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Sophia Pfister – Birdcage (Album Review)

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Sophia Pfister – Birdcage (Album Review)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Home is lovely!

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

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

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

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

Please You is such a mellow song. Beautiful!

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

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

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

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

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

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Ed Sheeran – + (Album Review)

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Ed Sheeran – + (Album Review)

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

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

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

U.N.I. is beautiful!

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

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

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

This is yet another magnificent song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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