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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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Sixx:A.M. – Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1 (CD Review)

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Sixx:A.M. – Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1 (CD Review)

For years I have been watching Sixx:A.M. evolve from a side project to a fully blown iconic rock and roll band. Nikki Sixx: DJ Ashba and James Michael are the creative trio behind the band and they have just released their new album Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1. With decades of experience between the trio, Sixx:A.M. have recorded a series of songs that will entertain rock and roll music lovers for generations to come.

While it was sad to see Sixx et al retire Mötley Crüe, and DJ Ashba resign from his position as lead guitarist for Guns N’ Roses, I’m glad both they did because the focus these incredible musicians have given to this album has made it arguably the best rock and roll album of 2016; that is until Vol. 2 is released later this year. While I am looking forward to Vol. 2, Vol. 1 has exceeded all my expectations.

The double album format is nothing new in the world of rock and roll, but it can be challenging for fans as I still don’t know which Use Your Illusion album I prefer. In fact, just between me and you, I think that double album release could have been compiled into a single album as there is quite a bit of filler. Whereas, Prayers For The Damned has no filler tracks on Vol. 1. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t know how Sixx:A.M. is going to top the recordings on Vol. 1

I first became aware of the Sixx:A.M. upon the release of The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack. Seriously, who releases a soundtrack for a book? Pure brilliance! However, it wasn’t until the release of This Is Gonna Hurt that I truly saw what was possible from the band.

When I purchased This Is Gonna Hurt, it was the iTunes LP edition that included a gorgeous interface and additional content that would rival any blockbuster film release. At the time it was one of the very first iTunes LP releases that I purchased and I remember thinking that this is how music should be presented in the digital realm. Unfortunately, due to either a lack of support by the music industry, or Apple, that format never really took off. To be honest, Apple never really did anything with the format and playback is still limited to iTunes on a Mac or PC. Unfortunately, these types of cool ‘digital’ release features are restricted by the technology of the day and ongoing support of the particular format. Anyone remember ‘Enhanced CD’? Anyway, Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1 doesn’t concern itself with gimmick additions as it is all about the music.

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When I ordered Prayers Of The Damned Vol. 1, it was for the signature edition CD. Unfortunately, Australian retailer JB Hi-Fi didn’t send me the signed release, despite getting my order completed before they sold out, and within time applicable time. JB Hi-Fi has not even replied to my emails about the error. Such a shame that retailers disappoint consumers. If it weren’t for the promised signatures, I would have purchased the album on vinyl, but I’ll end up doing that anyway. Yes, the album is good enough to own in both formats and stream regularly on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

The mastering of Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1 is perfect for the style of music with only minimal cut-off being noticed on the cymbals. Plus, the overall production, vocal delivery, and musicality of the band is off the charts and that minor issue therefore becomes somewhat irrelevant in my mind.

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For this release I was hoping for a digipak design, rather than a jewel case. My case cracked in the mail, thanks again JB Hi-Fi (for pathetic packaging), but that additional tactile element would have added to the ‘album’ experience for me. Gorgeous photography and layout are included throughout the liner notes, but I was a little disappointed that the lyrics were not included. Now, regular readers will know that I class vocals as just another instrument as I don’t necessarily follow the meaning of a song. However, Sixx:A.M. is a rock and roll band with a social consciousness and therefore their lyrics are relevant to life and the empowerment of the listener. Hence, on this occasion, it was important to me.

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Let’s take a look at the songs:

Rise is inspirational and sets the tone for the entire album with high reaching vocals and fat guitar and bass riffs that merge perfectly with some of the best drumming I have heard on any recent rock and roll album. Dustin Steinke deserves his drumming credit, and permanent role in Sixx:A.M., as his performance is flawless across the entire album.  

You Have Come To The Right Place continues the before mentioned style with a groove element that prevents you from sitting still. In fact, I’ve been using this album on my daily walks over the last few days and it gives you inspiration to keep pushing through as you strut along with the beat.

I’m Sick mellows things out a little, but not for long as it picks up frantically when the chorus kicks in. This is a song that I had to listen to a few times, in order to fully appreciate it. Now it is one of my favourite songs on the album.

Prayers For The Damned is what I call symphonic rock and roll. Think rock ballad + symphonic orchestra tuning + rock and roll. It is exceptional! DJ Ashba makes that guitar sing. Axl was insane for never releasing a new Guns ‘N Roses album with Ashba as the lead guitarist. Yes, Slash is a rock god, but Ashba is easily his equal and this album proves that.

Better Man has an acoustic feel to it. If you have listened to 7, you will know just how beautiful this band can sound unplugged. James Michael is an incredible vocalist and I think what I truly appreciate about his vocal delivery is the clarity he brings to the music. Unlike many rock vocalists, he doesn’t slur/blur his lyrics. Perhaps this is the reason why I would have liked to have the lyrics included in this release.

Can’t Stop is presented with the verse in a spoken word lyrical style. It works perfectly with the accompanying music and overall style of the band. The song is moody and full of attitude with Nikki’s bass tracks complementing the entire song while Ashba tortures his guitar.

When We Were Gods has a beautiful verse, but I’m not blown away by the chorus. I’m torn, I’ve listened to this song no less than twenty times, in the album format, and I still have mixed feelings about it.

