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The XX - CD
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It is difficult to know exactly where to start with this album. There is a sense that this follow up to their brilliant debut album, that Coexist is essentially The XX Part 2 - it's not a radical departure from the mellow stripped down beats-and-guitar formula which appealed to so many.
There is also a sense that much of this album is stuck in the same gear. While the debut featured subtle shifts in mood and tempo, it is somewhat lacking on Coexist. Openers Angel and Chainedwere very bland.
Things improve alot with Fiction which features arguably Oliver Sim s strongest vocal to date - hear the gut-wrenching catharsis at 1.44.
The rest of the album is as inconsistent as the opening three tracks - there are moments of brilliance throughout these 11 tracks, but for every good track there is a rather unwanted punctuation from the likes of Try and Unfold which spoils things.
Swept Away is absolutely stunning and is very much like a cross between 'Stars' from their debut and their stripped down medley of ATBs 9am Til I Come which made it into their live sets in the summer of 2010. Probably the best thing The XX have ever recorded so far in their young career.
Elsewhere the moody beats of Sunset, lovelorn Tides and steel-drum-backed Reunion all standout as the album's strongest tracks.
Overall there is undoubtedly some great stuff on this album, but they are disappointingly fleeting as the band play it far too safe on this record and fail to make use of Jamie Smith s undoubted creative nous.
Resident Evil 5
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While I found RE5 entertaining and a decent enough game, it just felt very different to the early RE games. While I accept that series' need to evolve and develop with the times, RE5 only partially succeeds.
The fast-moving 'zombies' make a return from RE4, which at times makes the combat sequences nerve-wracking as numerous 'zombies' close in on you quickly. The addition of a two-layer mode is also quite welcome, although the AI at times, is horrible.
Another welcome return is of the laser-sight, to indicate where you are aiming.
However the game feels far too linear. It's very much a case of moving from A to B, and then onto C and so on, with a very straight-forward direction to go in. It doesn;t take a genius to work out what to do and where to go, whereas earlier RE games had a faint RPG-puzzle-solving element to it.
The storyline is decent enough. I'm not 100% convinced by the African setting though. For some parts it works very well, negotiating your way through dingy shanty towns, but some more dimly-lit night-time scenes would have been nice to potentially add more horror and creepiness to the game. The abandoned mine section (with either yourself, or yur partner carrying the lantern) was deliciously creepy.
Another flaw, is that it no longer feels like a 'survival horror' anymore. The horror element has disappeared, which is a real pity. Again, earlier RE games had a real 'fear factor' to them. 'Dead Space', manages to do this (although 'Dead Space' is equally linear as well). In all fairness, these are not things that have come about overnight in RE5, it's been a gradual change over the last few games.
I don't want to sound like I'm criticising the game too much, it's still a decent game, definately worthy of purchase, but fans of the old-school RE games will come away slightly disappointed that some of the old classic characteristics of RE games have been displaced. It's better described as a 'survival action' game, than a 'survival horror'.
24: Season 7 Box Set (6 Discs)
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After the disappointing Season 6 and 'Redemption' I wondered if I would ever enjoy 24 ever again. the rumours which began immediately after Season 6 regarding the return of a 'dead' character was also cause for concern and Season 7 was something I looked toward with a mixture of fear and excited anticipation.
Thankfully it's a real return to form. It's not the best Season of 24, but it's certainly not amongst the poorest Season's either. The storyline is admittedly silly, but it's 24! If you look beyond the gapping holes in the storyline, there is alot of fun to be hard. Despite a slow start, there are numerous key scenes and memorable moments. From Tony's initial return, to the many twists, turns and dark alleys he leads us down (he's a changed man! Or is he...?) to the White House attack (reminiscent of The Rock, coincidently co-starring Tony todd who plays General Juma here) leading us to the sacrifice and death of 'you-know-who', to the wonderfully psychotic Jonas Hodges (Jon Voight) and the welcome additions to the main cast Renee Walker and Larry Moss (Annie Wershing and Jeffrey Nordling respectively), Season 7 is full of treats and shocks.
