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The Rolling Stones – Aftermath (UK Version/Remastered) [TIDAL Hi-Fi Review]

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The Rolling Stones – Aftermath (UK Version/Remastered) [TIDAL Hi-Fi Review]

It would be accurate to say that I once disliked The Rolling Stones. I had at one stage thought that Mick Jagger couldn’t carry a tune and that his hip-gyrating during (I Can’t Go No) Satisfaction was crass. Oh, those were dark days and only goes to prove that one should never judge a book by its cover, or in this case a music video or live performance. It would have been sometime in the 90s when I saw the offending performance and sadly that subjective opinion lingered until the release of Grrr…, on the Blu-ray High Fidelity Pure Audio (HFPA) format, in 2012.

Speaking of the Blu-ray Pure Audio format, it is fair to say that many non-audiophiles have a tendency to criticise the types of music audiophiles choose to listen to. They often believe that we only listen the purest of recordings, whether we like the music or not. Well, I can’t deny that when the Blu-ray Pure Audio format emerged, I became smitten and ended up expanding my library of music extensively. I remember picking up the Genesis album Selling England By The Pound because it was on the format. I didn’t have much experience with the Genesis catalogue and I disliked it immediately as it was different to the much of the music I normally listened to. However, after listening to it a few times I came to not only respect it as a piece of art but as valued addition to my collection.

Yes, I do acknowledge my own fickle behaviour. However, if I were not this way inclined, my music interests would be extremely limited and this blog would be rather monotonous. You see, throughout my teenage years, I listened to roughly the same artists and albums. While radio was there, for making a mixtape, I never really used it for exploration.

During this naive time, Guns N’ Roses were always better than Nirvana, and the Metallica self-titled 'Black' album was always superior to their earlier thrash metal recordings. However, Guns N’ Roses were only subjectively better because I had all their albums; I did not own any Nirvana albums at the time. Similarly, I owned Metallica’s self-titled 'Black' album, but not Master Of Puppets. What occurs to me is that our music appreciation is often limited to immediate family and social influences, along with the music we own. 

I’m sure that at least one of you reading this review is wondering why this was a limitation, given the flexibility of music streaming services. You must remember that in the 90s, music streaming was nowhere to be seen so the only exposure you had to music was those individuals around you, what you heard on the radio or saw on television, and the music you owned. It was rather limiting and while I was initially opposed to music streaming services, I must say that the integration of TIDAL Hi-Fi, into the audiophile world, has cemented my appreciation for the all you can eat buffet. Without a doubt, I now listen to more music than ever before. While I do still have preferred artists, albums, and songs for various occasions, I find it liberating to be fickle about music I once judged so harshly and perhaps inaccurately.

If it were not for the Blu-ray Pure Audio format, the vinyl revival, and TIDAL High Fidelity Music Streaming, my music interests would have remained closely linked to those when I was a child and adolescent.

As a child, Abba and The Beatles were introduced to me before I understood what music was, as was Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl. Similarly, my first cassettes were Icehouse’s Man Of Colours and Michael Jackson’s Bad. These albums were not chosen by me; they were gifted to me for my seventh birthday. I’ve always wondered how my life and love of music would have been different if I was given a David Bowie album instead. I mention Bowie as I recall a friend, at school, was obsessed with Bowie; most likely because his parents were fans. These influences aren’t negative though, as they subjectively make us who we are as individuals. That said, I’m extremely pleased that my children listen to more than just Abba and The Beatles. While all the artists listed are exceptional, and should be included in any music collection, I don’t want my children’s experience and knowledge of music to be limited to the subjective sounds that gave me my identity. I want them to explore and to understand that there is more music in the world than any individual can ever experience. Music is truly a great wonder of humanity and I’d like to thank each and every musician ever, regardless of proficiency or popularity, for giving us a form of art that speaks all languages. You guys rock! 

Anyway, getting back to the audiophile humour, it is true that on occasions we will listen to a recording because it is on an audiophile format, or because it is a ‘must listen to’ album. For the most part, music streaming has eliminated this argument. Perhaps not entirely though as one would argue that TIDAL et al don’t often accommodate for different masters of the same album. Regardless of how you come to appreciate music, exploration is without a doubt a key to happiness for music lovers; for I am elated to have the majority of the world’s music, in CD-quality, at the touch of a button.

I also don’t like being limited by a set of genres. I’ve known people that are only into metal, classical, or jazz. Frankly, I love all genres and I feel sad for those individuals who doesn’t explore music beyond their comfort zone. There truly is a world of amazing music to experience. You won’t like everything, but you may surprise yourself.

Well, will you look at that, I’m digressing again. By now, long-time readers would understand that it simply wouldn’t be a Subjective Sounds review if I didn’t go off on some tangent to try and explain why it is that I now adore The Rolling Stones.

Yes, dear reader, The Rolling Stones are now essential to my music collection. So much so that I even have a set of Rolling Stones imitation-vinyl drink coasters.

I also have many of their albums on vinyl and of course the infamous Grrr… album with over three hours of music, on a single Blu-ray (HFPA) disc. At the time of purchase, I reasoned that if I didn’t like it I could simply sell it and allow someone else to have the pleasure of listening to the compilation. Well, that didn’t happen. The song selection is superb and as I continued to listen, I got a sense of the band maturing and becoming something special. I’d love to say that you could simply stream the Grrr… album, but it is no longer appearing on any of the popular digital platforms. While that will obviously deter some people, I encourage everyone to listen to the Grrr… album, even if the only option, at the time of writing, is to purchase the physical product. It showcases the evolution of the band through five decades and it also allowed me to come to peace with (I Can’t Go No) Satisfaction. While the preconceived images remained in my mind for the first couple of listens, it began to dissolve like a bad dream.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that even if you think that you dislike an artist, album, or style of music, perhaps it is worth re-visiting it on different terms.

Now that I have that out of the way, let’s get back to discussing what we are here for, the review of The Rolling Stones Aftermath (UK Version/Remastered) album.

It is important to note Aftermath is also available in a US edition and it is included in the mammoth 10-hour (186 song) In Mono collection. I will likely undertake a review of the US Edition in the future, as it has a varied tracking to the UK edition, but I’m not sure when I will find the time to listen to In Mono. That said, a comparison review between the stereo and mono versions could be interesting, especially as I am impartial when it comes to the discussion of stereo vs mono.

Released in 1966, Aftermath was the fourth album by The Rolling Stones and features one of my favourite songs by the band, Under My Thumb. However, it is Mother’s Little Helper that I feel steals the show as the theme behind the song was not only relevant in the 60s, but remains so in modern society. I love the sitar-ish styled elements that Keith Richards has stated was created by using a 12-string electric guitar with a slide. The experimentation Richards has done over the years is nothing short of extraordinary and I was blown away when I saw some of the recording techniques he was attempting the Netflix Documentary Keith Richards: Under The Influence.

Stupid Girl is an excellent song that, in my opinion, perfectly highlights the 60s era from a musical perspective. It is simple, yet evolved in its composition. I also find the tune to be highly addictive.

Lady Jane (Mono Version) is a simply gorgeous song. Jagger can certainly perform a ballad and while it isn’t necessarily a song that immediately identifies The Rolling Stones, I would love to see Jagger do a solo album of nothing but ballads.

Under My Thumb is a song that defines psychedelic pop. The musical solo is uniquely placed and is thoroughly enjoyable as it keeps the beat going.

Doncha Bother Me is very rough around the edges and sounds more like a demo than a completed recording. Yes, I know the album was recorded in the 60s, but it is reminiscent of their earlier works and lower production standards. That said, the sound reminds me of the intent that Keith Richards was going after with his 2015 album Crosseyed Heart. It is almost the anti-quality approach where music is expressed as a form of art, instead of aiming for perfection.  

Goin’ Home (Going Home on the In Mono collection) is an epically long song for an era when songs were not expected to exceed the approximate 3-minute length for radio playback. While the song is arguably repetitive, it continues to evolve as the song progresses and while it could have been an excellent 3-minute track, the 11-minute epic is reminiscent of a live jam session. There are some cases where excessively long tracks are superfluous, and only relate to the ego of the artist, but this isn’t one of them as every note played in this song is worthy of being included on the album.

Flight 505 is a song that I simply don’t like. Even the smoothness of Oppo’s HA-2 (ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9018K2M) DAC can’t help the harshness that is in this song. It is very fatiguing and the edition that is present on TIDAL Hi-Fi is from the 2002 remaster. The strange thing is, this is the only song on the album that exhibits such fatigue. It would be interesting to see if the SACD, undertaken during the same mastering sessions, exhibits this same effect. That said, the edition featured on the In Mono collection is significantly smoother and is much preferred.

High And Dry is boxed in from a sonic perspective. While there is left and right stereo separation, the soundstage is very narrow. That said, I do enjoy the song and if I wasn’t looking at it from the perspective of undertaking a review, I would likely dismiss the shallow sound stage and simply enjoy the music.

Out Of Time has one of the coolest song entries that I have ever heard. It is important to note that this version is only on the UK release as the song did not appear on the US release of Aftermath. While this is the original mix of the song, an alternative mix was also released on the Flowers album in 1967. Subjectively, I enjoy both renditions of the song and I find that I can listen to them interchangeably. Of course, there is also the excellent strings version of the song that appears on the compilation album Metamorphosis. However, as much as I enjoy the strings version, I don’t feel it is as solid as the earlier mixes, but I do appreciate the experimentation in style. The bottom line is that I can listen to this song for hours, regardless of the mix, it is that good (addictive).

