I have reviews of a 18 vinyl releases here. So I’ll give you a quick run down of the creative work itself of course but also comments on the packaging, the master and the pressing, when required
Titles: Solid Pleasure/Claro Qu Si/You Gotta Say Yes To Another Excess/Stella/Flag
Yello? The fact that they initially signed to The Residents’ label, Ralph was a statement of sorts, right there and then. The musical form was synth pop but the band would develop from a satirical/fun/humorous but also experimental output to an evolved electro-pop duo. One that always kept commercial concerns firmly in view and one that begun to sound more and more like good pals of The Pet Shop Boys or even Moby. Sure, they retained experimental elements but they maintained a steady, non-alienating, crowd-friendly, appeal-to-as-many-people-as-humanly-possible, creative course.
What we have here are a vinyl series of Collector’s Editions from the duo’s early days, that feature bonus extras, via Universal.
SOLID PLEASURE (1980)
On the edge synth pop from the duo who were part of a swathe of outfits influenced by the Kraftwerk phenomenon. From the off, pop infused this album but there’s plenty of variation across this release that keeps you involved. Includes the 12” vinyl single, I.T. Splash.
USA – https://amzn.to/40cbFye
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3LzROoy
CLARO QUE SI (1981)
There’s a real Euro disco vibe coming from this one as the duo find their commercial feet. Innovation is still there, absolutely, but pop is finding a greater place in the mix. Includes a coloured-vinyl 12” edition of Live at the Roxy (New York, December 1983).
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/42n9f1y
YOU GOTTA SAY YES TO ANOTHER EXCESS (1983)
The production values add further gloss to the pop shine giving the synth vibes extra punch alongside the commercial grammar. This is music to accompany Fashion Week but it’s also the sound of Yello falling back into the chasing synth-pop pack. Includes coloured vinyl 12” of I Love You.
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3JWMwT7
Features the duo’s biggest hit, Oh Yea and a wake up call from Yello who seemed to suddenly realise that they had competition and had to do something about it. Lots of melodic hooks, drama, grandeur and yes, pop. Includes coloured vinyl 12” version of Desire.
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3ZUVQfH
ONE SECOND (1987)
Keeps the Stella vibes going even if the innovation and adventure is reduced in scope. There’s a sense of the ‘let it ride’ feel to this one. Includes vocals from Billy Mackenzie and Shirley Bassey and a 12” vinyl reissue of the single Goldrush.
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/40i8cxY
This album sounds like the duo were trying to find a new style, a new direction, they touched on older stuff, they looked around World rhythms and genres for inspiration and were only partly successful. There’s plenty to feed on here but Flag never really holds together. Includes 12” single, coloured vinyl of The Race.
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3Jjtwwm
Mastering quality for this series? Generally good with lots of clarity and punch around bass but there is some compressive ‘enhancement’ around the mids so you lose a little bit of space and air as the mids are pushed towards the edge. Still, they all remain listenable.
Title: An Imaginary Journey
Combining jazz with avant-classicism and experimental vibes, double bass man, Alberto Brutti teams up with his contemporary jazz project, KARU featuring organic instruments and synths (karumusik.bandcamp.com/album/an-imaginary-journey). There’s a world music connection here too, which integrates well within the jazz envelope, supplying tribal beats and rhythms. There’s plenty of exploration within each track, adding an avant-prog element to the album. If you like to dive deep, then check out this one.
Mastering for this vinyl? There’s a smidgeon of compression here which is evident during crescendos and upper mid/treble-based instruments but I was impressed with the 3D effect directly behind the stereo image.
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3TmNE5c
Title: Do You Need a Release?
A double vinyl album from Sean Guerin and Isaac Franco and I keep seeing the word ‘punk’ in and around their hype but really? No. Far from it. This one offers largely uplifting Euro disco-skinned pop. The tracks are light on touch, sometimes bland, pop re-treads but with notable highlights. I liked The Final Breath You Take and New Summers which is an uplifting, up-tempo, disco-pop venture with rocking elements to add texture.
Mastering? Surprisingly open and airy master with low noise, good bass response with lots of detail. Then again, this album is spread over two discs.
USA – https://amzn.to/3YX3iFV
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3LwhKBn
Title: Some Kind of Peace
Released on the Mercury label, this LP is sub-titled Piano Reworks. What we have here are guests from varying genre backgrounds taking the Arnalds creations and adding their own vinyl spin. That means people like Lambert, Hana Rani, Duston O’Halloran, JFDR and more. “When the idea of a reworks album came up,” said Arnalds, “I thought of it as a chance to get some of my favourite people together on an album and challenge them to experiment, pull apart and rearrange my music.”
