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No. 130 March 2015

„Q” & „CLASSIC ROCK”: VERIFICATION

he great movie from 2002 with Hugh Grant, About a boy (About a Boy, dir. Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz), was about answering a single question: whether or not is a man a “lonely island”. One of the main characters in the movie (the one played by Grant) believes that a man is in fact such a lonely island, and that a well organized island could become Ibiza. The other main character (one of the first important roles of Nicholas Hoult, who later played along Jennifer Lawrence in X-Men series) believes that such attitude is simply stupid, that no man could live in isolation as he would always be in contact with other people and, importantly, this contact is necessary to make a man happy.
The way this movie ends suggests that the second, younger character was right, but viewer has to answer this question by himself. Despite opposite attitudes both characters presented, it was obvious that there was a single denominator for both of them: both admitted that every man has to go out at least from time to time to meet other people, that even Ibiza wouldn't make any sense if it wasn't for tourists.

„Q”

British magazine „Q” is currently one of the most important titles on British music press market. It was founded in 1986 and immediately introduced new standards (including using a higher quality paper). It's success was imminent as it won readers' hearts. Today, almost 30 years later, „Q” seems to be in the best condition ever. Number of sold copies is quite impressive – in Dec 2013 it was 52000. It's a prestigious magazine, an opinion leader – if you're not convinced check out the list of the quests who attended „Q Awards 2014” gala. We can give a hint to those of you who are too lazy to check for themselves – among other guests there was Pink Floyd's Nick Mason, the great Jean Michel Jarre, Ed Sheeran and Kasabian. Any band or musician who wants to success on British music market has to “appear” at Q, at least momentarily.

„CLASSIC ROCK”

Another important magazine that also comes from UK – it's „Classic Rock”. It's history is shorter than “Q's” as „CRM” was established in 1998. The name is self explanatory – what interests journalist working for this magazine is rock music. „Classic Rock” sells each issue in similar numbers as “Q” - around 50000 copies. It is easy to point out some serious competitors for “Q” - „Mojo” for example, but „CRM” in its category seems to have (at least in our opinion) no serious competition. It looks great, offers high quality content, writes about huge rock stars but also about yet unknown, though interesting small bands.

„CRM” is a true opinion leader in rock world – it was their ecstatic review (10/10 and conclusion that said: “this is f....ing awesome!”) of the latest album by Rival Sons that put band's carrier on a fast track. Band started to play on American TV, they did a performance on Letterman Show (!), and sold out most of their concerts. A list of guests of their Awards gala proves how prestigious they became. Among other big names let us point out just few of the attendees: Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, John Densmore (The Doors), Greg Allaman, Joe Perry (Aerosmith), Dave Mustaine, Brian May or Eric Idle (one of the co-founders of the Monthy Python Flying Circus).
Both magazines, apart from fame and prestige, have one more thing in common. Every year in their first issue they summarize previous year. Also this year both, „Q” and „CRM” listed 50, in their opinions, best albums released in 2014.

AN EXPERIMENT

We mentioned About a boy in the preface for a reason. Just like characters from this movie also people working for „High Fidelity” and „Music To The People” are not disconnected from everyday life and they need new impulses, new sources of information, new inspirations. That's why every month we find time to read these two magazines from cover to cover. These are magazines of our choice as in our opinion they provide a certain, high level of information in a nice form.
This year we've decided to conduct a little experiment. We chose 5 albums from those 50 best ones of last year, as per “Q” and “CMR” lists. We picked 3 from “Q” list, one from “CRM”, and one that was included in both lists. We've decided to confront our opinions about these albums with those of journalists of these two respectful magazines. That's obviously our way of showing appreciation to these magazines. Whether we agree with their choices or not, a discussion is always a good way to find out the truth. We already knew some of these albums, some others were bought to perform our experiment. We have chosen various kinds of music, from classic rock, art-pop, some acoustic guitar music (pop) and an artistic rock.

We chose following albums for our experiment:
• no. 1 on “Q's” list, Lost in the Dream by The War On Drugs (we used a Japanese CD version),
• no. 1 on „Classic Rock's” list, Great Western Valkyrie by Rival Sons (a limited blue vinyl version),
Royal Blood, a debut album of quite unusual duet (vocal + bass and drums!) Royal Blood, that was highly appreciated by both magazines (16. and 2. place respectively), but also by Jimmy Page and Lars Ulrich of Metallica (A Japanese CD version),
X by Ed Sheeran, that landed on 23rd place of „Q's” list, who will perform almost solo for three days in a row on w Wembley Stadium in July this year (Japanese CD Delux version),
• sixth best album 2014 according to “Q” - St. Vincent by St. Vincent (Japanese CD version).

