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R.E.M. - CD
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Here's yet another debut from a band that generally slipped under the radar. R.E.M. obviously went on to record some of the greatest albums of the 80s and 90s (notably 'Automatic,' 'Document', 'Green', Out of Time' etc.) But oddly enough, it's 'Murmur' that I revert back to the most. It really is the definition of a hidden gem. The songs are oddly compelling and individual; a mixture of post-punk economy, new wave rhythm, Beatles-esque melodies and Byrds-like guitar (via Peter Buck's Rickenbacker) with Stipe's appropriately inaudible vocals. On paper, this is an album that shouldn't really work... somehow it does. The album's first 4 tracks are astounding; opener 'Radio Free Europe' swerves and jolts into some kind of calling; Mike Mills and Bill Berry's energetic rhythm section particularly shine through. Similarly, in reflection with the music, 'Pilgrimage' plods and builds with full momentum and melody. My personal favourite on the album (and possibly by R.E.M.) 'Laughing' is both uncomfortable and calming in tangent, and 'Talk About the Passion' mirrors what was yet to come in the bands shining career. Other gems, 'Sitting Still', '9-9' and 'Perfect Circle' are all worth listening to as is the almost amusingly quaint 'We Walk.'This may not be for the masses exactly, but it shows a band on top of their game, without anyone knowing. Good job they kept it up....!
Gears Of War 2 (Classics)
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Gears is back! in one of the most anticipated gaming titles this year and the Epic team certainly haven't spoilt the series by any means. We now see Marcus and co dig deeper into the Locust empire to battle with larger numbers and more ferocious enemies than before. The story is definitely more engaging than the first one with more personal and real events running throughout, especially Dom's continous search for his long lost wife. The campaign also has been given a big revamp to keep things fresh with new characters, new enemies, new weapons and new situations. There are a few new actions in the game which prove useful like the "meat shield" being able to pick up a downed enemy and use as cover, the fact that characters in the campaign can now pick you up and the abiltiy to stick grenades onto walls do keep the ball rolling. The graphics are of course spectacular and now show off even more ellaborate scenery then the first. But...The real let down in the game is the multiplayer. Games are impossible to find (much worse then the first) unless you don't mind waiting round for 15 mins or if you get a 5 man party, and people are sometimes unable to be joined or are just randomly disconnected out of your party.This is of course very irritating, but in some ways this actually isn't much of a problem. Mainly due to the arrival of the best feature in the game: Horde. You team up with up to 4 of your mates and then go head-to-head with waves of locust, increasing in difficulty as you progress. This is just brilliant; you don't have to play with any random people you don't like or know and teaming up against the horde shows for hours of entertainment! This really does make the multiplayer look inferior. All in all, a superb sequel. Obvious thought has been put into it and it properly shows. In some ways, the fresh rough 'n' ready feel from Gears 1 just isn't here in the 2nd. It's much more refined and controlled which has both good and bad points. Still, it's not as if you're not gonna buy it...
Let's Stay Together
Al Green - CD
It seems that Al Green is only known for Greatest Hits and similar compilations from his career. This to me, seems unfair generally down to the fact his debut 'Let's Stay Together,' is simply superb. Obviously he's most well-known for the immortal title track, opening the album with both swagger and depth. But this just cracks the surface of the album; songs such as 'So Your Leaving' and 'Old Time Lovin' are so sweet to listen to, it's almost hard not to smile. 'La-La For You' perfectly builds in lovliness and the album closer 'It Ain't No Fun To Me' gives one of the first soul-rock fusions, with an attitude drenched guitar line. One of the best aspects of this album is the band arrangements throughout; songs such as the catchy 'Never Found A Girl' and the gorgeous 'Judy' boast rich strings, and the brass arrangements throughout the album all shine through with character and melody. The centrepiece, the achingly beautiful 'How Can You Mend A Broken Heart' makes you question whether the Bee Gees actually wrote it originally. One obvious point is Al Green's voice which in itself is eternally original, spanning from a whisper to a loving falsetto with no trouble. 'Let's Stay Together' is certainly not ground breaking by any means, but it perfectly encapsulates the beauty and comfort of soul music in itself.
