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For their second album, Cage the Elephant have definitely gone a little more darker, adding more electronic, punk and harder rock influences to their grungy sound with a little less of the bluesy influence found on their first album. Fantastic opener Always Something starts with a howl and drives forward with a pounding beat. There is much more bitterness and regret here - a similar story telling style to Ain't No Rest for the Wicked from their first album, but an innocent naiveté on that song has been replaced by a darker voice, haunted by experience. The song fades out onto my favourite song Aberdeen (named after Kurt Cobain's hometown, not the Granite City!). Swirling and crashing guitars fuzz in and out, whilst a storming chorus will stick in your head for days. Matthew Schultz's vocals are filled with longing and lust, building to a breathless conclusion. Indy Kidz is a scowling punky fuzzy wonderful mess of a song - it won't be to everyone's taste- that builds and then gradually unravels. The contrast in tone to the wonderful Shake Me Down that follows is huge. This is much gentler than what has gone before, much more melodic and straightforward - the best known song from the album may not be the most reflective of the sound of the album. Sparky chords over a vibrant tune suddenly quieten down to the evocative refrain of "even on a cloudy day", harmonies are layered on and there is one final build up and fall away. It's an incredibly evocative song - the music video for it was beautiful and haunting and fitted it really well. More high speed scuzzy punk follows with 2024, and Sell Yourself, the latter with an angrily insistent chorus which really drives the energy of the album onwards. Rubber Mall is more dreamy, a sort of lo-fi waltz. The energy returns with another of the catchier tunes - Right Before My Eyes, mixing more rhythmic guitars with another excellent chorus. Despite the upbeat melody, there is again a bit of a haunted sadness evident in the lyrics and vocals. Around My Head makes it two more straightforward tunes in a row and has obviously been influenced by the Pixies, and much of it sounds like it could have walked off Doolittle - with a bit of Weezer thrown in. It definitely has its moments though, the song drives into a fantastic bridge, before reprising the main part of the song more quietly and diving into a grungy and spiky finish. We're then thrown into the vicious whirl of Sabretooth Tiger, one of my guilty pleasures from the album. It is pure noise and energy, intense guitars and howling vocals, it's hard and heavy, a scream of a song that briefly stops and comes back punching even harder, an aural assault, but in the best way (my inner teenager loves it!). Another Pixies-esque beginning song in Japanese Buffalo, certainly in the opener, before the tempo is cranked up into an energetic punk thrash which switches to a slacker chorus. Finally the album relaxes into the gentle, spaced out Flow and the jaunty acoustic reprise of Right Before My Eyes as a hidden track. This album goes someway to capturing their anarchic live energy. It is more louder and rambunctious than their debut, although it does switch down the tempo for a respite now and again. The lo-fi vocals have become more howling and desperate. The guitars are harder and more intense, and in some ways this is a more grown up album - even though it may be harder for grown ups to listen to (speaking as an alleged grown up!) But the brilliance of songs like Aberdeen and Shake Me Down make it an album very much worth buying.