The cast isn't quite perfect though. Janis Gold is a poor Chloe O'Brian imitator, with Chloe being a much more marginal figure this season which is a real shame while the final villain is dull. Maybe that was the point though - as one of the leaders of a mysterious cabal of shadowly conspirators who have gone un-noticed until now. Either way, 24 villains are usually much more memorable and this one is something of a disappointment.
Jack himself, displays some of the humanity that was missing from Season 6 - he isnt a superhuman emotionaless killing machine afterall, and there are several scenes regarding his past and his use of torture that stand out and really develop his character.
As I said before, not the greatest season of 24, but it's still a really good one, if you can ignore the holes in the storyline, which at times is quite touch-and-go, but this is 24 back on exciting and riverting form.
Ellie Goulding - CD
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Cynics may rant on about the well-organised hype machine behind Ms Goulding since late last year when 'Under The Sheets' was first released and THAT performance on Later With Jools Holland and dismiss her as another over-hyped contrived genre-bending puppet who blends pop, electronica, folk and indie to appeal to as many different people as possible. The truth is, regardless of the hype and how many accolades she gets, the reality is that there is some substance in the music. The fact that Ellie Goulding has expanded her musical horizons beyond that of just pop (and accomodate folk, electronica, indie) is by no means contrived. In fact, based on this album it sounds very very natural.
Opener 'Guns & Horses' is a fantastic piece of folk-tinged pop with the sort of timeless chorus that will be echoed all over the radio, gig venues and festivals for years to come. Admittedly compared to the original demo version it does sound a bit over cooked as the edginess of the early demo is glossed over by the production, but it still remains a strong track.
Similarly 'Wish I Stayed' seems to have lost something in it's current incarnation compared to the original sparse acoustic-based demo.
This is not to say that I'm against well-produced pop in any way. It works fantastically well on debut single 'Under The Sheets', the imperious 'This Love', 'Every Time You Go' and it's stonking chorus, the immense club-pop of second single 'Starry Eyed' or the epic balladry of 'The Writer'. 'This Love' in particular stands out as one of the best pop songs in recent years.
The key to the songs is undoubtedly Ellie's voice - there are elements of Kate Bush, Florence Welch, a less kooky Bjork... the comparisons go on... But while there are elements of each said singer, Ellie also sounds like none of them at the same time. No contradiction. Her voice is effectively her own and in vocal terms, she transcends well beyond that of a Kate Bush/Florence Welch/Bjork/whoever pretender. This is most evident during the chorus' of 'Under The Sheets' and 'Guns & Horses' and the intimate verses of 'I'll Hold My Breath' and 'This Love'.
Overall 'Lights' is a great debut album that easily stands up on its two feet against the hype and expectation. Some of the songs may have lost some of the original edginess of early demo versions, but they havent been entirely ruined by the polished production either. Maybe I'm being fussy, but it's the only thing holding me back from giving it a 5/5 rating. The rest of the album lives up to and exceeds expectations. Hype or no hype, this is a fantastic album full of great pop songs and should be treated as such.
Beach House - CD
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I stumbled across this album by accident while browsing in an indie record store after work and bought a copy based on the 2 or so songs I heard them playing.
Needless to say I was not disappointed by the overall album. It's fantastically beautiful, intense yet intimate. It's one of those rare albums that doesn't really have a mood to it. It's both happy and sad at the same time. I cant explain it any better than that.
From opener 'Zebra' to the quietly jubilant 'Take Care' this album showcases Victoria Legrand's vocals, which are reminiscent of Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue and Elizabeth Fraser (of the now-defunct Cocteau Twins). While it is easy to pick up on the distinctive vocals, the music is quietly intense yet intimate at the same time.
'Norway', with its swooning keyboards, lush backing vocals and the delicate-as-crystals guitar break in the middle mark it out as possibly the best track on the album. Other highlights include the driving spine-chilling '10 Mile Stereo' which arguably features Victoria's best vocal on this album, the gorgeous melodies of 'Lover Of Mine' and the organ-backed optimism of 'Walk In The Park'.