Belly Of The Beast is a song that reminds me of Shout At The Devil. That isn’t to say that Sixx:A.M. has reimagined Mötley Crüe, but what I am saying is this song is going to be a fan favourite live; just as Shout At The Devil was. Basically, I love this song and enjoy singing along while strumming the old air guitar. If you only listen to one song from this album, make it this one. Michael’s vocal range on this track is incredible.

Everything Went To Hell is head banger material. Fast, then melodic, then fast again. Does anything else have to be said?

The Last Time (My Heart Will Hit The Ground) is just a cool title with some magical guitar work that makes for a very enjoyable rock and roll song.

Rise Of The Melancholy Empire closes out the album perfectly. As you listen to this song, you naturally become compelled to play the album again.

The bottom line is that is you’re a rock and roll fan, you need to own this album. Sixx:A.M. have proven that rock and roll is not dead. Those who say it is should kiss their old bands goodbye and reinvent themselves as Sixx and Ashba have.

James Michael is not only a legendary producer, that has worked with a number of successful artists such as Meat Loaf, but he is an exceptional vocalist in his own right and a perfect fit for the band.

Now, we just have to wait for Vol. 2. I still don’t know how they are going to top Vol. 1 as I truly feel it is the best rock and roll album, thus far, of 2016.

Prayers For The Damned Vol. 1 is available on Vinyl, CD, and TIDAL Hi-Fi.

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Abba – Waterloo (Numbered 40th Anniversary 7-inch 45rpm Vinyl Picture Disc Review)

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Abba – Waterloo (Numbered 40th Anniversary 7-inch 45rpm Vinyl Picture Disc Review)

I love anniversary releases. Yes, I know I’m often being taken for a ride by record companies, but I just can’t avoid the new and shiny release from some of my favourite artists. All they have to do is slap a limited edition sticker on the cover and I’m there demanding they take my money. It is an illness, but at least I can acknowledge I have a problem. Just as they will never cease to repackage and reissue products that I already own, with new and never before seen photographs et al, I will never stop buying these anniversary editions for my record collection.

Abba acknowledged their 40th Anniversary with a plethora of releases that included Live At Wembley Arena, a reissuing of their vinyl collection and an incredible 7-inch singles vinyl box set comprising of 40 singles released during their illustrious career. Yes, as a life-long Abba fan, I purchased all the 40th Anniversary releases. I just couldn’t help myself, they are Abbatastic!

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One of the releases, also released as part of Record Store Day 2014, was Abba’s Waterloo 7-inch 45rpm Vinyl Picture Disc. I have number 4018 of 7000. As you can tell by the photographs, it is simply gorgeous with the band featured on Side A and their logo and 40th Anniversary logo featured on Side B.

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Side A features the Swedish version of Waterloo, with Side B containing the English version. I have always found these variations in language to be interesting. While I speak no other language than English, I still enjoy Abba’s music when recorded in foreign tongue. Although, because Abba’s music encourages one to sing-a-long, they become a little bit of a humorous tongue twister during karaoke nights.

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What isn’t twisted is the sonic quality of this release. Vinyl picture discs are often ridiculed for the sonic inferiority and while my Iron Maiden Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son picture vinyl is hideous, all Universal Music picture discs in my collection, including this Abba release have been superb when it comes to sound quality. Yes, you still experience the whirring sound that is associated with picture disc vinyl, but it is certainly not intrusive to the music or the listening process. I honestly only notice it on the run in and out tracks. Let’s just say, I’m not one of the individuals that believes picture disc vinyl shouldn’t be played; unless it is etched of course. Hence, I accept the shortcomings and simply enjoy the record as a musicphile, rather than an audiophile.

The mastering on this single is also one of the best I have ever heard for the song Waterloo. Abba has a unique sound and some may argue with me, but I believe that the audiophile mind has to be switched off when listening to Abba. Their music is enjoyable, but it isn’t necessarily a sonic masterpiece. After all, it was aimed and marketed for radio playback, so just as the ‘loudness wars’ is creating a distinct sound, I believe Abba represents a similar style of sound that is very much lodged in the late 70s and early 80s. That isn’t to say it is bad, just that when referring to the quality of the mastering, the difference must be acknowledged.

Waterloo itself is a fun song, as most Abba tunes are; especially in their early career. Waterloo is a love song that uses the 1815 Battle of Waterloo as a metaphor for submitting to love, just as Napoleon submitted to defeat. The single itself came from Abba’s similarly titled second album Waterloo, and resulted in the band winning the highly coveted Eurovision Song Contest in 1974.

Depending on where you are in the world, this limited edition is likely only available on the second hand market. That said, thanks to the Internet Audiophile Reference Recordings and Utopia Records still have stock. You can of course listen to Waterloo (Swedish Version) and Waterloo (English Version) on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

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Daily Spin: The Albums I Listened To Today

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Daily Spin: The Albums I Listened To Today

I listen to a wide range of music everyday and what better way to share that with you than a quick daily post highlighting the albums I have listened to, along with a standout track.

Please feel free to add a list of what you have been listening to today in the comments section.  

Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation (CD)

One of Cooper’s greatest albums in my opinion. Lost In America is superb, but sometimes I wish it was Lost In Australia. Bottom line: it is a fun song and an album that must be heard.

Available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto (HFPA Blu-Ray)

I have a sweet spot for Jazz. This somewhat self-titled Getz/Gilberto album is amongst my most treasured and a favourite track is the smooth O Grande Amor.

Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key Of Life (HFPA Blu-Ray)

What can be said about Stevie Wonder and Songs In The Key Of Life that hasn’t already been said. Nothing! It is a must listen for all music fans, especially the song Saturn.