I'm not sure if I can describe how thrilled I was when I first heard this album. I really enjoyed Florence and the Machine's first album but this one was a step up to absolute brilliance. I have listened to it absolutely numerous times since, and it stays just as enjoyable. Only If for a Night isn't the strongest opener but sets the scene for some of the themes of the album such as loss and water. It is haunting and passionate, building to a gorgeous cacophony that melts away into the sound of church bells. It paves the way for the utterly brilliant and exhilarating Shake it Out. Growing from a quiet beginning into the stunning chorus, it is deceptively simple but it gets right under your skin, will have your heart beating faster and fill you with pure joy. The darker and magical What the Water Gave Me completely encompasses you. It's theme is drowning and does give you the musical equivalent of being swept away in a current. Again there is a fantastic chorus, a wonderfully textured swirl of vocals, and really showing off the technical brilliance of Florence Welch's voice. Never Let Me Go starts gently, with the feel of staring at a still calm lake and draws you in to a delicate embrace. A song that is very much driven by the vocals accompanied by simple chords and barely any drums, it soars and floats gracefully in the most beautifully dreamy way. Breaking Down is musically very distinct from the rest of the album sounding more like Arcade Fire. Which of course, means it is yet another brilliant song! It has an orchestral pop feel, and is probably the warmest (almost cosiest) track on the album, despite at the same time having undercurrents of loneliness and retaining some of Florence's usual gothic style. It is a hard mesh to pull off, but it is done wonderfully well. Lover to Lover is another exhilarating display of vocal ability as well as being a fantastically joyous and immediate song. It has a more classic feel to it with it's simple bass and piano and catchy chorus. No Light, No Light is a trademark gothic spectacular. Starting out as a hazy, dreamily harmonic vocal piece, the drums and harps kick in with a bang, it is insistent and powerful with a soaring melody, a song that grows and grows as it goes on, absolutely carrying you into the sky. The chanting, atmospheric climax feels like it should the be the soundtrack to some intense primal religious ritual. Seven Devils is another tune that makes you feel like you have been swept away in a swirling torrent of water, or caught up in an intense storm. A slowly dark pounding beat and moodily intense piano gives it an air of menace, whilst there is an animal, howling quality to the vocals. Heartlines also has a primal feeling to it in the stark drums and vocals. This is more of a waterfall than a storm, swooping and falling, with a rush of intensity and stunning harmonies. Spectrum is another of the truly euphoric songs on the album. Starting quietly and building up through the vocals, when the beat kicks in you can almost feel it fill your whole body. The chorus is joyful and angelic, with a real gospel influence and feel to them, followed by an almost disco sounding bridge, which just shows there are few genres that Florence can't mix into her music, whilst still staying true to herself. The harps and gorgeous melody of All This and Heaven Too make this one of the lightest and brightest songs on the album. You can almost smell summer whilst listening to it, it is so full of sunshine. There is a hopefulness and yearning to it that makes it contrast to the darkness of much of the rest of the album. Leave My Body starts in another soulful swirl of harmony, with the soul theme continuing with the call-and response type vocals, contrasting with punchy drums. The songs grows in intensity, with its driving rhythm and multi part harmonies before gradually dropping layer upon layer and returning to a final hazy white noise of vocals. The album is viscerally evocative, dark, dreamy, euphoric, magical, gothic, haunting, joyful, intense and hypnotic, often at the same time. It is one that fills your brain and heart with images, mostly of the darkest and wildest pictures of nature. I hope I have gone some way to capturing what a brilliant album this is and would recommend it to anyone to try. I'm off to buy a thesaurus so I can do Florence's next album justice!
Submarine is a stylistically confident, witty and funny debut from Richard Ayowade. It has its own distinctive vision and voice, although clearly influenced by Wes Anderson, Hal Ashby and French new wave. The performance by Craig Roberts as Oliver Tate is phenomenal and he has created one of the most memorable teenagers on film, to easily rival the likes of Ferris Bueller or Max Fischer from Rushmore. Oliver should be intensely unlikeable, but the bravado in Roberts' performance makes him compelling for all his flaws and affectations. Oliver is the would be romantic intellectual hero of his should be sophisticated fascinating life. Unfortunately, he is a teenager. In Wales. In the 80s. That doesn't stop his imagination from creating the world he feels he deserves and the film brings that to life more than he probably does deserve! The scenes where he precisely imagines how his life might look if it was a film or how his school and the local news might react to his death are visually witty as well as being hilariously narrated and performed. Very few actors could have pulled this off. Submarine is blessed with an excellent supporting cast. Yasmine Paige is note perfect as Jordana, the object of Oliver's affections, her character evolving from something mysteriously dark and confident, to more vulnerable as the film goes on, but also with fantastic irony and comic timing. Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor are the heart of the film, bringing a mixture of warmth, wistful sadness and drab loneliness to their characters to set against Oliver's cocky self involvedness. Darren Evans is the comedy best friend of Chips showing the brand of immature male teenage lewd humour that Oliver reacts against, allowing Oliver to set himself up as the intense outsider of his imagination. The only character that I didn't think quite worked was Paddy Constantine's Graham Purvis. I am a massive fan of Paddy Constantine and the performance isn't bad, but the character feels a little too over the top and pantomime in it's humour which doesn't quite bed with the tone of the rest of the film - although he does still have some very funny moments. The film is shot beautifully, and reflects the detached irony of the narration. Some of the scenes, particularly between Oliver and Jordana are wonderful to look at, and really capture the essence of being a teenager. The gorgeous soundtrack by Alex Turner wonderfully complements the film (and also works as a separate album) replicating the feeling of youthful nostalgia for what life should be like in our heads rather than what real life disappoints us with. It is more like his work with The Last Shadow Puppets than the Arctic Monkeys. The DVD is packed with extras - so far I've only watched the deleted and extended scenes, which have some amusing moments among them, but you can see how they weren't essential to the film. Overall, this is one of my favourite films of the last few years. Although it is a Britisih film it has much more in common with American independent films. If you love those kind of films, you will love this. It might not to be everyone's taste or sense of humour, but the clever and witty script and brilliant performances at the centre, means that if you are not sure it's for you, I would still recommend giving it a go.
