Thursday, March 4, 2010

Album review: Alice in Wonderland OST (2010)

Danny Elfman Alice in Wonderland OSTAlice in Wonderland is a Disney 2010 fantasy adventure film directed by Tim Burton, written by Linda Woolverton, and stars Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Michael Sheen and Stephen Fry and music by Danny Elfman. The story is an extension of the Lewis Carroll classic novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.

Tim Burton and Danny Elfman are long time collaborator with past projects such as Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The Alice in Wonderland Original Motion Picture Soundtrack released by Walt Disney Records.

The album opens with ‘Alice’s Theme’. Marching beats and children choir starts the theme before complex passages come. The musical theme of Alice repeats multiple times using the choir as well as multiple instruments. The theme invokes the feeling of fear, lost, panic and distress while still being courageous and full of wander. It paints the story of Alice in Wonderland very well. There are five reprises to this theme scatter through out the album as well as the final track.

In contrast to the ‘Alice’s Theme’, ‘Little Alice’ is a short and slower piece that paints a happier times. ‘Proposal/Down the Hole’ starts slowly but soon enough the main theme is intertwined before everything become distressful and haunting. ‘Doors’ and ‘Drink Me’ have these eerie and unsettling vibes to the tunes. ‘Into the Garden’ blends after the previous tracks creating a sense of mystery with voices of bells.

‘Bandersnatched’ starts with energetic and powerful force but slows down as a much darker version of the main theme intertwines into the piece before going upbeat into a climax. ‘The Cheshire Cat’ is mysteriously playful with hints of mischievous. ‘Alice and Bayard’s Journey’ invokes the sense of despair of bleak outlook.

Well put original score that brings colours to the mystery that is Alice in Wonderland. No track was out of place, everything just blend wonderfully. Alice in Wonderland OST has acceptable to good dynamic range, no clipping and nice imaging.

Alice in Wonderland OST
by Danny Elfman
3.5 out of 5 star
Released:March 2, 2010
Label:Walt Disney Records

Track listing
01."Alice's Theme" 5:07
02."Little Alice" 1:34
03."Proposal/Down the Hole"2:58
05."Drink Me"2:48
06."Into the Garden"0:50
07."Alice Reprise #1"0:26
08."Bandersnatched" 2:42
09."Finding Absolem" 2:41
10."Alice Reprise #2"0:38
11."The Cheshire Cat" 2:07
12."Alice And Bayard's Journey" 4:04
13."Alice Reprise #3" 0:24
14."Alice Escapes" 1:07
15."The White Queen" 0:36
16."Only A Dream" 1:25
17."The Dungeon" 2:18
18."Alice Decides" 3:14
19."Alice Reprise #4" 1:01
20."Going To Battle" 2:41
21."The Final Confrontation" 1:41
22."Blood Of The Jabberwocky" 2:37
23."Alice Returns" 3:14
24."Alice Reprise #5" 2:55

Monday, March 1, 2010

Album review: Norah Jones's The Fall (2009)

Norah-Jones-The-FallThe Fall is unsettling for long times fans of Norah Jones. Her latest album starts like a complete breakaway from the directions of her first two hits albums, ‘Come Away with Me’ and ‘Feels like Home’ yet as it goes the familiars still linger.

The album opens with the lead single ‘Chasing Pirates’, this is a nice song, but the choice of the instruments used to support Norah sultry voice is odd. Use of traditional classical instruments rather than synthesizers would have been better.

Next are ‘Even Though’ and ‘Light As a Feather, now these songs are ruined by whirring strums and strange synthesisers. Both songs used the wrong sort of noise to create the ambience. The noise are not offensive but shame really because these songs would have been great without them noise. To some degree, ‘It’s Gonna Be’ suffers the same problem.

‘Young Blood’ is different story altogether, the electric sounds managed to work cohesively and musically, creating a nice upbeat song. This song is the highlight of the experimentation in this direction, very good and highly enjoyable.

