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Indie Pop

Big Scary – Animal (Album Review)

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Big Scary – Animal (Album Review)

What an album cover! I don't know about you, but it drew me in as much as Jane's Addiction's Ritual De Lo Habitual did when released in 1989. In many respects, the cover art is an essential element as an album is often seen before it is heard. In that regard, Animal certainly creates a shock to the nervous system, engraining the imagery in one's subconscious. While the artwork may be a little confronting, it’s representative of only a single aspect of Big Scary; a dynamic Melbourne-based musical duo.

While I know very little about Big Scary, other than adoring Animal, their digital liner notes explain the artistic intent far more thoroughly than I could ever attempt to. However, if I were to summarise their intent, the concept that we can transcend our animal instincts and rise above the animal within is brilliant. Subsequently, Animal takes us on a sonic journey that is philosophically evolutionary.

Animal was also produced with vinyl in mind as each side of the double LP is perceived as its own self-contained entity, to be enjoyed independently or as part of a larger masterpiece. While this review will be based on the Apple Music stream, I'm keenly interested in getting my hands on the vinyl release as this aspect is a value-added proposition for the music lover and collector within. As I think further about this somewhat unique approach, I’m reminded of my beloved Sigur Rós – () album and how they approached the vinyl release in a similar manner. It’s wonderful to see independent artists thinking differently, not only about their musicality but how their music will be delivered to listeners. While part of the artistic intent was to allow the listener to play the album in a non-traditional chronological order, for simplicity, this review will focus on Animal with the same chronological tracking as seen on the following Apple Music stream.

Oxygen opens the album with a very raw drum beat that harks to the core animal status within us all. The electronic rhythm, while sonically dry, is extremely compelling. It's a great start to the album and I was hooked from the very first note.

Organism gets the body moving. The soundstage is diverse and layered, resulting in a song that is larger than the sum of its parts. Every aspect of Organism is perfect and it amazes me that music this good is made by an independent artist. I say that because Organism, and the entire album, sounds better than many big label/artist releases.

Double Darkness continues the somewhat sombre tones, but I love it! That vocal placement and delivery is sublime, reminding me of many Paul McCartney recordings.

Savior Add Vice seamlessly transitions from Double Darkness. Even the shift, a third of the way through, is done masterfully. Although, I don't like the vocal direction as much on this song as I feel the vocal is lost in the mix. That may, of course, have been the intent, and if so then the vocal becomes merely another sonic element in the soundstage.

Lone Bird is a killer song with an absolutely perfect rhythm and composition. This is what good music should sound like!

The Endless Story sees the album becoming increasingly upbeat and I don't know about you, but that rhythm sounds awfully familiar. Regardless, it’s a solid song that is thoroughly enjoyable. The vocal echo, normally a distractive element, works really well here, although the distortion in places is a little more in-your-face than I’d prefer.

Flutism suits the album but isn't really a track I connect with. I can't honestly say why it doesn't resonate with me as it isn't inherently bad, but all I know is it’s a little too left of the center for me.

Up And Up And Up is addictively brilliant!

Breathe Underwater slows the album down considerably. While it may feel a little disjointed to those of us streaming Animal, Breathe Underwater is the first song of the Resting element of the album. The other elements include, for the first four songs, Hunting, the next four, Lurking, and the final two Waking. Nevertheless, Breathe Underwater is a beautifully mellow song.

The Opposite Of Us continues the Resting phase of the album and for some reason, when I listen to this song, I ponder of what a U2/Bono and Alanis Morissette mashup would be like. Yes, dear reader, my mind is subjectively unique and even I have no idea where these correlations come from. Anyway, The Opposite Of Us is a beautiful song and is a perfect fit for the album.

Heaven On Earth is atmospherically stunning. I can only imagine how exceptional it would sound on vinyl, for the Apple Music stream is already magical.

Over Matter has a little too much volume and channel variation that I find to be rather distracting. Even the vocal delivery pace isn’t in harmony with the songs that came before it, resulting in a bit of a garbled mess.

Lamina is a great song to close the album with. The moody tones are reminiscent of the opening tracks and it is so good that I feel compelled to listen to Animal again and delve deeper into the modest back catalogue of Big Scary.

Overall, Animal is a compellingly addictive album that I thoroughly enjoy and will have to pick up on vinyl.

Animal is available on Vinyl, CD, and iTunes.

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

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Angus & Julia Stone – Self-Titled (Album Review)

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Angus & Julia Stone – Self-Titled (Album Review)

To listen to Angus & Julia Stone is to experience nirvana. The Australian sibling duo is astonishingly good, pumping out songs in the keys of indie-pop and folk rock while maintaining an acoustic-based singer-songwriter style that will leave you in pure amazement.