It’s Not Easy is an enjoyable blues rock and roll song with a little distortion in the bass track, but it works for the song and isn’t disruptive.

I Am Waiting is a strange song from my perspective as I’m not sure which beat I’m supposed to be connecting with. Is it the guitar strum, the maracas in the background, or the vocal track? It gets even more complicated when the drum track kicks in. I feel all these elements are fighting to be heard. That said, there is something enjoyable about the song. Perhaps this is simply one of those songs that will forever be an enigma in my mind.

Take It Or Leave It has a slow melody that I enjoy, I just wish the song was recorded and mastered with a little more precision. I find many elements, such as the organ/keyboard track in the soundstage, are simply too distant and you must listen intently to hear them. While I like the stereo mix of Take It Or Leave It, I much prefer the monophonic mix as all elements, while still somewhat distant, are evenly placed in the soundstage. It is fair to say that this is more of a concern when listening on headphones, as loudspeakers are often more forgiving when it comes to the psychoacoustic effect found in mono to stereo conversions.

Think is a fantastic song. The rhythm is incredibly engaging.

What To Do (Mono Version) isn’t a bad song, it encourages me to listen to the album again, but it is definitely a B-side.

At the beginning of this review, I publically acknowledged my once flawed beliefs regarding The Rolling Stones. Yes, I acknowledge my fickleness, but as I continue to explore music, I find that I am increasingly captivated by that which I have previously rejected. It is an interesting juxtaposition, but one I gladly accept. While I haven’t tallied the number of times I have listened to Aftermath, during the review process, it has quickly become not only my favourite Rolling Stones album but one of my favourite albums that captures the zeitgeist of the British rock and roll music scene of the 1960s.

Aftermath (UK Version/Remastered) is currently available for purchase on Vinyl, CD, iTunes, and in FLAC from the TIDAL Store.

The album is also available for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify.

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Barry Gibb – In The Now (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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Barry Gibb – In The Now (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

While many individuals who reach their seventh decade on this planet are tending their gardens, musicians such as Barry Gibb are proving that age is not a limiting factor in the creation of their art. While some commentators may be critical of musicians continuing past their prime, I welcome it with open arms. Yes, there are some exceptions and there will always be a selection of artists who should have stayed in retirement, but Barry Gibb is not amongst them.

In The Now is the second solo album by Barry Gibb. I had honestly thought he had released more albums, under his own name, but his last album and therefore his solo debut was released in 1984. That album was Now Voyager.

I can’t help but wonder if my confusion, relating to his solo releases, was due to the incredible Bee Gees compilation Mythology that highlights each Gibb brother in what is perceived to be their best and most notable works. With 81 songs, and a playing time exceeding 5 hours, it is one of the most representative compilations ever released.

Be that as it may, I had no idea that Gibb was writing and recording again. While record stores are still becoming a relic of the past, despite the vinyl revival, it was actually during a visit to my local store that I noticed the new CD was charting. Unfortunately, it wasn’t listed in TIDAL’s new release area, hence my surprise. While I may have an unhealthy addiction to TIDAL Hi-Fi, I’m disappointed by this omission. Yes, I know their browse areas are often skewed to specific genres and artists, that generally represent the interests of TIDAL’s celebrity owners, but for it to not be there is just bad form from TIDAL. TIDAL does, however, have the album listed in the new pop albums area. Still, I’d expect this album to be presented in the main new release area. Interestingly, I couldn’t find it listed in the new releases area of Apple Music either. In fairness to iTunes and Apple Music, both have always been tightly curated and the new release area tends to focus on only the last fortnight of releases; unless a marketing agreement has been reached as we’ve seen in the past with The Beatles and Taylor Swift for instance. Apple’s approach isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the plethora of releases, especially at this time of year, can be overwhelming. However, if you miss checking out the new releases for any given week, you will of course miss a number of exceptional albums that you could add to your collection. Thankfully, Spotify does have In The Now listed in their new release area. Thank you Spotify!  

So what does all of this mean and what is the moral of my story of discovery?

I’d say it means that the traditional bricks and mortar music store isn’t necessarily a bad place to peruse if you’re looking for new music, or music you’ve missed or overlooked. You never know what you will find and crate digging is truly at the heart of every music lover; even if you have only experienced music through iTunes or streaming services.

Speaking of crate digging, I didn’t see the vinyl edition in store despite a pressing being available. Interestingly, the vinyl release of In The Now is being advertised in Australia as a Limited Edition. However, I have been unable to find any additional information relating to why this release is limited, for it appears to be a carbon copy of the standard edition CD and the version available on all streaming services.

With that in mind, I’m beginning to feel that too many vinyl releases are wrongly being classed under the Limited Edition moniker. Seriously, all vinyl releases are limited in some way as labels and pressing plants only print a limited number of copies at a time. However, since the vinyl revival has been in full swing, yearly re-issued pressings are being released to cope with demand. Sure, some completists will want to own a copy of each pressing, however I’m not one of them as I simply want to own the highest quality pressing.

The question has to be asked: How limited is limited?

The Editor of SuperDeluxeEdition, Paul Sinclair, had the following to say in his newsletter dated 17 April 2016:

"RSD is about artificially created rarities"

Let's not kid ourselves, since time immemorial, 'special' items created in limited numbers have been about selling more product and generating more income for record labels.

While Record Store Day (RSD) was the key focus of Paul’s thoughts, I feel that his opinion can be applied to all releases throughout the year. I don’t know about you but I know it is implausible for me to purchase all the releases that I’m interested in. Plus, I have picked up my fair share of Limited Edition releases, to only later have buyer’s remorse. It doesn’t happen often, but often enough that I have to remind myself that I am in control of how I spend my money.

In one way, this Limited Edition fiasco is another reason why I’m turning more and more to TIDAL Hi-Fi as my consumption platform of choice. Yes, you could argue that the streaming services are also being naughty by permitting exclusives on various platforms, but I could arguably subscribe to TIDAL Hi-Fi, Apple Music, and Spotify Premium and not spend the same per month as I would on the Limited Edition vinyl release of In The Now.

Let me give you an example: The Deluxe Edition CD of In The Now retails in Australia for AUD$19.99. The Limited Edition Vinyl release retails for AUD$64.99 at the same retailer. Now, I’m the first to admit that my mathematical talents are not the best, but if we add Tidal Hi-Fi (AUD$23.99), Apple Music (AUD$11.99), and Spotify Premium (AUD$11.99) we should be at AUD$47.97 for monthly subscriptions that include access to the majority of music available to the human race. Honestly, when I look at that, versus the price for one single record, I can understand why I’m not buying as many records as I was this time last year. Plus, the variation between the cost of the Deluxe Edition CD and the vinyl record is nothing short of ludicrous, especially when you consider that the Deluxe Edition includes three extra tracks, Grey Ghost, Daddy’s Little Girl, and Soldier’s Son, that aren’t available on the vinyl release or any of the online digital delivery systems.

The Deluxe Edition CD is readily available and at least it offers you something that you can’t get anywhere else. Ultimately, that should also be the aim of vinyl releases. Yes, the artwork is glorious by comparison and the sound quality is mostly superior, but unless there is something compelling, that makes the release unique, I wouldn’t class it as being limited. I also think that I can speak for everyone when I say that music lovers don’t want or need more limited edition coloured or splatter vinyl; especially when it doesn’t match the stylistic artwork of the album.

This has got me thinking about my Limited Edition release of Rob Zombie’s The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser. I purchased it via Pledge Music as Zombie was signing limited quantities of the new album. I subsequently received the signed-lenticular vinyl edition and while it isn’t my favourite Zombie album, as a long-time fan I simply had to have it. My only regret is that I didn’t order the CD at the same time, but that is a discussion for another time. While one could argue that this release was also artificially limited, I feel Zombie’s involvement in the promotion provided a value added proposition that was worthy of the increased price and Limited Edition status.

Now that we are all suitably distracted, it is about time I got back to the review in question.

While the Bee Gees were one of the most successful family units in the music industry, it pleases me to see that the Gibb family remain instrumental in providing the world with a plethora of music harmonies. In The Now was written with Barry and his sons Stephen and Ashley. Such family unity reminds me of AC/DC bringing in Stevie Young, nephew of Malcolm and Angus, when Malcolm had to retire. While it is sad that AC/DC will never again feature the founders together, and the Bee Gees will never be able to record a new album, In The Now brings hope that the legacy will live on. While In The Now is uniquely independent, I also find it eerily reminiscent of the Bee Gees. 

In The Now immediately shows that Gibb still has, arguably, the most identifiable vocal in the world. The composition is pop driven and predicable, but in a good way as it allows Gibb to be at the forefront of the music. It is a stellar song to commence the album on and proves that age does not limit the soul. I love it!

Grand Illusion is a little more edgy and has a rock beat that is addictive as it builds from the verse to the chorus. This song reminds me of a Bee Gees style composition with interweaving backing vocals. I absolutely love the beat and guitar riff in this song and while it may remind me of the Bee Gees, it is fresh and compelling. This song is an example of why I love music.

