Category Archives: reviews

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Review: Seagate GoFlex portable hard drive

You may think that one portable hard drive is very like another; and that is a problem for manufacturers like Seagate which want to differentiate their range and build customer loyalty.

The trouble is, one portable hard drive really is very like another; so what can it do? The FreeAgent GoFlex range is its answer, and Seagate has sent me the 320GB model for review.

It is billed as the “world’s most upgradeable hard drive,” though you can’t upgrade the thing you might most want to, its capacity.

What you can upgrade is the interface. The GoFlex drive has a detachable interface which in the model supplied to me has a mini USB port on one end, and what looks like a SATA (Serial ATA) connector on the other.

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You can replace the interface with FireWire 800, USB 3.0, or eSATA. To give you an idea of the performance implications, this is what each of these interconnects is capable of in theory, though I have not measured the performance of this implementation:

  • USB 2.0: 480 Mbps
  • USB 3.0: 4.8 Gbps
  • FireWire 800 786 Mbps
  • eSATA 3Gbps

You can see from this that USB 3.0 is theoretically the fastest, though if I am right in thinking that the drive itself has a SATA interface, it will not be any faster than eSATA and will likely be a little slower. However, USB 3.0 is the future and will be more commonly found on PCs and laptops – except for Apple fans who now have Thunderbolt at 10Gbps – so that is the pragmatic choice. Currently though, most computers only have USB 2.0, in which case you will need to get a USB 3.0 card for your computer as well as for the hard drive.

I question whether many users will bother to upgrade the interface on a portable hard drive. They are more likely simply to buy another one, especially as capacities steadily increase, making new drives better value in terms of the amount of storage you get. The downside of the GoFlex removable interface is that it makes the drive slightly bigger than it would otherwise be.

That said, it does have an additional benefits. You can plug the drive directly into a GoFlex media dock, which will be the subject of my next review, or into a variety of other docks which Seagate offers.

There are a few other things to mention. I use both Mac and PC, and while the GoFlex drive works fine with a Mac, it comes formatted as NTFS which on most Macs is read-only. However, the drive comes with a Mac installer that offers to install the Paragon NTFS driver, which enables read-write, or to reformat for OS X.

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I’d suggest reformatting for the Mac, unless you are likely to use the drive for exchanging files between Mac and PC.

I should also mention that the GoFlex drive comes with some bundled software. Seagate has done a deal with Memeo and offers to install various pieces of free and trial software.

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Since you can get all this software easily enough from the Memeo website, I am not greatly impressed, though there is a free copy of Instant Backup which would otherwise cost $29.95. Personally I use Windows 7 and I am happy to use Microsoft’s built-in backup software, though Memeo has a continuous backup system that looks interesting.

Online backup, which is a feature of Memeo’s paid-for Premium Backup, is definitely a step up from what is built in, but in this case you have to buy online storage space as well as the backup software so it is not going to be cheap – especially if, like me, you have ripped a large CD collection to a hard drive.

The big question: do the extra features in GoFlex amount to enough to meet Seagate’s goal of differentiating its range? The ability to dock the drive is handy, and if you plan on using the media dock then yes, but otherwise you may not really notice any benefit, though it is worth getting a USB 3.0 drive if you can use it or expect to be able to soon.

That said, from what I can tell there is little if any price premium for the GoFlex drives and my 320GB sample worked well, though 320GB is rather small these days, and I’d suggest that at least a 500GB model makes more sense if you plan on storing multimedia files or keeping backups.

GoFlex portable drives are also available in 500GB, 750GB, 1TB and 1.5TB capacity. The sizes of 750GB and above have a fatter case: 22mm instead of 14.5mm. The 1.5TB drive is USB 3.0 only.

Disclosure: Kudos to Seagate for asking me to mention in my review that that the review sample does not have to be returned.