Now tracks like ‘I Wouldn’t Need You’, ‘You’ve Ruined Me’ and ‘Back to Manhattan’ bring back memories of the vintage Norah Jones. ’December’ is the best track of the whole album. Jones traded the piano for the acoustic guitar for this piece and the result is just wonderful to listen. The final track, ‘Man of the Hour’ is probably the inspiration for the cover art of this album. Man’s best friend is the Man of the Hour. It even has the ‘rwoof’ at the end, nice touch.

The limited edition features an extra disc, ‘Live at The Living Room’. It contained live performance recording of ‘It’s Gonna Be’, ‘Waiting’ and ‘You’ve Ruined Me’, as well as cover of ‘Jesus Etc’, ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’ and Strangers. It is a nice bonus, however, a DVD like her previous deluxe edition albums would have been preferred.

The album has acceptable dynamic range despite the use of distorted electronic instruments in the more rock-oriented tracks. Overall, hard to be disappointed with Norah Jones's The Fall, her voice is just silky smooth and very sexy, any annoyance with the ambient noise will become a minor thing once ‘The Fall’ grows on you.

The Fall (Limited Edition)
by Norah Jones
3.5 out of 5 star
Released:November 17, 2009
Label:Blue Note

Track listing
01."Chasing Pirates" 2:40
02."Even Though" 3:52
03."Light As a Feather"3:52
04."Young Blood"3:38
05."I Wouldn't Need You"3:30
07."It's Gonna Be"3:11
08."You've Ruined Me" 2:45
09."Back to Manhattan" 4:09
11."December" 3:05
12."Tell Yer Mama" 3:25
13."Man of the Hour" 2:56
B1."It's Gonna Be" 3:25
B2."Waiting" 3:33
B3."You've Ruined Me" 2:56
B4."Jesus, etc" 3:46
B5."Cry, Cry, Cry" 3:15
B6."Strangers" 3:35

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thinking Aloud: Uncertain Future for OLED Displays

Sony-XEL-1Recently Sony announced that it would cease the sales of its XEL-1 model in Japan once inventory runs out, which probably soon since they do not produce many of it per year. Sony was first to the OLED Display market with its 11” XEL-1 model with the price tag of $2500. OLED has enjoyed more widespread used in handheld devices such as mobile phones, but going from 3.3” to 11” was proven troublesome even for Sony, the leader in the technology. Last year Sony said it would release a bigger model. The fate of that plan is unknown currently.

OLED technology is supposed to be the saviour in high fidelity display. Delay after delay of the larger display models from LG, Samsung, Sony, Panasonic and other CE companies and the falling prices of LCD displays and the full steam campaign of 3D Displays may make it more daunting for any companies to champion OLED TVs of reasonable size and price to the market in the next two to three years. I am afraid OLED may be put back into company’s R&D vault to be revisited another day.

OLED stands for organic light emitting diode. It is organic because the layers that make up OLED contain carbon instead of the typical semiconductor materials of ordinary light emitting diode. OLED display has several advantages over typical LCD because OLED display pixels directly emit lights unlike LCD that requires backlight. Since the pixels of OLED display are directly lit, colours will be displayed correctly when viewing angle changes. White will be white even when you shift your view. Colour changes or shifts with LCD as you move your viewing angle because of its used of backlight and that has been major annoyance for high fidelity.

Another advantage of being directly lit is that when displaying black OLED pixels are actually off while LCD will try to block out the light, but the backlight still leak anyway, making true black impossible on LCD. True black will give OLED several order of magnitude of contrast ratio. Even this will not make a different in the typical living room but in a light controlled home theatre, the extra contrast will be very noticeable. Therefore, until OLED takes over in who knows when? If you are looking for high fidelity display, you will need to go for Plasma display for now. However, I do hope that some companies will bring out a 24”-30” OLED Displays for desktop use, as I feel all the current flat screen displays on the market are inadequate.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Album review: Mike Oldfield's Music of the Spheres (2008)

Mike-Oldfield-Music-of-The-Spheres‘Music of the Spheres’ is a classical album by the British composer Mike Oldfield. It has been over twenty five years since his first album the infamous ‘Tubular Bells’. This album is simply beautiful. From the very first track, it will take you on the spiritual journey beyond our known universe, discover your deepest inner emotions and by heavenly joy, move you to tears. It is rejuvenating and liberating for the soul.