Star Crossed Lovers slows the album down a little with a ballad-styled tune that is a lovely easy-listening song. Although, I’m not convinced that this song was a good selection for Gibb as I much prefer his faster tempo songs. Of course, my subjective point of view doesn’t change that fact that it is a lovely song and many people will thoroughly enjoy it.

Blowin’ A Fuse picks up the pace with an erratic intro that continues throughout the entire song. Despite the unpredictable tempo, it will get you toe tapping and head bopping. Personally, I would have preferred to have had this song positioned before Star Crossed Lovers. Blowin’ A Fuse is more similar paced to Grand Illusion and given Side 1 of the vinyl release contains only three tracks, I feel this would have been more appropriate in that third track position. Additionally, the electric guitar solo, about two thirds of the way through the song, is excellent and a welcome surprise as the song pretends to end prematurely. I like music, like this, that makes you sit up and listen.   

Home Truth Song is a modern country-pop styled song that works extremely well with Gibb’s vocal style. It will remind you a little of Bruce Springsteen, although, I can’t imagine anyone else singing this song.

Meaning Of The Word is beautifully mellow. Gibb’s vocals are so delicate in this song. I love the tailing off of notes as his vocal almost breaks up, but remains on key. It is simply amazing to hear such a delicate vocal delivery that is performed as masterfully as any recorded with the Bee Gees. As music fans, we are truly fortunate to have songs and artists that can paint emotions with sound.

Cross To Bear is a lovely composition. I love the acoustic guitar elements, the choral delivery, and the overall twang of the song.

Shadows has a tonality that reminds me fondly of the tone used throughout much of Julian Lennon’s Photograph Smile album. This song has some beautiful instrumental elements and while releasing tracks in their instrumental form is largely superfluous, in the modern era of the digitally streamed single, I would love to hear just the instrumental version as the eclectic Spanish-influenced tone is simply gorgeous.

Amy In Colour is a song that I adore. The verse is so reserved in comparison to the increased beat and tempo that builds with the chorus. It is an interesting dichotomy and one that works exceptionally well.  

The Long Goodbye really highlights Gibb’s unique vocal style. When I hear him sing like this, yet listen to an interview he has done, I am continually amazed at how he can maintain such a varied singing voice to his own spoken voice.

Diamonds is such a dynamic song. The soundstage is so three dimension that closing your eyes will put you in the studio as the song is being recorded. The recording and mastering is absolutely perfect to my ears. In-fact, the entire mastering of the album is nothing short of perfection. Interestingly, HDTracks has the album in Audiophile 44.1kHz/24bit. I mention this because of the ongoing argument relating to the importance of high-fidelity music. I’m not sure if In The Now was recorded and mastered at 44.1kHz/24bit, but generally HDTracks gets the highest bit-rate version available. That said, it is important to acknowledge that higher bit-rates mean nothing if the mastering is not done well. As I listen to TIDAL Hi-Fi’s FLAC stream, running at 44.1kHz/16bit, I can honestly say that there is nothing that would make me long for the 24bit edition. My Oppo HA-2, with the ESS Sabre32 Reference ES9018K2M DAC, reproduces TIDAL’s edition so well that there is no need to look for more. Similarly, my Oppo BDP-103 with the Cirrus Logic CS4382A DAC, reproduces the album immaculately. I truly wish all modern albums could be mastered this well. That said, I have been surprised by some of the more recent releases and I pray that we are seeing the back end of the loudness wars.

End Of The Rainbow is a perfect song to conclude the album on. It encourages me to play the album on repeat, and I have certainly done that many times, but more importantly if this is the last song Gibb ever performs, then it is a fitting end to a glorious career that has impacted so many people. That said, I truly hope Gibb records a follow-up to In The Now as he is still an amazing performer. With his sons now by his side, I can only imagine the glorious wonders that are still to come from one of the most talented families in the music industry.

As long time readers would know, lyrics and subsequent song meanings are often lost on me. I review from the standpoint of an emotional perspective regarding how the music makes me feel and the memories it raises in my mind. Thankfully, Gibb has recorded a short video in which he discusses the song meanings much more concisely than any reviewer could hope to achieve.

While I have embedded the official VEVO YouTube video, for compatibility reasons, please remember that if you have a TIDAL subscription, you can also play this video via the following link: tidal.com/video/65653213.

You may recall earlier that I indicated the Deluxe Edition CD would be the best value for money when purchasing In The Now. However, End Of The Rainbow is such a fitting end, that I don’t know if I want to hear the additional tracks. I know that sounds fickle, but there have been many times when I have listened to Deluxe Editions, only to be disappointed because it changed my own subjective relationship with the album. That said, In The Now is truly worthy of owning on vinyl, but the CD is still the best dollar for dollar value. However, for the immediate future, I will be content with the standard edition that is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

Regardless of how you intend to listen to this album, you will be blown away by not only the production, but the musicality. It is reminiscent of the Bee Gees, and fans of the band will love it, but it is also uniquely a Barry Gibb album and should be listened to with reflection, but not comparison. 

In The Now is currently available for purchase on Vinyl, CD, iTunes, and in FLAC from the TIDAL Store.

The album is also available for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify.

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Lady Gaga – Joanne (Deluxe Edition) [TIDAL Hi-Fi Review]

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Lady Gaga – Joanne (Deluxe Edition) [TIDAL Hi-Fi Review]

When I launched TIDAL on Saturday, I noticed there were a number of new albums that I wanted to check out, such as Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker and Korn’s The Serenity Of Suffering. Yet, I found myself being drawn to Lady Gaga’s new album Joanne.

It would be fair to say that I have previously judged Gaga’s talents as mere fanfare rather honourable musical talents. That said, Joanne is an album that has radically changed my perception and I’m happy to acknowledge my prior singlemindedness. What I truly appreciate about Joanne is things are kept simple. I find the album to be stripped back, in terms of production, and this has enabled Gaga’s incredible vocal to come to the forefront of the music. However, my views will likely be challenged as Subjective Sounds contributor, Elisa Pacelli, has stated that ‘it sounds more like a debut album, to my ears.’ While my subjective opinion will differ from Elisa’s, I feel her aversion to the album is because of the before mentioned stripped down production.

As I listen to the album, I find that Gaga is very present in the soundstage. In her previous works, I find her vocal presence is sometimes lost in the mix. While Joanne has a pop core, I feel it is more acoustic/ballad driven when directly compared to Gaga’s previous albums. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Remember, The Beatles had their rock/pop era, followed by their successful ballad era. I would put Gaga in this same category; Joanne is a coming of age album with nothing prove and the only aim is to satisfy the musician’s soul. It is also transitional and trendsetting, arguably escaping a number of other celebrated modern pop music styles. In essence, it is unique while not alienating itself.

It is always interesting to see how artists reinvent themselves. Some are capable of change and others simply never find an alternative groove. I feel Joanne presents a style that Gaga can continue to evolve upon. However, it is Lada Gaga and therefore all bets are off. Gaga continues to pay homage to Madonna throughout the album, and I feel this evolution of style is also reminiscent of Madonna’s ability to change direction, often keeping ahead of musical trends. That isn’t a bad thing as it shows Gaga will continue to be relevant for decades to come.

When it comes to the mastering of the album, I’m also pleasantly surprised. While I would have liked a slightly wider soundstage and dynamic range, I find that the mastering, for this album, is absolutely perfect. If you’ve been reading Subjective Sounds for any length of time, you may find this statement to be contradictory as I often long for greater dynamic range in modern music. While my overall view has not changed, I’m also happy to call a spade a spade. Increasing the dynamic range, just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean the music will have more impact; especially when the musical elements are stripped down to core elements as found on this release. This stripping down of sound shouldn’t be seen as negative, in fact less can be more and in this case it certainly is. Regardless, there is ample instrument separation and the soundstage doesn’t sound cluttered. Streaming the album from TIDAL Hi-Fi was absolutely flawless and made both my portable and main audiophile rigs sing. It really is that good!

The same unfortunately can not be said for Elisa’s preferred Gaga album, Born This Way. Elisa has subjectively stated that she prefers Born This Way and as it has been a while since I listened to Born This Way, I thought it best to revisit the album before denouncing Elisa’s thoughts. One key issue I have with Born This Way is the hot mastering. Literally, I had to turn down the volume of Born This Way by 5-10%, after listening to Joanne, as the mastering is brickwalled and subsequently fatiguing. I should note that I also listened to Born This Way on TIDAL Hi-Fi and through the same setup as Joanne, hence my direct comparisons. It is important to note that Born This Way is largely a different album, although that doesn’t excuse poor mastering. Born This Way is also more disco/dance/techno driven and while I do enjoy these musical genres, I appreciate the sonic and musicality shift Gaga has made with Joanne. She is truly an incredible vocalist and Joanne highlights that significantly more than Born This Way. I also feel Born This Way is a much more complicated composition and while some may enjoy that, I find that it can be distracting. Born This Way is a very good album in its own right; I just find it is overproduced.

Diamond Heart sets the tone for the entire album. It highlights Gaga’s vocals and while the beat is largely predictable, it is toe tapping and head bopping ecstasy.

A-YO, along with Diamond Heart, are somewhat reminiscent of Gaga’s older works, but they also introduce a new level of production that I feel has been missing in Gaga’s catalogue. While A-YO isn’t the strongest song on the album, it is certainly enjoyable. I love the extension on Gaga’s vocal throughout this song. She has a smooth grittiness in her vocal that comes through to the listener, especially when listening on headphones.