As you can see albums were chosen in such a way that it would give us an opportunity to verify opinions of both magazines, but also to familiarize ourselves with what's “trendy”. To offer properly balanced assessments we decided that Bartosz Pacuła, from „Music To The People”, would present some information about musicians/bands and would write about artistic value of each recording. „High Fidelity's” chief editor assessed sound quality, and shared some opinions about music too. BP & WP


VERIFICATION

Ready? Let's start with the greatest disappointment than, which is:

THE WAR ON DRUGS
Lost in the Dream

Label: Secretly Canadian/Hostess Entertainment Unlimited SC310J

Format: Compact Disc
Released: 2014

The War On Drugs is an American indie rock band from Philadelphia, formed in 2005. The band consists of six musicians: Adam Granduciel (vocals, guitar, his picture was used on the cover of the reviewed album) who formed the band together with, David Hartley (bass), Robbie Bennett (keyboards), Charlie Hall (drums), Jon Natchez (saxophone) and Anthony LaMarca (guitar). The Americans released so far two „EPs” (Barrel of Batteries in 2007 and Future Weather in 2010) and three full studio albums (apart from Lost in the Dream these are: Wagonwheel Blues from 2008 and Slave Ambient from 2011). While this band is rather unknown in Poland, it is quite popular in USA. Already the tour promoting Slave Ambient was highly acclaimed by both, fans and music critics.

“On paper” it all seems very good – there is this prodigy indie-rock band, huge enthusiasm, and a no.1 on “Q's” list. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Lost in the Dream is one of the least interesting, even boring albums in band's history. Musically bands moves between “artistic” sound and sound of young rock bands like Coldplay, for example. Soft guitars, drums that lack dynamics, pseudo-spiritual vocal and the greatest sin of this album – lack of any emotions, any involvement.

I believe that this band, lead by Adam Granduciel, simply doesn't know which road to take, what sort of music they want to play. So on one hand what we get is sort of casual music that sounds like something Coldplay could play, and on the other hand there are some indicators that musicians wanted Lost in the Dream to be something more. Since they couldn't decide one way or the other after 1 hour of listening to this album it is hard to remember anything causing our heart to race or to skip a beat, or at least anything exciting. Piece after piece comes along blurring into one monotonous, extra-long composition offering us absolutely nothing worth noticing. The only positive element was one of the shortest pieces called Red Eyes. This tune gives us an idea of what The War On Drugs could become had they made they decision about certain musical road to take. But they didn't. BP

SOUND

I couldn't disagree with Bartek when it comes to musical value of this album, even if I wanted to. I don't remember any other album that got me THAT bored in a long, long time. I could recognize some attempts to get out of rock routine which made some fragments interesting. But that's exactly the point – these are just fragments added to meaningless piece of music that leaves absolutely nothing in listener's memory.
Also sound quality is disappointing. Flat dynamics and nothing really surprises listener while listening. Instruments have no depth, there is no texture. It seems that producers overdid compression and used limiter too much. There is one advantage – sound doesn't hurt ears as the treble is quite mellow and rolled off. We bought this disc from Japan but as it turns out only a Japanese cover and OBI were printed there, while the disc itself comes from USA. WP

Sound quality: 5-6/10


RIVAL SONS
Great Western Valkyrie

Label:

Format: 2 x Long Play, 180 g, Blue Vax
Released: 2014

After „Q's” no. 1 lets move to another no. 1 – the newest release of American band Rival Sons. With previously reviewed no.1, the place in chart is the only thing Great Western Valkyrie has in common. Every other thing about these two albums sets them apart. This third studio album is simply a fantastic piece of music, that might even, some day, become a “classic”. I am pretty sure that this is one of the best rock albums not only of 2014, but ever since the moment when a rock murderer, grunge, arrived to the scene years ago. A road to success of this Californian band was bumpy. Band was formed in 2009 by guitarist Scott Holiday and it arose from the ashes of his previous group called Black Summer Crush. Fortunately Holiday met on his road vocalist Jay Buchannan, a guy with great sense of humor and a proper distance to rock music.

