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Sophia Pfister

Sophia Pfister – Birdcage (Album Review)

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Sophia Pfister – Birdcage (Album Review)

In 2016 I declared that the world needed a complete Sophia Pfister album as her Self-Titled EP was so captivating, due in part to Pfister's sultry vocals and the production quality, that I simply wanted more. During the last couple of years, I've seen sporadic updates of the recording process and in August, Pfister dropped her first full-length album, on vinyl first and then a later on digital stores and streaming services.

At the time of the album's release, I was busy moving home and subsequently delayed ordering the vinyl edition. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I’ve still yet to place my order, however, just as I did with Pfister's debut EP, I can review the streaming edition and compare the vinyl release at a later date. Pfister is actually the perfect artist to do this with as she is a proponent of the vinyl format and I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever see Birdcage on the various digital platforms. While I applaud her commitment to the vinyl format, especially considering she remains independent and these releases are completely self-funded, I feel it is far more important for independent artists to focus on attention, rather than the delivery method. With that in mind, I don’t feel streaming and other digital delivery methods challenge artistic intent, for the physical counterpart should always offer a value-added proposition to the music lover. It is also important to remember that no matter how much we champion the vinyl format, there will always be those amongst us who dislike or are not interested in the format and that is okay. Yes, one could argue that exclusivity towards formats should be viewed in the same manner as attending an art gallery, or concert venue, where the consumer needs to go where the artist feels their work is best represented. If I were reviewing Beyoncé’s exceptional Lemonade, and the associated initial exclusivity with TIDAL, I’d agree with my aforementioned statement, but with one caveat – Beyoncé is a household name and therefore can afford to lose the attention of the casual fans as her rabid fan base will follow her to whatever platform or venue she decides to release her music via. While I’ve no doubt Pfister can reach similar heights throughout her career, it takes time to develop an audience and that audience needs access to Pfister without restrictions at this stage in her career. 

Birdcage (Feat. White Buffalo Stands) offers a seamless transition from Pfister's Self-Titled EP. If you loved that release, as I did, you'll feel right at home as it’s a beautiful way to start the album. The backing indigenous-styled vocals towards the end of the song are beautiful and show a skilled layering of musicality that has evolved since Pfister's Self-Titled EP.

The Wheel is a rather complex composition, with a variety of musical elements and styles throughout. While on paper it shouldn't work, it absolutely does and it's one of those songs that offer the listener something unique upon each listen.

Drifting is a beautiful vocal-focused tune. It’s thoroughly relaxing and that Banjo element, that I claimed was too prominent on Pfister's song, Sugardaddy, I find is perfectly mixed here and is simply stunning. In fact, the entire soundstage and musical depth of Drifting is nothing short of spectacular. Yes, dear reader, this is sonically how good music should sound. Exceptional!

Loved By Strangers has a very familiar rhythm that picks up the pace of the album. The composition, again, is rather complex, but you feel as though you are encapsulated by musical elements as the soundstage is perfectly presented with incredible instrument separation. Another great tune!

Bad Decisions is the greatest song Pfister has written and recorded thus far. As I listen to this masterpiece, I’m reminded of Adele, on stage, singing Hello. Yes, it is that good and this song is stadium ready and a massive hit just waiting to be discovered.

Ride The Wave isn't a bad song, but I feel there are elements within that have been borrowed too heavily from Pfister's Self-Titled EP. Of course, following Bad Decisions was always going to be a challenging task. That said, if there is a B-side to be heard, it is Ride The Wave.

Separate Ways (Feat. Dave Alvin) is second only to Bad Decision. It’s bloody brilliant and an exceptional duet. I love it! If I had one criticism, it would be that the electric guitar tracking should have been a couple of decibels louder, especially towards the end of the song.

Living In The Grey is a thoroughly enjoyable closing track that ensures I'll listen to the album again and stay within Pfister's small, but growing, catalogue of music.

Birdcage is an absolutely stunning debut album and, by any standards, is world-class. When you compare it to some of the big name mainstream releases, you can only wonder how they have received recording contracts while Pfister remains independent. Of course, Pfister may decide to remain independent, but she has the musical talent to be one of the leading ladies in the music industry and while the industry is changing, record labels and solid management and promotional teams remain vital to achieving such heights, especially at the beginning of one’s career as a musician.

