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Rick Price - Heaven Knows (Album Review)

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Rick Price - Heaven Knows (Album Review)

When I think of the very best that the Australian music industry has to offer, Rick Price and his debut album are always at the top of my list. While it has been close to 25 years since I was first exposed to this exceptional album, I can say with complete honesty that it feels as fresh as the day it was released.

If you’re not overly familiar with Price's work, think John Farnham’s rock style and you will have a fair idea of what to expect. That said, Price is no imitation artist and it astonishes me that he didn’t have longer lasting success.

Thankfully, streaming services allow us to not only revisit our past music interests, but it also allows us to share them. As such, it pleases me that my son adores this album, so much so that he asked if he can get the CD. Unfortunately, Heaven Knows has been out of print for a number of years. Fortunately, The Essential Rick Price does contain the best songs from this album, hence, I will get my son for his upcoming birthday. Until then, Heaven Knows is getting played extensively on TIDAL Hi-Fi in our household.

Disappointingly, Heaven Knows is one album I can't simply pass on to my son, despite once owning the double CD edition that featured some amazing rarities. Unfortunately, that edition is not available for streaming and I stupidly sold the CD after digitising it in the new and "revolutionary" MP3 format. To use the Australian vernacular, I was a bloody idiot!

I can beat myself up for making ill-informed decisions, but a lesson can also be learnt from my mistakes. Buy and forever appreciate physical music as digital delivery options are forever changing and sometimes returning to the music that defined you is more complex than merely going to your own record collection.

Speaking for a moment about The Essential Rick Price, I'm pleased to mention that when I stream it on TIDAL Hi-Fi, the mastering is a significant improvement in soundstage and low-end sonics when compared directly against Heaven Knows. I mention this because I always felt the album lacked power and drive, even on the original CD release. Of course, I would love Sony/BMG music to re-issue Heaven Knows with a new mastering, but I fear the demand is just not there to justify this move, despite the album being awarded double platinum status in Australia.

Anyway, enough of my incessant ramblings let’s take a look at the songs that make up Heaven Knows.

What's Wrong With That Girl? is a sensational opening track with a rock-infused/pop-style that can be heard throughout the entire album. It has an addictive rhythm, beautiful guitar work, and Price's vocal will grab you from the first note.

Not A Day Goes By slows the album down to a rock ballad pace and as much as I adore this song, I have always felt the chorus to be too grating in the sonic highs of the song. That isn't to say the song is bad, just that I would have liked the chorus to be sung in a lower register. No doubt a delicate remastering could solve this problem.

A House Divided has an excellent rock-based overture. It suits the album and Price's style. My son absolutely loves this song, but it hasn’t always been my favourite song on the album. However, as I have matured over the past decades, I have grown quite fond of A House Divided.

Walk Away Renee is a fantastic cover of The Left Banke's original 1966 edition. Covers can be hit or miss, but Price's edition is a remarkable improvement over the original and is, in my opinion, the only version worth listening to.

Heaven Knows is simply magnificent and shows just how exceptionally talented Rick Price is as a vocalist.

Church On Fire is the first track on the album that doesn't immediately excite me. However, it becomes more palatable as the song builds towards the chorus. That said, it is still a B-side. Although, I really can't be disappointed by this as Heaven Knows plays like a greatest hits album with one exceptional recording after another.

Life Without You is an enjoyable song that fits perfectly with the tracking and overall style of the album. It has a country/folk/pop style to it that I appreciate.

Foolin’ Myself has a killer guitar intro but fails to compel me. It actually reminds me, style-wise, of another song I have heard over the years, yet I can't put my finger on which song that could be. Perhaps it is a combination of styles that is causing this temporal confusion. Regardless, it is a solid B-side, I just wouldn't play it outside of the album format.

Forever Me And You is exceptional!

Fragile closes out the album beautifully and certainly encourages me to listen to the album again or stay within Price's catalogue.

Overall, Heaven Knows is one of the greatest albums ever released in Australia. It further validates that Australia has much more to offer international music lovers than AC/DC and Kylie Minogue. While these two artists are exceptional in their own right, they are but a minuscule element of the Australian music scene and thanks to Ian McFarlane’s incredibly extensive Encyclopedia Of Australian Rock And Pop, I can make that claim with absolute assurance.

This review was based on listening to the CD-quality edition of the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi. While I still believe a remastering would be appropriate, it is tonality identical to the mastering I recall from the original CD release.

Heaven Knows is also available for purchase on the TIDAL Store and iTunes. For those of you who prefer streaming, it is also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Shy Girls – Salt (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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Shy Girls – Salt (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

We all know what alternative rock and roll is, but alternative pop and R&B is somewhat new territory; at least to me, it is. Leading me through this new found musical landscape is Shy Girls. Shy Girls is the performance vehicle for the solo works of Dan Vidmar, but there is nothing shy about the music employed on the Salt album. It is bold, daring, and doesn’t conform to traditional styles of music.

The album artwork is exceptional and while this is obviously a TIDAL Hi-Fi review, I have to say that this is still the reason to collect vinyl; although my iPad Pro does showcase the artwork nicely. That said, I can’t help but wonder why liner notes in the digital age seem to be more complicated to reproduce than their physical counterparts.

Intro is a sonic overture full of vocal improvisations. It reminds me of the vocal techniques used by Daniel Johns on his exceptional album Talk. It is a lovely way to start the album and a perfect introduction for You Like The Pain Too, whereby this vocal interlude continues as part of the overall harmony. In places, You Like The Pain Too feels as though there is some jazz inspiration that has been uniquely mixed with a hip-hop style sound. It is different, but truly captivating with an incredibly immersive soundstage.