These two gentlemen together created an absolutely electrifying album, that keeps listener on his toes from the very first to the very last second. All the pieces combine into one, coherent composition that you won't easily forget. I would call what Rival Sons do a: new classic rock (although that's sort of simplification of what they really do). Both gentlemen are clearly inspired by the climate of 1970ties (Led Zeppelin for example) and they add some unique elements to that tradition that come from them. Additionally these guys clearly know how write a hit – on Great Western Valkyrie you will find at least two of them (an opening piece Electric Man and a fantastic piece Open My Eyes), and the rest of the tunes complement the whole album nicely.

One of the best things about Rival Sons is a chemistry between Buchannan and Holiday. Both are great in what they do – timbre of Jay's voice has something very special to it, that attracts attention, gets you involved. Scott on the other hand is a true guitar genius, who – if he had been born in 1970ties/1980ties – would have stood today among other gods of this instrument. As for many bands before (The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Guns N’ Roses, Pink Floyd) qualities of uniquely talented musicians combined together result in some added value. Magic happening between these two guys feeds the music with lively emotions, energizes it, adds incredible depth to it.

I have to agree with „Classic Rock's” editor who wrote that this band would never sell as many copies of their albums as Led Zeppelin did. But this American band, just like Jimmy Page and his colleges before, have the ability to create compositions that will be played/remembered for many years. For a fan of a classic rock the Great Western Valkyrie is an absolute “must have”. Period. BP

SOUND

Obviously, the band treats equally seriously both music and sound quality. Album delivers rich, dense sound, I didn't hear any signs of compression. Tonality was set in such a way so that vocal and guitar sounded a bit like Led Zeppelin with a hint of The Doors. Vocal gets momentarily distorted (intentionally) – that's how creators wanted it to sound like. They used also quite a long reverb. Despite that, voice is presented in a very clear and selective way. Guitars' sound is rich, and powerful which provides an impression of completeness and openness of the sound. Drums impress with their power, kick and dynamics. But what's most important is that producers had an idea for this sound and achieved great coherence throughout the whole album. Producer also used spacing effects in a creative way. A fantastic album. WP

Sound quality: 8/10


ROYAL BLOOD
Royal Blood

Label: Warner Music UK Limited/Warner Music Japan WPCR-15899

Format: Compact Disc
Released: 2014

A debut album of Royal Blood is the only one that appeared on top 50 lists of both magazines. This duet from Brighton emerged last year due to intensive promotion done by BBC radio. It's quite an unusual duet as it combines two instruments, drums and... bass guitar. Yes, Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher decided not to use popular electric guitar, which allowed them to achieve a very unique sound. So far their very “young” career (band was formed, not without trouble, in 2013) reminds a ride on a roller-coaster, and the musicians themselves admit that everything is happening so fast that they really have no idea what exactly is happening to them. They have two “big” fans - Lars Ulrich and Jimmy Page – and the latter claims that music proposed by Royal Blood “takes the genre towards totally new direction”.

So how exactly (and in the context of this experiment: if really) has this band deserved such an attention? First of all, their music is pure, dense energy. Despite the fact that whole music is played by two instruments supported with a single vocal, Kerr and Thatcher play with their natural verve and put amazing level of energy into their music. They draw an inspiration from achievements of their predecessors, but they don't just duplicate that, they rather use it as inspiration for their own musical voyage.

Royal Blood in their music offer an amazing, rebel (how today's music misses this element!) climate and a fantastic groove. Additionally both gentlemen are very talented musicians: Ben Thatcher sounds like a guy who practiced his skills for 30 years at least, and Mike Kerr forces his bass to deliver true miracles – its dynamic, fast, and sometimes it seems as there were more than one bass in the recording. Not everything in this machine called Royal Blood works perfectly, though. The biggest flaw of this debut album is what I would call self-replication. The British band puts all its cards on the table already in course of the first 3-4 pieces, and than only repeats them in next pieces. There is obviously a huge potential here, but I think that for this band to really succeed they need to learn to differentiate their songs more. Led Zeppelin did not conquer the world playing in the same way the whole time, did they? BP

SOUND

The first time I started to listen to Royal Blood it got very interesting as I tried to find out as many “plays”, or “tricks” that I already knew from music played by other bands. It was a real fun. Guys from Royal Blood must have spent many hours listening to Led Zeppelin, Guns N’Roses, Metallica, and even Soundgarden. After this first time I decided to let it go and just enjoy the music without any particular expectations. And that was a great idea. This time I realized how energetic this music was, how interesting. Although I couldn't really point out any obvious hits (except, obviously, the one played on the radio all the time – I mean Ten Tone Skeleton, excellent by the way) it wasn't an issue here, that was fine. This album is very coherent, powerful and rich – that's good enough for me.

