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Record Label: Naim Label/Naim Edge
Year recorded: 2013
Recording location: Akirira and Davout Studios
Sound engineering: Frederik Rubens and Sabina
Mastering: Ue Nastasi
Production: Frederik Rubens and Sabina
Release date: March 25th, 2014
Available formats: CD | LP + HD FLAC 24 bits/48 kHz
| HD FLAC 24 bits/48 kHz

Reviewed format: CD


    1. Cinema
    2. Viva L’Amour
    3. Long Distance Love
    4. Mystery River
    5. The Sun (feat. Adanowsky)
    6. Non Mi Aspettare
    7. Toujours
    8. Tabarly
    9. Sailor’s Daughter
    10. Fields of Snow
    11. I Won’t Let You Break Me
    12. Going Home

udiophiles don’t have an easy life. Unfortunately, and often not without reason, the image of a musically-tasteless audiophile has wormed its way into our culture, an audiophile who spends huge amounts of money on sophisticated and technologically advanced audio equipment, only to listen to music that is perfectly recorded, but artistically weak. It’s no wonder, though – although there’s a lot of really well-recorded albums, there’s a disproportionately more of those that are truly pathetically-recorded. So why spend big money on something that won’t sound good anyway right at the very beginning of the audio path? The fans of more ambitious types of pop, like art-pop or avant-garde pop, don’t have an easy life, either. When I think of this music genre, I immediately think of Kate Bush, and… that’s all. If I didn’t listen to this much music and if it wasn’t my passion, I could think that I’m unable to name any other art-pop artists because I don’t know enough about the topic. But the truth is that it’s seriously difficult to name a good musician who “practices” this style in a sensible way, although there’s a hoard of bad or under-average artists that do. Please imagine how hard it is for audiophiles who like the more ambitious kinds of pop! They have, as I’ve previously mentioned, a limited pool of decent artists to choose from, and those who do represent some sort of higher level usually sound bad. Fortunately, the “good group” has a new member, courtesy of Naim label and Sabina Sciubba. But before I begin, let me say what’s what – a few pieces of useful information.

Naim Audio has been present on the hi-fi/hi-end market for over 40 years. Initially called Naim Audio Visual, in 1973 it changed its name to Naim Audio, consistently pursuing the policy or vision of high quality audio components, and quickly becoming quite popular. An especially important moment in its history was the year 1991, when the company released its first CD player. Although only about six years had passed since the introduction of the first compact discs (it’s generally accepted that the first CDs were sold to the general public in 1985, and the most famous and most representative was probably Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms), many people had already managed to notice the hidden potential of CDs. However, after the premiere of the CDS, Naim’s first product for CD playback, it quickly turned out that very few customers could enjoy this player to the fullest for a very simple reason – there weren’t enough well recorded and produced CD releases available on the market. That’s why, to cater to the demand of its customers, Naim started their own record label simply called Naim label. Its goal was to take under its wing ambitious, unique artists and record their music in the best possible quality, so that people who own hi-end CD players can fully appreciate them. From that time on, Naim label has been doing exactly the same thing – it hunts for, finds and gathers the most ambitious artists to record their music in audiophile quality. The label itself has grown so much that it currently cooperates with dealers and audio salons all over the world. At the end of 2013, Naim label even started a dedicated Polish online store – And it is courtesy of that I received Sabina’s album for a review. It’s time to take a look at the artist, thus far perhaps shrouded in mystery to “High Fidelity” readers, and her debut solo album titled Toujours.

Sabina Sciubba is a vocalist who was born in 1975 and was discovered by the musical world fairly early on in her life, in 1994, when she was only 19 years old. This discovery was not made by just anybody but by Antonio Forcione, the well-known and appreciated guitar virtuoso who recorded countless wonderful albums for Naim. The fruit of their cooperation was the 1998 Naim release titled Meet Me In London. In 2003 Sabina temporarily left Naim to start a band called Brazilian Girls. The band performed dance and avant-garde music, quickly gaining popularity and appreciation, which their 2009 nomination for a Grammy award for their album New York City is perfect proof of. Although this band is still performing and touring, Sabina decided to return to her musical roots, to Naim label, with a completely new solo project.
Toujours means “always” or “constantly” (or a thousand other synonyms, but I don’t feel the need to delve deeper into that). An album title like that is intriguing from the start. A New York artist and a French album title combined with track titles that definitely aren’t English (Viva L’amour, Non Mi Aspettare)? Complete with a strange cover depicting a naked Sabina sitting on a donkey with a guitar (ukulele?) in her hands, galloping in front of a colorful, painted background. Having studied the CD slip case for a while, I thought it can’t be normal, simple music for the masses. And it’s not.