Watercolor Dreams has a killer introduction with tones so low that they sound like they are coming from underwater. It instantly reminds me of the sound found on …And Then Shoot Your Cousin, by The Roots. The subsonic presentation alone will test the bass response of your audio gear, but thanks to the clarity of TIDAL Hi-Fi and the accuracy of the Oppo HA-2, the Bose Lifestyle 235 Series II system can perform at its very best. There is no unintended distortion present in this exceptional song. It is a pure joy to listen to and you will feel this track resonate with your soul. I’m a true believer of feeling music, as well as hearing it, as it brings you closer to the music.

Trivial Motion permits the body to sway and tap to the incredible bass beat. The one amazing thing about this song, and most of the songs on this album, is that the bass beats are not overused to whereby they drown out other aspects of the music. Actually, while I don’t have exact dynamic range figures to quote, this recording would have to be a 10+ out of 20. It is just so atmospheric that I am blown away. The vocals are clear and well defined and never demoted to being just another instrument in the soundstage.

Why I Love also has a gorgeous beat and it is clear that Shy Girls isn’t just a thrown together album. This is true talent and Vidmar has a real understanding of music composition both from a listener standpoint and technical execution. Plus, if I haven’t mentioned it already, he has an exceptionally smooth high-toned vocal. You will close your eyes, sway to the harmonics, and sing the chorus ‘that’s why I love’ with as much vigour as Vidmar. The grungy acoustic guitar that closes out the song creates a perfect closing point.

Say You Will is exceptional. The vocal presentation is incredible, as is the beat that despite vibrating your teeth, never distorts. It is impressive to see such professionalism and refrain shown in this song. Songs like this can be a disaster as they can be taken too far. This is not the case with Say You Will. If you like Ed Sheeran, you’re going to love this song.

What If I Can is a song that I haven’t truly connected with it. The vocal and beat feel disjointed to me. My mind is unsure of which aspect of the composition to primarily listen to as both elements are fighting to be heard. I do, however, enjoy the horn-styled instrumental ending of the song.

Time (Hell Won’t Wait For Us) is exceptional!

I Am Only A Man is a good song, but I feel the vocal tracking lets this song down. The vocal is somewhat lost in the mix and I’d love to see it further forward in the soundstage. The musical elements are very enjoyable, but this is definitely a B-side in my opinion.

Collecting is quite different to the rest of the album. The bass beat is removed to make way for a vocal and piano based performance. To be completely honest, I’m unsure of how I feel about this song. It does encourage me to listen to the album again, but I just don’t feel a strong association to this song.

Salt is an amazing album that will appeal to many music lovers of various genres. There is something here for everyone. It is immersive, unique, and will push your equipment beyond their limits. You will honestly sit in pure wonderment as you ponder how Shy Girls was able to compose such an incredible soundstage throughout the entire album.

The TIDAL Hi-Fi stream is flawless and while it is all you would ever need, I strongly encourage you to seek out the vinyl release; I know I will be.

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Ryan Hurd – An Introduction To A New Country Music Star (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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Ryan Hurd – An Introduction To A New Country Music Star (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

Country Music and I have a love/hate relationship. I truly enjoy the genre, but I find that there is a lot of country music that I just can’t relate to, therefore I don’t listen to the genre as often as I would like. That said, I can listen to Achy Breaky Heart anytime and I sincerely encourage you all to take a listen to Some Gave All as the debut album from Billy Ray Cyrus is extremely good. I feel the music we are hearing from Ryan Hurd is as revolutionary as that which Cyrus introduced in the early 90s. Hurd obviously has a different sound and technique, but he is revolutionising what country music is by combining more recording and production elements from the breadth of country, rock, and pop music. I don’t necessarily want to say that Hurd is making accessible country music, but his musical style will certainly appeal to a mainstream audience.

While Hurd’s debut album has yet to be released, he has released four incredible singles that I have been playing continuously. If these songs are any indication of the quality we can expect on the album, then I have no doubt that Ryan Hurd will be the next great country music star. After all, he has already penned music for Jake Owen, Tim McGraw, and many others including a No.1 hit duet, Lonely Tonight, recorded by Blake Shelton and Ashley Monroe.

Hold You Back has a hypnotic beat that is immediately addictive. It is easy to sing-a-long to as your body sways uncontrollably from side to side. However, the most compelling aspect is the forward presentation of Hurd’s vocal track. Actually, his vocal is prominent in all the songs currently released, ensuring it doesn’t get lost in the instrumental accompaniment. While this technique is common in country music, I feel that modern recording techniques have lessened vocal presentation due to their overly compressed nature. That all said, I absolutely adore the electric guitar solo in this song. It blends in perfectly and isn’t too long. 

City Girl is country music intertwined with soft rock and pop. It is exceptional! I particularly enjoy the variances in vocal pace throughout the song. I could honestly listen to Hurd’s vocal performance all day; he is an exceptional vocalist. 

Love In A Bar is an atmospheric song that gradually introduces musical elements as the song progresses. Personally, I love music that starts simply and becomes more involved as it takes the listener on a sonic journey. A gorgeous guitar solo makes another appearance in this song and is similarly well restrained. 

We Do Us is really upbeat and while unmistakably country, it is pop-driven country music that will appeal to a larger audience. We Do Us is, in my opinion, the weakest of the first four singles that Hurd has released, specifically in highlighting the musical talents of his vocal performance. That said, his vocal presentation is perfect for this style of song.

Ryan Hurd is an exceptionally talented country music performer that is also capable of diversification. I can’t wait to hear his debut album. Until then, I will have to be content with the four singles, and three music videos, provided by TIDAL Hi-Fi. The soundstage of these performances is wide and welcoming, with little to no dynamic range compression. The sound is most certainly country, but limiting it to this genre would be a mistake as Hurd offers a style of music that would be perfect at any country music festival, as well as any big city stadium.