I can, without doubt, confirm that Birdcage is both sonically beautiful on Apple Music and TIDAL Hi-Fi. Yes, TIDAL's CD-quality stream offers a little more depth but the core performance is transparent, regardless of the delivery platform, meaning that the recording, mixing, and mastering is absolutely perfect. With that in mind, and knowing just how good Pfister’s debut vinyl EP sounded, I can't wait to get the vinyl release of Birdcage. Speaking of which, I better go and order myself a copy before they sellout.

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

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

Click here to read other Sophia Pfister reviews by Subjective Sounds.

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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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Sophia Pfister – Self-Titled EP (Tidal Hi-Fi Review)

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Sophia Pfister – Self-Titled EP (Tidal Hi-Fi Review)

Music lovers will appreciate that moment when you find, and add, an exceptional new artist to one’s collection. It is a rare event and is akin to finding a needle in a haystack. Well, I may have just found that needle, thanks to Michael Fremer’s Analog Planet post: Meet Sophia Pfister.

Pfister has one of the most remarkable female voices that I have ever had the privilege of hearing. Amazingly, this EP is her first release and to find such control from a debut, especially from an unsigned artist, is quite a rare occurrence.

I have been listening to the 5-song EP on TIDAL Hi-Fi, over the last couple of weeks, and it has rarely been turned off. I have been so impressed that I intend order the vinyl release that is limited to 200 copies, with only 60 left at the time of writing this review. Memo to self: Order this EP, NOW!

Linked directly from Analog Planet's YouTube channel.

As a singer/songwriter/musician, Pfister is incredibly talented and part of the appeal is in the simplicity of her music. That isn’t to suggest that it isn’t evolved, in-fact it is incredibly deep and complex, but what I find makes the best groove, jazz, folk, and country-styled recordings is keeping the musicality at the forefront of the experience, in which this recording certainly does. For instance, you will sway elegantly with Faded Tatto and tap your foot along with Los Angeles. It is truly difficult to sit still when listening to this EP. I have found that it is a perfect album to listen to on my daily walk. This EP is also mastered beautifully and is not taxing to the listener. It sounds perfect on my main setup and with headphones. Bottom line: I just want more. Seriously, Sophia, the world needs a complete album. However, for now, we need to be satisfied with the EP.

Let’s take a look at the songs:

Los Angeles starts off with a moody beat that I simply adore, before Pfister’s incredibly smooth, yet gritty, vocal kicks in. The song is presented in a spoken-word style that reminds me of Johnny Cash or Lou Reed, but naturally smoother. This style really works for Pfister’s vocals and is a reoccurring style throughout the EP. I can honestly listen to this song on repeat, without tiring of it.

Snakes has a lovely jazzy feel and the inclusion of the wind instruments throughout is perfect. Sonically this song is quite busy, but there is nothing I would remove. While regular readers know that I don’t listen to music specifically from the aspect of song meaning, I’m glad to see that Pfister’s vocals are prominent throughout, except on the track Sugardaddy.

New Mexico takes a slight pop/country shift and shows that Pfister can handle a number of different genres with ease. The chorus in this song is slow toe tapping and head bopping bliss. 

Sugardaddy is probably the only song that I’m not smitten over. I have a love/hate relationship with the banjo. To me, the instrument is a little too jarring and while it doesn’t destroy this song, a levelling down of the banjo tracking, especially during the chorus, would have made it more appealing as I feel Pfister’s vocals and other background instruments are simply overpowered by the banjo.

Voice and Lyrics by Sophia Pfister. Guitar by Mark Fontana. Shot by Joseph Pfister. Recorded by Tom Weir. www.sophiapfister.com

Faded Tatto is harmoniously gorgeous. I love the background instrumental aspects. Subtle, but sonically appealing. It is a perfect song to end the EP on.

This self-titled EP is incredibly soothing and while much of that is to do with Pfister’s beautiful tones, her talent as a musician and song writer cannot be overlooked. Let’s hope we see a full album release in the not too distant future.

Sophia Pfister’s self-titled EP is available for purchase on vinyl and iTunes. It is also available for streaming on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

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