Available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators – World On Fire (Vinyl)

This third semi-solo release by Slash is exceptional. The band, both touring and studio, have a great chemistry that culminates in The Unholy.

Available on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

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The Transformers: The Movie – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (RSD15 – 30th Anniversary Edition Vinyl)

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The Transformers: The Movie – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (RSD15 – 30th Anniversary Edition Vinyl)

Last month I reviewed the Music on Vinyl (MOV) release of the 1985 Transformers Movie soundtrack and mentioned at the time that I was attempting to get hold of the 30th Anniversary, Record Store Day 2015 (RSD15), edition. Well, it has arrived and I couldn’t be happier.

The tracking of both albums are identical, but the mastering is slightly different as the MOV release is superior in fidelity when compared against this Sony/Legacy release. They were simply mastered by two different individuals and subsequently they were mastered for personal tastes. I should note that the MOV edition, that I prefer, was mastered by industry legend Bernie Grundman. That isn’t to say that the Maria Triana mastering at Battery Studios is a bad. In-fact, if I had not heard the MOV mastering, I would have have given this RSD15 release an excellent review based on sonic performance. The basic truth is when it comes to mastering, the individual mastering engineer is extremely important. If you look through the albums you like most, and even those you don’t, you will often see the same mastering engineers appear. I know I have come across this variant. 

From an artwork perspective, this edition is simply exquisite. This is certainly a record sleeve that you will need the floor or a table to view it on as it is a quad-panel release. My son was captivated as he kept opening and closing it to see the artwork because one mode presented the ‘good’ Autobots, while the other highlighted the evil ‘Decepticons’. It is simply an amazing design and layout and the etched vinyl really takes it to another level. It made for another wonderful father/son moment that will never be forgotten. This is why I choose vinyl, or any physical format in general, as it connects people in a way that can never be replicated by sharing a playlist.

I ordered my copy from Goldmine Records and I believe Ben has a few more copies of this release, so you may be in luck with securing a copy. 

Don’t forget, you can also read my detailed review of the album and songs by clicking here

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30 Seconds To Mars – Self Titled (CD) Review

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30 Seconds To Mars – Self Titled (CD) Review

I first became aware of 30 Seconds to Mars when I watched their performance of The Kill, from their second album A Beautiful Lie, at the 2007 MTV Australia Video Music Awards. I was captivated by the song and I dare say The Kill would make my top 100 alternative rock and roll songs of all time. Certainly the performance was exceptional and while I never had an emo phase to my personality, lead singer Jared Leto certainly portrayed the alternative emo rock persona well. I’d even go as far as saying that I had a man crush for Leto following this appearance. He is certainly an exceptional musician and actor.  

A couple of years ago, a local record store was shutting down. While it is always disappointing to see record stores close, it is a great opportunity to grab some incredible deals. One of the albums I purchased that day was the self-titled debut 30 Seconds To Mars. Having become familiar with Leto, and his band, a $5 investment was deemed to be worthwhile risk.

My only real disappointment with the album is the mastering. I think by now you have a fairly good idea of where I stand on mastering and brick walling. If not, simply go through the previous reviews and you will see a plethora of information relating to this problem. While a recent upgrade to the Oppo BDP-103 has significantly refined the quality of sound I am now getting from my CD collection, hardware can only do so much when the music is compressed to hell and back.

What disappoints me the most is this debut album was produced by one of the world’s greatest record producers, Bob Ezrin. It isn’t over produced but for the man that produced Aerosmith’s Get Your Wings, Alice Cooper’s epic 70s sound especially Billion Dollar Babies, Welcome To My Nightmare, and Lace And Whiskey, I simply expected brick walling would not be in his vocabulary. Ezrin has also worked with other incredible artists such as Kiss, Pink Floyd, and Deep Purple. The guy is nothing short of a legend.

Now, I will acknowledge that Ezrin shared production credits on the 30 Seconds To Mars debut with the band and Brian Virtue who would go on to produce the band’s follow-up, A Beautiful Lie, with Josh Abraham. That said, the recording and associated mastering is so brick walled that I simply can’t understand how Ezrin allowed it go out in the condition he did. When looking at the dynamic range scores, the debut album scores a pitiful 06 out of 20. Seriously, how much further can you go before an album is simply loud noise?

It is a really a shame because 30 Seconds To Mars are exceptional on this debut and Leto’s vocals are so multi-textured that he should be heard in full dynamic range. This is another album that is screaming out for a full dynamic range (FDR) re-issue. Death Metal band, Bolt Thrower, has re-issued their catalogue in FDR and the sonic difference is astounding. Forget the hi-res argument, of the one that says vinyl is better than CD. Even forget that TIDAL Hi-Fi is superior to Apple Music and Spotify. All the music industry needs to agree on is that they are going to master an album well in the first place and master it perfectly for the format. Do both of those things and you will have one kick ass album, regardless of distribution method.

Now that I have got that off my chest, let’s talk about the packaging and the all important music.

The cover is just weird. What does the teenage boy represent? There is quite a lot of symbolism presented throughout the artwork but you never actually see a picture of the band, other than one with their backs turned as they walk down a long hallway. Personally, I would have picked that for the cover of the album, or simply the Phoenix-styled logo that graces the CD. The typography on this release is exceptional and that can be attributed to it being, at the time, a CD-only release. The design team certainly worked within the specifications of the CD format. However, if you’re looking for lyrics you will be disappointed as they are not included with this release. That said, this isn’t the kind of album that you will likely sing-a-long to, unless you’re driven to jump in at the chorus line.