Buy from Amazon.co.uk: SEAGATE GoFlex USB 2.0 – 500 GB – black

Buy from Amazon.co.uk: SEAGATE GoFlex STAE104 cable – USB 3.0

Surround sound 5.1 headphones–why and why not. Roccat Kave reviewed

There is something counter-intuitive about 5.1 headphones. Headphones just look so stereo. Can you really create the surround sound illusion with the speakers so close to the ears?

It turns out you can, or at least sufficiently so to make these Kave 5.1 headphones from Roccat a satisfying product. They are intended primarily as gaming headphones, which explains the attached microphone, though it could be handy for Skype calls and other such uses as well. Another common use is for movies, where surround sound adds to the drama and sense of immersion. They are not really intended for music; but I found them pretty good for that as well.

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What you get is a set of closed-back headphones with a relatively fat cable and an inline control box. The cable has four two-channel mini-jacks, one each for front pair, center and subwoofer, read pair, and microphone input, as well as a USB connector which supplies power and enables communication between the control box and the PC. You can flip open a panel on the control box to reveal channel sliders and to switch between “game” and “movies”.

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Installation is a matter of plugging the cables into your sound card and a USB port. You need a 5.1 sound card, since there is no decoder in the Kave. Another point of interest: the volume control and mute on the control box directly control the volume and mute on the PC, but the 5.1 balance controls operate on the signal after it is received from the sound care; at least, that is what I observed on my test system.

The plugs are colour-coded; I also found the Windows 7 5.1 configuration utility handy for checking that I had the connections right.

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There is a CD in the box but it does not contain any drivers as none is necessary. It does have a 5.1 demo video and a manual.

I tried the Kave with a variety of game, movie and music DVDs. In general I was impressed; but it is important to set expectations. I am a fan of Sennheiser headphones and use the high-end HD600 as well as a variety of cheaper sets. In comparison with the Sennheiser models the Kave is enjoyable but unrefined, and for listening in stereo a traditional set of headphones is probably what you want.

Equally, if you have a full home cinema setup and sit in the sweet spot with carefully-positioned loudspeakers and a proper sub, the Kave cannot compete favourably.

The point though is that such a setup is both expensive and often impractical; sometimes you need to listen privately or in another room.

In this context, and given a 5.1 mix, the Kave has real advantages, even for music. It is curious. I played with the sliders to compare the sound of the front and rear channels, and found that the positional difference is subtle and hard to detect. If you play a 5.1 mix with the Kave though, and then play the same downmixed to stereo, the sound is flat in comparison, in ways that even the purer hi-fi sound of something like the HD600 cannot altogether compensate for.

The benefit of true 5.1 sound is sometimes apparent in details that you can more easily hear, and sometimes a matter of a more three-dimensional sound.

The sub in the Kave is puny compared to a real one, but does add some grunt to games and movies. Confusingly, Rokkat also calls this a “Vibration unit” which lets them say that the Kave has “adjustable vibration” – all this means is that you can vary the level of the sub channel as you would expect. There is no additional vibration unit.

It is a compromise, and if possible you should try to hear the Kave in comparison with a high quality stereo set before making a decision; or ideally have both so that you can choose the best option for a particular title.

The Kave is on the heavy side but comfortable to wear. It has a blue neon light at the headphone end of the microphone stalk, and another which lights up when the microphone is muted; this is meant to look stylish and futuristic though will not appeal if your tastes are more towards the understated.

The Kave folds for convenience though it is hardly worth it as they are still somewhat bulky. The multiple connections and awkward control box make the Kave best suited for semi-permanent installation in a desktop PC, rather than something you would use on your travels.

Given its suitability for gaming, it is a shame that the Kave cannot be used easily with an Xbox 360 or PS3, though with adaptors you should be able to get it working, remote volume aside. It should work fine with a Mac though, if you have a suitable soundcard.

I do not mean to be negative. I was pleased with the Kave, which offers an excellent listening experience, recommended for games for movies and enjoyable for music as well.