Joanne has a lovely acoustic guitar introduction that reminds me of any number of folk songs from the 60s and 70s. I love the simple composition with the steady introduction of instruments and musical elements as the song progresses from verse to chorus. This is one of my favourite tracks on the album and I truly hope that Gaga continues with this style on future albums.

John Wayne picks up the beat and is perfectly paced, ensuring it does not feel out of place following Joanne. The song is a little over produced and the chorus is rather complex from a musical perspective. This is one song where a greater dynamic range and wider soundstage would have helped. That said, it isn’t bad and I like it the more I play it, but I would personally have reduced the number of musical elements in the chorus as I feel it takes away from the song a little. Also, instead of synthetic instruments throughout the chorus, an electric guitar solo would have been perfect.

Dancin’ In Circles is a mixed bag from my perspective. That said, I like it and while it has a number of eclectic influences, I find that I am thoroughly enjoying the lead up to the chorus, but when the chorus kicks in I then feel deflated. It is an interesting dichotomy as normally the chorus would be stronger than the verse.

Perfect Illusion has an addictively perfect beat and I love Gaga’s vocals on this track. Yes, they sound a little processed in places but I like it. It works really well for her type of vocal delivery. This song will be superb live.

Million Reasons is such an elegant song. It is reminiscent of Joanne, but this is the song that makes me declare this is Gaga’s best work to date. It is arguably easy to make a pop album, full of musical elements that detract one’s mind, but it is challenging to perform a vocal ballad that is off the charts. This is generally why I like ballads from rock and metal bands as truly skilled vocalists can extend their vocal range, whereas others are simply not capable of commanding the microphone in an ultimate solo performance.

Sinner’s Prayer has a very cool bass introduction that sets the tone of the song and reappears throughout. This song is almost country inspired and do I dare call it pop-country, or should it be country-pop? Regardless, it works! When you factor in Gaga’s performance with Tony Bennett, the one guarantee is this lady can diversify herself into just about any musical genre you can think of.

Come To Mama is simply too campy for my liking, although it does grow on you. I do like the jazzy 50s feel and appreciate The Supremes-style backing vocals, but I don’t think that will be enough to convince diehard Gaga fans to listen to the song more than once.

Hey Girl has a synth feeling that reminds me of any number of Motown hits. Think Stevie Wonder meets Lionel Richie meets Marvin Gaye, with The Supremes included for additional value. In-fact, add some Bee Gees for a little extra spice as well. Bottom line: I love this song!

Angel Down is simply gorgeous. It is a perfect composition. However, I much prefer the later edition subtitled (Work Tape), especially at the end of the song as I find the ending of this version is too abrupt. With this type of vocal driven ballad, I really want to sit peacefully at the end of the song as the vocal and musical elements decrease progressively to silence. It allows me to consider the song for its lyrical value as well as subjective interpretation. As it is the last song on the standard edition of the album, I would honestly recommend getting the deluxe version as it ends more peacefully. I also don’t feel the artificial pops and clicks towards the end of the song add any value.

Grigio Girls starts strangely as the artificial pops and clicks heard in Angel Down transfers to the beginning of this song and dissolves as the song progresses. It is obviously added for stylistic benefit, but while I don’t mind pops and clicks when I listen to my vinyl collection, I’m opposed to artificially adding them as I end up checking my cable connections, assuming connectivity problems. That all said, Grigio Girls is a good, but not great song. Something is missing in the chorus and I feel the song could be tighter, especially in the end with the vocal talk-over/laughing aspect.

Just Another Day is beatle-esque. I LOVE IT!

Angel Down (Work Tape) is the version that I feel should have made the final standard album. This version is rawer and more emotionally driven. It also ends the album far better as the music is gradually reduced. That said, I still believe that the ending should have been less rigid, but it would be boring if every song ended the same way. I guess I just like songs that gradually decrease in volume as they end.

Joanne is nothing short of an amazing album that I believe will go down as one of Gaga’s greatest. It is a little different to her other works, but if you don’t mind the diversity, there is something here for everyone. Joanne is a must own for my vinyl collection, but I can’t say that about Born This Way; sorry Elisa!

Joanne is currently available for purchase on CD, iTunes, and in FLAC from the TIDAL Store. It will also be released on vinyl in mid-December, 2016.

The album is also available for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify.

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John Farnham – Whispering Jack (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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John Farnham – Whispering Jack (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

Farnsy, as he is lovingly known to the Australian public, is nothing short of an icon in the pop music industry. That said, many of you will likely be unfamiliar with his work as he never ventured outside of Australia, throughout his highly successful solo career, instead choosing to make Australia his permanent performance home. As a result, he has gained an unprecedented level respect from a country that too often loses its great artists to fame and fortune abroad.

No, we’re not bitter that so much talent is taken from our shores, but I strongly believe our little Aussie band, AC/DC, should still start and end their tours on home turf. Of course, that is now solely dependent on their continuation to record and perform. That said, they’d have to do a better job than their Sydney performance in 2015. Let’s just say that the balance and levelling was way off and what should have been a stellar experience, was somewhat lacklustre. Someone clearly didn’t do a proper sound check for that concert!

I know quite a few people that adore live performances, but the unknown elements are always an aspect that worries me when I pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket. As a result, I don’t go to many live performances; instead I wait for the obligatory live album. That said, Farnham provides one of the greatest live performances that anyone can experience. Unfortunately, he is no longer stadium touring like he used to, but he is doing a series of more intimate concerts in 2017. If you can’t make these performances, I can wholeheartedly recommend his recorded performances Classic Jack (with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) and Chain Reaction. If you can’t get a hold of these in your region, then the album Full House offers an exceptional overview of his power and finesse on stage.

The one thing that I have noticed, and appreciated, over the years is how unique Farnham’s vocal style is. He is arguably without peer, although some correlation could likely be found if I looked hard enough. I guess what I am trying to say is that you can identify the timbre of his voice immediately. With modern ‘manufactured’ pop music, uniqueness is not always a guarantee.

Another key aspect of Farnham’s vocals, that I value, is being able to understand the lyrics he is singing. There is absolutely no need to refer to the liner notes for guidance on Farnham themed karaoke nights. Other artists, by comparison, tend to slur their vocals to an extent that you have no true idea of what they are trying to express. I’m not just talking about death metal music, although I often wonder if that style of music isn’t merely grunts derived from our ape-like ancestors. Perhaps that is a little harsh, but the truth is that many of us fall into the mondegreen trap whereby we misinterpret a lyric we hear. The mondegreen trap is arguably a key reason why I have classed vocals primarily as an instrument, rather than the story telling element of a song.

While Whispering Jack is known as Farnham’s breakout album, it certainly wasn’t his first outing as a performer. Previously, Farnham had been a pop teen idol (the Justin Bieber of his day) and lead singer of the Little River Band in the early 80s. Despite this prior modest success, Whispering Jack would be his most successful album with sales of an incredible 1.68 million copies, as of 2006. Remember, this is superstardom for an Australian artist where the population of the country is just over 24 million (16 million, upon the release of the album, in 1986).

Unbelievably, it has been 30-years since this landmark album was released. To mark this occasion, a 30th Anniversary box set is on the horizon that will feature the album on vinyl and CD, along with a concert DVD from the associated tour. Needless to say, I have pre-ordered this individually numbered (5,000 copies) release as it is associated with some of my earliest memories of music appreciation. The collection will also include a 30-page booklet detailing various, never before seen, content surrounding the recording process. I will certainly undertake a review of the collection, here on Subjective Sounds, when I receive it.

While this review specifically looks at the original 1986 mastered edition that is presented on TIDAL Hi-Fi, I also have the original cassette and to say I wore it out would be an understatement. It has been stretched and warped from years of usage, but it still plays and I loved every moment of it. It was also the first cassette I ever owned that had the clear case so you could see the entire reel of tape. Yes, that was a big deal back in the day when cassette tape was largely hidden from view. I recall sitting for hours, listening and watching intently, as the tape moved from one spool to the other. This simple ‘do nothing’ activity was nothing short of pure bliss. Even as I listen to the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition, knowing that it is perfect and as close to that original master as I can currently get, I find that I still recall the exact areas where my cassette tape had stretched, thereby permanently altering the sound. I mention this because every time I hear the song Going, Going, Gone I think that I have to get up and change the side of the tape. No, I haven’t lost my mind, I just listened to that cassette too many times. I also didn’t have a lot of pre-recorded music at the time, so this tape had to work hard.

The truth is I could probably write a complete book about how this album has not only influenced my love of music, but influenced Australian culture. Farnham’s history and the way the album came about is legendary and it would be a perfect candidate for defining the meaning of the ‘Little Aussie Battler’. On that note, it should also be acknowledged that Glenn Wheatley, former bass guitarist for the Masters Apprentices, was responsible for primarily funding the recording of Whispering Jack and without his support, this exceptional recording may have never seen the light of day.

Pressure Down, on TIDAL Hi-Fi, has a very intriguing entrance as it appears to have whispering in the first few seconds of the song. The reason why I am captivated is that I don’t recall having ever heard this before. I should note that it is also on the 20th Anniversary release that is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi. Yet, it is not on my iTunes Matched edition, nor can I hear it on my original cassette release. Although, that part of the cassette is a little wobbly. Yes, I dug into the archives to get to the bottom of this oddity.