Teaming up with superstar producer, Rick Rubin, I was initially concerned that this Self-Titled release might be compromised as Rubin is known for his involvement in the loudness wars, producing low dynamic range albums such as Metallica's Death Magnetic and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Californication. While one has to acknowledge that this Self-Titled release is right on the border, sonically this level of compression and distortion works incredibly well with the style of music and the Stone siblings’, often lower chord, vocal presentation. That said, the soundstage is rather expansive, allowing all sonic elements space, in the mix, to breathe.

As I’ve listened to the Self-Titled Angus & Julia Stone release on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music, I can say conclusively that there is no sonic difference between the two as the lossy Apple Music stream matches the lossless CD-quality streamed via TIDAL Hi-Fi. This is yet another example that validates that if the master is the same, there is little-to-no perceivable difference.

A Heartbreak sets the tone of the album and you'll clearly hear the distortion on this song just teetering into the red. It would have been nice to have the master reduced by a couple of decibels as the song is louder than the following tracks. Nevertheless, it's a great song to commence the album on.

My Word For It has a killer psychedelic sound signature that is simply addictive. Julia's smooth vocal is absolutely captivating on this song as she's right there in the room with you. A fantastic mix!

Grizzly Bear has an offbeat beginning, but once the musicality picks up, the rhythm will have you toe-tapping and head-bopping uncontrollably. An absolutely beautiful song!

Heart Beats Slow is a great song that I’d love to hear Stevie Nicks cover with Neil Finn.

Wherever You Are has a stunning acoustic introduction that builds progressively with a beat that will connect with your inner soul. While there are a number of vocal shifts throughout, that may deter some listeners, I feel it works extremely well given this song is largely stripped down from a production standpoint.

Get Home is lovely!

Death Defying Acts is moody and I love it! One of the best songs on the album and that is difficult to declare as the entire album is a masterpiece. If there were one criticism to be made, it would be the drum track is not as spacious as I would like in some sections. That said, it does work with the darker tone of the song.

Little Whiskey has a fantastically compelling beat, but it is very much a song that is on the alternative side of the siblings’ offerings. That may not appeal to all listeners, but I feel it flows perfectly with the surrounding tracks.

From The Stalls is a great song. May I suggest you sit in a relaxing chair, with your eyes closed, and allow the musicality to involuntarily take control of your muscles as you'll be toe-tapping and swaying in no time.

Other Things shouldn’t work musically, as it is a little left of the centre, yet it absolutely does.

Please You is such a mellow song. Beautiful!

Main Street is pure sonic gold and in many ways leaves me speechless. Therefore, I feel it is only right to suggest you experience it for yourself.

Crash And Burn, as Ian McFarlane rightly suggests in The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock And Pop, invokes a memory of the sonic signature often associated with Neil Young and Crazy Horse. That is, of course, a compliment. Crash And Burn is the perfect song to close the album on as it encourages me to listen to this Self-Titled release again and stay within Angus & Julia Stone's catalogue.

This Self-Titled album is a masterpiece. Nothing more really needs to be said other than it’s worth the hour to just sit and listen. I'm sure you won't regret it, I know I haven’t.

Angus & Julia Stone's Self-Titled album is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1kHz FLAC), and iTunes (Mastered for iTunes).

If you prefer streaming, Angus & Julia Stone's Self-Titled album is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi and Apple Music.

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Ed Sheeran – + (Album Review)

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Ed Sheeran – + (Album Review)

Nothing excites me more than an exceptional debut album. The debut has the capacity to make or break an artist and if done well, as in the case of Ed Sheeran's +, it becomes not only a benchmark for Sheeran's future works but a template for his contemporaries to aspire to.

The A Team was the first single from + and it’s simply superb. That guitar strum provides all the melody that is needed to back Sheeran's gorgeous vocal. The A Team, as well as the entire album, is well recorded, mixed, and mastered. Sensational!

Drunk is a great song, but what I enjoy most is hearing the rawness of Sheeran's vocal presentation. It sounds as if he’s singing directly into your ear, especially during the chorus. It's a special moment when the recording techniques and associated equipment get out of the way and allow the artist to connect directly with the listener. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it blows my mind and demands my attention, ensuring this song will be regularly placed on repeat.

U.N.I. is beautiful!

Grade 8 has a great beat, but the song is a little campy in places. Not bad, but nothing to write home about either.

Wake Me Up is an incredible composition. Simple, yet diverse. I love it!

Small Bump has a sensational rhythm. The entire song is off-the-charts and is one of the best songs on +.

This is yet another magnificent song.

The City is a B-side. Adequate, but less compelling than all previous songs. However, when listening in the album format, The City works well and the album wouldn't be the same without it.

Lego House is no B-side and one can understand why it was chosen as a single. That chorus is pure gold!

You Need Me, I Don't Need You has a great hook. Sheeran certainly has the chops to deliver fast-paced lyrics. Let’s hope he doesn't suffer from getting tongue twisted as Billy Joel has a handful of times when performing We Didn't Start The Fire.