Recorded with full orchestration in Abbey Road Studios with Mike Oldfield on the guitar, ‘Music of the Spheres’ also features the talents of angelic soprano Hayley Westenra and piano virtuoso Lang Lang. The dynamic range of the record is very good, the orchestration translate very well in this record. Producing great imaging and staging in your living room. Audiophiles must have album.

The limited edition features a second CD of live recording of the ‘Music of the Spheres’ concert at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. This recording is great too but the studios recording is rather exceptional already that this second CD does not offer anything different. A DVD record of the concert would have been better choice for limited edition. However, this does not tarnish the great album that is highly recommended to everyone.

Music of the Spheres (Limited Edition)
by Mike Oldfield
4 out of 5 star
Released:November 24, 2008

Track listing
01."Harbinger" 4:08
02."Animus" 3:09
05."The Tempest"5:48
06."Harbinger (reprise)"1:30
07."On My Heart" (featuring Hayley Westenra)2:27
08."Aurora" 3:42
09."Prophecy" 2:54
10."On My Heart (reprise)" (featuring Hayley Westenra)1:16
11."Harmonia Mundi" 3:46
12."The Other Side" 1:28
13."Empyrean" 1:37
14."Musica Universalis" 6:24

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Album review: Ke$ha’s debut studio album ‘Animal’ (2010)

Ke$ha-AnimalKe$ha’s electropop ‘Tik Tok’ reached the number one position on the ARIA charts with three times platinum certification. Its lyric is obnoxious, but the electro beat is rather catchy that can get the song stuck in your head, unpleasant to say the least. Animal’s opening tracks including the hit ‘Tik Tok’ offer similar experience.

Listening midway through the album everything started to sound ‘Blah Blah Blah’. The induced headache was like being ‘Hungover’ after a ‘Party At A Rich Dude’s House. Only after ‘Backstabber’ did I find a track that don’t make my ears ‘Blind’.

‘D.I.N.O.S.A.U.R.’ sounds Jurassic; seriously, this is the most annoying track of the entire album. The album title track ‘Animal’ is rather nice if turned into a pure dance track. Actually, this goes for most of the tracks on this album.

This album has poor dynamic range, though it managed to avoid clipping. Many distortion effects were unnecessarily used on Ke$ha’s voice, on the plus side the samples used are of good quality. If you like ‘Tik Tok’ you will like this album though be warned it all can became too much, if you loathe it, this will make you despise it.

by Ke$ha
2 out of 5 star
Released:January 5, 2010

Track listing
01."Your Love Is My Drug" 3:06
02."Tik Tok" 3:19
03."Take It Off"3:35
04."Kiss n Tell" 3:27
06."Blah Blah Blah" (featuring 3OH!3)2:52
07."Hungover" 3:52
08."Party at a Rich Dude's House" 2:55
09."Backstabber" 3:06
10."Blind" 3:17
11."D.I.N.O.S.A.U.R" 2:55
12."Dancing with Tears in My Eyes" 3:29
13."Boots & Boys" 2:56
14."Animal" 3:57

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Album review: Rihanna’s Rated R (2009)

Rihanna-Rated RRated R is Rihanna’s fourth studio album. It features R&B mixed with hip-hop, rock and dubstep. The elements of rock and dubstep would’ve been out of place if it weren’t for Rihanna’s thick and rich contralto voice to gel everything together. The tone of the album is dark and grim. The lyrics are bold and explicit with profanity featuring prominently throughout.

Thematically, Rated R is consistent and it gets the hard break-up and perseverance theme across in ways that are confrontational and dramatic. Rihanna delivered these recordings with passion and intensity that makes the record feels autobiographical.