Capricorn [A Brand New Name] launches the album with an uplifting sonic zoom that I absolutely love. It certainly sets the scene and you get the impression of a record that is going to be epic. While I enjoy the song, it is ruined by the lack of dynamic range. You can hear minute elements that deserve sonic separation, but sadly they are nothing more than a glimmer of what could have been.

Edge Of The Earth has a fantastic pace to it. It isn’t too fast, nor too slow, but absolutely perfect. It has the heavy grunge metal feel, as well as an intermingling ballad style, but despite this diversity it just works. The vocal delivery in this song is also exceptional.

Fallen begins with some beautiful fat guitar riffs. Who doesn’t like that? The build up to the chorus in superb and overall it is an incredibly beautiful song. Jared Leto truly shows his vocal chops during this track.

Oblivion starts off with a very familiar sound. I’ve never been able to place it, but it sounds like a song I’ve heard before. It isn’t that it’s a common sound, as it is quite distinctive. That said, I thoroughly enjoy the song. The pace set throughout the interconnectivity of the chorus and verse is perfectly managed.

Buddha For Mary has robotic vocals at the beginning of the song and while it may work with the overall theme of the band and the album, I just don’t like it. In-fact, I would say that this is one of the poorer songs on the album. It is run-of-the-mill alternative rock and roll at best.

Echelon would be so incredible with a more complete dynamic range. The introduction and vocal delivery is amazing, but the depth just isn’t there. Such a good song though!

Welcome To The Universe is an interesting track. It begins beautifully, but is then taken in a different direction and I find the lyrical component to be lacking. It isn’t a bad song, but it is missing something that I simply can’t put my finger on.

The Mission is one of my favourite songs from the album. It is alternative music at its best as it has elements of punk, rock and roll, and ballad driven hair metal throughout. I love it!

End Of The Beginning is unfortunately a mishmash of low dynamics throughout much of the song. It just isn’t good.

93 Million Miles is thoroughly enjoyable but it is just too compressed. For most of the song you are struggling to hear a single note as they all merge in together. No wonder us ‘old guys’ say new music is horrid, despite this album not really being new. That said, it does prove how long we have been living in this ‘loudness’ phase. I’ve no doubt that artists such as 30 Seconds To Mars are extremely talented. I certainly enjoy their music, but they could be so much better if their sound wasn’t limited by demands to make it sound louder.

Year Zero isn’t a bad song to close the album on and with the repetitious chorus line ‘we’ll never fade away’ you certainly get the impression that the band was indicating they were here to stay.

Debut albums, in retrospect, are always difficult to review as there are understandably elements that need improving. Many of these aspects are subsequently improved in later albums and this is certainly true for 30 Seconds To Mars.

Unfortunately, the dynamic range issue doesn’t get much better on their later albums, unless you choose the vinyl options. The band is incredibly talented, but they just don’t stand out like they should. There is a feeling in music that only true dynamic range can present to the listener. You can’t hear it, but you can feel it. It is the feeling that makes you dance to the song in your mind, even when the song is no longer playing. Modern music just doesn’t have that. It is not multilayered and dynamic. It is flat and transparent.

I have likely harped on for too long about dynamic range but I do so because I feel it is incredibly relevant to the way we experience and enjoy music. While this is a fantastic debut album, I can’t stand to listen to the album at above 30% of my system’s capability, as it becomes harsh, ear piercing, and tiring to do so. That therefore reduces my interest in the album, the band, and the music they create. It just shouldn’t be this way.

I will be endeavouring to get a hold of the 10th anniversary vinyl edition that was released in 2012. While the original album was not intended and mastered for vinyl, vinyl does have rather strict limitations when it comes to mastering for the format. That doesn’t mean it will sound any better, especially considering it is a picture disc edition. It could even sound worse, but I’m inquisitive and I would like to know. Plus, it just looks cool spinning. Check it out:

If you have the vinyl version, please let me know your thoughts on the sonic quality.

If you’re a fan of alternative music, and rock and roll in general, then this album is worthwhile listening to. Similarly, if you’ve only heard the later albums by 30 Seconds To Mars then you should check this out to see where they came from. That said, I would recommend you listen to the album on TIDAL Hi-Fi prior to considering a purchase as the low dynamic range is honestly the Achilles’ heel of this release. You can of course still pickup the CD if you wish. 

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Aerosmith – Aerosmith (Record Store Day 2013 Vinyl) Review

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Aerosmith – Aerosmith (Record Store Day 2013 Vinyl) Review

Prior to Get Your Wings, Aerosmith released their self-titled debut that saw Steven Tyler approach the song line-up with a faux blues vocal style. This style is extremely subjective and while Tyler would return to his normal singing voice for the 1974 follow-up, Get Your Wings, I must say that I enjoyed his vocal style on the debut. In-fact, I have always liked Tyler’s vocals regardless of tonal shifts. Needless to say that this album remains a very unique element in Aerosmith’s history.