Grace (Expanded Version)
Jeff Buckley - CD
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It really is a shame that for one, Jeff is constantly referred to as "the one who did Hallelujah," and two; that he was beaten to the Christmas number one by some plain, boring X-factor nonesense. Nevertheless, do not let anyone deter you from buying one of the greatest albums of the 20th century. If you think that's a bit of an exaggeration, you couldn't be more wrong. Grace is one of the most original albums ever to have been released despite having obvious wide influences from rock, jazz, folk, metal, punk and classical; mainly down to Buckley's inventiveness and his incredible voice ranging 4-octaves.As you'd expect; this album is graceful and beautiful; but underneath bares raw power, emotion and anger from loss and loneliness. The album opener rips up the music manual to "start loud," and instead fades in slowly whilst building and swerving into a zeppelin-esque climax. The self-titled track reflects the influence of the grunge movement of the 90's yet keeping Jeff's own melancolic melodic fragility at the same time. The album's 'pop song' "Last Goodbye" really lets the band open up their own musical skills and proves you really can write a proper pop song without reverting to simplicity. Yet it is the more revealing tracks allowing Buckley to shine which really captures the mood; the jazz tinged "Lilac Wine," the aforementioned "Hallelujah" and Benjamin Britten's "Corpus Christi Carol" all allow him to display his abilities and depth. Elsewhere, the centrepiece of the album "Lover, You Should've Come Over" just shows how soulful he really could be with swirling organs, swooping guitars and heart-throbbing cries- if there ever was a career-defining song- this is it. "Eternal Life" again reflects the power and influence of the grunge and metal eras; and "Dream Brother" finishes what "Mojo Pin" left off.Honestly do yourself a favour, especially if you're a musician; listen to this and then imagine what might have happened if he hadn't tragically passed-away ....damn!
SwitchEasy Color Silicone Case For iPod Touch 2G (Stealth)
This for me, is a superb piece of equipment to go with your ipod. Essentially, you really do need either a case or bag to protect your ipod seen as it's so easy to damage or scratch it; therefore I invested in one of these silicone casings (admittedly hesitating after hearing mixed reviews both online and through friends; Some saying they're too loose or they rip easily.) I'm not sure about other branded products but this "SwitchEasy" casing is very well made and looks great; I now have no fear in keeping my ipod in my pocket or bag. The actual material is grippy yet sleek and hardly adds to either the weight or size, whilst the buttons on the Touch are no less accessible then having no case at all.The 2 protective films that you get with the case are useful yet extremely difficult to apply without creating some air bubbles (hence the loss of the 5th star.) It should also be taken into account that the case doesn't protect the screen itself, which is what I personally prefer, rather then a flap to cover it. I would therefore fully reccommend this product or any of the other SwitchEasy cases.
The Seldom Seen Kid
Elbow - CD
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Ok let's set one thing straight; Elbow are not a hard rock or metal band in anyway. Those judging them by their single 'Grounds for Divorce' alone would be unwise; being one of the more heavier tracks on the album. In my personal opinion this is the best album of 2008; possibly described as the OK Computer of this decade. My reason for this comparison is the estounding depth both albums achieve, plus the fact they must be played from start to finish; loud. It is only in this environment that you can fully appreciate the dynamics and musicality of them both.Elbow's sound is mature and conservative, yet full and brash at the same time. The opener 'Starlings' prove this in a trumpet fanfare announcing their arrival. The heavier tracks 'The Bones of You' and 'Grounds for Divorce' help the album bubble along nicely whilst the gorgeous piano based 'Mirrorball' and soaring 'Weather to Fly' will melt slowly in your ears. 'The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver' is like nothing to hit the mainstream yet with rumbling percussion and beautiful strings. The centre piece of the album is definitely ' One Day Like This' with its 3 and a half minute closing, anthemic march. Guy Garvey's lyrics are poetic and almost archaic in places which compliment his northern accent and melodic voice. I did get the bonus track so I'm not sure whether it is pot luck or not but it is certainly worth it. Absolutely Superb!