In each case, I put my Oppo HA-2 into high gain mode and listened at ear bleeding levels. Such are the lengths I go to for you, my dedicated readers. Initially I had thought that the spoken word was ‘a restructure of subject or language.’ Of course, Google is our friend and as such directed me to Jane Gazzo’s Herald Sun column (behind a paywall, but Google ‘How Whispering Jack saved John Farnham’ and it appears as the first link). Gazzo details the spoken words as actually being ‘there is no restriction on subject or language.’ Yes, there is an interesting and somewhat humorous story behind this revelation, but I implore you read Gazzo’s piece for the full story. Jane Gazzo has also recently published John Farnham: The Untold Story. I’ve yet to read it, hence this isn’t an endorsement, but I’m looking forward to checking it out as it is the first biography on John Farnham that I can consciously recall.

That said, Pressure Down will take you immediately back to the 80s with a pop-synth sound that was revolutionary at the time and strangely doesn’t feel that detached from modern pop music.

You’re The Voice is perhaps one of the most iconic and emotionally moving songs ever written and recorded. It is arguably more relevant today than it was upon its release, though that could be said of the many famous songs that promote peace over conflict. If you don’t listen to any other song from Farnham’s catalogue, you have to listen to this song. It will inspire and put humanity into perspective with simple, but clearly defined lyrics.

The inclusion of the bagpipes and a guitar solo in the chorus is nothing short of pop/rock gold. The clapping introduction is like a click track for the mind as you are guided through the song. Farnham’s vocals on this song are incredible and simply world-class. Very few performers can sing with such raw honesty and I truly believe Farnham has never sung another song with such passion and conviction, yet it was not a song that he wrote. Chris Thompson, Andy Quanta, Keith Reid, and Maggie Ryder all deserve credit for writing such an incredibly beautiful song. While it has been covered numerous times, it is Farnham’s song and I’ve yet to come across anyone who has done it better.

One Step Away is a song that has never really resonated with me. Perhaps it is simply because it follows one of the greatest songs ever written and recorded. It just feels out of place and I would personally class it as a B-Side.

Overall, One Step Away isn’t a bad pop song, but I only ever listen to it as part of the album experience.

Reasons is a song I love because it was my first introduction to the whiplash sound in music. Yes, this synthetic sound was available before a hundred whiplash apps made it to your smart phone and popular culture. The beat is addictive and the atmospheric backing, especially in the first half of the song, is rather interesting as there are so many elements to listen to, yet the soundstage never feels crowded. Reasons is what pop/rock is all about and you will definitely want to turn the volume up to 11.

Going, Going, Gone has a strange introduction that I feel detracts from the song. While it may appeal to some, it isn’t a personal favourite of mine despite being a solid addition to the album. Interestingly, this song is memorable for me as it would mark the end of Side A. As I didn’t have an auto reverse cassette deck until about 1993, this would require getting up off the couch and flipping the tape over. While the flipping of cassettes and vinyl can become an added task, it is a moment that I truly treasure; along with every bit of deterioration the formats are known for. It essentially adds character to one’s music collection. TIDAL Hi-Fi, and all digital versions (including CD), simply can’t offer these tactile moments. That said, as much as I love the process of playing my analogue collection, I have to be completely honest in saying that the bulk of my listening is now done via TIDAL Hi-Fi. Yes, convenience has somewhat won, but only because of the incredible sound quality that can be had via TIDAL’s Hi-Fi subscription. Seriously, don’t even bother with their premium plan.  

No One Comes Close has a bass guitar intro that I thoroughly enjoy. In my opinion, the bass guitar is one of the most underrated instruments in music. I would love to hear more bass notes in modern recordings and I’m not talking about synthetic bass sounds either.

Overall, No One Comes Close is a fantastic song for the album. While it doesn’t break any new ground, it is enjoyable and ticks all the relevant pop music boxes.

Love To Shine is a smooth 80s pop song that again favours the bass guitar. The beat and groove, as with most of the songs on this album, is addictive and will encourage you sing-a-long in the shower.

As I listen to this song, I am drawn to the analogue sound that has made it through the digitisation process. In-fact, the entire album is very warm and welcoming from a sonic signature standpoint. Yes, these terms are somewhat irrelevant and are dependent on your individual setup. However, they are used to express the feeling I get as I listen to the album and the associated songs.   

Trouble is a pop song that I have enjoyed since I first heard the album some 30 years ago. Yet, I’m still not too sure what the appeal is. What I do know is the backing vocals grab me every time. Not because they are exceptional, but because their introduction makes it feel as though two completely unique songs and artists have been merged to make one killer track.

A Touch Of Paradise is, in my opinion, a sonic masterpiece. It is incredibly soothing, but also encourages you to turn the volume up and sing along to a simply gorgeous chorus. Farnham has sung many incredible ballads, such as You’re The Voice and Burn For You, but there is something special going on with this song and I’m not just talking about the exceptional soundstage and saxophone performance. A Touch Of Paradise truly showcases Farnham’s vocal delivery and proves what a spectacular vocalist he is.  

Let Me Out sets the beat from the get-go in this edgy pop song that is a perfect track to end the album on. It is rock-pop and has a very 80s sound, but don’t let that deter you as some of these 80s songs are becoming as essential to the history of popular music as those styles founded in the preceding decades. Let Me Out, interestingly, also has a jazzy feel with strong emphasis placed on brass instrumental backing. Think Robert Palmer’s Addicted To Love.

Whispering Jack is exceptional and while I would change the tracking slightly, there really are no significant flaws in song selection.

The mastering of this original was excellent with an average 13 out of 20. That said, it wasn’t a perfect mastering and while the 20th Anniversary release in 2006 reduced the dynamic range to an average of 6 out of 20, remastering engineer Martin Pullan certainly respected the original and added emphasis on the mid and low end that may result in a more appealing listen for music lovers. In this instance, mere dynamic range figures don’t tell the complete story and you need to listen and decide for yourself. Personally, I enjoy both versions and I’m glad that they have not removed the original from sale; as is often the standard process when a re-master is released. While I have no information pertaining to mastering used for the upcoming 30th Anniversary collection, I trust that it will stay true to the incredible releases that have come before it. 

Whispering Jack is currently available for purchase on CD, iTunes, and the TIDAL Store.

The album is also available for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify.

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Green Jellÿ – Cereal Killer Soundtrack (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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Green Jellÿ – Cereal Killer Soundtrack (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

For years I have simply loved the song Three Little Pigs. No, not the beloved children’s classic, but the metal-infused Green Jellÿ version from 1993. I like the song so much that I never really gave the associated album any thought. I had originally envisaged that this review would be a one-hit wonder review, but then I decided to listen to the entire album again and I was surprised to find that I truly appreciate the comedic metal and punk infused music style that is applied throughout the entire album.

While it is convenient to dismiss what we don’t like at a given time, this is one example whereby time, and exposure to more music styles, has resulted in an appreciation for the Cereal Killer Soundtrack. I find it intriguing that as time has passed, my musical interests have continued to evolve. Perhaps, I’m finally growing up? Hmm…I don’t know about that, I think I will forever be 16 at heart. Nevertheless, I found that 999’s The Biggest Tour In Sport/The Biggest Prize In Sport really opened doors to the punk side of my personality and I feel there is an entertaining contrast that can be made between these two bands.

Anyway, enough about me, let’s take a look the songs on Green Jellÿ’s Cereal Killer Soundtrack.

Obey The Cowgod is punk heaven and a great way to start the album. The song is intense with punk tones and speed, while having vocals that highlight the metal aspect of the band.

Three Little Pigs is hands down one of my favourite songs of all time. I even added it to Graeme’s playlist when he embarked on his long walk across the Simpson Desert. I honestly don’t think any other song excites me as much as this one. I grin from ear to ear when I play the song and the volume gets pushed to 11. Adding to an already exceptional song is the incredible claymation music video.

Cereal Killer (Edit) is moody, creamy, rock and roll. As this is the edit version, I can’t help but wonder what the complete song sounds like. This edition is certainly worthwhile and reminds me in tone and style of Dio and Iron Maiden. Basically, it’s just bloody good!

Rock-N-Roll Pumpkihn has some seriously nice bass tracks, especially on the intro. However, the vocals in this song drives me nuts and unfortunately detracts from the musicality of the song.

Anarchy In The U.K. reminds me so much of 999 and early White Zombie. Awesome! Plus, for those of you who like The Flintstones, you’ll get a laugh out of this song. It also has a rocking groove that is so addictive, you will be unable to stay still.

Electric Harley House (Of Love) has a gorgeous acoustic guitar intro, but it is one that you know is going to be destroyed once the electric guitar enters the mix. I love music like this as it builds anticipation. This is hardcore rock and roll, with a little punk for added value. I love it!

Trippin’ On XTC is a punk/metal/reggae/R&B infused song that simply gets the body moving. About halfway through it becomes dark and moody in a shift that perfectly suits the song. I certainly appreciate the experimentation the band has shown with this track.

Misadventures Of Shitman has a great spoken and guitar riff intro. Yes, the song is disgusting, as the title eludes to, but it is bloody funny! Think South Park’s Mr. Hankey. I love it!