Given to the Wild was different to what I was expecting - given both the previous Maccabees albums and the singles that I had heard before I got the album, but because they are a band that change from album to album, perhaps I shouldn't have been too surprised. The opening two songs Given to the Wild and Child have a dreamy, spacey feel to them which set the scene for the album. Feel to Follow feels more like The Maccabees, particularly the first album, although a gentler, more wistful version, slightly reminiscent of Bombay Bicycle Club. It has a more distinctive tune than the first two tracks and the up-tempo bits are some of the most intensely engrossing of the album. Ayla opens with a hook of jaunty arpeggios, then is overlaid with a lovely melody. The mood turns a little darker at the bridge with some insistent guitar chords introduced. It isn't the most immediate or coherent track at first, but it has some real depth within its layers. Glimmer returns the album. to the dreaminess of the opening tracks but doesn't really grab the imagination and is a bit of a disappointment. Forever I've Known seems to start out as if it will be similarly unmemorable as again their previous ability to write a cracking tune is cancelled out by instead trying to create a sense of atmosphere. The guitars do latterly build to something more interesting but it is not up to their former high standards. Heave also feels like half a good song, at the start meandering before picking up into something a little interesting (although also a little Coldplay-esque). When Pelican kicks in, it is a real jolt, as here are The Maccabees I've been missing. This is as good as much of their first album. Fantastic tune, fantastic tempo, than weaves a gorgeous multi layered musical web. This is a real shooting star of a song and is the high point of the album. Went Away is very different from anything thus far - much more vocally driven, but the insistent drums give it a graceful energy to go with the floating guitars. If Pelican is a shooting star, this is a ride along in an open top car. Go has less of an impact, but it's slow tempo and atmospheric guitars would lend themselves to a soundtrack for a day lazing about in the sun. Unknown is darker and choral but again lacks a really distinctive tune or guitar hook to make the song really compelling. Slowly One also feels like it is haunting the background rather than striding to the front and make you listen for the first half of the song. When the fuzzy swirling guitars pick up half way through the track, it becomes much more interesting and complex rush of exhilaration. Grew Up at Midnight builds towards a fantastic climax, a haunting and heady mix of guitars, vocals, keys and what sounds like it might be an organ, it has a real choral feel to it and is a fitting album to the album, not immediate or catchily tuneful, but evocative and dream like. The album certainly grows on you more and more as you listen, but has less of the tuneful immediacy of the previous Maccabees albums. It only has a couple of stand out tunes, most notably Pelican. The band have gone for something more mature and involved than their previous work, but I don't feel they have quite pulled it out of the bag.