Seriously, add Ryan Hurd to your music library. You won’t regret it!

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The xx – I See You (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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The xx – I See You (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

An interesting dichotomy occurs when we listen to music. The more we listen, the more we find that we like, or dislike, a particular song or album. Yet, this contrast is unexplainable as there is no guarantee which emotion we will feel. Yes, there are many who wish that Celine Dion’s songs will simply cease going on and on, and some who want to miss everything Aerosmith sings about. Then there is The xx, a band that I had completely ignored until their latest release. Initially, as I sampled the tracks from I See You, I was unsure if I even wanted to listen to the album. I felt as thought there was something missing, but I remained intrigued and kept sampling the tracks to try and figure out what it was.

This previous weekend as our family set off on a road trip, I decided to download I See You in TIDAL Hi-Fi’s offline mode. For those interested, the two other albums I downloaded for the drive were Sepultura’s Machine Messiah and the classical album Cantillation Allegra: Miserere. Yes, dear reader, my music interests are vast and I have no issue whatsoever in changing between these two styles of music. That said, my significant other rolled her eyes elegantly as I made the change. Nevertheless, the time had come for The xx’s I See You to take a virtual spin.

One would think that a 2016-model motor vehicle would have a respectable stereo system, but I am constantly let down by the unit’s internal DAC, so I devised an experiment to see if I could get a better, more accurate, sound reproduction from the stock stereo. Using Oppo’s remarkable HA-2 DAC, I ran the signal directly from my iPhone, via the lighting to USB adapter into the DAC. Then I ran a 3.5mm to 3.5mm stereo cable from the HA-2’s Line Output to the Line Input on the car stereo. This process bypasses the car stereo’s inferior DAC and merely requires the car stereo to handle the amplification process; a task it can handle admirably.

Listening to an album in this manner may never be a perfect way to audition and review and music, but the fact remains that through this technique the sound emanating from the car stereo was simply gorgeous. Of course, it was nowhere near the quality I experience with my main stereo system, but it was a significant upgrade to the car’s previous sonic offerings. Even my better half couldn’t believe the stark contrast in quality by simply adding the Oppo HA-2. It is true to say that every element in the audio reproduction chain is important and you should always start with the best source possible and proceed from there.

On that note, I feel it is essential to illustrate that this isn’t merely a one-off occurrence. A number of years ago, my significant other and children gifted me the Bose AE2 headphones. To be completely frank, I couldn’t stand them. They are the most comfortable headphones I have ever had the pleasure of wearing, but their sound was thin and shrill when connected to every single piece of audio-based technology I owned. When I got the Oppo HA-2, I decided to give the AE2 headphones another try and I’m not joking when I say the HA-2 breathed new life into those Bose headphones. It was proof that the DAC/Amplifier element in the process is essential to getting the very best from speakers, headphones, and digital music. Hence, TIDAL Hi-Fi + Oppo HA-2 = Beautiful Sound Reproduction even with modest headphones and audio equipment. I’m sure many of you are saying that the Bose AE2 is now the weakest link in my headphone setup and while I agree, they do tick off the all important Wife Acceptance Factor. The bottom line is that I can listen to this combination for hours without suffering any physical or mental fatigue and the sound is absolutely non-offensive and engaging.

Getting back to listening to music in the car and I couldn’t help but ponder if other albums that I had dismissed in certain surroundings, wouldn’t have appealed more to me in different situations. Yes, another crazy thought from the guy that believes metal and classical music can happily co-exist. The interesting aspect, however, is the human element. There is simply no way to predict the emotion created by the situation and the associated music at a given point in time. It is, therefore, another instance of a dichotomy that one may experience when exploring new music. Even music we know and love can sound different as time passes and our interests change. I notice this occurring more frequently as I age. While there has been plenty written on the subject, the best book I have read thus far is John Powell’s Why We Love Music. It is to the point, not overly complex or presumptuous, and insightful.

Regardless, I See You just felt right in the car and a grin formed from ear to ear that didn’t erode until it was time to exit the vehicle. It was this experience alone that ensured I became a fan of The xx. I’m even tempted to buy the vinyl release, the album is that good, but the real lesson in my never ending ramblings is that there is no perfect way to listen and appreciate music. It is subjective and if it induces an emotional response, then the music and the hardware available to you has done its job.

The album artwork is simplistic but iconic and as I looked through The xx’s catalogue of releases I couldn’t help but see the consistency of the X symbol. While some may complain about the artwork being too similar, the similarity does assist in branding and allowing oneself to be immediately identifiable. To this day I still think of Prince as a symbol. I used to find it humorous to see where music stores would try and place his albums after he undertook the transition and I can’t help but wonder how one would search for his symbol in the modern Internet era.

That makes me wonder, can you search Google for a symbol?

Anyway, that isn’t important and as always I digress, let’s get back to the review in question.

I also appreciate the difference in artwork between the digitally purchased/streaming releases and the Vinyl/CD releases. It gives me, as a collector, another reason to seriously consider adding the physical release of the album to my collection.

Dangerous sets the tone of the album and the horn introduction is pure perfection. The bass beat throughout, while predictable, is pleasing to the ears with more than enough depth to encapsulate you in the middle of the soundstage. It isn’t my favourite song on the album, but I do enjoy it.

Say Something Loving has a really unique vocal introduction that I’m unsure of. However, it is strangely well suited to the track and as the song progresses the vocal tonality and variance in the beat is superb. It is an exceptional song, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that it could be more dynamic as the soundstage feels a little too restrictive and fails to completely absorb the listener in the music.

Lips begins with a glorious vocal interlude that reminds me why I consider vocals to be more aligned to an instrument, than a literal storytelling aspect of music. Lips is possibly my favourite song on the album, but there are so many wonderful tracks. It has a perfect harmonic presentation and is thoroughly engaging. If you only listen to one song from this album, make it this one!