From the beginning to the end of the album, Sabina moves within strange, ambiguous musical styles, reaching towards different music genres and using them in unexpected ways, singing in English, Italian, French and German. Although she has a slightly different idea for every track, they all have a few common denominators, which helps to determine the overall style of the album. All the tracks on Toujours are what you’d call slower pieces.

Although there are some faster and more energetic ones (like the title track, or Mystery River, with a very, very cool bass line that carries on throughout the whole song), the album style is predominantly slower, more toned-down and relatively minimalistic. A good example is the opening track, Cinema. After just a few seconds into it I felt myself taken back in time to my 2002 holidays in Italy, among other places.

I spent leisurely whole days with my parents, wandering around a beautiful seaside town, enjoying total laziness and no school. Nice memories I enjoy looking back to. And that’s what the album is like. It’s really nice and enjoyable. It helps for a while to become “comfortably numb” (not in the bad sense that Pink Floyd depicts on The Wall), to distance yourself from reality and take a break from it.
The subsequent tracks have the same impact on the listener like Cinema does, although fortunately they do differ in some aspects, which prevents boredom. Take for example the second song, Viva L’amour, which invites the listener to something else. It has a stronger beat (albeit still quite light) with a visibly outlined rhythm section, an instrumental solo and a very nice chorus, where Sabina sings – in a kind of melodeclamation – with a female chorus in the background, repeating the title phrase with machine-like precision.

I could pretty much describe each track on Toujours that way, and it would be a real pleasure for me to do it – but why? You can judge all of it yourself on YouTube or by buying the album, and I have already said what I wanted to. I mean the general outlook of the album, which changes from song to song, using different kinds of musical expression, from clean pop through some stronger guitar sound or electronica, to light, Italian sounds, while keeping a coherent and easily recognizable style throughout.
Reading this review you might think that you’re looking at something perfect. I have to clarify that a little bit. Although it truly is a pleasure to listen to Toujours, and the disc did let me for a little while break away from reality, it’s hard to call this album a masterpiece. Each of these tracks is nice to listen to, and some of them are really great, but there’s no fooling yourself that this is something more than a “nice, pleasant album”. In addition, Sabina should’ve strayed from some of the artistic tools (e.g. using different languages; I just don’t understand what’s the point) because they make the album succumb to badly-understood “artiness” and distract the listener’s attention from the music.
Overall, however, the album is definitely worth checking out. After listening to it I thought about the 2011 movie, The Descendants with George Clooney. The movie takes place in Hawaii, where time flows in a different, nicer atmosphere. The movie itself didn’t really bring anything new into my life, although I’ve watched it at least three times since its release, having great fun and feeling great after each viewing. And that’s exactly what this album is like. It offers you some chill out and relaxation, a good inner feeling and smile on your face. Do you really need much more?

Toujours was recorded and released on the Naim label, so it might be worth saying a few words about the sound and release quality of this album. It comes in a high-quality cardboard “mini LP gatefold” case. The cover is, naturally, on the front, which looks a lot better live than it does on the computer screen, and it’ll surprise you with its vividness and created atmosphere. After opening or “unfolding” the case, our eyes are presented with all track titles along with information on who does what on each track, all styled to look as if it were handwritten. The disc itself also shows finishing touches – the front side features the same star that Sabina’s got “in her head” on the album cover, and the whole thing really makes a great impression. When it comes to the recoding quality, it is really hard to be picky about anything. As the daughter company of an old, powerful and renowned audio brand that has been dealing in hi-end audio, Naim label often uses its vast resources and does it well. Mixing and production is very good, showing a nice soundstage, which is truly a rarity when it comes to pop albums. There’s no harsh edge to stop you from hearing everything clearly and enjoying the music. I auditioned the album using a system whose “heart” is, actually, the UnityQute 2 from Naim, and the whole sounded audibly better than a vast majority of rock and pop albums, literally destroying some of the competition.

In pop music, the year 2013 undoubtedly belonged to Lorde. Together with Daft Punk, this British vocalist cleared up the Grammys. It’s good news because Lorde can actually be thought of as a high-class art-pop singer. There’s no hiding the truth – Sabina will never be as popular or as appreciated, because her music simply doesn’t appeal as much to the average “mortal”. But anyone with a slightly more refined musical taste, who doesn’t erupt with scornful laughter at the words “avant-garde” or “pop”, should definitely check out Toujours. A pleasant experience guaranteed!

The album was supplied by the online store

Sound quality: 8/10