With hits such as Dream On, Mama Kin, and Make It, Aerosmith was destined for success, albeit moderate success for this debut album. That said, Dream On is arguably in everyone’s top 100 songs of all time list. Dream On is an Aerosmith staple like Janie’s Got A Gun, Love In An Elevator, and Livin’ On The Edge. It has been covered countless times and performed live by the band on almost every tour and live album. It is a power ballad to end all power ballads. Actually, it would also be one of the very first power ballads. When I look at rock and roll bands, I tend think of the power ballad as being an 80s phenomenon. That said, I’m reminded of Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven, Skynyrd's Free Bird, and Love Hurts by Nazareth. All exceptional bands with ballads recorded and released well before the 80s. Okay, it has to be said, they just don’t make music like that anymore.

The first time I heard Dream On was in the mid-90s when Aerosmith re-released Sweet Emotion as a single in 1994. The single of course featured Sweet Emotion and Dream On, along with Draw The Line and Walk This Way. You really couldn’t ask for a better collection of tracks to showcase Aerosmith in the 70s.

I currently have two copies of the self-titled Aerosmith album. One is the 1993 remastered CD by mastering engineer Vic Anesini, while the other is the Record Store Day 2013 vinyl remaster by mastering engineer Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound. Without a doubt, I prefer the 2013 remaster. While the ’93 mastering isn’t bad, it just sounds a little too robotic (digital) for my liking. Yes, I’m sure you’re reading this and saying, but Mark this was digitally remastered. While that is true, there is no reason that the soul, present on the original tape, can not be replicated adequately on the CD. I’ve heard many CDs that simply sound amazing, regardless of digital processing, so it is not a factor of the format. I have also played the TIDAL Hi-Fi edition, which is also the ’93 remaster, and it is understandably identical in dynamics to the aforementioned CD. I guess, in this case as in so many others, it comes down to subjective opinion and mine is that Aerosmith’s debut album is best heard on vinyl, followed by CD/TIDAL Hi-Fi. Whatever you do, don’t touch the HD Tracks version as it has an average dynamic range of 09, whereas the vinyl is 12 and the CD/TIDAL Hi-Fi version is 11 out of 20.

I should also note my vinyl edition of Aerosmith is numbered. I have is number 1978 of 5000. Oh, if only it would have been number 1973, I would have been in Aerosmith heaven. Although, given the impressive quality of the pressing, I think I’m already there as there isn’t a bad song on the album. While the numbered pressings are increasingly hard to come by, standard editions have been re-issued with the same exceptional sound.

Aerosmith were always destined to Make It, and this song is raw to the bone with enough guitar twang to last a lifetime. It isn’t my favourite song on the album, but it is certainly an excellent introduction of things to come.

Somebody continues the twang that reminds me of a country song with a rock influence. Maybe rockabilly is a more appropriate genre for this track. Either way, it is an enjoyable song and the first time we hear the Aerosmith trademark cowbell. While Aerosmith doesn’t overuse the cow bell in this song, or in their other songs that feature it, it matches their music style perfectly. It is like when Steven Tyler uses the harmonica. Pure brilliance!

Dream On. It doesn’t get any better than this, yet it didn’t chart well upon the initial release. Despite that, it is perhaps one of the best rock ballads ever written and has been covered and sampled extensively. Speaking of interpretations, you have to check out the incredible performance Aerosmith (Tyler and Perry only) did with the Southern California Children’s Chorus that was performed as part of the Boston Marathon Bombing Tribute. It is an incredibly haunting semi-acoustic edition of the song. You can also listen to this edition of the song on TIDAL Hi-Fi, or watch the performance below.  

One Way Street introduces that trademark harmonica. Simply awesome! The song has a great foot tapping beat and Tyler’s faux vocals crack like an adolescent schoolboy. It certainly has some very special elements that make it enjoyable to listen to.

Mama Kin kicks the album up a notch with a killer guitar riff. It is blues rock and roll at its best. I’ve always enjoyed this song and have felt the urge to sing-a-long and play my famous air guitar. The temporary pauses throughout the song are perfectly placed and add to the overall pace of the song, without slowing it down.

Write Me is a solid rock and roll song. Nothing to write home about, but as with all the songs on this album, they complement each other perfectly.

Movin’ Out starts off with yet another Perry classic guitar riff that sets the tone for the song. It is one of my favourite tracks on the album with a chorus that belongs in rock and roll heaven. That said, you can tell the band is still finding their sound on this track. I’d love to have them re-record this song to see what they could do with it, given their lifetime of knowledge. It reminds me somewhat of a demo tape release, but an exceptional one!

Walkin’ The Dog is an awesome bluesy rock and roll tune. The introduction may confuse you a little with the use of the Wood Flute, but stick with the song as I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. The song ends the album like all good final tracks should, with me wanting to put the record on again.

Aerosmith’s debut album is a must own for any Aerosmith fan, but if you’re interested in blues inspired rock and roll, from the late 60s and early to mid-70s period, then you are going to love this album. 

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AFI – Burials (Vinyl) Review

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AFI – Burials (Vinyl) Review

A couple of weeks ago, I took a look at AFI’s evolving sound with Sing The Sorrow. While the band has released the incredible Decemberunderground and Crash Love in the interim years, I wanted to take a look at their latest album, released a decade after Sing The Sorrow, to see just how far the band’s sound had developed. I also couldn’t wait to take the wrapping off this album as I was able to source a reasonably priced vinyl copy of Burials from Sydney’s iconic Red Eye Records.