There’s a laid-back, easy-going, gentle approach to much of this work, mostly instrumental, some vocal but always calming.
In mastering terms? Very nice. Neutral, balanced and no obvious vices. If I had a personal quibble, I might have queried the original mic-ing up of the studio because I would have, at times, appreciated a more intimate, close in sound rather than the Hall EQ sound I too often hear, here. That, the piano is over…there, kind of sound. But that’s me and hey, who am I to question the artistic process?
USA – https://amzn.to/3TmHpOW
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3ZT2bZ9
Title: Feorm Falorx
Released by Warp, album No.11 is based upon a SF concept but it’s the music I’m more interested here and what Warp used to call Intelligent Techno, although that monicker has long since passed its sell by date. Even so, there is plenty of the ‘intellectual’ in and around this electronica suite. Complex, cyclical, melodic patterns, some with beats others without but always rewarding if you listen carefully and take note of left and right turns. Suddenly the light dawns and you hitch a ride to an uplifting, entrancing sonic journey. Beautiful stuff. How do they maintain such a high level of quality over so many years of music production?
Mastering? Top notch stuff here too with a balanced sound, the low noise means there’s high quality instrumental separation here (i.e. literally, there’s noticeable spaces in between instruments) which allows even more detail to emerge. A quality vinyl package all ‘round.
USA – https://amzn.to/3yMhXZN
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3YXmfIv
Title: The Portable Herman Dune
This apparently is Volume 1 (herman-dune.bandcamp.com/album/the-portable-herman-dune-vol-1) – a title you only see on the rear of the sleeve – in which the man’s 22 years of songwriting is being slowly unleashed onto the public, via voice and acoustic guitar. Mostly. This is a (relatively) stripped Americana production. The songs have to largely stand on their own but there are extra instrumental accents here to add flavour and vocal guests that provide texture to the bare songs. They are: Julie Doiron, Mayon (Ivar’s life partner), Caitlin Rose, Jolie Holland and Kimya Dawson. They provide a quality counter-point that adds a cuteness to the basic Dune vocal. It’s effective, though.
Mastering? Very good indeed with a 3D depth around the stereo vinyl image. There’s real precision around the vocal but that’s not due to noticeable compression or, if it is, is subtle enough to sound like something else. The studio? The mics? The effect sounds primitive and stripped which goes well with the music.
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/42isjOz
Title: The Number Of The Beast
Released via Parlophone but originally issued in 1982, this album has to be right up there as one of the best heavy metal albums of all time. No compromise metal. Purist metal. This was the album in which the punkish elements were left behind and the epic dramas took their place, pushed by lead vocalist Bruce Dickinson. More, it slotted into a time and place and the satanically hungry minds of their young fans which helped push this album to success and the band to super stardom.
This 40th anniversary 3-LP edition includes a track tweak where Total Eclipse replaces Gangland. Apparently the band were never happy with the original running order and they see this tweak as more representative of the original vision. This edition also includes the first-ever vinyl release of the Beast over Hammersmith live album. These recordings are taken from a March 1982 performance.
Mastering? Commendably low recording levels on this one, there’s no excessive peak limiting, thank goodness. You’ll be upping the gain six or seven notches to reach your usual volume level which will boost the natural bass and upper mids around the lead guitar, which is quite remarkable for such a commercial release. There is some compression if you really push this one but it sounds more like a carry over from the original recording as opposed to this mastering effort which is, as I say, is surprisingly balanced. Have music producers come to their senses at last? Wonders will never cease, eh?
USA – https://amzn.to/42lMDP1
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3JxhbF8
Title: Truly Trash
Out now via One Little Independent (www.olirecords.com) is this indie/punk outing from the London-based quartet. The ladies offer plenty of energy, angular songs featuring lyrical rage against inequality and bad relationships, angry guitar distortion, stripped synth riffs, fast-paced bass, discordant vocals and a sense of the chaotic.
And very nice all of this is too, when wrapped up with a ribbon of noise. The girls push their music right into your face because they have something to say. It’s up to you if you choose to listen. I hope the girls keep that going and even turn up the levels and the anger a bit. There’s still room to grow.
For the mastering? This one is generally decent. I did note compression around the lead vocal and during crescendos. For example, from the synth backing but the compression is not excessive enough to harm listening enjoyment.