This album, this band are unlikely to get the commercial success they deserve, but often some of the best albums are relatively unknown and unheard. This is destined to be one of those albums - a cult-classic as opposed to a best-seller.
The xx - CD
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I've been absolutely stunned by this debut. I stumbled across it by chance, and it's been literally stuck on repeat for the last few days.
Musically, The XX are difficult to pigeon-hole. There are elements of pop, trip-hop, ambience, R'N'B... the list goes on. Yet musically it is stripped down and minimalist, yet intense and majestic at the same time.
The mostly instrumental opener 'Intro' sets the tone - a masterclass of ambience flanked by trip-hoppy beats and twangy guitar licks reminiscent of The Cure's 'Lullaby' and Texas' 'Once In A Lifetime'. 'VCR' introduces Romy and Oliver's vocals backed by almost nursery-song esque delicateness. 'Crystalise', while being the nearest song on this album that you could dance to, follows a similar template. Likewise much of everything on this album follows a similar style and template - its all minimalist ambience with delicate guitar and/or piano to punctuate proceedings which in turn are complemented perfectly by the girl-boy duetting vocals of Romy and Oliver. 'Shelter', 'Night Time' and it's R'N'B infused melodies, and the darkly magificent closer 'Stars' are further highlights.
Despite this group of songs sharing similar styles and templates, this is an album that NEVER gets boring. The changes in mood and atmosphere are all quite subtle, but are enough to grab your attention and keep you hooked. However, this also means that this album, does actually sound like an album - this isnt a bundle of songs stitched together by a careless band - this album sounds very much complete and fully formed. This is music for the soul. Buy it. You wont regret it.
Tales Of Vesperia
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This is my first 'Tales...' game, and frankly im wondering to myself 'how the hell have i not played this series before?' Ive been really impressed with it and have found myself glued to it since i began playing.
The graphics and animation are all really nice. It's unusual in that it's anime style and has an almost comic-book look compared to other RPG's. It takes some getting use to, but it all suits the game.
The battle system is both simple and complex. Players concentrate on controlling one character while the AI controls the rest of your party. As you become use to the game, you can begin to edit your parties' strategies ordering them to do certain things (use magic or items, to perform certain moves, to attack or to defend etc). Extra combat abilitiessuch as the Overlimit, Fatal Strikes and Mystic Artes crop up over time as well so newcomers wont be completely overwhelmed right at the start. The cooking system is a nice touch too.
The story, as with virtually all RPG's mixes cliches and some more original bits and pieces. You have Yuri, the plucky swordsman main character; Estelle, the party healer who is also a princess with a mysterious past to name two. The characters are not all just cast as good or bad though, many exist in shades of grey and do bad to be good (i wont reveal much more, but there are some shocks along the way). The characters are all well presented, and the skits that crop up throughout the game really flesh out their personalities, from Karol the cowardly kid warrior to Raven the pervy old man, and the short-tempered Rita, who is just hilarious!
the additional side-quests are all really welcome as well. Theyre not very well sign-posted and often pop up when you least expect them but it gives the game some real replay value (especially if you intend to get all the Achievements).
Overall, this game is one of the best RPG's ive played for a long time and is well worth getting. Like all RPG's it takes a couple of hours to really get into, but once done it will have players hooked. Non-RPG fans may not appreciate it, but RPG's are something of an acquired taste anyway.
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fans of survival horrors (like Resident Evil) will no doubt be happy with Dead Space.
it's genuinely very creepy in places and will probably make players jump at least a couple of times. this aspect of the game owes to the excellent detailed graphics and the atmospheric sound effects. the storyline is engrossing and decent, even if it's basically Alien(s) meets Event Horizon.
the 'dismember limbs to kill em' aspect of the game, while seemingly quite unique from other shoot-em-ups, in reality, isnt that much different. its a nice touch, but hardly revolutionary. the weapons and equipment upgrading and shop systems adds an RPG-style element to it, giving the player a degree of flexibility in terms of what weapons and equipment they want to focus on - higher ammo capacity, power or more health?