Bob Marley - CD
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Obviously everyone has heard of the man and i'm sure everyone could name at least three or four songs he's written as well. It is true to say that Bob Marley never really wrote a bad song; and this album is the proof. For a little bit of background; this album was written whilst he was in London, after fleeing an attempted assassination on him, at a gig in Jamaica. Thus Bob appropriately named his album 'Exodus' meaning 'departure.' (Probably referring to the section in the Bible as well.) This is possibly his most political work he ever wrote touching on subjects such as 3rd world poverty and violence (Exodus, Natural mystique, Guiltiness), rumours (So Much Things to Say), with the signature Marley love songs (Waiting in Vain, Turn Your Lights Down Low) and probably most importantly; the idea of world unity (Jamming, Three Little Birds, One Love). This album is referred to as his best work and I would have to agree. It isn't just socially stirring but also spiritually uplifting to listen to depite the mood you may be in. If you're new to Mr Marley; I advise you buy Legend first (containing half of Exodus's songs on it) but if you're getting into him, it's certainly worth buying Exodus simply for the other half as well.
Coldplay - CD
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It has to be said, Coldplay have certainly moved on to their commercial and anthemic 'X & Y's and 'Viva la Vida's without looking back. Their debut Parachutes is almost a secret that they've been hiding all this time. It's rarely talked about by either the band or it's ever-growing fan base of screaming girls and yet it still manages to grab number 14 in the 100 greatest albums. How? Well, it only has to be listened to. Parachutes isn't ground breaking nor does it "raise the bar." It is simply a collection of brilliantly written pieces of music which do not try to be clever or pretentious, isn't targetted at a particular audience and isn't marketed in any clever way. It's just good, honest and straight from the heart. It's calmingly melancholy but not depressing (or depressingly bad which X & Y turned out to be.) You won't hear any synthes or full string orchestras in the backgroud or layers upon layers of guitars to fill the spaces with cheap, rubbish effects. It's drums, guitars, piano and voice.Singles like Yellow, Shiver and Trouble display commercial greatness and potential that Coldplay could (and have) achieve. The spacey High Speed and Spies give the album depth and spectrum. And the exquisite Everything's Not Lost brings a jazzy and hopeful close to album. This in my opinion is Coldplay's finest hour closely followed by 'A Rush...' Absolutely magic to chill out to; highly recommended.
Samsung R8 23 inch LE23R87BD HD Ready Freeview Widescreen LCD TV
I bought this television mainly for my 360 in my bedroom and quite frankly, the quality is outstanding. It's just the perfect size for a bedroom; not too big but still very impressive. The picture quality is great, especially for HD gaming but also for normal television giving a crystal clear image. It looks absolutely superb with a sexy satin-like finish to cover it with a handy little controls section on the side of the television. The freeview can be a little awkward at times; having to turn the television off once or twice before it works but has no problems after this. The only real problems are that it's an absolute dust magnet, literally building it up within days of cleaning it. The remote is pretty unresponsive meaning channel changing can be a little slow. Finally, the sound is relatively average and especially when an Xbox is humming away underneath it, the television sometimes has trouble playing over it. Although it looks as if this is a negative review, the positive points definitely outweigh the negative which can also be overcome; dusting it regularly, getting a cheap surround sound etc.) All in all, a real must have for all bedrooms!
Favourite Worst Nightmare
Arctic Monkeys - CD
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You do have to look at this album from a particular perspective to enjoy it. One of the burdens that come with having the top selling UK debut album ever is that the follow up is incredibley difficult to do well. The Arctic Monkeys have definitely changed their sound, almost matured it. The first 4 tracks do reflect this, creating a fast paced 'garage' sound that are much more 'moshing' styled. But, cleverly the Monkeys have indeed gone back to their honest but clever, Sheffield sound that their debut achieved so well. Possibley the best track on the album; 'Fluorescent Adolescent' is such a mover and reminds everyone why they got to the top. 'Only Ones who know' also shows a level of maturity that the band have grown away from 'Whatever they say...' 'This house is a circus' and 'If you were there...' also shows a garage type influence with echoed lyrics/guitar and fast tempo. The last two tracks also show a different side to the band;'Old Yellow Bricks' is a stomping hit and '505' closes the album with a bang using clever lyrics and an immense build up. This is definitely a must have for '07 but don't expect anything sounding from the debut.