A Violent Noise slowly builds a sonic masterpiece from elements that are continually added as the song progresses. It pulls you in and captures your soul. It is spectacular!

Performance is a lovely ballad-styled song that presents Croft’s vocals so clearly and forward in the soundstage that one would believe she is present in the room with you. It is a performance that has to be heard to be believed.

Replica follows the ballad pace of Performance beautifully and is equally compelling. While I love my physical library of music, the lure of TIDAL Hi-Fi can be seen in the ability to be exposed to so many great musical talents, such as that of The xx. For all of life’s worries, music lovers certainly live in exciting times.

Brave For You is perfectly tracked and isn’t merely there to provide filler for the album as it, along with the previous two songs, is amongst some of the best compositions on the album. The bass track throughout this song has an incredible timbre that simply amazes me every time I hear it.

I simply love On Hold.

I Dare You has a fantastic beat and is a perfect song for any road trip.

Test Me is a lovely song to end the album on. While not as upbeat as the rest of the album, it does encourage me to listen to the album again and stay within The xx catalogue.

It is important to note that the above opinions were a culmination of my experience with both the Oppo HA-2 via the car stereo and the Oppo BDP-103’s analogue stage via my home stereo. While both platforms utilise different DAC’s, the house sound of Oppo is somewhat similar and therefore the differences between the experiences are minimal.

Both playback methods presented a nicely balanced soundstage that was immersive. There are a number of elemental aspects to the entire album that I truly appreciate and they became even more apparent in my higher resolving main stereo setup. I found the low end of the album to be on the precipice of distortion but it never went so far as to drown out other musical elements.

While the average dynamic range of the digital releases, including the Audiophile 96kHz/24bit HDTracks edition, was 6 out of 20, the vinyl release is reported to raise that average to a 9. It is disappointing that the loudness wars once again plague modern recordings, but as I was listening to the album, I did not feel it was compressed as badly as these numbers may suggest. While I would welcome an increased dynamic range, I feel it is important to also consider that certain musical styles and sound signatures are well suited to lower dynamic ranges. After all, this is not a symphonic release. That said, it is disappointing the HDTracks has an edition that is inferior in dynamic range to the vinyl release, especially when the marketing team are content with declaring it as being an audiophile release. In light of this, is there any reason in wondering why the average consumer classes high-resolution audio as snake oil? I guess that is why I find TIDAL Hi-Fi to be the happy medium as albums are presented in CD-quality with many thousands being released as TIDAL Masters (I See You is not one of them), thereby competing directly against HDTracks, but included in the price of TIDAL’s Hi-Fi monthly subscription.

Despite all of this, I found the sound presentation to be exceptionally engaging. The xx have released a sonic masterpiece and I’m certainly looking forward to listening to the rest of their catalogue and all future releases.

I See You is also available on Vinyl, CD, and in 16/44 FLAC at the TIDAL Store.

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The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

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The Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody (TIDAL Hi-Fi Review)

Experimental rock can be hit or miss and when I noticed The Flaming Lips had just released a new album, I was sceptical as I absolutely detested their album The Flaming Lips and Stardeath and White Dwarfs With Henry Rollins And Peaches Doing The Dark Side Of The Moon. At the time I swore that I would never listen to another Flaming Lips album again, but a second chance should be given to all.

Interestingly, as I began listening to Oczy Mlody, I started to question my previous thoughts and decided to revisit the before-mentioned album. Perhaps I was too harsh in my initial opinion.

Nope. I still detest it!

Take a listen to the horrid version of Pink Floyd’s Money and you will see what I mean. While I understand the reimagining concept behind the recording, I don’t feel it was executed well. That said, I’m sure there are plenty of people who consider it to be an amazing interpretation. Thankfully, we are all welcome to our subjective opinions.

The album artwork of Oczy Mlody is clearly psychedelic in intention with a contrasting colour scheme that you can’t help but look at. I’m sure it would look striking on vinyl, but is it worthy of adding to my vinyl collection and TIDAL Hi-Fi music library?

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Oczy Mlody is just an odd title for both the song and album. Nevertheless, it is an instrumental only tune that sets the mood for the entire album. It is atmospheric with a soundstage that appears larger than it really is. It tricks the ears as your mind ebb and flows through the soundscape. It is uplifting while being simultaneously sombre. I love it!

How?? starts off beautifully smooth, but while I am a proponent of profanity in music when it is of artistic benefit, I find the first instance of profanity to be disjointed to the overall musicality of the song. Other than that, I would class the song as a vocal and atmospheric masterpiece. The low-bass distortion is particular pleasing as it doesn’t detract, but adds to the depth of the song.

There Should Be Unicorns steps up the tempo but retains that gorgeous atmospheric sound. I’m literally held captive by the music, in that special place where we should all be when we are thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Sunrise (Eyes Of The Young) is perhaps the most experimental track on the album. It shifts direction within the song itself and will appeal to music lovers who appreciate not only musical experimentation but the extreme edges offered by alternative recordings. That said, The Flaming Lips sound signature is still present. While it isn’t a favourite track of mine, it will likely grow on me after a series of listens.

Night Nie (Never No) pans the music from the left and right stereo channels perfectly. You literally follow the sound around the soundstage as you become immersed in the virtual reality that the artist has created. I love it, but there are a few audible shocks along the way that prevent you from getting too relaxed.

Galaxy I Sink is cold and isolated from a subjective perspective. It is distant and somewhat haunting. While I feel the idea is superb, I just don’t like the lyrical approach and I feel the lyrics become distracting in an otherwise excellent composition. To be honest, the musicality of The Flaming Lips is so strong that vocals are not needed. While I understand this isn’t the approach they are aiming for, it would be fantastic to have just an instrumental only edition of the album as I feel there are two distinct ways this album could be appreciated.