Summary

Good points: Comfortable headphones that offer a taste of real 5.1 sound; well made and high quality.

Bad points: Multiple connections and floating control box can be inconvenient.

Summary: Real 5.1 sound headphones and most enjoyable, though less refined than stereo sets at a similar price level.

Review: Audyssey iPhone Audio Dock South of Market Edition

How good can a dock for an Apple iPod or iPhone sound? Pretty good, as this high-end South of Market Audio Dock from Audyssey demonstrates. If you think all iPod docks have thin, tinny bass, think again. It also turns out to be a neat speakerphone.

The dock has a distinctive bulbous shape, measuring around 24cm (9.5”) square on its largest side, with the dock mounted on the front edge. The unit is designed to sit on a desk or table and is surprisingly heavy for its size – probably an encouraging sign. Viewed from the front it looks tall and compact.

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The side view though shows that the speakers do have some room to breathe.

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As you can see, the speakers are firing more or less sideways. This is not ideal for stereo imaging, but in practice the dock delivers a wider image than you might expect.

Here is what you get out of the box: the dock, a remote with a battery, a USB cable, and two 3.5mm audio cables.

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Getting started is just a matter of putting the battery in the remote (slightly fiddly), plugging in the power cable, docking your iPod or iPhone, and playing some music. There is also an app you can download that provides some additional settings.

Before going into more detail about what this dock is capable of, let me say immediately that the sound quality is excellent. Words that come to mind are crisp, deep, rich, smooth and powerful. Vocals have real presence. The dock successfully conveyed the drama of a Mahler symphony, the growl of Tom Waits, the complex rhythms and pace of Santana, and the tender emotion of English folk singer Sandy Denny. Once I started playing music, I did not want to stop.

The secret of this high quality is twofold. First, the electronics follows high-end principles. There are four speakers – two 4-inch woofers, two .75 inch tweeters – which are powered by four separate amplifiers controlled by an active crossover. By contrast, a typical home hi-fi would have two amplifiers driving speakers with passive crossovers. Active crossovers mean that the musical signal is divided into the optimum frequencies for each speaker driver at a low level, introducing less distortion and improving control.

Audyssey takes further advantage of this, by using software processing to mitigate the limitations of the speaker drivers. That’s no surprise, since Audyssey specialises in audio processing technology for other manufacturers, which gets incorporated into home theatre and in-car equipment.

According to the specification, there are several techniques implemented in this dock. BassXT extends the bass response by boosting the signal dynamically to flatten the frequency response at a point when it would normally be dropping off. Audyssey EQ corrects “time and frequency response” imperfections introduced by the loudspeakers and cabinets. Dynamic EQ performs frequency response correction to preserve a flat response as volume changes. Dynamic Volume evens out the volume level to compensate for differences in the volume of the source.

Some of these features can be controlled or disabled by a companion iOS app, free to install. Specifically, you can disable Dynamic Volume or set it to optimize for Background Listening; you can apply tone controls including a single tone control called Tilt or traditional bass and treble; or you can set your own custom EQ.

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I admit that seems a lot of processing; and it would not have surprised me if the results were worse than pure straight-through audio reproduction. That is not the case though; the unit sounds very good indeed. Given the challenge of getting high quality sound from a relatively small enclosure, taking advantage of digital processing makes sense to me, provided it is carefully implemented at it is here.

Controlling playback

Once you have docked an iPhone and set it playing, you can control it either from the iPhone itself, or from the supplied remote, or pause and play by tapping an illuminated icon on top of the unit (It is not obvious that this is a button, but once you discover it, it is a handy feature; it also has some other functions including answering phone calls and showing Bluetooth status).

The remote has buttons for volume up/down, pause/play, and skip forward or back.

