you is stunning and the CD-hidden track, Let’s Go Out With A Bang, is off-the-charts! Of course, the silence between the songs is infuriating and as I’ve mentioned before, I’d love the record label or artist to re-track the hidden songs so that when you stream the album, you can listen to just that one song if you wish. Regardless, Let’s Go Out With A Bang is the perfect song to conclude the CD with and it encourages me to listen to the album again and explore more of the New Kids On The Block back catalogue. Of course, if you’re streaming via Apple Music, you’ll find there’s an iTunes exclusive track to enjoy.

Block Party has attitude and follows Let’s Go Out With A Bang perfectly. Sure, I feel the aforementioned track would be better suited to close the album with, but I’m far from disappointed with the inclusion of Block Party on the iTunes/Apple Music edition of 10.

Overall, 10 is an exceptional album that has to be heard to be believed. Yes, it is modern day pop-styled and if you’re not into that kind of music, you’ll likely not enjoy this album. 10 simply isn’t overproduced, unlike many modern pop albums. It also isn’t compressed to hell and back as the soundstage is well developed and each sonic element is beautifully expressed without the crushing sound that is often associated with this style of music. Sure, there is a lot of electronic sampling, but it is handled respectfully, reminding me of the Bee Gees disco era. It has been five years since 10 was released and while an EP, Thankful, was released in 2017, I want a true follow up to 10 as I feel the New Kids On The Block are just getting started.

10 is available on CD and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, 10 is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music.

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David Bowie – 1. Outside (Album Review)

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David Bowie – 1. Outside (Album Review)

David Bowie has always been an enigma to me. A brilliant, but arguably eccentric, sonic experimentalist. Some of his work I hate, some of it not so much, then there are releases like 1. Outside that make me think about his brilliance, ignoring all my ignorant misconceptions. Much like Shakespeare is dissected still to this day, Bowie's music will not only live on but will surely be studied, for context, by future generations.

The self-portrait cover art of 1. Outside is stunning and deserves to be held on vinyl as one enjoys this lengthy but sonically rewarding album. At present, I have to settle for the CD-quality TIDAL Hi-Fi edition and its counterpart streamed from Apple Music. While both are largely indistinguishable from each other, the atmospheric brilliance of Bowie, combined with Brian Eno’s talent, really shines on the lossless stream with a greater three-dimensional soundstage.

Leon Take Us Outside is an interesting musical and spoken word introduction that flows seamlessly into Outside, making me wonder why it’s a separate track at all.

Outside is an incredibly detailed track that is masterfully composed. The rhythm will connect with your soul, causing involuntary body movements. No, this isn't a song you'll likely sing-along to, but it is thoroughly enjoyable and is a fantastic way to commence the album.

The Hearts Filthy Lesson is a fantastic song. While there is a radio edit, available on the exceptional career perspective, Nothing Has Changed, I find myself drawn to the full length original as it is a more substantial version of the song.

A Small Plot Of Land has a near jazz-fusion introduction that I thoroughly enjoy. Although, A Small Plot Of Land loses its lustre for me when Bowie joins the mix as I don't feel his vocals on this track are a good mix with the musical style. However, A Small Plot Of Land would be sensational as a purely instrumental track.

(Segue) – Baby Grace [A Horrid Cassette] is musically interesting. I'm still not sold on the spoken word segue’s throughout, but this one grows on you.

Hallo Spaceboy is EPIC! You'll want to turn the volume up on this track. The Pet Shop Boys remix is featured on Nothing Has Changed, but to be completely frank, I hate it! It adds nothing to the original and makes the song sound weak. It’s amazing that the remix made the cut on Bowie's career perspective release as I believe the original release is incomparable and one of Bowie's greatest recordings.

The Motel is musically beautiful, although it takes close to half the duration of the song before coming into its own. Subsequently, I feel the introduction was a little too drawn out and the song could have evolved faster had the composition been reconsidered. Of course, my subjective opinion is rather irrelevant as it is a piece of Bowie’s sonic artwork and subsequently is created with his vision in mind.

I Have Not Been To Oxford Town has a sensational rhythmic undertone and Bowie's vocal delivery is perfectly suited to the musicality.

No Control is a solid, albeit a little disjointed, song with regards to the shifts in lyrical delivery. That said, I do find No Control to be rather compelling.