One Night While Hunting For Faeries And Witches And Wizards To Kill certainly presents a soundstage that is relatable to the song title. The beat, however, is somewhat predictable and the vocal elements again are a slight distraction. It is as though the two elements are simply not co-existing cohesively. Of course, one needs to remember that in the spirit of experimental rock, this style of vocal delivery is perfectly acceptable.

Do Glowy seamlessly continues from the previous track but varies the beat and vocal delivery. The vocals in this instance are purposely auto-tuned a little too far, but it works perfectly with the song and I feel that the vocals are once again in sync with the instrumental elements.

Listening To The Frogs With Demon Eyes is not as demonic as one would like and I feel that the soundstage is a little too shallow, compared to the rest of the album, especially in the initial elements of the song. It does open up a couple of minutes into the track, but at over 7 minutes in length, there are a number of changes that will either appeal or become distracting to the listener. It is an interesting song as I neither like or dislike it. It merely exists. However, post 5 minutes in duration, the song changes character and I truly appreciate the immersive soundstage.

The Castle picks up the beat and while I enjoy the song, I find that the beat is a little too distorted in the low end. I’d say this has been done purposefully as it is consistent throughout the song. I thoroughly enjoy the track, but when I have to turn the Bass+ feature off on my Oppo HA-2, and the distortion is still present, then I question if that level of distortion was truly needed and what purpose it ultimately serves.

Almost Home (Blisko Domu) is a sonically beautiful song that I truly adore. I could listen to it for hours on repeat.

We A Family continues with the smoothness of Almost Home (Blisko Domu), but shifts focus somewhat. It isn’t a bad song, but it isn’t one of my favourite on the album. That said, it does encourage me to listen to the album again.

While I have openly disliked a previous recording by The Flaming Lips, I’m overjoyed that I gave them a second chance and accept that I don’t need to like every album in an artist’s catalogue to be a fan of their work. It merely means that I will be selective regarding the albums I include in my TIDAL Hi-Fi music library. Similarly, I’m still not sure if Oczy Mlody is worthy of inclusion in my vinyl collection, but I have a feeling that it will grow on me exponentially as I listen to it over the coming weeks and months.

Oczy Mlody is also available on Vinyl, CD, and in 16/44 FLAC at the TIDAL Store.

The album is also available on HDTracks in audiophile 24/96 FLAC, however, that edition is reported to have an average dynamic range of 4 out of 20. While I haven’t heard that edition as it is not available in Australia due to region restrictions, I wouldn’t describe the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition as being dynamically compromised. That said, there are areas where increased dynamic range could have changed and probably improved the tonality of the album, but as this comes under the banner of experimental rock, could we say that the lower dynamic range is done intentionally?

Regardless, I am completely satisfied with the musicality of the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition, but reports of such a low dynamic range cannot be ignored.

I did do a quick comparison of the album on Spotify Premium and while it is very similar to the TIDAL Hi-Fi release, it does sound more boxed in and subsequently more compressed. However, that could simply be due to the variance in codecs and the fact that the Spotify Premium stream is a lossy presentation in comparison to TIDAL’s CD-quality FLAC stream.

Interestingly, there are two identical editions of the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi, versus only one on Spotify. As The Flaming Lips are distributed by Warner Bros. Records, I can’t help but wonder if one of the editions will be assigned to the TIDAL Masters (MQA) program. Although, neither album would play as a TIDAL Master. If this changes, I will update this review, in the comments, with any information I feel would be relevant. 

How about you? What has been your experience? Do you feel Oczy Mlody is sonically compromised? Your subjective thoughts are always welcome!

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Sepultura – Machine Messiah (Tidal Hi-Fi Review)

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Sepultura – Machine Messiah (Tidal Hi-Fi Review)

Music discovery is like love, it’s a wonderful thing!

Hold on a second there Mark, are you really quoting Michael Bolton in a Sepultura review?

Well, dear readers, I had to come up with something as the truth of the matter is I know next to nothing about Sepultura. Sure, I’ve heard of the band. Even listened to the odd song when it has been playing somewhere, but the band has never made it into my collection. As Machine Messiah is their fourteenth album, I thought I better sit up and take notice. Plus, that artwork is extraordinary. While I’m obviously pro-TIDAL Hi-Fi, artwork like this is one of the reasons why I still enjoy collecting vinyl.

So, will this album have what it takes to ensure I become a Sepultura fan?

If the album, and band, can be represented by the lead song and album title Machine Messiah, then I can say unequivocally yes.

Machine Messiah is a sonic wonderland with a slow burn towards each chorus. I love it! The guitar work is exquisite and the first thing I notice is that the recording and mastering are not overly compressed. There is plenty of depth in the soundstage and everything is in its place. That said, the CD is said to have an average dynamic range of 6 out of 20. While I don’t have the CD to compare, that number doesn’t seem accurate as the release on TIDAL Hi-Fi is exceptional and would put many other heavy metal albums to shame.

 I Am The Enemy is pure thrash metal. It is hard hitting and doesn’t let up. While I miss the more melodic Machine Messiah, I am thoroughly enjoying the energy of this track. It takes a very special vocalist to sing like this and Derrick Green has a massive amount of talent that I would liken to Corey Taylor’s vocal range and shifting capabilities.

Phantom Self continues to damage my hearing as I can’t help but turn up the volume. Is it worth it? Ask me when I get to 70! I like to feel the music, not just hear it. While I may regret that later on, songs like Phantom Self reach the soul in a way that is simply not possible without excessive volume levels. The oriental tunes throughout this song initially sound a little disjointed but make perfect sense when you hear the epic duel that takes place during the guitar solo.