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The Audyssey dock supports Bluetooth and for full features you should pair your iPhone with it and keep Bluetooth on. Now you can stream music from an iPhone even when it is not docked. This can be handy, since the iPhone is easier to use in your hand then when docked. Using Bluetooth, you can undock it with only brief interruption in playback, for example for selecting music. Range seems good, and I was able to detach the iPhone, walk through the door of my study and into the corridor, and the music kept playing – though note that the audio quality will not be as good. I found the quality acceptable though noticeably inferior.

When docked, the iPhone will charge provided the dock is not in standby mode.

There are also buttons on the remote intended for the dock’s speakerphone feature, which deserves its own paragraph.

Audyssey as conferencing speakerphone

The most intriguing feature of the Audyssey South of Market dock is its speakerphone feature. For this to work, you must have Bluetooth enabled.

Scenario: you are enjoying music, when a call comes in. At this point the music pauses, the iPhone invites you to decline or answer the call, and a ring sounds through the dock’s loudspeakers. Tap the phone icon on the remote and you can answer the call while using the dock as a speakerphone.

It turns out the Audyssey dock makes a rather good speakerphone. It performs microphone array processing and echo cancellation to improve voice quality, using front and rear microphones, and in my testing this worked well.

You can also wire up the dock to a computer, using its line in and mic out connections. This lets you use it as a speakerphone with Skype or other Voice over IP providers. Nice idea, though my guess it that this is too inconvenient for most users. Working with the iPhone is more compelling.

Connections

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This is the back panel, showing the microphone output, line in, and USB port. Above the panel is a button for pairing a Bluetooth device. If you connect the USB port to a computer, the docked iPhone will sync with iTunes, though auto-sync can be a nuisance if you frequently dock and undock the device.

Annoyances

Not that many. However, I would like some way to select music from my seat when the iPhone is docked, beyond the simple track skip on the remote. Of course you can do this using Bluetooth streaming, though sound quality may be compromised.

Even with Bluetooth set up, I find that removing the iPhone from the dock pauses the music. I have to tap play to resume it. Re-docking the iPhone interrupts the music briefly but it resumes automatically.

Considering the cost of the device though, it’s a shame that Audyssey does not supply a proper manual; there is an excellent one online [pdf], but the one in the box is just safety warnings and limited warranty, pleasing for the lawyers but not for users.

The stereo separation is good considering it is a single box, but poor compared to two speakers set apart in the normal way.

Summary

The Audyssey South of Market Dock costs more than most iPod/iPhone docks, but in return it delivers superb sound quality along with some well thought-out speakerphone features.

The B&W Zeppelin makes an interesting comparison. The Zeppelin is a little more expensive but has better stereo separation thanks to its 640mm (25.2 in) width, and has a sub-woofer for extended bass. On the other hand, the Audyssey is more compact and could be considered less intrusive depending on what you think of the Zeppelin’s distinctive styling, and the Zeppelin has no Bluetooth streaming.

In the USA it is an easy decision. The Audyssey dock at around $400 is better value than a Zeppelin at around $600. In the UK the fact that B&W is a UK company whereas Audyssey is based in Los Angeles seems to bring the prices closer together: £400 for a Zeppelin versus £350 for the Audyssey dock. Try to hear them both; but the Audyssey dock is not shamed and is still well worth considering.

Compatibility

The South of Market Audio Dock fits:

  • iPhone 4
  • iPhone 3 and 3GS
  • iPod Touch
  • iPod Nano (4th and 5th generation)
  • iPod classic

Price and availability

The Audyssey South of Market Dock costs around $399.00. You should find it at Apple stores among other retailers.

Amazon.co.uk is advertising this dock for availability from 15th January 2011, at £349.99

 

SHM-SACD – super-expensive, but how super is the sound?