Cage the Elephant's debut album demonstrates their great mix of sounds and influences, including rock'n'roll, blues, grunge and punk. Among the stand out tracks is catchy opener In One Ear, which sets the scene with its bluesy hooks, driving rhythm and lyrics full of defiance and attitude - it is very much a mission statement for the band. Possibly the defining song of the album is third track Ain't No Rest for the Wicked. The song opens with a guitar hook that is reminiscent of Beck's Loser. The story telling verses are backed up with a memorable, almost gospel-like chorus. It's a simple and immediate song with a classic feel. Back Against the Wall is another of the best on this album, building to a fantastic chorus over a nicely rocking four chord progression overlaid with a squalling guitar track. Back Stabbin' Betty opens with a deliciously sultry guitar hook, with a plaintive bluesy vocal, reminding me a little of Cold War Kids, building into something more aggressive and angry, over some honky-tonk style piano. That's not to say the rest is filler. Each song has it's own standout moments. Overall the album is run through with continuous energy and a confident swagger build to the anarchic final song of Free Love. Lead singer Matthew Schultz's vocal style won't be to everyone's taste, but gives the songs a low fi, laid back, slacker characteristic which compliments the scuzzy ferocity of the guitars. If you're looking for a slightly grungier version of the Black Keys, then you would probably appreciate this album.
The Sandisk fuse is an easy to use, good value MP3 player. Transferring music is done by drag-and-drop so there is no need for extra software, and that makes it much more simple to transfer music than with other MP3 players that I have. Instead of buttons or a wheel there is a touch based area - the up/down and left/right can be used as single touch up and down or as a scroll, and then a play/pause button and an up one level button. This means I find it pretty easy to navigate around the MP3 player itself, although the up and down scroll can be a little bit unpredictable - what feels like the same amount of pressure can send it flying up through the alphabet or only going up by two or three items. The battery life is really good, which is fantastic for both my longish commute and any other long journeys that I take. So far (I've had it about 6 months) the software has been reliable and it hasn't crashed. The sound quality is good enough for my standards and by using slightly reduced quality WMAs, I can fit a lot more music on the player without losing significant sound quality. It's really light, which is a bonus, it is not the most attractive or stylish MP3 player on the market, but it looks nice enough. It does have one really annoying downside. There is no physical hold button. Instead you hold down the play/pause button to put it on hold and then scroll up to release the hold. Because the touch area is so sensitive, it comes off hold really easy in your pocket - sometimes a minor irritant, but often means it suddenly starts skipping through songs, or flicking between play and pause really quickly. It can literally come off hold from the movement of walking. I've found putting it in a looser coat pocket rather than my jeans pockets makes this less likely to happen but that isn't going to be much good when I don't need a coat. The headphone socket also seems a bit looser than other MP3 players I have had, and very occasionally the headphones get separated, so both these factors means it would not be a good MP3 player for taking out running.
This a fantastic free museum in Paris - and after visiting a few of the more famous ones, the prices there meant that a free museum was a great relief for my purse. Not only are there amazing objects from the history of the city, including an incredible collection on the French Revolution, but it also an opportunity to see the interior décor of Paris' aristocracy. Whereas Versailles can be incredibly crowded not really allowing you to take anything in properly, the much quieter Musee Carnavalet gives you the space and time to examine each exquisite object in detail. So unless it is the fact that they belonged to the Bourbon monarchy that attracts you to Versailles decoration, I would recommend skipping the pricey inside entry to Versailles and go to the Musee Carnavalet instead. I enjoyed the few hours there a great deal more. One of the reasons it might be quieter is it is not as close to the most famous landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, although it is still really central. The nearest famous landmark is the Place des Vosges, which is about a five minute walk away. It is in the Marais district which is a lovely area to walk around, full of historic buildings, pretty wee streets and interesting shops. Even though it isn't in 'tourist central', it is easy to get to from the centre - I stayed near the Pompidou Centre and it took about 10-15 minutes to walk there. But this isn't just a history of the aristocracy, it is a history of the entire city. The place is practically a maze inside, which lets you lose yourself in the past. Although that can have its disadvantages - when I realised I had got so absorbed that I had lost track of time and was in danger of being late for my train, it took me a while to find my way out!