Alethea thankfully slows the pace to allow the soul to recover from the onslaught that was Phantom Self. That said, while I enjoy the tempo of the instrumental backing, I find that the vocals don’t fit the song well. To me, it sounds as though the vocal track has been unnaturally slowed down.

Iceberg Dances is a purely instrumental track and I love it!

Sworn Oath made the hair on the back of my neck stand up when it started. In an interesting dichotomy, it has a demonic sound, yet not an evil sound. I can’t put my finger on the contrasting factor, but Sworn Oath is thoroughly enjoyable and the vocal delivery is masterful. Actually, one element that I feel is important to note, on the entire album, is how clear the screaming vocals are. With this style of music, vocals can often become incomprehensible, but this certainly isn’t the case with this album.

Resistant Parasites has some killer bass notes. I love the sound of the bass guitar and while I know that everyone wants the guitar solo, I also love it when the bass guitar is featured prominently in a recording. The overall rhythm of this song has me moving uncontrollably.

Silent Violence isn’t a bad song, but I’m not locking in with the beat as much as I would like. It is causing me to listen, rather than become enveloped in the music.

Vandals Nest has a killer guitar intro that immediately reminds me of Metallica’s thrash days. There is so much going on in this song that you simply don’t have an opportunity to rest. Believe it, or not, this is a good thing!

Cyber God is an interesting song as it reminds me of Avenged Sevenfold, yet it is completely unique. The guitar work and drum beat are simply exquisite and world-class. Green’s vocal style is also amazing as he shifts tone and pitch seamlessly throughout the song.

Chosen Skin is a skull shattering song that has a rhythm and attitude that invokes movement in the listener. When I listen to a song like this, I am continually amazed at how music is captured and distributed. It is pure magic and while I know the fundamentals of how it is done, it never ceases to impress me.

Ultraseven No Uta is a song that should have definitely not been included on the album. That said, this is a bonus track that, along with Chosen Skin, is not included on all formats. Ultraseven No Uta is awful and sounds like a pop song with rock and roll distortion added. What was Sepultura thinking?

While Ultraseven No Uta doesn’t encourage me to listen to the album again or stay within the Sepultura catalogue, it doesn’t destroy the sonic perfection and musicality of Machine Messiah.

As regular readers would know, I don’t listen to music for the literal interpretation of lyrical meaning. Thankfully, Sepultura discuss the meaning behind the songs, in the following videos, for us all to enjoy.

Without a doubt, this is one of the best metal albums I have heard in recent years and it will be a welcome additional to my TIDAL Hi-Fi music collection. Most likely I’ll aim to pick up a vinyl release at some stage in the near future, but I’m not sure which one as there are a few versions including an incredible picture disc version.

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Yes, I’m still jaded by Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son picture disc, and I acknowledge the limitations of the picture disc format, but I also have a number of picture discs that play extremely well. The problem is knowing if Machine Messiah will be one of them.

Overall, the edition that is available on TIDAL Hi-Fi is nothing short of an unforgettable sonic experience. While I also have a Spotify Premium subscription, when music sounds this good, I wonder why I bother with other streaming services. As John Darko intimated, TIDAL Hi-Fi really is a CD-store in your home.

Sepultura’s Machine Messiah is also available on Vinyl, CD, and 16/44 FLAC at the TIDAL Store.

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Big Star - #1 Record (Vinyl Review)

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Big Star - #1 Record (Vinyl Review)

While the #1 record position remained elusive for Big Star, time would end up being kind to this iconic 70s band as their #1 Record remains relevant over four decades later and has finally achieved the success that it should have at the time of release.

Big Star’s music sounds familiar, likely as a result of combined sound elements from numerous late 60s influences, but their sound signature is unique. While Big Star’s music can be seen as having influenced the alternative music scene, I also can’t help but see a correlation between their musicality and the often criticised, but secretly loved, ballad recordings by most of the 80s hair metal bands. I feel The Ballad Of El Goodo is a good example of this and while clearly inspired by those who came before, Big Star would take rock and pop and subsequently merge the two into the power pop subgenre.

While I have always adored power pop and the ballad-esk sound, the first time I recall noticing Big Star was when I was crate digging at a local record store a few years ago. The #1 Record cover is hard to miss and while rather nondescript, it is compelling. At the time I wasn’t confident enough to blind-buy the record, but I did sample the album on iTunes. This process was how I decided if I wanted to take a gamble on new music at the time. It was a poor man’s approach to music discovery, but it was essential at the time. Thankfully, TIDAL Hi-Fi has since assumed that role. The problem with the iTunes sample method was the best bits, such as the killer guitar solo in When My Baby’s Beside Me, began after the 90-second sample has elapsed. Hence, it was difficult to fully evaluate the song or an album. That said, it was significantly more helpful than the 30 seconds iTunes began with when the iTunes Store opened in 2003. Regardless, I had heard enough and knew that I had to have this #1 Record.

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The vinyl reissue that I own was pressed in 2009, just as the vinyl revival was starting to gain significant momentum. Sonically, the vinyl is silent and presents a very pleasing tonality and soundstage. That said, there is a little sibilance on side two, during the final couple of tracks, most likely due to the slightly off-centre pressing. It isn’t detrimental, just noticeable.

Overall the sound signature of the vinyl reissue is pleasing and while I would love to be able to let you know which master was used, the information on the sleeve is sparse and doesn’t even include production credits. Although, the cover-art design team were thankfully acknowledged.