Overall, this album shows Rihanna maturity as a person and an artist. It is a personal statement against the difficulties in her life laid bare. She made these songs worked. Other artists would have difficulty covering these songs. Rihanna’s Rated R is morbid and at the same time spectacular. The dynamic range of this album is poor but clipping is minimal.

Rated R
by Rihanna
3 out of 5 star
Released:November 20, 2009
Label:Def Jam

Track listing
01."Mad House" 1:34
02."Wait Your Turn" 3:46
03."Hard" (featuring Young Jeezy)4:10
04."Stupid in Love" 4:01
05."Rockstar 101" (featuring Slash)3:58
06."Russian Roulette" 3:47
07."Fire Bomb" 4:17
08."Rude Boy" 3:42
09."Photographs" (featuring
10."G4L" 3:59
11."Te Amo" 3:28
12."Cold Case Love" 6:09
13."The Last Song" 4:16

Album review: BoA Deluxe (2009)

'BoABoA's first venture into the lucrative American market and worldwide after her success in her native South Korea, Japan and South-East Asia. This is actually her twelfth studio album.

BoA: Deluxe includes the single version of Energetic and two new songs ‘Control’ and ‘Crazy About’ over the original released. This self-titled album features upbeat songs that mixed elements of electropop and dance. Heavy used of vocoder to mask her accented English managed to work well overall.

The album lacks the varieties to highlight BoA’s talents and versatility. All the tracks even the two new ones are of dance varieties. The standout tracks of this album are ‘Energetic’, ‘Did Ya’, ‘Eat You Up’, ‘Obsessed’ and ‘Hypnotic Dancefloor’. Overall, not a bad attempt and for what it is, a dance music album, just that it is nothing special and does not standout from the crowd.

The two new tracks are non-standout but welcome since the original released only had eleven tracks. The lack of DVD for music video or ‘the making’ style doco is disappointing for a deluxe edition. The dynamic range is poor but clipping is minimal, typical of this genre.

BoA Deluxe
by BoA
2.5 out of 5 star
Released:September 22, 2009
Label:SM Entertainment USA

Track listing
01."Energetic" (radio edit)3:25
02."Control" 3:00
03."Crazy About"3:35
04."I Did It For Love" (featuring Sean Garnett)3:01
05."Did Ya"2:59
06."Look Who's Talking" 3:08
07."Eat You Up" 3:11
08."Obsessed" 3:46
10."Scream" 3:16
11."Girls On Top" 3:37
12."Dress Off" 3:41
13."Hypnotic Dancefloor" 3:43
14."Energetic" 3:41

Monday, February 15, 2010

Album review: Hayley Westenra’s Self-Titled Album (2001)

Hayley Westenra self-titled albumHayley Westenra self-titled first studio album features rendition of classic songs like ‘Memory’, ‘Somewhere’, ‘Pie Jesu’ and ‘I Dreamed a Dream’.

The album opens with ‘Walking In The Air’ from the 1982 animated film The Snowman. Hayley’s angelic voice creates the sensation of floating in the air high above the clouds. Her take on this song is magical. Bach’s Ave Maria follows, serene for a moment of meditation and prayer.

The eight track features ‘Bright Eyes’ another animated film theme song, this time from 1978 Watership Down. Like ‘Walking In The Air’, the track is full of dramatisation and emotion that creates highly enjoyable listening experience.

The album concludes with two added bonus tracks New Zealand’s National Anthem and a live version of 'Amazing Grace'. This album has acceptable to good dynamic range.

Hayley Westenra
by Hayley Westenra
4 out of 5 star
Released:April 26, 2001
Label:Universal New Zealand

Track listing
01."Walking In The Air" 3:15
02."Ave Maria (Bach)" 2:27
04."All I Ask Of You"3:18
06."The Mists Of Islay"2:28
07."Ave Maria (Schubert)"3:21
08."Bright Eyes" 4:05
09."Pie Jesu" 2:41
10."Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again"3:08
11."I Dreamed A Dream" 3:44
12."Love Changes Everything" 3:31
13."God Defend New Zealand" 3:31
14."Amazing Grace (Live)" 4:18