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/42lAIR9
Title: Time on my Hands
Also from One Little Independent is Icelandic singer-songwriter, Ásgeir’s fourth album. There’s a modern sheen to Ásgeir’s work which is not so much Icelandic in tone per se, as derivative of Planet Chart. I hasten to add, for work aimed at that distant place, Ásgeir’s songs are of a higher order than many other inhabitants I could name. His output is calming yet rhythmic but always pop based with an eye on commercial success. So there’s nothing unique here. No innovation. No edge. Nothing to make you stop what you’re doing and declare, “Hang on…”
Except the title track, which is a favourite. The album is pleasant, though.
(N.B days later. OK, ok, it’s growing on me. Damn it. So give this one time.)
Mastering? Very nice. Levels are pushed to put some emphasis around the detail but bass provides a warming support to mids and treble which remain informative and never pinching. Good imagery and general balanced.
USA – https://amzn.to/3yKELZN
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3yMFUjy
PACO DE LUCÍA
Title: The Montreux Years
In case you are unfamiliar, de Lucía was a child prodigy who took the Flamenco guitar (his family was full of Flamenco guitarists, incidentally) and moved it from a rear-mounted accessory to an instrument with a voice, to occupy the spotlight using modern techniques and to feature emotion and passion of a personal nature. He was a master of the guitar by the age of 11. He moved upwards from there.
Featuring quality performances from 1984 to 2012, this 2LP release includes new liner notes and rare photos from his Montreux shows.
Mastering? de Lucía can caress his guitar strings or he can punch them out like bullets from a gun so any mastering has to cope with dynamic extremes and this one broadly does and across a wide soundstage too. There’s measure of compression which ones the upper mids but nothing to egregious.
USA – https://amzn.to/3Tok1R3
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/40d8rKT
Title: Dream Analog
Grace (gracegravity.com/store/) kindly contacted me via social media and asked me to take a listen to this new release and I’m glad I did. Especially as she produces her music via a bijou analogue record studio. And that does have a bearing on sound quality.
A singer-songwriter, Grace (I feel odd calling her Gravity – does the name relate to the NASA mission, I wonder?) is a singer-songwriter of the old school. I mentioned analogue recording but she feels vintage in general terms – and in a good way. That is, although there are modern elements and flavours (how can there not be?) There is a feeling that she has one foot planted in the early seventies. From that classic golden age of singer songwriters.
She sometimes double/triple tracks her voice too, to give it a full, melodic, harmonious presentation and it’s very effective because her voice already has a power of its own, with a friendly vibrato. There’s nothing scrawny about the Grace tonsils.
There’s some decent backing sounds behind Grace too. There’s a few images of the guys backing Grace on the inner sleeve. This album is very easy to listen to, it washes over you with ease.
Mastering? Very nice. Bass offers a rich tonal presentation that provides a solid foundation to relatively smooth lead vocals alongside detailed guitar work.
BUY HERE: https://gracegravity.com/store
Titles: Hallelujah & Songs From His Albums/Here it is: A Tribute To Leonard Cohen
Two titles by and devoted to the man. The first, Hallelujah & Songs From His Albums is a Sony Legacy compilation spanning his career over two discs including a previously unreleased live version of Hallelujah that he sang at Glastonbury Festival in 2008. Tracks include Suzanne, Bird on the Wire, I’m Your Man and Show Me The Place.
And it’s all good but is it the best collection for anyone looking to get into the great man’s work? Would the Songs of Leonard Cohen, be a better entry point? I wonder – apart from the unreleased track – if this collection is a little redundant?
Possibly of more interest is the second collection here, via Blue Note, featuring artists singing Cohen songs. Artists include people like Peter Gabriel, Norah Jones, David Gray, Iggy Pop (!), James Taylor, Bill Frisell and more. It’s quite a line up all on its own and the performances are sincere and earnest.
Even so, you feel that there’s one invited guest who hasn’t turned up, Cohen himself. Nevertheless, there is much to admire on this one.
Mastering? There’s much to admire here too. Neutral, balanced with no obvious issues, Cohen’s compilation album features plenty of bass response for the Cohen vocal with enough air and space to provide a broad soundstage for everything else.
If anything, the covers album provides yet more dynamic reach – above and below. There’s impressive bass response on this one with smooth mids and delicate treble presentation. This one is a joy.
HALLELUJAH & SONGS FROM HIS ALBUMS
USA – https://amzn.to/3ZZ9vlS
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/40aQqg4
HERE IT IS: A TRIBUTE TO LEONARD COHEN
USA – https://amzn.to/3mZ7aJc
EUROPE – https://amzn.to/3TnB0D0