(Segue) – Algeria Touchshriek doesn't sonically work well with the album, but as a segue, one can forgive this aspect as the concept album must, by definition, tell a story that, at times, requires segueing.

The Voyeur Of Utter Destruction (As Beauty) is, from my perspective, a garbled mess.

(Segue) – Ramona A. Stone / I Am With Name doesn't add much to the album. It is more of a distraction than a beneficial addition. Of course, I’m less interested in the underlying story arc than I am the musicality of the album.

Wishful Beginnings, while an interesting composition, fails to excite.

We Prick You sounds more like an 80s tune than one composed in the 90s. It isn't bad, but it's a B-side.

(Segue) – Nathan Adler, Pt. 1 is, as many of these segues are, a distractive element to an otherwise free-flowing album.

I'm Deranged is meh!

Thru' These Architects Eyes is a B-side at best and one can't help but wonder, by this stage, when this album will end as there is considerable self-indulgent filler throughout.

(Segue) – Nathan Adler, Pt. 2 makes me question if any of these segues were really necessary. I'm honestly not sure they were.

Strangers When We Meet, as heard on 1. Outside is a re-recording of the song which was first released on Bowie's The Buddha Of Suburbia. I much prefer this re-recording as it is more aligned with Bowie’s vocal delivery and overall style. It’s also the perfect song to conclude 1. Outside on and encourages me to listen to the album again and stay within Bowie's catalogue.

Despite a few songs failing to impress, 1. Outside is a solid album from start to finish. Although, I don't feel I’m missing out by only having it in my streaming library and while I maintain an interest in holding the album artwork, the album itself, much like John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Double Fantasy, is a little too disjointed for me to appreciate on vinyl. Nevertheless, there are some exceptional Bowie songs to be heard here. Thankfully, a few of them are on my regularly spun Nothing Has Changed career perspective release.

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

If you prefer streaming, 1. Outside is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music.

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Reverend And The Makers – @reverend_Makers (Album Review)

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Reverend And The Makers – @reverend_Makers (Album Review)

While considered to be an Independent Rock act, Reverend And The Makers are arguably closer aligned to the Electronica spectrum. Nevertheless, if you were to put @reverend_Makers on at any party, it would go down extremely well.

This review is not based on the @BonusDisk edition of the album. I find the core 30-minute runtime to be more than adequate as I don't tire of the record, wanting to listen to it over and over again. However, the @BonusDisk edition is just a little too long for my personal tastes and I do start to become distracted approximately three-quarters of the way through. However, that shouldn't deter you, dear reader, as you may subjectively enjoy the longer runtime. Regardless, I applaud the band for giving fans the option, thereby allowing the more casual listener, such as myself, the opportunity to be captivated by the music in a sample-sized portion.

Bassline opens the album boldly. Let the escapism begin! I do hope you're reading this on your smartphone as you listen to the album as you'll be on your feet and dancing around in no time. Bassline is a sensational track that is masterfully mixed and recorded. Although, that could be said about all the songs on @reverend_Makers.

Don't sit down because Out Of The Shadows continues with a rhythm worthy of any dance floor. Sensational, absolutely sensational!

Shine The Light is a great rock track that you can dance to. Yes, (Was) Not Was declared that White People Can't Dance, but this white dude is giving it his best effort. I love it!

Depth Charge is a solid, albeit, predictable tune that works well in the album format but arguably isn't a standout track.

Warts N All has a toe tapping and head bopping beat, but I'm not sold on the vocal presentation in the chorus. It isn’t bad but sounds a little repetitive and whiny. That acoustic shift, mid-song, is absolutely marvellous, however. Overall, a great song.

Yes You Do slows the album down a little, to a near-ballad pace, but I absolutely love Yes You Do and I feel it fits beautifully into the album tracking.

The Wrestler picks up the pace and is easily one of my favourite songs on the album.

1+0 isn't inherently bad, but it is a B-side. Of course, that contradicts my Instagram micro review of the album whereby I stated there is not a single B-side to be found. Well, that was almost a year ago and I don't know about you, but I like the fact that my subjectivity can shift over time, based on further reflection and comparison against other music. It would, after all, be a sad state of affairs if our music likes and dislikes remained stagnant.

Noisy Neighbour is a killer rhythmic rock song and a rather humorous one at that.

What Goes Around has a terrible beginning, but the song comes into its own after the first minute and is extremely addictive in the final minute, compelling me to listen to the album again and stay within Reverend And The Makers catalogue.