I stayed in this hotel twice, about 2 weeks apart as we returned through Wellington. The first time we had a deal which included breakfast and parking in the set price, the second time we didn't. We also stayed on very high up floor and then on a mid level floor. This is a fairly standard hotel in terms of facilities, décor and furnishings, but it is clean and comfortable and pretty good value. The rooms have what you need and there is so much to do in Wellington, you probably won't be spending much time in it, so there is no need for it to be too swanky. It's biggest selling point is the location - it is right in the centre of the city near Te Papa and Oriental Parade. If you have a room on the right side, you can see across the bay. There are lots of places to go out for dinner and drinks near by and just round the corner is the largest cinema in the Southern Hemisphere! The staff were friendly and helpful. We only had the breakfast when it was included in our deal. The breakfast was fine, nothing special but certainly up to the standard I would expect of a good hotel. We didn't feel it was worth paying extra though and went elsewhere. It does have some downsides. It is located near a lot of busy streets so the traffic can get pretty noisy, especially any sirens going past. When staying on the highest floors, it wasn't as bad, but staying mid level it was much more noticeable. The internet was really expensive when we stayed there, free WiFi in cafes is not available very much in New Zealand, so there wasn't any alternative. We had to pay quite a lot extra for parking the second time and as it's a busy area, parking on the streets is not that feasible. Because of the location, if you can get a reasonable price, I would recommend staying there. Just maybe get ear plugs if you are a light sleeper or easily disturbed by traffic.
Los Campesinos' live shows are an incredible mixture of exuberant energy and fun, something that can be really hard to capture and translate onto record, but this comes pretty close. Because of the non-traditional song structure, the record is definitely one that needs repeated listening to really enjoy, but once you have it is worth it as the catchy hooks worm their way into your head and the sense of joy creeps into your heart. There are some fantastic tunes, particularly You! Me! Dancing! a brilliant evocation of a drunken night out and Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks which builds and builds to something joyous. Another personal favourite is Knee Deep at ATP - the lovelorn betrayal makes it sound like a story from the singer's own experience. If you like everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type music with pop hooks, flutes, xylophones and ferocious energy added to a mix of great tunes and witty lyrics, then this is worth checking out.
Frankie and the Heartstrings definitely have a classic retro feel to them (it is not just the name!) but there is a real enthusiasm and energy that comes through their songs that makes them seem bang up to date at the same time. What they do best is write incredibly catchy tunes, that stick in your head for days, right from the first song Photograph, and particularly with the brilliant Hunger. First time listening through the album, you almost feel like you've heard it before, not because it is so derivative but because the tunes are so well written, it feels like they've come from your own memory. This is not a band or album that is going to reinvent or revolutionise music, it's not the most original sound you'll have hear recently, but if you're looking for a collection of fun tunes to get into, then you might like this album.
I bought these when I moved to my first flat by myself - there were lots of new things I needed but was on a budget. I owned a couple of old forks and knives so needed pretty much a whole set and it was great to find cutlery so cheap. Four of each thing is fine if it is just one person, but I don't think this set wouldn't be suitable for a family, nor if you do a lot of entertaining. The spoons are a little flat but function fine. The handles are also a bit flat so they are not the most comfortable to grip but they do work. The teaspoons are also quite flat, but this is less of an issue as I use the teaspoons to add things and stir rather than eating a main meal like soup where the flatness has more of an impact. The knives work as well as any other basic knives I've used and are probably the best bit of the set. They have stayed relatively sharp over the months and have thicker handles that are easier to grip. The weirdest thing, and the thing I had to get used to was that the forks only have 3 prongs rather than four, it looks very strange and takes a while to get used to. It doesn't make a massive difference when you are eating most foods and they do function fine as forks for larger chunks or pieces. However it means it's easier to eat rice with my older fork. Like the spoons, the thin, flat shape of the handles means they are not the most comfortable to grip. I've had them for nearly a year, and there has been no noticeable colouring, rusting or staining which is pretty impressive. You get what you pay for - for this you get cheap and functional at an absolute bargain price.