As with many classic albums, the reason mastering is important is that to reissue an album, many record labels believe that the audio must be remastered. As a result of this mentality, #1 Record was remastered in 2009 and that remastering session reduced the overall dynamic range of the recording. While it wasn’t brutalised as much as many other remastered releases, it is still different to the original and that personally drives me insane. The remaster is currently found on post-2009 CD releases and TIDAL Hi-Fi et al. Having listened to the CD-equivalent TIDAL Hi-Fi remastered edition, I can say with certainty that the musicality of the album is still present. It is actually quite similar to the vinyl reissue, although the organic vinyl sound signature does create a difference in tonality. The truth is, the vinyl reissue is probably from the same 2009 mastering session, but who really knows?

Seriously, is it so difficult for record labels to add this information to a release?

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While this reissue is largely reminiscent of the way many albums were released in the 70s, the nondescript album sleeve and lack of liner notes is disappointing in the modern era. Perhaps we have been spoilt with the production qualities of reissues from The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and Queen etc. Granted, Big Star never saw the success that these before mentioned bands did, but I don’t believe that should factor into the design of an album. After all, when you look at the amazing albums released by independent artists, the major record labels should be ashamed of the substandard products they release. Yes, I know they are in the business of making money, not music or art, but a little more effort can go a long way to ensuring that business expands through word of mouth and continued interest.

That said, I’m not sure if I can recommend the vinyl reissue of Big Star’s #1 Record, although the vinyl sound signature may be enough to sway my opinion.

Granted, the original pressings were never extraordinary from what I’ve seen, but the print quality of the record sleeve is disappointing. An enlarged Polaroid photograph wouldn’t look as blown out as the photograph used on the rear cover. Yes, I understand it was the 70s and it was likely seen as artistic, but the reissue is still substandard in comparison to the original pressings.

Unfortunately, it is just too barebones for my liking. The record is housed in a plain (cheap) rice paper inner sleeve with no liner notes and no download code. The value proposition is ultimately decreased exponentially as a result of these omissions. Purists will most likely not be bothered by these concerns, but it doesn’t compel me to go and purchase their follow-up album, Radio City, on vinyl.

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SIDE ONE

Feel has a really unique offbeat entrance that I enjoy. The distortion in the recording is reminiscent of many Rolling Stone recordings, but I’d say Feel is a little less jarring than some of the Stones tracks. That said, this isn’t one of my favourite tracks on the album, despite being a solid song. It just doesn’t touch my soul and I feel something is missing, but I can’t put my finger on what it is.

The Ballad Of El Goodo is pure perfection! It sounds absolutely gorgeous on vinyl. As I have listened to both the vinyl and TIDAL Hi-Fi editions, this song alone is the reason to buy the vinyl release. When comparing the two, I found the clarity of TIDAL Hi-Fi to be too jarring across the entire soundstage.

In The Street is a solid track and who doesn’t love a cowbell in a song? The semi-guitar solo is thoroughly enjoyable and the rhythm will have you toe tapping and head bopping in no time at all.

Thirteen has a gorgeous guitar strum and vocal presentation. It doesn’t get much better than this and reminds me of Neil Young’s best works.

Don’t Lie To Me is Beatle-esk and you can really hear the influence in the guitar riff, vocal style, and drum beat. It is truly an epic song!

The India Song is an interesting, multilayered track, that has utilised what sounds like a flute. Unfortunately, I can’t confirm this as information is sparse, but I wonder if this lovely harmonic sound is actually derived from the electric piano of Terry Manning. If anyone has any more information, I’d love to hear from you. It is a multilayered track that merges all elements together extremely well.

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SIDE TWO

When My Baby’s Beside Me is a fantastic song with an addictive rhythm. It is a solid rock/pop tune that will appeal to almost anyone. Interestingly, when I first saw the incredible documentary Sound City, I heard a tune that Rick Springfield and Dave Grohl were working on and I could have sworn that I had heard that song before. The song in question is The Man That Never Was and every time I hear the song, it reminds me of When My Baby’s Beside Me. While they are clearly different songs, Springfield’s vocal delivery is the highlighting point that connects the two songs. I’d be interested to find out if you too, dear reader, can hear the similarities. I love finding both intentional and unintentional connections in music.

My Life Is Right is another song that reminds me of the songwriting skills of Lennon and McCartney. It is a lovely mellow tune, that defines power pop, with the execution of rock elements throughout. It is a superb recording and I find that I am always captivated by the clarity and immediacy of the guitar strum and depth of the drum beat.

Give Me Another Chance has the most incredible vocal presentation on the album. So smooth, creamy, and well balanced. Alex Chilton nailed it!

I really like the multi-lead vocalist approach that Big Star went with. It reminds me of the Eagles, whereby the vocalist with voice best suited for the song, becomes the lead vocalist of that track. While that process is mostly a 70s thing, and many modern day leading men and women wouldn’t give their roles over so easily, I feel it is an aspect of harmony delivery that is missing from many modern recordings. It simply adds complexity and variance that can be enjoyed by all. No doubt some of you will likely point out the various boy bands that perform in a similar manner. While I can’t disagree completely, I have to be honest and say that while they can be good, they’re not 1970s good.

Try Again carries on beautifully from Give Me Another Chance. Chris Bell’s vocal delivery reminds me of Lennon’s solo work, especially on Imagine. When I hear music this good, I simply can’t fathom how Big Star was not one of the most popular bands in the world. I acknowledge their record label suffered problems with distribution etc, but it is almost criminal when you consider how talented the band was.

Watch The Sunrise has some incredible acoustic guitar work throughout the song, especially during the introduction. It is a lovely ballad-styled song.

ST100/6 has to be the weirdest song title I have ever encountered. If you have a better one, let me know in the comments. I also feel that this song should have been excluded from the album. Watch The Sunrise would have been a perfect ending for the album. Unfortunately, ST100/6 doesn’t do what all good final tracks should. It doesn’t encourage me to listen to the album again or stay within Big Star’s catalogue. The problem is, there is a song there, it just isn’t realised as the song ends prematurely at 0:57 seconds.