Sound quality isn't as good as music itself. Just like on Lost in the Dream by The War On Drugs, also here, on Royal Blood limiter and compressor were used a lot. And while it resulted in a coherent, harmonic presentation of all elements, it also took a large chunk of drums power, which made it sound warm, with significantly limited openness of the treble. Also bass extension isn't very good. What's good about this sound is lack of colorations, and no hissing sounds in the upper part of the range. It's a warm, rich sound, and truly engaging. WP

Sound quality: 6/10


ED SHEERAN
X (Deluxe Edition)

Label: Asylum | Atlantic/Warner Music Japan WPCR-15730

Format: Compact Disc
Released: 25.06.2014

The world, at least the part interested in music, bows before this not particularly tall, nor handsome redhead guy, who easily sold out three concerts in a row on Wembley. Nobody, including him, could anticipate that his story would go this way. He was laughed at at school, bullied, he felt inferior. He didn't have an easy start in life and he's convinced that what saved him was music and his guitar, given to him by God, who was supposed to say one day: „Damn man, you need some help. Here, have a guitar!” No idea if there is any truth to this story, but I have no doubt that something miraculous happens when Sheeran takes guitar in his hands.
I like to think that Ed became famous because he achieved something that most pseudo-stars try and fail to achieve half their life: he perfectly combined a really nice music with his true and honest sensitivity. Listening to Nina or I’m a Mess I feel like Sheeran opens his soul for me. I'm happy to listen as the music is truly great, too.

What Sheeran has two offer could be divided into two parts: the one more pop-like, and the other, acoustic one. Both seems to suit the musician well as he created catchy melodies, added a wonderful vocal, and highly appreciated feeling. Listening to X I couldn't help by sing with Ed. Artist proposes surprisingly eclectic album – he combines typical hits for radio stations, heart touching ballads, one acoustic rap (really cool one called Take It Back), and some “epic” melodies that will surely be hard to forget (like I See Fire from Hobbit. A battle of five armies).

X, especially its Deluxe Edition, is quite a long album and as any other piece of music it has its ups and downs. Still, I wish that whole albums of multiple other artists presented a level equal to “down” moments of this Sheeran's album. World would be a better place. BP

SOUND

My first contact with this album wasn't a great experience. I came across it while listening to some music in this “music machine” in Saturn. I listened to few pieces and got bored quickly, so when we were trying to agree on the list of albums for our experiment X wasn't one of my favorites. But taking into consideration Ed's popularity I finally went for it.

And I don't regret it. A problem with this kind of music is that it reveals its true face only when played via reasonably good audio system. It doesn't have to be a high end one, but it should offer solid performance. Only then will we hear that sound-wise it is a good album, with impressive spacing, soundstaging, very nice tonality reproduction, and high dynamics. As in most recordings also here guitar is recorded in a better way than vocal. The latter shows signs of slightly emphasized sibilants, which, I guess, is a result of too much compression and intensive post-processing. But anyway – it doesn't sound bad, at least as long as a particular audio system doesn't emphasize sibilants on its own, too.

A bit warmer sounding system should deliver a very nice, rich, amazingly spacey sound, with impressive dynamics of guitar, drums and other instruments. After few repeats this album stuck in my head. What's more, I even started to use it when testing some audio components from various price levels. The only problem with this album is that it is too long, especially the Japanese DeLuxe version. Still, it is highly recommended! WP

Sound quality: 7-8/10


ST. VINCENT
St. Vincent

Label: Loma Vista/Hostess Entertainment Unlimited 3767247J

Format: Compact Disc
Released: 2013

The year 2014 was for Anne Erin Clark – a relatively young (born in 1982) vocalist, composer, multi-instrumentalist also known as St. Vincent - excellent. This artist, born in Oklahoma, recorded an album that received a warm reception, and was placed on the 6th place of “Q's” best album list 2014. She received also a Q Maverick award from the same magazine, and was nominated for Grammy in the “Best alternative album” category. St. Vincent is also artist's first album that was highly acclaimed around the world – it entered the US Billboard 200 albums chart at number 12 and the UK Albums Chart at number 21.