House Me Teenage Rave is a groovy house-styled song that uses a Monkey as a sexual innuendo point of reference. It is so good, but so inappropriate on so many levels. You simply can’t help but enjoy this track.

Flight Of The Skajaquada (Edit) is a song that has a guitar riff that again reminds me of Iron Maiden. Overall, the song is driven by a killer guitar riff and drum beat, but as any head banger will tell you, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Green Jellÿ Theme Song is the only song from the album, besides Rock-N-Roll Pumpkihn, that I don’t enjoy. The initial groove and beat are superb, but it never really developed into a song that I felt appealed to me. I also don’t feel it was a strong final track as it doesn’t encouraged me to play the album again.

The Cereal Killer Soundtrack, while not technically a soundtrack, is an incredible album that punk and metal fans must listen to at least once. The band is truly greater than the song Three Little Pigs. I can’t believe I ignored such an impressive album for so long.

This is the moment where I need to acknowledge the importance of music streaming services, such as Tidal Hi-Fi. If it were not for these services, my relationship with the band would have remained limited to a single song. Now, however, the CD is in my wish list and if the album ever gets a reprint on vinyl, I will certainly be ordering a copy. While reports regarding streaming services can lament the financial problems faced by the music industry, I feel it offers an opportunity for not only discovery, but for pre-purchasing decisions. Think of it as the modern-day listening booth. You just get to take it with you!

Back to the album and it is fair to say the mastering on this release is superb for this style of music. While it doesn’t have the greatest dynamic range, the stereo imaging of the album is exceptional. Fortunately, nothing has been done to this album since the original release. Fingers crossed it stays that way, it certainly doesn’t need to be ‘remastered’.

Green Jellÿ’s Cereal Killer Soundtrack is available for purchase on CD, iTunes, and the TIDAL Store.

The album is also available for streaming on Apple Music and Spotify.

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Amy Dickson – A Summer Place (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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Amy Dickson – A Summer Place (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

I recently had the privilege of coming across this album by accident as a couple of songs were suggested tracks on TIDAL Hi-Fi. Interestingly, the album I was listening to now escapes my memory, but Amy Dickson’s A Summer Place remained in my mind to such an extent that when I was browsing my library of albums, that I have yet to purchase on any physical format, I felt compelled to listen to this exceptional album once again and publish my thoughts.

Australia truly has some of the greatest musicians in the world. While I admit to be biased, there is often a unique styling, that is completely Australian, that you don’t see portrayed in other regions of the world. However, I had to do my research to find out that Amy Dickson is Australian, but now living and working abroad. That said, I honestly thought I was listening to one of the greatest American or European saxophonists; perhaps this isn’t far from the truth as her command of the saxophone is incredible. Dickson’s ability to take the saxophone and tell a story, by talking to the listener directly, is simply amazing. Yes, I have some interesting thoughts as to how music is presented, but I strongly believe that a musician can talk through an instrument, in a universal language, that arguably is impossible to define fully within the limitations of the English language.

Of course, Dickson doesn’t perform alone and those who have contributed on this album perform above, and beyond, any expectations I would have had for this record. The mastering alone is exquisite and I don’t have a single complaint as the album sounds perfect on loudspeakers and headphones. Well, perhaps I have one complaint and that is that TIDAL has yet to implement MQA; although that has nothing to do with the 16/44.1 edition that is currently delivered by TIDAL Hi-Fi. I just want more. Although, that may not be possible as the only physical release of the album was the CD redbook standard that TIDAL Hi-Fi uses and HDTracks only has a 24/44.1 edition that would offer marginal improvements at best. Regardless, the soundstage is wide and perfectly situated with Dickson’s instrumental tones sitting front and centre. Honestly, this album is one that you could use to show off the performance of your stereo system.

The series of tracks presented are well known classics and I predict you will immediately fall in love with the song selection, as I have, although there is a mismatch in the tracking that we will discuss shortly.

A Summer Place is a simply gorgeous song to start this album off with. This edition is also the best rendition that I have ever heard of this song. The music just floats in the air and is so silky smooth that you forget you are listening to a recording. It is as if your memory is playing the song back, the way you have always imagined it to be played.

What’s It All About, Alfie? is iconic and as much as I enjoy this song with lyrics, this is one of those times where the control over the saxophone proves that it can talk, if you are willing to listen.

The Summer Of ’42 is so well known and is another perfect choice for this album. It is pure sonic bliss as you and the music become one.

Take Five is an incredible jazz song, but it really doesn’t suit this tracking position on the album as it is simply too upbeat when compared directly with The Summer Of ’42 and the following Moon River track. It simply makes the album experience feel a little disjointed and it would have been best either at the beginning of the album, or the end.

Moon River is a sonic masterpiece. Nothing else really needs to be said.  

The World We Knew has so much character. It is bold, moody, yet peaceful and harmonious. It is a gorgeous song and Dickson performs it flawlessly.

We Have All The Time In The World is a song that I was not previously familiar with, despite being a fan of John Barry’s compositions. It is a lovely song and I feel that it would have been perfectly suited to accompany Take Five, as it is also a little more upbeat.

Windmills Of Your Mind is another immediately recognisable song that will simply bring tears to your eyes. It is that good!

The Apartment Theme is a song that I have not heard previously and while it certainly suits the album, I’m not sure it is needed. That said, it is, as all the songs are, impeccably performed by not only Dickson, but the London Session Orchestra. Yes, the digital liner notes finally acknowledge the orchestra involved. I have often complained that so many classical-styled releases simply omit these details. It is good to see recognition in this instance.

Is there anyone that doesn’t like The Sound Of Silence? Even Disturbed recorded an incredible edition on their latest album. Needless to say, Dickson has ensured the saxophone metaphorically speaks not only the notes, but the lyrics, as originally depicted by Simon & Garfunkel. One can’t help but wonder what Disturbed, plus Dickson and the London Session Orchestra, would sound like in a live theatre situation with this song. It is the perfect song to end the album on and it always encourages me to play the album again.

A Summer Place is a must own for any classical music fan, or anyone interested in the saxophone. It is exceptional from start to finish, with the only uncomfortably element being Take Five. That said, it is Dickson’s own interpretation of the song and most likely it doesn’t appeal to me as much because of the tracking on the album and the fact that I know the original Brubeck edition so well.

A Summer Place is available for purchase on CD, iTunes, and the TIDAL Store.

It is also available for streaming on Apple Music

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Foxygen – …And Star Power (Tidal Hi-Fi Review)

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Foxygen – …And Star Power (Tidal Hi-Fi Review)

Have you ever come across an album that you love to hate? Well, Foxygen’s …And Star Power is just that as I am continuously torn over my interest in the album. While I thoroughly enjoy many of the tracks on this album, there are some that just defy all logic. In many ways, I feel that this album is perfectly suited for digital delivery, in any digital format, as there are songs that I would simply prefer to bypass with the tap of a button. That said, I still find myself in a quandary as to whether or not I should purchase the vinyl edition. I honestly don’t think I have ever been so torn over the appreciation of an album.

Before we begin with the individual song overview, I want to acknowledge how much I appreciate the album artwork. I feel in many ways that this presentation deserves to be owned on vinyl. The frame as a window into another world is exceptional. Besides a vinyl release, Foxygen have also released the album on cassette. It is packaged in a double cassette case that reminds me of the copy of Elton John’s The Very Best Of Elton John I owned in the 90s. While that album is long out of print, it was reissued by Universal on vinyl a couple of years ago and I was able to secure a copy. If you only purchase one Elton John album, make it that one as it is exceptional and truly highlights his career. I would love to see cassettes to return, just as vinyl has, but I will be content to have a small collection by alternative artists that choose to use the format for artistic purposes.

Foxygen’s style is true indi-rock and very alternative. They have a truly unique sound and with all the listening I have done in my life, I don’t believe that any band has perplexed me as much as Foxygen. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the songs and see if I will indeed end up purchasing the vinyl edition.

Star Power Airlines has a highly distorted introduction that reminds me of any garage-style band from the late 60s and early 70s. It is a confusing song that is very short and I’m not sure if I like it, but it intrigues me enough to keep listening.

How Can You Really is a pop-infused 70s-style track with a uniquely modern style. The beat is addictive and it would be fair to say that I thoroughly enjoy this track. It is toe tapping and head bopping bliss.

Coulda Been My Love is an absolutely gorgeous song that has harmonious vocal elements overlayed against a core piano backing. The mix of these elements, and the pop-infusion, makes this song very appealing. When I listen to this song, I immediately think of Motown records in the 70s due to the styling applied. It is exceptional, although the ending spoken/radio-esk element is distracting and a little overkill.

Cosmic Vibrations is an exceptional song that is so simple, yet so multi-layered that you will find new elements within the song every time you listen. It has a Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds moody feel to it. I simply love this song!

You & I is a song that makes me think of John and Julian Lennon and their vocal styles. It is a lovely song that I truly enjoy listening to.

Star Power I: Overture has a beat and style that makes me want to turn the volume up to 11 so that I can be completely encased in this experimental sonic wonderland.

Star Power II: Star Power Nite returns to the chaos that was first experienced on Star Power Airlines. It is very erratic and I find my mind is confused with regards to how to react to the music.