The vinyl edition comes with the standard lossy MP3 download code for the album, although it did not include the complete album. The songs missing are the two final tracks Anxious and The Face Beneath The Waves. What is bizarre is these songs are not bonus tracks and therefore should have been included in the download. This isn’t necessarily uncommon as I have come across variations in downloaded albums that have been supplied with records in the past. Usually it comes down to licensing agreements, or region specific bonus tracks. Truth be told, with my ever increasing use of TIDAL Hi-Fi, the lossy MP3 codes are of little value to me personally, plus I can always do a higher quality needle drop with my Pro-ject Debut Carbon turntable. Hence, I think in future I may just give away, via Subjective Sounds, the MP3 download codes to readers. Regardless, I would much prefer the record labels give consumers the option to download either the MP3, or a higher quality FLAC or ALAC 16/44 copy that matches the quality of CD. Some record labels do this, but I’m sure most consider the addition of a download code, or CD, to be nothing but a loss leader to encourage the purchase of the record.

Speaking of the record, rather than being presented in a gatefold release, this double album is presented in a slipcase that accommodates both records. While I don’t mind either design decision, gatefolds are just awesome. However, they can be challenging to slip the record in and out at times. Tri-folds are worse, but that is a story for another day. There is also no additional inner liner notes as the record sleeves double as the liner notes. I have mixed feelings on this. Most of the time I prefer archival sleeves and in many cases I purchase them when they are not included. As a result, I can ensure the liner sleeves remain in pristine condition, free of ring wear, seam splits, and additional dust in those precious grooves. Personally, I would recommend all record buyers spend the extra money to get archival sleeves. There are a number of different brands available, but I have always found Mobile Fidelity sleeves to be of the very highest quality. I get mine from Goldmine Records. The reason why I raise this issue, is the record arrived with small seam splits and I need to change out the inner sleeves to prevent further deterioration. It wasn’t the fault of the record label, or Red Eye Records, as it was packed impeccably. It was most likely caused by my reckless mailman who believes it is appropriate to Frisbee throw my records onto the front porch from two meters away. Plus, when the better half works for the postal service, you hear so many horror stories that it is a wonder more parcels are not damaged by Australia Post.  

An interesting side note: When I order CDs online, if I order them from Australian companies then they always turn up with a cracked case. Yet, if I import them from the US or UK, they always turn up perfect. It drives me insane, but what can you do?

Despite the above mentioned issues, I am very happy with the vinyl release and The Sinking Night sets the tone for the album with what has almost become a signature introduction style for AFI, where methodical, rhythmic, and atmospheric sounds are mixed with a ballad-styled vocal delivery. It is exceptional!

I Hope You Suffer has such a demonically evil beat. It is moody, broody, but perfect for when you’re angered by the actions of someone of the events of a particular day. I don’t know about you, but I certainly use this style of music to deal with feelings of anger and frustration.   

A Deep Slow Panic is almost pop-punk. This evaluation is neither good or bad, but I feel that this song doesn’t present AFI at their best. The magic is lacking and it feels like filler. While I can enjoy the song in the album tracking, I would likely skip over it when listening on TIDAL Hi-Fi.

No Resurrection has magical guitar riffs that simply highlight the song and makes you want to hear more of that incredible twang. It is air guitar worthy, despite the song being a slow rock tune. It is strange to hear AFI slow down this much, especially with their punk background, but it certainly suits their sound and they have been able to capture their origins while also breaking new ground.

17 Crimes is a song that exists for the chorus. Throughout the versus, you just can’t wait to get to that chorus. I’ve experienced this a number of times in the past, but I must say that recently it is the exception, rather than the rule. Maybe it's because a significant amount of modern music is all chorus and the poor verse is minimised. Song writing is arguably not what it used to be. Anyway, 17 Crimes is an excellent song that suits the album and the band’s style.

The Conductor is my favourite track on the album, and it may even be my favourite of all AFI tracks. While No Resurrection had magical guitar riffs, The Conductor takes that statement to a completely new level. The guitar has a rhythm, a soul, and its own chorus. I just love the tuning of it, it is the epitome of an epic rock and roll song. I can only imagine how awesome this song would be when performed live.

Heart Stops begins intriguingly and beautifully, but as it reaches the chorus it is too reminiscent of other alternative music that has come before. This song is really for those of you who enjoy the verse as the chorus reminds me of any number of bad teenage movie soundtracks. AFI can do better than this. It had potential, but the chorus let it down.

Rewind isn’t one of my favourite songs. It is too whiny in vocal delivery for my liking.  

The Embrace has a unique bass track, but I would have loved to have heard it with a little more dynamic range as the bass becomes hidden very quickly once the rest of the band kicks into action. The Embrace is also the type of song that slows down during the verse and speeds up during the chorus. It works, but it really is a B-side, or in this case a C side. In fact, all three songs on side C could probably have been left off the album.

Wild is the final song on side C and therefore is included in my previous statement, but I do like elements of this song. The electronic elements present a sonic signature that is reminiscent of a video game soundtrack. Every time I listen to the song, I think it would have made a perfect addition to Adam Sandler’s Pixels film. Bottom line: it is a fun song.

Greater Than 84 has horrid dynamic range. Listen to the symbols and high-hats. They are compressed to hell and back again. When you listen to the introduction you think that this could be as bold in instrumentation as any Dire Straits album, but the ‘loudness wars’ has killed that hope. It is a shame because it is a solid song, but I just don’t enjoy the over compressed sonic quality. I know it is the ‘modern’ sound, but it is exhausting to listen to.

Anxious pays homage to AFI’s origins, especially in vocal style. It is a solid song, but nothing to write home about.