This is a very light and attractive suitcase. It comes in distinctive enough patterns and colours so that you can find it on the baggage pickup conveyor belt but it is also smaller enough that you should be able to take it as hand luggage. It is surprisingly spacious inside and I fitted more than expected inside. The release button on the extendable handle makes it easier to put the handle in and out as you approach or leave escalators and stairs, great when you are in a hurry. It has a handle that flattens down on three sides - helpful when you've put it in a rack without checking what side the handle is on. I've had no problem with it being reliable so far - although I have only used it for a few journeys. However, a couple of these did involve lots of train and tube transfers and it held up to being shunted, jerked and other wise pulled in random directions. The wheels and zips have worked really well and despite pulling the main extendible handle in and out an awful lot, it didn't function any less. The only downside is, now that some airlines are getting quite strict about only taking one piece of hand luggage on board - not even a small handbag with it - an external zip pocket would be useful to pop your book or magazine in so that you don't have to open the case when getting on the flight. This is a minor point though, but would have been one feature that would have left me with nothing to complain about. I can definitely recommend this suitcase if you are looking for a great suitcase for weekend and overnight trips and I will be using it for a four day trip soon where I am only taking hand luggage as there is more than enough room if I pack sensibly.
We're on to series 4 now, and I keep expecting Mad Men to drop in quality, because surely it isn't possible to maintain these amazingly high standards. But it doesn't, it stays this good. I'm going to assume that more people are going to read a review of the series 4 box set if they already watch the show, but don't know whether they should buy the DVD of this series or not. Well I say go for it. Mad Men doesn't lose anything on repeat viewing, but I feel it gains a lot. It is the sort of show where there is a lot to discover on repeat viewing. Because Mad Men, to me, is all about the complexity of the characters and the intricacies of the relationships. Seeing these tiny subtleties when you now know where the characters are going is just as intriguing as taking the journey with them was the first time round. I haven't been through all the extras yet, but the episode commentaries I have listened to have been very entertaining (who knew Jon Hamm's voice could be even sexier in real life?!) and insightful. I lost interest quickly in the documentary on the marketing of the Mustang but that is probably due to my lack of interest in cars - what I watched of it did give a picture of how products and marketing were changing to keep up with the social changes of the Sixties. The clips from the 1964 Presidential Election were interesting and occasionally mildly terrifying - they are not contextualised or part of a wider documentary which would have been a welcome bonus. If you're still reading this, but you've never watched Mad Men, I highly advise getting into it if you like character driven grown-up drama. It is incredibly compelling and hugely rewarding. But go back to the beginning because there is so much you'll miss in the small moments between the established characters - small moments that can be devastating, intriguing or compelling - or a mixture of all three - that deserve to be understood fully.
This hotel is now the Best Western Academy Plaza, and I stayed there in March 2012. The best thing it has going for it is the location - just off one end of O'Connell Street and a short or medium walk to pretty much everything in the city centre. Otherwise, it is a fairly standard chain hotel. My room was quite small (it was a bit of a squeeze to get round the end of the bed) and it only had a very small window as it looked over an internal courtyard. The room was clean and the décor fine, as was the bathroom and despite the compact size of the room, the furniture had been done in a smart way to store my belongings. The bed was comfortable and for the most part the room was quiet and I couldn't hear my neighbours. The staff on reception were very friendly and helpful. Breakfast is cheaper if you order it in advance - the full breakfast is pretty much all you can eat. It's ok, but I'd be disappointed if I bought that at a café so if you are happy to wait until you are out to eat breakfast, I would recommend that. Overall, it met the standards I would expect from a chain hotel well.
I hope I can convey how much fun we had on this tour in March 2012. After a reasonably heavy night out which followed a long day around the city, who would have thought the perfect activity would be wearing a daft plastic Viking helmet, going round Dublin roaring at other tourists? What really made it so much fun was the brilliant guide, who had us giggling all round the city. We were given a mixture of the more standard traditional information about the history and areas of Dublin mixed in with trivia and anecdotes ranging from the fun to the absurd all told with incredible wit and comic timing at an absolutely ferocious speed. It was like getting a tour of Dublin with a stand up show included. Just plain awesome. There were a couple of other things which made it worthwhile. One was the interactive nature - all of us on the boat would join in with roaring like vikings at our enemy (the open top tour buses) or unsuspecting Celts minding their own business (pedestrians on their mobiles). It was also nice to get to see a bit of the city from a different viewpoint in the part of the tour on water. I really can't recommend this enough, we had a great time!