Star Power III: What Are We Good For is similarly confusing in its musicality. I simply don’t enjoy the entrance to this track and the chorus is just weird. Although, the song does get better throughout, but your body really doesn’t know how to respond to what it’s hearing. This is a indi/alternative style that I can respect, but I’ve never truly understood.

Star Power IV: Ooh Ooh has some lovely vocal harmonies that remove the stigma of the last two tracks. That said, the styling of this song is different, but I like it!

I Don’t Have Anything/The Gate is a song that I am simply unsure about. I like elements of the song, but there are also elements that I don’t appreciate. The musical elements in the second half of the song are really appealing, but the vocal distortion is a real distraction to my mind. That said, I truly think this is one of those songs that will grow on me.

Mattress Warehouse has an addictive beat that will get your body moving. It is unlike any song I have heard before and that is a testament to the uniqueness of Foxygen. It is also one of the reasons why I keep returning to this album, despite my love/hate relationship with it. In all honesty, this song is likely my favourite track on the album.

666 is quite an interesting track that could be classed as punk-pop in styling. It is a fun song that works well with the flow of the album.

Flowers is a song that I consider to be Beatles-esk. It just has that experimental sound and beat that is addictive and intriguing at the same time. I love it!

Wally’s Farm reminds me of a b-grade movie soundtrack. Believe it or not, that is a compliment!

Cannibal Holocaust is a song that I just can’t find the groove to. The vocals are very distant in the mix and while this is most likely intentional, I’m not sure it works. Interestingly, an enjoyable groove becomes apparent midway through the song, but by that stage I am a little shell shocked and expect it to return to the previous confused state at any moment.

Hot Summer is a song I really enjoy. The sonic elements just work.

Cold Winter/Freedom has an eerie intro. In-fact, the entire song really doesn’t go beyond the introduction. The music reminds me of a record being played backwards, in search of the hidden meaning. It is enjoyable in a weird way that I simply cannot explain in words. Then, as many of Foxgen’s songs do, the song changes pace and purpose midway through the track. It is certainly an interesting dichotomy.

Can’t Contextualize My Mind reminds me of early Rolling Stones stuff, pre-Sympathy For The Devil. I like it! Although, the ending is a high screeching nightmare.

Brooklyn Police Station is a song that I like, but I’m not really sure what the appeal of it is. Although, it could be said that sometimes not knowing can be a good thing and one need not always understand music to enjoy it. That is certainly the case with regards to this song.

The Game is somewhat in the same category of appreciation as the song Brooklyn Police Station.

Freedom II has a groovy beat but the lyrical overlay is distracting. As an instrumental track, I feel it would be epic. Although, I love the vocal delivery in the final moments of the song.

Talk begins with a beautiful guitar introduction before all hell breaks loose. Unfortunately, it is a song that I don’t enjoy as my senses have been jolted by the sharp change in musical direction. The entrance to the track was just enough to get into a groove and the abrupt change was just cruel to listener.

Everyone Needs Love is incredibly soothing after Talk. My mind wants to relax and enjoy, but I am scared that the musical direction will change again and therefore I’m not letting myself become as immersed in the song as I would like. That said, it is an enjoyable song with a good beat that for some reason makes me think of Bobby Womack.

Hang is a good song to end the album on. It isn’t too left of the centre and is sombre enough to bring the album to a non-abrupt end–well, that’s if you ignore the final ten seconds.

...And Star Power is an intriguing album from start to finish, but I find it to be extremely fatiguing. By the time I have reached the end of the 80-minute album, I’m mentally exhausted and I find that I don’t want to listen to any music for a while, or repeat the album. Sometimes this feeling can be attributed to the mastering, but in this case I feel the mastering is excellent. I feel it is the constant change in musicality that is the reason behind the fatigue. That said, if the album was half the length, I feel I would have a very different opinion. It is important to note that the album is somewhat divided into four unique sections, but unfortunately that separation did not make it to the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition and TIDAL merely represents the album as a 24-track epic.

I also can’t help but wonder how the high-pitched elements would be presented on vinyl as I find digital music can often amplify the highs in music to ear piecing levels. As vinyl mastering is rather stringent, I would assume it could rein in some of these wild elements.

Overall, I find Foxygen’s …And Star Power to be an album, with a series of songs, that I thoroughly enjoy. Is it worth adding this album to my vinyl collection? I believe so. In-fact, the vinyl release could be beneficial with regards to the fatigue aspect as I can play the album one side at a time. I also feel that the album could be played in any order, similar to how I appreciate Sigur Rós album ().

…And Star Power is available for purchase on vinyl, cassette, and CD. It is also available for purchase digitally via iTunes and the TIDAL Store.

The album is also available for streaming on Apple Music.

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Laura Michelle – Novel With No End (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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Laura Michelle – Novel With No End (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

Over the past few months, I have once again become captivated by the pop music genre. It encompasses a style of music that was very near, and dear, to my heart throughout my teenage years. Although, as a musical discipline I feel pop music has been overexposed for years with too many substandard performers. I therefore find Laura Michelle’s debut album Novel With No End to be a most intriguing listening experience as she delivers a unique performance.

Laura’s vocals are gorgeous and shows a young artist who has plenty of potential, but I don’t feel the accompanying musical elements were pushed as far as they could have been. For me, some of the songs sounded predictable. That said, there are some standout tracks where the musicality is off the chart.

Novel With No End is an album that crosses both pop and country disciplines, with a touch of rock. Subjectively, I like this cross-styled approach.

As I listen to this album, I find myself recalling Delta Goodrem’s amazing debut album Innocent Eyes. I consider Goodrem to be one of the best female-pop artists in the world today. While Laura Michelle’s style is absolutely unique, her professionalism with the microphone is on par with the performances that Delta Goodrem made on her debut.

For this review I used TIDAL Hi-Fi and found the mastering of the album to be adequate for a pop release, but it has been mastered a little hot and subsequently the stereo imaging is limited and you tend to experience a wall of sound coming from the speakers, rather than being completely immersed in the music. Yes, I know that this is a modern style of mastering, but I really want more dynamic range from modern albums. I just hope that the album has been recorded with a full dynamic range, so that it can be re-issued at a later date. That said, it doesn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying Novel With No End.

Throwaway is a fun track but there is a little sibilance in Laura’s vocal that detracts me. As I always say in my reviews, don’t look for sibilance because once you know what to listen for, you’ll hear it on numerous albums.

Top Of The World has a beat and guitar riff that I absolutely love. It will get you head bopping and toe tapping from the first note. Seriously, turn this track up to 11. It is incredible!

Chameleon has a lovely synth and acoustic guitar introduction that continues throughout the song. It is an element that really appeals to me and one that I feel could be remixed perfectly. I’d love to see what Calvin Harris could do with this song, although it is already exceptional in this current rendition.

Cigarette is a moody song that has a great beat and guitar riff, although it is a little more pop driven, whereas, I feel the song would have made a perfect rock and roll track. Of course, that is just my subjective opinion, but I feel the song doesn’t quite know if it wants to be pop or rock. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoy it and find that I’m turning up the volume and toe tapping along with this song.

Cougar has another great beat and again makes me think that Laura Michelle could quite easily move into rock and roll music like Fergie did with Slash on the song Beautiful Dangerous.

Chuck Norris is a song that I just don’t like. It is too teeny bopper for me. It immediately makes me think of songs that would appear on any coming-of-age film soundtrack.

The Credits returns the album to a song that I feel is reminiscent of the album as a whole and truly respects the quality of Michelle’s vocals. It is a lovely country-pop infused song.

Save Me is another song that truly highlights the remarkable voice of Laura Michelle. While the song has been recorded with a live string section, I would love to hear a version with a full symphony orchestra as I feel this song has untapped potential. Michelle's harmonic overlaps, towards the end of the track, are a perfect addition.

Ain’t Your Home is an enjoyable song that blends well with the entire album, but I feel the performance was held back a little. There is just something missing that I can’t quite explain.

Knocks Me Back isn’t one of my favourite tracks as I feel it is too safe in regards to simply ticking all the relevant pop music boxes.

My Baby Loves Me is a perfectly acceptable song, but I feel like it is a b-side to the album.

Novel With No End is an absolutely gorgeous song. This is the song that specifically reminds me of Delta Goodrem’s vocal style, but it also provides validation to me that Laura Michelle will be a female vocalist to take note of in the coming years as she continues to develop and refine her vocal capabilities.

Boy To Smell is a song that I feel should have been tracked earlier in the album as I feel Novel With No End would have been the perfect song to close the album on as it is, in my opinion, the highlight of the entire album. That said, Boy To Smell isn’t a bad song, it just doesn’t make me want to immediately play the album again.

Overall, for a debut album, Novel With No End is exceptional and I can’t wait to watch what I predict will be a very successful career for Laura Michelle.

Novel With No End is available for purchase on iTunes and the TIDAL Store. However, there is currently no physical release for this album, but the iTunes release does come with a digital booklet, if you're interested in liner notes.