Kiss Me is remarkably good. Such a smooth, yet layered vocal. No wonder Sheeran has had so much success. It is impossible not to be drawn into his music.

Give Me Love is a solid track to conclude the album with, but I tend to dislike hidden tracks as The Parting Class technically closes the album following 20 seconds of silence. I don't know about you, but I’d much prefer the hidden track to be listed and presented as a song on its own. I understand the appeal of hidden tracks, but as a fan of the album format, I find the extended silence between the final listed song and the hidden track to be infuriating. That said, The Parting Class is a nice addition to the album and it could be argued that it is an ideal closing to +. I’d likely agree with that sentiment if it were not for the aforementioned moments of silence and the inability to select and play The Parting Class unimpeded.

Overall, however, + is one of the greatest debut albums ever released. If you have an interest in Folk or Indie Pop music, you need to have this album in your collection. I can’t tell you the number of times I have picked up the vinyl release, only to put it back. I’ve honestly lost count. Regardless, next time I come across it, it will be an immediate purchase. It is simply that good!

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

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

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Stevie Jackson – (I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson [Album Review]

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Stevie Jackson – (I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson [Album Review]

Thanks to the modern era of streaming music, discovery is truly at our fingertips. As such, (I Can Get Me Some) Stevie Jackson, even though I have no idea who he is. Yes, thanks to the “always accurate” Wikipedia, I can see Jackson calls Scotland home and is a singer and guitarist for the Scottish indie band Belle & Sebastian. That's about it, but no-one has ever said that you need to be familiar with an artist to enjoy their creative output. As such, let’s get into the review of Stevie Jackson's first, and only solo album, (I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson.

Pure Of Heart has a gorgeous musical introduction, but Jackson's vocal presentation takes a little getting used to. That said, following repeat listens, it really grows on you and is very relaxing to listen to. The hook, throughout, reminds me fondly of another song, but I'm at a loss as to what it could be. It just sounds familiar. I’m thinking something from John Lennon's catalogue, but I just can't put my finger on it. Regardless, Pure Of Heart is a fantastic song to commence the album with.

Just, Just, So To The Point is a brilliant indie-pop tune. The rhythm is poetry in motion and Jackson's smooth, yet fast, vocals are exquisite. Without a doubt Just, Just, So To The Point is one of my favourite songs on the album.

Try Me shifts the album to a more indie-rock style with a touch of punk. There are sections of Try Me that remind me of Skyhooks. It’s a solid song, with an energised beat. 

Richie Now is a song that could have come straight out of the 50s or 60s. That is a positive viewpoint, by the way, and while Richie Now slows the album down again, it doesn't feel out of place. A beautiful song!

Dead Man's Fall is glorious and reminiscent of Julian Lennon's style on Photograph Smile. I could listen to Dead Man's Fall on repeat for hours. It’s a rather basic composition but is masterfully recorded.

Bird's Eye View reminds me of a lullaby from my childhood. Again, as with Pure Of Heart, I just can't place it. Nevertheless, it is a solid vocal-ballad that will appeal to those interested in that genre. The bicycle sound effects during the song work really well in transporting the listener directly into the song. I mention this as it feels as though these types of techniques are becoming a lost art form. It's good to see some artists are still intent on creating a work of audible art.

Man Of God is a song I haven't been able to get into. It's a B-side and despite fitting adequately into the style of the album, it is just a little too unstructured for my liking.

Kurosawa is addictive, once it gets going. Although, I must admit I dislike the intro.

Where Do All The Good Girls Go? has a definite Beatles’ groove. Not a bad thing as I love that style and this song is what I imagine The Beatles may have sounded like if they stayed together. A fantastic song that is modern yet belongs in another era. I love it!

Telephone Song is a lovely vocal-focused song that is recorded beautifully. Without a doubt, one of the best songs on the album.

Press Send is a rather campy love song. It's not bad, but it's definitely a B-side.

Feel The Morning is a thoroughly relaxing song and that duelling vocal is beautiful. When I hear music of this calibre, I just want to explore everything else the artist has done. However, this album was released in 2011 and there hasn't been a follow-up solo album yet. Such a shame!

If I Can't Help Myself is the perfect way to close the album. It's a beautiful song and compels me to listen to the album again.

(I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson is exceptional from start to finish and despite not connecting with a couple of songs, as a body of work, all songs work extraordinary well with each other.

The recording, mixing, and mastering is beyond reproach. The stream from TIDAL Hi-Fi is all anyone would ever need, but I’d love to get my hands on the vinyl release as it's not only worth owning, but it's worth supporting an artist that is this talented and brings so much joy to my life every time I listen to the album. Plus, I really like the artwork and would love to have it on a larger canvas.

(I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson is available on Vinyl, CD, the TIDAL Store (16/44.1 kHz FLAC), and iTunes.

If you prefer streaming, (I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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