The problems facing the music industry are well-known: the CD market is fast disappearing thanks to digital downloads, both legal and illegal, and income gained from downloads does not look likely to match that lost from CD. But what about the niche market for recordings of superior quality? Universal Music Japan has come up with a product that combines several ideas. The first is SHM, or Super High Material, first used for CDs with the claim that, despite being a digital medium, players would extract better quality sound from CDs made with it. The next theory is that the high-resolution SACD format will play back more accurately if the disk only includes a stereo layer, rather than including stereo, multi-channel, and standard CD layers. The result is a new SHM-SACD series, remasters of classic titles at premium prices.

The source used for these titles varies. Some are new DSD (Direct Stream Digital, the digital format of SACD) master made from copy master tapes held in Japan. Some are re-issues of existing DSD transfers. Some are newly mastered from original master tapes.

Who’s Next is apparently in this last group, newly mastered from the original tapes. It is said to have been done as straight as possible,  with no equalization or compression, and is the original mix.

This is a favourite of mine, so I bought a copy. It comes in typically over-the-top Japanese packaging, SHM-SACD in a plastic film sleeve inside a paper sleeve inside a card sleeve. There is a fold-out cover with a photograph I’ve not seen before, liner notes, obi, and a card to return with suggestions for future titles.

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I played the disk and compared it to my existing CD. In fact, I must confess, I have several copies. Who’s Next has been issued many times, and the most obsessive fans know that the best CD is an early one mastered by Steve Hoffman and made in Japan for the US market. He has written about how he mastered it on his forum, using as little processing as possible though he did add some modest EQ.

Both the Hoffman CD and the new SACD sound very good. I am not quite sure which I prefer, but it may be the SACD which sounds exceptionally clean and lets you easily follow John Entwistle’s fantastic bass lines. Or it might be the Hoffman CD which is remarkably crisp and muscular. There is an odd problem with the SACD, which is that the last track is noticeably louder than the others. It was recorded separately, but that seems no reason not to match the volume.

So do I recommend the SACD, and by extension, the new SHM-SACD range? Well, I am all in favour of mastering CDs with full dynamic range, no attempt at noise reduction, minimal processing, and without the excessive compression that mars so many new releases. The Who’s Next title shows what great results you an get with this approach.

That said, it is tragic to have these high quality new remasters restricted to a niche format at an excessive price. The SHM thing I suspect is nonsense; if CDs and SACDs made with ordinary material did not work properly, we would have noticed it years ago. The advantages of SACD are doubtful too, certainly for stereo, because the limitations of human hearing make the extended frequency response pointless. I have researched this to the best of my ability and while I don’t know for sure that high-resolution formats like SACD are completely pointless, it does seem that standard CDs can sound either the same or nearly the same when the audible difference is put to the test with any rigour.

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The SACD format is also rather inconvenient. You cannot easily rip to to a music server, you have to make a further digital copy from the analogue output of the SACD player, and then rip the copy, probably breaching your license in doing so, and potentially degrading the sound quality.

I also compared stereo-only and hybrid SACDs using Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, which was issued in both guises. The stereo version sounds identical.

Still, even you are paying for a certain amount of stuff and nonsense, you are also getting SACDs that genuinely sound good, at least in the case of Who’s Next. Perhaps it could even be worth it.

Review: The Who – Greatest Hits Live

The Who at its best is the equal of any live band ever, so the new double CD Greatest Hits Live has plenty of potential. On the other hand, cherry-picking from concerts over a 42-year period (1965 to 2007) is unlikely to offer the coherence or adrenalin rush of a single concert – get the sublime Live At Leeds in the unlikely event you have not heard it yet – and much of this material has appeared before, especially if you snagged the fanclub-only release View from a Backstage Pass.

The first CD here covers the original band including the late, great Keith Moon. Not a bad track here, though personally even by 1976 there was some decline in the band’s live performance in my opinion.