Of the reviewed here five albums St. Vincent's artistic level fluctuates most, and at the same time it is the least unequivocal record. Surely this is not music for everybody – already the cover and St. Vincent's image indicate its “alternative” content. And this content is quite a-typical, not to say esoteric. Strange musical structures, collage of elements seemingly not fitting together, an incredible eclecticism inside each song, weird, but intriguing texts – all these elements create St. Vincent and every listener has to face them. Momentarily it reminded me another album I reviewed for „High Fidelity”, the Toujours by Sabina, released by Naim Label. That album also tried to shock and provoke listener with permanent changes. St. Vincent does the same only in a better fashion. All she does seems to have sense, some internal coherence. And yet, there are also few really nice, melodic pieces here, too. But as I already mentioned St. Vincent does not keep the same level all way thorough. There are some really good songs (Rattlesnake, Birth In Reverse) but also some not so good ones (Psychopath), and some really poor ones (Prince Johnny).

Before buying St. Vincent one should realize that one should expect a large dose of eccentrism, spiced with some malicious pop. If that's what one likes than one should go ahead and buy this album – it is pretty good. BP

SOUND

Music performed by Anne Erin Clark, requires special skills that can help balance between different styles, and music genres. Each song is played by a lively drums, dense guitars and electronic instruments. Plus there is a vocal, too.

Producers had to keep this mix in line and they dealt with it by carefully watching upper range of guitar (by lowering it), and thus opening space for drums and vocal. The later was recorded with a reverb that reminded me of 4AD times and This Mortal Coil project. As result is sounds rather cold and a bit dry. But it was nicely mixed into the background music and kept there by low sounding, rich guitars and electronic effects. Producers combined all these elements into a nice sounding, warm whole. Accept for percussion, obviously. While there are many tracks and layers producers avoided using too much compression, a tam, and whenever it had to be used (for vocal and guitar) it was done in a proper way.

I definitely enjoyed this album. It reminded me Cocteau Twins, or its more powerful, energetic version. A very good album, presenting direction that contemporary music is following. Unfortunately for Björk and her latest album Vulnicura, St. Vincent is much better. WP

Sound quality: 7-8/10


SUMMARY

We still do love to read both “Classic Rock Magazine” and „Q” despite the fact that, as our small experiment proved, we don't always agree with their opinions. We don't regret time spent with those albums that were recommended and awarded by both magazines, as now we feel that we know what is “trendy” today. And despite all those people who claim that rock is dead, that nothing interesting has been happening in music for a long time, we want to say that it is not true. We live in interesting, although different times and it is up to us whether we consider them equally interesting and involving as the “old times”. It takes some effort but it is possible to make a lot of interesting musical discoveries also today. BP & WP

„Music To The People”
„High Fidelity”

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Our reviewers regularly contribute to “Audio”“Enjoy the Music.com”, “Positive-Feedback.com”“HiFiStatement.net”  and “Hi-Fi Choice & Home Cinema. Edycja Polska” .

"High Fidelity" is a monthly magazine dedicated to high quality sound. It has been published since May 1st, 2004. Up until October 2008, the magazine was called "High Fidelity OnLine", but since November 2008 it has been registered under the new title.

"High Fidelity" is an online magazine, i.e. it is only published on the web. For the last few years it has been published both in Polish and in English. Thanks to our English section, the magazine has now a worldwide reach - statistics show that we have readers from almost every country in the world.

Once a year, we prepare a printed edition of one of reviews published online. This unique, limited collector's edition is given to the visitors of the Audio Show in Warsaw, Poland, held in November of each year.

For years, "High Fidelity" has been cooperating with other audio magazines, including “Enjoy the Music.com” and “Positive-Feedback.com” in the U.S. and “HiFiStatement.net”  in Germany. Our reviews have also been published by “6moons.com”.

You can contact any of our contributors by clicking his email address on our CONTACT  page.

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EF-16-35/L II USM
EF 100 mm 1:2.8 L IS USM


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