The Face Beneath The Waves closes the album out with a song that is enjoyable but again lacking in dynamic range. It truly could have been an epic end to the album, but compression in the studio just makes you want to put the album away after this song, rather than play the album again. Such a shame!

Overall, Burials is an excellent album and I am incredibly happy that it is part of my collection as the vinyl pressing is superb. That said, the dynamic range is lacklustre at best and destroys the hard work that the band has put in behind the scenes. If I can’t clearly hear the separation between drum beats, guitar licks, bass tracks, and vocals, then something is wrong and I know it isn’t my playback equipment or my ears. I would love nothing more than for AFI and all other bands who have accepted the industry practice of brick walling to turn around and re-issue the full studio originals. Not remaster, just the original master. If what I’m hearing is the original master, then maybe they should just go back and record the album again. 

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Iron Maiden – Purgatory (7-inch 45RPM Single)

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Iron Maiden – Purgatory (7-inch 45RPM Single)

As I’ve likely mentioned before, the artwork that Iron Maiden uses for their albums and singles are nothing short of spectacular. Seriously, just look at it for a minute. Eddie, their infamous mascot, has lost his face to the devil within as Eddie remains in Purgatory, never to be reconnected with his beloved, as shown on the 7-inch Twilight Zone cover.

The additional story that is told through art is incredible. Derek Riggs is one of the most iconic contemporary artists as a result of his life-long work with Iron Maiden, among many others. I’ve always wondered what was in the twisted mind of Stephen King, but Derek Riggs has some serious cool stuff in that brain of his. The man needs to be entered into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Although, Maiden should be added first, but that is an argument for another day.

Speaking of artwork, I have only just noticed that the centre spindle on these 7-inch releases acts as a street light thereby illuminating Eddie as a creature of the night. It’s these small elements that streaming services just can’t offer. While I love my TIDAL Hi-Fi subscription, they’ve yet to figure out how to present artwork, beyond the cover art, in the digital era. Isn’t the technological era supposed to make everything easier and give us access to content that surpasses the analogue version? Apple had a novel idea with iTunes LP, but they dropped the ball as it was only ever functional within iTunes on a Mac or PC. Yes, iTunes is a lossy source, but as a collector I would buy the iTunes LP version as well because the artwork is often animated and uniquely different to all other releases. Even videos such as the making of the album and interviews were included in this iTunes LP format. Admittedly, the artist/record label would need to fund this additional content development, but I still declare that if Apple had allowed iTunes LP to merge to iPhone/iPad/Apple TV, then it could have been a major success. I’d pay twice as much for TIDAL if they could provide me with an exact replica of the liner notes for all albums. They do offer the basics, but it is nothing more than a listing of the production personnel and a short bio.

While no streaming service offers the kind of granularity I’m after, Roon comes close with TIDAL Hi-Fi support built directly into the application, thereby allowing your own music and your streamed music to live in perfect synchronisation. Check out John H. Darko’s exceptional Roon Reviews Part 1, Part 1b, Part 2, and Part 2b.

Getting back to the music, Purgatory was the final single released from the 1981 Killers album. Despite being a sonic wonderland, with an amazing mix of lead and rhythm guitars, the single failed to break the top 50 in the UK upon release. How is that even possible? Okay, UK friends, what were you listening to in June 1981?

For what it’s worth, I believe Purgatory is stronger song than their previous single, Twilight Zone. Purgatory just has that special signature Maiden sound. As much as I enjoy Twilight Zone, it just isn’t in the same league as Purgatory.

Genghis Khan is the B-side and one of the most exceptional instrumental tracks in heavy metal history. Honesty, I can play this song on repeat for hours and never tire of it (after a half dozen times on the turntable, I turn to TIDAL Hi-Fi. Playing 7-inch 45rpm vinyl is fun, but it is also a lot of work). I have often wondered what would have happened if Maiden released this song as a single? That has me thinking, has there ever been an instrumental track reach the number 1 position on the charts? According to the ‘always reliable’ Wikipedia, there have been quite a few in the UK, but they are few and far between. During the decades spanning the 50s, 60s, and early 70s there had been quite a few instrumental number ones, but in the past four decades only three instrumental songs have reached that highly sought-after position. As someone who doesn’t tend to listen to lyrics, I find this shift fascinating. Now I just need to see if the recording of instrumental music has also decreased following the 70s.

You simply can’t go wrong with Purgatory. Featuring two of the best tracks from Killers, my advice is to pick up a copy of the limited edition 7-inch release while it is still available. The mastering is incredible and the artwork…seriously, just get it for the artwork.

If you would prefer to access the songs on the Killers album, they are available on post 1998 CD and Vinyl editions. Killers is also available on TIDAL Hi-Fi for those of you who prefer to stream.

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Aerosmith – Get Your Wings (Record Store Day 2013 Vinyl)

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Aerosmith – Get Your Wings (Record Store Day 2013 Vinyl)

Get Your Wings was Aerosmith’s second album and it took the rawness of their self titled debut album and polished the edges. Gone are Steven Tyler’s faux vocals, in favour of his natural voice. While I didn’t dislike his style on Aerosmith’s debut, I certainly appreciate his lyrical style on Get Your Wings as it helped create the band’s unique sound.