The CD does not present the songs chronological order which seems odd to me. I’ve sorted them for the list below. Great to have the songs from Hull, the day after the famous Leeds gig. In detail:

BBC Session 1965
My Generation

Leeds 14 Feb 1970
Magic Bus

Hull 15 Feb 1970
Happy Jack
I’m a Boy

San Francisco 12 Dec 1971
I Can’t Explain
Substitute
Behind Blue Eyes

Largo 6 Dec 1973
5.15
Won’t Get Fooled Again

Charlton Athletic FC, 18 May 1974
Naked Eye/Let’s See Action/My Generation

Swansea, 12 June 1976
Pinball Wizard
I’m Free
Squeezebox

CD2 on the other hand starts 15 years later. The first part is a good chunk of a 1989 concert from a tour which honestly was not one of The Who’s best. But it is still The Who and worth hearing. Then we get a scattering of tracks from more recent concerts, including a fine Real Me from Watford in 2002 and Eminence Front from Brisbane last year. Overall though, it’s not a particularly good representation of the best latter-day Who. In fact, I’d rather have had the entire Watford concert. In detail:

Los Angeles, 24 August 1989
I can see for miles
Join Together
Love Reign O’er Me
Baba O’Riley
Who Are You

Watford 31 Jan 2002
The Real Me

Royal Albert Hall, London, 7 Feb 2002
The Kids are Alright

New York, 11 March 2007
A man in a purple dress

Brisbane, 24 March 2009
Eminence Front

Overall, enjoyable but not a very satisfactory release. I’d recommend the At Kilburn 1977 [DVD] [2008, which also includes a concert at Coliseum 1969, ahead of this – the Coliseum concert on that is just fantastic. Greatest Hits Live on the other hand is mainly for Who enthusiasts.

Review: Broken bells

I’ve listened to this CD by James Mercer (ex The Shins) and Brian Burton (half of Gnarls Barkley) numerous times and can’t shake off the feeling that this could have been much better. That said, it’s good in lots of ways. The sounds are inventive, the melodies are strong, the talent is obvious.

The sound is a little dated, though I’m guessing that’s deliberate; there are echoes of eighties-style new romantic crooning plus electronica.

What’s missing then? Well, one of the songs is called "Sailing to nowhere" which sums it up nicely. The CD is lacking in passion or any real sense of direction.

If you like what James Mercer and Danger Mouse have done before, then you’ll likely enjoy this, though I doubt you will find it their best work. For others, there’s little compelling reason to grab this CD, though it passes pleasantly enough

A few observations on King Crimson: The Court of the Crimson King

DGM has released a magnificent CD/DVD box set reissue of King Crimson’s classic debut, The Court of the Crimson King.

Maybe I will write more about this when I have listened to it properly, but in the meantime a few observations.

This is completist heaven. There is always argument about whether reissues should feature the original mix (for authenticity) or a new mix (to benefit from modern noise-free mixing techniques). The makers of the recent Genesis boxes contentiously chose the latter. DGM by contrast offers both.

Not only that, you get several versions of both. You get a new 2009 mix in CD and several DVD versions – several DVD versions because only DVD audio players can cope with the highest resolution, and most people only have DVD video players – so we end up with a 2009 surround mix in two audio versions; a 2009 stereo mix in two audio versions; and the original mix as mastered in 2004 in two audio versions.

It doesn’t stop there. We also get a needledrop from the first pressing of the UK vinyl release on Island Records; and an alternate take version of the album with different performances, such as an instrumental-only 21st Century Schizoid Man.

Then there are the other extras: the full version of Moonchild; a live concert from 1969 (Hyde Park, July 5th combined with Filmore East, New York in November); a mono album mix issued for US radio.

If 5 CDs and a DVD aren’t enough for you, you can also enjoy the LP-size box, which enables the original artwork to be printed at its proper size, and inserts including a well-written 24 page booklet, two photographs from the era, and rattling aimlessly about inside, two little badges.