Despite my complaints regarding the quality of the vinyl production, it is an album that I enjoy having in my collection and I think you would too. While I don’t spin it as often as I’d like to, the songs are iconic to the era and stand the test of time. Is it smooth rock, pop-rock, or power pop? I honestly don’t think it matters what you call it when the music is this good.

Big Star’s #1 Record is available on Vinyl, CD, iTunes, and in 16/44 FLAC at the TIDAL Store. It is also available for streaming on TIDAL Hi-Fi, Spotify, and Apple Music.  

Other Big Star reviews by Subjective Sounds:

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Crowded House – 2016 Re-Issue Thoughts

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Crowded House – 2016 Re-Issue Thoughts

Regular readers of Subjective Sounds would be aware of my inclination towards collecting a physical library of music. Adding TIDAL Hi-Fi to the mix offers a perfect solution for both the audiophile and music lover within as I acknowledged a couple of years ago that it would be financially and physically impossible to own all the albums I truly adored. As my music interests continue to evolve, so has my reliance on TIDAL. Now that TIDAL has implemented Masters (MQA), that proposition is even more compelling. I can sample music, up to studio-master quality, prior to making a physical purchase. The result is that my TIDAL Hi-Fi subscription has saved me hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars by eliminating the blind-buy process. While I will always collect some form of physical media, the physical product has to provide additional value that exceeds TIDAL’s sonic benefits. This is where artwork, packaging, and additional media elements become paramount as there is no use buying a standard edition CD, or basic vinyl pressing, when I can stream the same music at an astonishing level of quality.

This conundrum is one that I have faced with the recent re-issues of the Crowded House catalogue. As a fan of the band, since their Temple Of Low Men album, I was in seventh heaven while floating on cloud number nine when I heard these beloved albums were being reissued on vinyl. Despite these initial heavenly viewpoints, I have my reservations with both the vinyl and CD re-issues.

Universal Music has been doing an excellent job of re-issuing vinyl in recent years, but that doesn’t mean that all releases have been perfect. While I can not attest to the sonic quality of these new Crowded House pressings, I can say that I was disappointed with the packaging. They simply appeared like any other budget, run-of-the-mill, release that has been rushed to market to capitalise on the vinyl revival. Given the packaging quality of the CD reissue, I don’t feel that it is unreasonable to suggest that Universal could have done more for the vinyl reissues.

Given the entire catalogue was reissued, there really is no reason as to why a vinyl box set, with a hard-covered book, could not have been released for this reissue project; subsequently offering fans significant value.

Part of the problem is these vinyl releases are priced at AU$37.99. They simply aren’t worth that asking price, especially when you consider the expanded CD reissues are priced at $29.99. Yes, I acknowledge the vinyl reissues are said to have been cut from the analogue masters, at Abbey Road Studios, but that alone is no guarantee of sonic perfection. Although, it is an aspect that can’t be ignored.

The only additional value presented by the vinyl reissue, versus my existing CD collection and the CD reissues, is the increased size of the artwork. While I would prefer to own the Crowded House catalogue on vinyl, there just isn’t enough value in these re-issues to justify the cost.

We also need to remember that these reissues are remastered (a marketing term that simply means we unnaturally turned up the volume). While digital masters, pressed to vinyl, can sound amazing, the vinyl mastering and pressing process can’t eliminate the brick-walling that has occurred through the mastering of an album.

While I have yet to see the dynamic range scores for the vinyl reissues, the CD reissue of Temple Of Low Men has a dynamic range of 9, compared to 14 out of 20 on my original 1988 CD release. That is a considerable difference and shouldn’t be overlooked, especially considering I love the sonic reproduction of the original release. Interestingly, the original release is still available for streaming on TIDAL, along with the 2016 remastering. Using TIDAL I was able to quickly switch between the versions of Better Be Home Soon. While my subjective testing is far from an ABX-style test, there is significantly more volume in the remaster and the smoothness between musical elements is harsher when compared to the original. As a result, I’m confident in saying that I prefer the original 1988 mastering as it is more subtitle and subjectively represents how Crowded House should sound.

It is disappointing when the re-issuing, and expansion, of a great album can’t merely be done with the original mastering left intact. Even when I look at their debut self-titled album, the original 1986 vinyl release is an impressive 13 out of 20, while the 2016 remastered CD has reduced that to a mere 7 out of 20. That is simply unconscionable!

I, along with many other audiophiles, will often lament the effects that compressed lossy formats such as MP3, AAC, and Ogg Vorbis have had on the music we love. However, the truth is the loudness wars and subsequent reduced dynamic range has had a more significant impact on musicality than the artefacts present in the before-mentioned lossy file formats.

I’m more than happy at this juncture to go on record and say that a well-mastered album can sound incredible when compressed into a lossy transport format.

The same can’t be said for a brick-walled master.

Seriously, if I have to turn my amplifier down by 10-20%, to listen to and attempt to enjoy a remastered release, they’re doing it wrong!

As a result, it looks as though I have talked myself out of buying any of the Crowded House re-issues. While it is a shame, I refuse to spend my hard-earned dollar on a product that is substandard.

Yes, the packing for the CD-reissue is glorious, but it seems superfluous when the associated sound quality is dynamically compromised; even with the additional second CD of demos, out-takes, and live performances. Similarly, while the vinyl reissues may sonically be derived from a superior master, the packaging is lacklustre and while I believe the additional tracks are available with the included MP3 download code, it just doesn’t feel complete and worthy of the cost.

If you’ve picked up any of the Crowded House vinyl re-issues, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below. Are they worth the purchase? Am I being overly harsh? Your subjective thoughts are welcome!

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