however, the game itself is pretty linear. the game is divided into 12 stages, and once you progress to say,stage 5, you dont have the luxury of travelling back to previous stages (unless the storyline dictates it). by clicking the right thumbstick, you also get a route outlined to your next objective, which makes the game pretty easy. maybe im expecting too much fresh out of playing and completing Fallout 3, but it isnt very demanding on players to work out exactly where to go or what to do. it may be a survival horror as opposed to an RPG, but either way i'd personally like more of a challenge from a game.
the zero-gravity areas are a nice touch, and adds something new and different to the genre and the whole concept of problem solving.
the weapons are all decent and well-designed. as stated above, its nice to be able to choose how weapons are developed while many of the enemies are truly disgusting and detailed.
given that the game is set on a spaceship, the levels arent as repetitive as you'd initially imagine. there are various different and distinctive areas throughout the game from a greenhouse to a mining facility to the usual claustrophobic corridors of the ship main and a visit to the wrecked planet colony.
overall, Dead Space is a worthy buy. it has its flaws, such as being too linear and while its also quite short (i completed it in 2 days).replay value is restricted and depends on whether you want to go through it again to fully upgrade all your weapons and equipment. in terms of story, you do not have the freedom to dictate where the story goes at all so in this respect, there is little to replay. like a rollarcoaster ride it may be a shortand you only go where the track leads, but its a really engaging one, which at times is genuinely scary and a fair bit of fun can be had.
Little Boots - CD
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usually when an act is hyped up as much as Little Boots aka Victoria Hesketh on the back of a handful of singles and months before a debut album is even released, you end up with something horribly underwhelming that fails to live up to expectations.
on hearing the album, i think its fair to say that 'Hands' is (mercifully) an exception to the rule. Opener and recent single New In Town has that annoying catchiness which epitomises both the best and worst pop songs of the 1990's. initially i quite loathed it, but its really grown on me. the driving Earthquake is pure pop brilliance and an obvious choice for a future single while Stuck On Repeat has been and will continue to be stuck on repeat on stereos, iPods and playlists up and down the country. it sounds like it's been around for decades and has that pop classic feel about it.
elsewhere Hearts Collide is a solid enough track reminiscent of Kylie's In Your Eyes. Meddle is another solid track, but doesnt quite stand out in any exceptional sense. this may have been the track performed on Jools Holland to much acclaim, but for me its quite average. Ghost is one of the weakest songs for me and is pure filler. Mathematics makes up for this though,
Symmetry, the duet with The Human League's Phil Oakley however, is really really brilliant! the 'opposites attract/Yin and Yang' lyrics are perfect and will have that universalism which will appeal to the masses while the 80's-90's hybrid electronica is the kind of sound that should effortlessly enslave dancefloors throughout 2009. arguably the best song of the album.
the closer No Brakes is pretty average, especially compared to some of the songs that preceeded it. hopefully it wont leave the listener with the impression that 'Hands' is an average album - it isnt.it isnt quite perfect. there are some weak tracks, but overall it lives up to the hype, with the likes of Symmetry, Stuck On Repeat and Earthquake easily standing up to someofthe bestpop ive heard in the 00's.
School Of Seven Bells - CD
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I checked out this band after the NME likened them to a cross between the Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine (two of my favourite bands). I couldnt resist the comparison, usually i really distrust the NME.
I cant say it sounds like a cross between the Cocteau Twins and MBV, but School of Seven Bells are most definately brilliant! It's blissed out like the Cocteau Twins were at various points in their career, but thats where the comparisons end, although as a live band, School of Seven Bells bear similarities to MBV..
Highlights include the opening track, the poorly punctuated Iamundernodisguise. Its brilliant indie-pop with hypnotic tribal chant-esque vocals while Prince of Peace follows a similar mould. Half Asleep and Chain are blissed out electro-pop, Connjur is the kind of hazy pop song most bands would kill for, the epic Sempiternal/Amaranth is simply made for smoking 'jazz cigerettes' to while the fuzzy soundscapes of My Cabal sound like an electronic MBV track splashed with sunshine.
This album is unlikely to be appreciated by the mainstream, but then neither were the Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine. Its their loss and shouldnt detract away from this albums' brilliance. Its definately in my top 5 albums of 2008.