But I promised some observations, not just a description. I love the album; never be deceived by the opening clamour of 21st Century Schizoid Man, this is thoughtful music, not a mindless thrash. It was extraordinary hearing it for the first time; I’m not sure when that was for me – not 1969, but a couple of years later. It might have been on that wonderful Island Records sampler, Nice Enough to Eat, which I listened to in 1972 or thereabouts. If any album deserves this kind of treatment, this one does.

It was particularly thoughtful of the compilers to include the vinyl needledrop and the full-size artwork. Still … as it happens I have the record, not the first pressing, but an early ILPS, 4U matrix if you really want to know.

I played the record and then the CD needledrop. You know what? My record sounds better to my ears. Oddly, on the “declicked” needledrop you can easily hear pre-echo of the opening salvo of Schizoid, where it goes from very quiet to very loud. This is a vinyl flaw, where a quiet groove picks up a faint echo of the louder groove which follows it. My cut doesn’t have that, at least not audibly. It also sounds richer, more open, more dynamic.

Another thing I noticed: the artwork. Honestly, you have to see an early pressing of the original LP to appreciate this very striking image. The definition is much better, the colours more vibrant, those eyes – they stare manically out of the original, in the new print they are muted.

I’m guessing that they didn’t manage to get hold of the original artwork, and that what we have here is a print of a print.

Never mind. If you love this album, get the box; it is fantastic. You can get it from burning shed.

Review: Animal Kingdom – signs and wonders

I reviewed this on Amazon and called it “Quirky, mystical and tuneful”. It’s the debut album from a promising London band, though this was recorded in Seattle. Animal Kingdom has been quietly building a fan base, playing support to the likes of Snow Patrol as well as their own club gigs.

The band has already released two singles, both excellent: the affecting, ethereal Chalk Stars, and the pulsating Tin Man, a love song for the electronic age. Both songs feature here, along with the new single Signs and Wonders which is not quite the equal of the first two, but still a catchy number.

What you get is Richard Sauberlich’s delicate, keening vocals; lyrics which are quirky and mystical, and music that is pacey and tuneful. The band cite a broad range of influences from Arcade Fire, to Dylan, to the Cure, to Massive Attack, all of which can be heard in snatches here and there.

As you might expect from an album called Signs and Wonders, there’s plenty of biblical imagery: Two by Two (think Noah’s Ark), Walls of Jericho, Mephistopheles, and more.

It all passes pleasantly enough, and that in a way is the problem. Could there be a tension between the band’s darker instincts and its pursuit of that elusive mass market? At times this CD is just a bit too pretty and poppy. By contrast, my favourite track is the swirling Mephistopheles, declaimed rather than sung, and featuring disturbing, evocative imagery against a pounding but delicate keyboard background.

Not perfect then; but Signs and Wonders is well worth it for its best moments, which are superb. Catch Animal Kingdom live if you can, and watch this space.

Animal Kingdom is Richard Sauberlich (vocals, guitar, piano), Wayne Yardley (guitar), Hamish Crombie (bass) and Geoff Lea (drums).

Review: Here comes the Future by the Honeydrips

The Honeydrips is Mikael Carlsson, formerly in the Swedish band Dorotea. This is a beautiful album – the band’s sole release, as far as I know – combining Carlsson’s haunting, graceful vocals with electro-funk backing that echoes (more than echoes, in places) bands such as New Order and its predecessor Joy Division, though it is generally lighter in mood.

The album opens with some twanging guitar and the words “Last night I had the strangest dream”, setting a surreal atmosphere that persists throughout.

Favourite track: It was a sunny Summer day, a bland title disguising a cascade of melody, a touch of Carribean percussion, and bittersweet lyrics "it was a sunny summer day, when all my hope drifted away…"

"I know a place where you and I could go, if you’re up for trying something new" (from the second track) – give it a go. You don’t even need to buy it; try it on Spotify, which is where I discovered it, though I went on to buy the CD from the record label’s site:

http://www.sincerelyyours.se/boutique.php

proving that online music services really can result in a purchase.