Sonically, the TIDAL Hi-Fi stream is beyond reproach, but I dare say a vinyl release would add a little something to an already extraordinary album. That said, @reverend_Makers has only been made available on CD from a physical media standpoint. Disappointing, but you never know when a re-issue will be forthcoming.

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

If you prefer streaming, @reverend_Makers is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Should you be interested in the @BonusDisk edition, simply look for the slightly varied album name: @Reverend_Makers.

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(Was) Not Was – (The Woodwork) Squeaks [Compilation Review]

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(Was) Not Was – (The Woodwork) Squeaks [Compilation Review]

Every now and then I'll browse the library of albums that I’ve saved to my TIDAL Hi-Fi collection. Amongst the thousands saved, I'll inevitably come across a few that make me wonder just how they got there. (The Woodwork) Squeaks by (Was) Not Was certainly falls into that category and upon the first listen, I'm still unsure as to why I saved it. However, upon subsequent listens, the compilation has grown on me, so much so that it leaves me feeling compelled to listen to the compilation again and again.

From my perspective, it is interesting that I saved a collection of remixes and B-sides, as (The Woodwork) Squeaks was the first (Was) Not Was album I ever listened to. Generally, I prefer the core studio releases as a starting point. Nevertheless, I'm thoroughly enjoying this compilation and I invite you to put on your boogie shoes for this review as I have a feeling you're going to need them.

Tell Me That I'm Dreaming (Traditional 12" Remix) has a compelling boogie groove that almost instantly gets you into the music, if only the first few seconds were more compelling. You'll notice throughout this review that I won't contrast a remix with the original song. This is done purposely as I’ve not heard the original recordings. In some ways, that can be a good thing as my subjective opinion isn't clouded. Regardless, Tell Me That I'm Dreaming (Traditional 12" Remix) is a great song to commence this compilation with.

Out Come The Freaks (Predominantly Funk Version) is a great, albeit it lengthy, funk-based song. Remixes do have the tendency to drag on but at no time do I feel this remix needs to be shortened. In fact, it's so good that I could listen to it on repeat for hours at a time.

Wheel Me Out (Classic 12" Version) has a sonically rough introduction that doesn't flow on well from Out Come The Freaks (Predominantly Funk Version). That said, there are some elements in this song that I enjoy, but I have to acknowledge, for the most part, that I find this track to be tedious.

(Return To The Valley Of) Out Come The Freaks (Extended Version) is a great song with a sensational tempo. I love it!

Hello Operator (Classic 12" Version) has a glorious horn section that is so pure it sounds as though you were in the studio while the song was being recorded. Hello Operator (Classic 12" Version), besides starting out slow, is a hell of a good song and I adore that lyrical delivery.

Dance Or Die (From Sweet Pea Atkinson Album) is a killer song. You won't be able to stay still while this track is playing, so you have my permission to take a break from reading this review. Get up and boogie, I’m sure you'll thoroughly enjoy the experience.

Tell Me That I’m Dreaming (Souped Up Version) / Out Come The Freaks (Dub Version) is a great track that reminds me of Grace Jones and her style on the Nightclubbing album. That said, the transition between Tell Me I’m Dreaming (Souped Up Version) and Out Come The Freaks (Dub Version) isn't entirely seamless and the songs could very well have remained separate. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoy this track.

Out Come The Freaks (Classic 12" Version) is a great addition to this compilation, but it arguably isn't the greatest version of Out Come The Freaks.

(Stuck Inside Of Detroit With) Out Come The Freaks (Again) has an incredible rhythm that you can really connect with.

As someone with two left feet, White People Can't Dance is certainly the song for me. Although, when no-one is watching, I have "the moves". I love this song and it compels me to listen to the album again and explore the entire (Was) Not Was catalogue.

Sonically, the stream from TIDAL Hi-Fi is beautiful, with every musical element positioned perfectly. It’s really all anyone would need. While (The Woodwork) Squeaks hasn’t been re-issued on any physical media, recently, I feel content with this album being part of my digital streaming collection as it is, subjectively, not quite to the standard where I feel willing to outlay additional cash to pick up a copy. That isn’t a negative reflection on the compilation, just an acknowledgement that I don’t have an endless supply of cash and one has to carefully choose albums, especially considering the often inflated prices of re-issued vinyl. This is, yet, another benefit of music streaming as it allows for exploration and enjoyment without commitment.