Novel With No End is also available for streaming on Apple Music

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Carpenters – Close To You (CD Review)

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Carpenters – Close To You (CD Review)

For years, I have been captivated by the Carpenters and the incredible vocal capabilities of Karen Carpenter. To say the world of music is a lesser place for her no longer being with us is an incredible understatement. For me, she was the quintessential female vocalist. Her vocal range was incredibly smooth and immediately identifiable. I find with modern music, that many of the vocalists blur into one another and lack a defined sound. Yes, imitation is a form of flattery, but there can only be one Karen Carpenter and this should also apply to all present and future musicians; for nothing is more enjoyable as a music lover than randomly listening to a song and instantly identifying the artist. Seriously, try it with modern music, of any genre, and you will find that many of the run-of-the-mill songs and albums don’t have a unique sound.

What is unique is the Carpenter’s second album Close To You. It is an exceptionally refined recording that could easily be mistaken for a greatest hits collection. That said, I don’t believe the Carpenters ever released a bad album, although I am critical of some of their style experimentations, on various albums.

The version I have of Close To You is the ‘digitally remastered’ release from 1990 and to be honest, it isn’t a bad mastering. Perhaps that is because it was mastered before the ‘loudness wars’. Certainly, there have been no additional re-mastering attempts and I have to be completely honest by saying that this is a good thing. While I have never heard an analogue version of this album, I feel that much of the sound that is associated with analogue sound has made it through the transfer. That said, it is still a little too sterile for my liking, but it is not obnoxiously so.

Regarding the analogue reproduction of the Carpenters, I have the vinyl re-issue of The Singles 1969-1973 that contains (They Long To Be) Close To You, amongst others. Yes, we all love that song, even though it has been overplayed, but I have to be completed honest when I say that this vinyl re-issue offers a superior sonic quality than this ‘digitally remastered’ edition. It is smoother and fuller. Yes, all the buzzwords that vinyl lovers throw around, but for good reason. Vinyl simply fills in the gaps. It is also a very different mastering approach and while I acknowledge that it may in-fact be the technological limitations of vinyl that colourises the sound, I like it!

Unfortunately, on both of these albums, mastering details are largely non-existent and unverifiable. Therefore, I don’t know the original source that was used for either release or the mastering engineer involved. Although, Bernie Grundman and Richard Carpenter have been referenced in relation to the CD remastering from 1990. Despite this, one must remember that each mastering engineer will master an album for their own particular tastes. Hence, why it is essential to have some of this information, especially with regards to vinyl re-issues, as too many are reportedly using questionable CD-quality masters to print the new vinyl re-issues. In a world where vinyl and streaming music delivery platforms are consistently increasing in popularity, skimping on vinyl production is only going to have a negative effect on the music industry as a whole. I implore anyone in the creation of music to take the mastering process very seriously, to ensure that the ultimate physical format is the perfect complementary product for the modern day streaming technologies.

My opinion is that the vinyl re-issue of The Singles 1969-1973 is most likely pressed from the 96kHz/24bit release that can be found on HDtracks as Universal Music, under their Back to Black label, are not always going back to the original tapes, but using the high-resolution digital master that was hopefully captured from a first generation master and mastered correctly.

While the CD is adequate, the quality of the CD booklet is pathetic. Seriously, if you’re going to go to the trouble of remastering the music, why not include additional photographs and liner notes from the era? Even updated notes that look back at the album, the production, and the remastering process would be appreciated. The CD design is so uninspiring that I would say you’re better off streaming the album as the physical product doesn’t offer any additional value; especially if you’re a TIDAL Hi-Fi subscriber.

Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the songs that make this album a must own/listen for any fan of the Carpenters:

We’ve Only Just Begun is a simply gorgeous song to start the album with. It is the epitome of the Carpenters in my opinion. An intertwining mix of piano, vocals, and a gentle beat that is hypnotic, ensures this song is repeatedly played. The only element that I don’t like in this song is the drum beat. It sounds rather hollow, as if the drum skin wasn’t tensed correctly in the studio. That said, it may just be the sound signature as it appears on other tracks as well. Interestingly, the before mentioned vinyl release doesn’t suffer from this issue, hence why mastering information is important.

Love Is Surrender is a track that I enjoy, but I find the pacing to be out-of-sync with my expectancies of a Carpenters song. However, I love the merging of the song into Maybe It’s You.

Maybe It’s You again highlights the incredible talent of Karen Carpenter. The backing instrumental elements are perfectly suited to the song and it takes you on a beautiful sonic journey. This is one song I would love to hear on vinyl, or high-resolution digital formats, as I swear there is more to the song than the CD is able to expose.

Reason To Believe is the perfect follow up tune to Maybe It’s You. It increases the pace of the album, thereby ensuring Help is a welcome addition to the tracking of the album. While I love The Beatles original version of Help, the Carpenters edition is nothing short of superb. Yes, the world of music is large enough for these two incredible renditions.

Nothing can be said about (They Long To Be) Close To You that hasn’t already been said. It is one of the world’s greatest songs ever recorded. While the Carpenters weren’t the first to record this song, it is their song. Nobody does it better!

Baby It’s You is a harmonic wonderland. Seriously, close your eyes and turn the volume up. Incredible!

I’ll Never Fall In Love Again is another absolute classic by the Carpenters.

Crescent Moon has a moody feel to it and while I enjoy the song, I feel it is disjointed in relation to the artistry that is found throughout the album. It is certainly not a b-side, but I feel that it belongs on another album.

Mr. Guder is wonderfully atmospheric and is highly enjoyable from a vocal delivery perspective. It is certainly uplifting in direct contrast to Crescent Moon. This is one song to just turn up, so you will be completely immersed in the music.  

I Kept On Loving You commences without a break from the previous song and it certainly works with the flow of the album. While Richard Carpenter is the vocalist for this song, his vocals are not nearly as tonally appealing when directly compared to the lyrical style Karen presented on the album, but nevertheless the song is very enjoyable.

Another Song is an enjoyable song, but it feels like a b-side and could have been left off the album.

Overall, Close To You is an exceptional release that any fan of the Carpenters should own, despite the limited appeal of the CD-packaging. That said, hopefully a vinyl re-issue is on the horizon, but as nothing seems to has been done with their catalogue for years, that seems unlikely.

The Carpenters Close To You is available for purchase on CD, iTunes, and the TIDAL Store.

Close To You is also available for streaming on TIDAL Hi-Fi

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Sophia Pfister – Self-Titled EP (Vinyl Review)

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Sophia Pfister – Self-Titled EP (Vinyl Review)

Last month I had the privilege of reviewing Sophia Pfister’s debut EP on TIDAL Hi-Fi. While I was blown away with the mastering, nothing could have prepared me for the sonic wonderland that is contained within the grooves of the vinyl record. Well, that isn’t entirely true as Sophia did mention to me that “it sounds way better on vinyl! It's mixed and mastered slightly different, you'll hear!”

You may recall that I wasn’t fond of the Banjo presence, on the track Sugardaddy, as I felt it was too jarring for my sensitive ears. That is no longer the case. The mastering on the vinyl release mixes the Banjo elegantly with other instrumental elements and Sophia’s incredible vocals.

What this proves is that mastering does matter. Sadly, that isn’t always the case as many ‘new’ vinyl releases are simply cut from the same digital source and arguably sound terrible. Hence, I won’t be getting rid of TIDAL Hi-Fi anytime soon as it is simply too compelling to have a CD-store in my home.

The vinyl pressing of Sophia’s EP has a soundstage that is massive, fat, and creamy; just like vinyl should be. Sophia’s vocals are even smoother than on the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition.

How is that even possible?

Yes, vinyl is the king of sonic quality when mastered and pressed to the highest standards. Although, I have to ask myself, when an independent artist can produce a record this good, why can’t the big record labels?

The EP certainly highlights the capabilities of my Pro-Ject Debut Carbon and Ortofon OM20 needle. While my setup and collection is on the modest end of the audiophile spectrum, this EP is right up there with the best pressing in my collection; Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms (Mo-Fi Edition). The pressing, of Sophia’s EP, is about as silent as vinyl can get, with very little of the normal noise that is associated with the medium. Tom Weir of Studio City Sound did an incredible job mastering this EP. I’ll have to watch out for other albums that he has had a role in.

When the record arrived I was ecstatic. In-fact, it nearly didn’t arrive as it was delivered to my neighbour’s home by accident. Thankfully, they are honest people and I can’t thank them enough for ensuring the record was delivered safely.

As I carefully opened the box, the first thing I noticed was a little message of Thank You! written on the inner flap. Record collectors will understand, that’s just cool and something that adds that little special element to one’s collection, especially considering the addressing of the package was also personally written by Sophia. Yes, this slightly crazy collector will be keeping the mailing box!

Taking the record out of the carefully packed bubble wrap outlay, my next surprise was that Sophia had signed the rear album cover. I had a grin from ear to ear as this was such a wonderful surprise. I actually didn’t read that these were signed copies when I made the purchase, hence my surprise. I love collecting signed copies of albums, but what makes this album so special is that not only was the record sleeve signed, but Sophia also wrote a personalized short message on the inner sleeve. Let’s just say I was on cloud number nine.

BTW: if you want your own copy of the vinyl EP, you’d better hurry as there are only 29 left as I publish this article. Given the sonic improvement over the that of TIDAL Hi-Fi, and my love of the EP, I may just have to buy a second copy for myself as I fear this one will be worn out from repeat plays.

If vinyl isn’t your thing, remember that you can purchase the EP in CD-quality FLAC on the TIDAL Store or on iTunes. The EP is also available for streaming on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

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