Perhaps this sound can be somewhat attributed to the influence Jack Douglas brought to the band in his role as producer. Douglas would go on to produce Aerosmith throughout most of the 70s, only being removed by Columbia Records when it came time to record Night In The Ruts. The collaboration of Douglas and Aerosmith was nothing short of successful, despite sales in later years indicating different results. For a moment, let’s be honest, sales don’t depict quality. Yes, it provides success and the ability to go on to do greater things, but music needs to be seen as something more than a popularity contest. It’s about art, emotion, and it is subjective. I often reflect on jazz, especially live performances, and ponder if that style of music is the purity of subjectivity, emotion, and art. After all, much of it improvised and unless you’re an artist that can bridge traditional jazz with a mainstream audience, sales are going to be low while the quality of the creativity is high. That said, it is my belief that the producer should always be chosen by the artist, not the record label. Yes, the record label is funding the album, in the traditional sense, but there are many cases where artists, when forced to work with a certain producer, will release substandard work because the process is no longer organic, but contrived.  

I have two editions of Get Your Wings. The first is the 1993 CD [cat no: CK 57361] that was remastered by Vic Anesini. The mastering is treated respectfully and as it was done prior to the ‘loudness wars’ the dynamic range is in the vicinity of 12 out of 20. TIDAL Hi-Fi offers the same mastered edition as the CD but whatever you do, don’t touch the 2012 remastering that is available on HD Tracks. Despite being released in Audiophile 96kHz/24bit, it has an average dynamic range of 09. Seriously, I’m all for audiophile releases, but low dynamic range isn’t fit for anyone, let alone an audiophile consumer. In this case the only benefit you get is a larger file size and an increased bitrate that does nothing to improve the sonic qualities of the album. There is little doubt that the 1993 remastered CD is the pinnacle for Get Your Wings when obtaining a digital copy.

The other edition I own is the RSD 13 (Record Store Day 2013) vinyl [cat no: KC 32847/ 88765486151] that was mastered by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound. The mastering on this record is amazing. While it is noticeably better than the 1993 CD it isn’t a radical shift. The vinyl pays homage to the ‘93 mastering while remaining true to the music that was available on the original tapes. While I much prefer the vinyl release due to its instrument separation and depth, especially in the low end, you would honestly be pleased with either release; just not the HD Tracks version. HD Tracks isn’t at fault, as they have been supplied with the terrible mastering, but the sale of such an inferior product does little to help the Hi-Res audio debate.

I should also note the vinyl release I have is a limited numbered release. I have number 4839 of (I believe) 5000. The remasters that were made specifically for the RSD release, are still available, they are just no longer numbered and come with a different sticker on the outer seal.

Same Old Song And Dance has a great beat and rhythm to it, but I have always felt that the drum track is lacking in this song. The kick drum just doesn’t sound right. I’m not sure how else to describe it, but I feel It lacks depth. It is almost like the skin tension was off on the drum thereby resulting in a sound that is slightly off key. Similarly, the cymbals sound a little squashed. I should note that these issues are heard across all the above mentioned formats, so it isn’t a factor of the remastering process.

As Lord Of The Thighs begins, the drum track is noticeably better and remains this way throughout the rest of the album. Lord Of The Thighs is an exceptional song that has a true blues influence throughout.

Spaced starts with low audible atmospheric sounds. I love it when rock and roll songs start this way. It sets the scene for a more mellow track, but there is so much complexity to the song that I never tire of it. The percussion elements are perfectly added for impact, not just because they are available. This musical self-control has been an Aerosmith trademark since their inception. It would be nice to see more artists follow this direction.

Woman Of The World starts with a lonely drum beat that reminds me of a drummer’s click track that ensures speed throughout the song remains constant. In a similar way, this beat ensures your toe tapping doesn’t miss a beat either.

S.O.S. (Too Bad) has nothing to do with save our souls, although that may have seemed appropriate for the band as they were always on the precipice of destruction. It in-fact stands for Same Old Shit and that is an adage that I’m sure we can all get behind. S.O.S. (Too Bad) is simply a fantastic bluesy rock and roll song that has a beautiful intermingling of bass and guitar with a drum beat that holds the song together.

Train Kept A Rollin’ is arguably the most successful song from the album. While it was released as a single, it did not chart at the time. However, The Yardbirds cover would become an Aerosmith staple as they often include this legendary song in their live set list. The song has been covered by a who’s who of the music industry, but I still declare that Aerosmith owns this song. They may not have written it, or performed it initially, but they mastered it. It has also appeared on most of their live album releases and an exceptional live performance, with Johnny Depp, was included on the DVD that accompanied the deluxe edition of Music From Another Dimension!

Seasons Of Wither begins with almost a minute of wind sounds in an attempt to set the seasonal stage. While it sets the scene, the song stands on its own with some absolutely gorgeous guitar work. I love songs where the subtle aspects of the guitar are present, but don’t overshadow the rest of the performance. This song proves that a great song can include elements from the entire band.  

I would like to see Pandora’s Box re-tracked to appear before Seasons Of Wither. It isn’t a bad song; it just doesn’t flow well after the soothing Seasons Of Wither. The long held guitar riff and drum outro on Seasons Of Wither are a perfect end to the album. Although, I guess when tracking the album, the decision was made to close on a song that depicts the mainstream sound Aerosmith was aiming for. Pandora’s Box certainly is that song.

Get Your Wings is a must own for any fan of Aerosmith or 70s rock and roll. It is one of those albums that I listen to and just can’t believe that it was made before I was even born in ’79. It is exceptional and has stood the test of time. The two common remasters showcase the album with a faithful sound that will be appreciated for generations to come.

Now that I have the vinyl release, I think I will give the CD to my son so that he can get his wings!

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