(The Woodwork) Squeaks can be purchased on CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, (The Woodwork) Squeaks is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Sigur Rós – () [Album Review]

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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.

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MIA - AlM (Deluxe) [Album Review]

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MIA - AlM (Deluxe) [Album Review]

I'm always on the prowl for new music and while I find a plethora of albums that are worthy of reviewing, time is finite and I prefer to discuss those that reach me on a deeper level. For my thoughts on the albums that didn’t quite qualify for a long-form review, check out the Subjective Sounds Micro Reviews on Instagram.

AIM is the fifth studio release from MIA (the stage name for Mathangi Arulpragasam) and to be completely frank, I had never heard of her before listening to this album. I dare say without the ability to stream music, I would have remained naïve of her musical prowess.

The album cover is largely nondescript and prior to listening to the album, I didn't even know it was a Hip-Hop record. Personally, I like not knowing when I'm in discovery mode as I prefer the music to speak for itself. Yes, Hip-Hop is often reliant on sampling other great tracks, but that is part of the appeal of the genre. How the music is sampled and how is it integrated and developed into a song and album experience. It is a layering technique that I find fascinating and musically pleasing.

The introduction to Borders is superb as the song slowly builds. The vocal delivery and distortion levels are perfect, as is the oriental feel that traverses the song and much of the album. It is a sound signature that is unique and thoroughly addictive. You will want to turn up the volume and move your body to the beat. It is this subconscious response to the music that draws me in and captivates my soul.

Go Off continues the oriental sound signature with an interesting vocal layering technique that creates the core of the song. While the lyrical aspects of this song are mostly non-English, like good Opera, a beautiful vocal delivery is sometimes all that is needed.

Bird Song (Blaqstarr Remix) is exceptional! The sampling of llaiyaraaja's “Oru Kili Uruguthu” is done with respect and is simply gorgeous.

Jump In is a vocal interlude that isn't the greatest. Personally, I would have left it off the album as it doesn't add substantially to the musicality of the album.

Freedun (featuring Zayn) is a solid track but I feel it is a B-side, despite being issued as a single.

Foreign Friend (featuring Dexter Daps) is an incredible mellow song. I love it! Dexter Daps certainly adds value and the song wouldn't be the same without the inclusion of his smooth, yet gritty, vocal presentation.

Finally isn't a bad song but it is let down by too much vocal and bass distortion.

A.M.P (All My People) re-introduces the oriental sounds, but I don't like the song as I feel it is overproduced.

Ali r u ok? is sonically pleasing, although I find the soundstage to be a little too compressed.

Visa isn't the strongest song on the album. Although, I thoroughly enjoy it as it reminds me of the musicality Grace Jones is known for.

Fly Pirate is sonically disturbing. Seriously, listen on headphones and you have moments where the music doesn't only create a widening soundstage, but you feel as though the music is moving through your skull. It is an interesting technique and I like it.

Survivor is a lovely song, but there is a little too much distortion and reliance on Autotune.

Bird Song (Diplo Remix) doesn't compare to the brilliance heard on the Blaqstarr Remix.

The New International Sound Pt. 2 (featuring GENER8I0N) is sonically incredible! This song has a massive soundstage and while it still overuses Autotune, it suits the song perfectly.

Swords has some incredible musical elements, but I am not sure it works as a song. Then again, the more I listen, the more I feel it works. It is one of those songs that will likely grow on you.

Talk is brilliant. I love it!

Platforms is musically beautiful and the perfect song to end the album with as it makes me want to listen again or continue to explore MIA's catalogue.

While AIM may not appeal to everyone, I find that I am drawn to the album as it is musically unique and offers something off the beaten path of both the Hip-Hop and Rap scenes. For me, this style of music is much like my appreciation of classical music. I know I like it, yet I find it difficult to describe the how and why. Of course, it is plausible to like music for no quantifiable reason.

For this review, I listened to the 16/44.1kHz FLAC and 24/88.2kHz MQA edition, both via TIDAL Hi-Fi. Both editions are beautifully mastered, but the MQA edition sounds more refined and accurate, resulting in a slightly larger soundstage and better bass presentation with less distortion. While I preferred the MQA edition, I certainly wouldn't be disappointed with the 16/44.1kHz CD-quality FLAC edition.

MIA's AIM is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, AIM is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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