Update: Here are the winning entries for our Sony promotion.
We wanted you to tell us what your LEAST favourite Australian album of the year was and why – it could be anything from Seekae (not likely) to Jessica Mauboy. Our three winners chose Stan Walker, The Getaway Plan, and Quiet Child (though this dude’s review seems to indicate that he actually liked it after all). After the jump we’ve included the re-reviews of their least favourite albums as heard, this time, through the aforementioned Sony headphones. Some entertaining stuff there.
(Note: No one at whothehell.net has tried or used these products nor received any payment for this promo. We were approached by Sony and thought it would be nice to get some giveaways for our loyal readers. The reviews below are presented as sent to us, unedited, and without direction.)
Winner #1: Dave Brown
To be fair when I first “reviewed” this album it hadn’t actually been released. So, in the spirit of the game, I have now listened through the album in its entirety twice – once on my stock iPod headphones and once with my new Sony MDR-XB500 monsters.
What is perhaps most remarkable about this year’s Idol winner is the lack of airplay he has received. Sure there was a burst of activity in the couple of weeks after Idol finished, but normally I would have unwittingly absorbed this album many times over by now just walking through my local shopping centre, ala Wes Carr or Guy Sebastian.
Interestingly, Stan is faring better in the charts of his NZ bros. Aussies have a history of claiming their musically talented kiwi brethren as our own, but maybe this one is best left to our neighbours across the pond.
So, Stan has now been introduced. His album, recorded in 2 days and rushed out the door to catch what was left of the waning Idol spotlight, is comprised primarily of songs covered during his Idol “journey”. Much like the weekly performances on the show itself, most songs are abridged into bite-sized pieces (some significantly) and the whole album comes in at a lean 33 mins.
Stan’s troubled-teen-turns-to-Jesus story is definitely sellable and, in fairness, his soul tinged voice is actually quite promising. Unfortunately, by virtue of the Idol format, on this album that voice is stretched from Miley Cirus to Al Green to The Carpenters and back again, and in the process is stretched thin in places. Thankfully his performance of Nothing Else Matters – in which during the show his voice repeatedly dropped off the bottom of the human register – was not repeated here. Surprisingly, his rendition of Single Ladies is also notably absent.
His trips to the covers hall of fame/shame with Hallelujah (less a few verses) and We Will Rock You are about as cringeworthy as you would expect. The rest of the album is simply ‘meh’ – no track stands out as a clever interpretation or really much more than a karaoke rendition over some session backing. As for his single, well… it’s not my bag.
In Stan’s defence, since jumping on board the Idol Titanic he has probably had little say in his destination. It will be interesting to see if he stays true to his soul strengths in his own album, should he be given the reins to do so. As for Idol – I say let’s hope that the “rest” it has earned this year is really a RIP.
To the real point of this review, though – the Sony MDR-XB500s. The first thing that strikes you when strapping these on is that the “big, comfy sofa” ear cushions are really incredibly comfortable, somewhat easing the discomfort of having to listen through this album a second time. They really are ear warmers, though. You will either love or hate the chunky look, but wearing these on your next commute is definitely going to earn you some audiophile cred.
Did the Sonys enhance the album? Well, improvement is relative.
The headphones tout their “extra bass” capabilities and it is here that they really deliver. Stan’s booming lower register is certainly his strength, however sometimes I think he digs a little too deep – just because you can doesn’t mean you should. The Sonys definitely accentuate his deeper tones, and latched on to the beats on tracks such as Black Box and We Will Rock You.
Additional bass often comes with the trade off of a “muddier” soundscape overall, however I was pleasantly surprised that this is not the case here. Mids and trebles are kept crisp and fresh – and improved even more with a slight EQ tweak. The sound holds together under some volume too, in fact I gave in before it did.
Overall, though, the best thing about the Sonys is this: next time I’m on the train with these bad boys strapped on and some teenage girls start blaring Stan’s latest single from their tinny mobile phone speakers, I’ll remain blissfully unaware.
Winner #2: Yen Nguyen
Having only released one album most bands would feel a “best of” compilation was a little premature, however, in 2009, the Getaway Plan came out with “2004-2009” a collection of all their best songs from their entire catalogue… …of one album. Though the reasoning behind this has been made to clear to me (apparently they broke up), I still don’t see the point in this album, or for that matter, in this band. Though I’m glad to see an Australian band getting in amongst the action and having some success in the Emo scene, the Getaway Plan add nothing new to a completely overdone sound. Layers of whiny vocals, over-driven guitars that still sound too clean and bland formulaic songs all combine to make a totally underwhelming listen, though I’m sure fans of Fallout Boy will like it anyway.
On the more positive side, I’ve just received a pair of brand new headphones courtesy of Sony and whothehell.net. The MDR-XB500 headphones boast “powerful bass blast” and comparing them to my previous set of headphones I can say straight away that they are true to their word. Anyone who likes their bass turned up to 11 will love a pair of these.
Winner #3: Brian Ward
I didn’t realise bass could make such a mess.
Let me explain.
I received the Sony MDRXB500 Extra Bass in the mail yesterday and couldn’t wait to listen to the debut album from Quiet Child, called Evening Bell. I bought their album on a whim when it first came out last year and loved it. But since I listen to most of my music through either my 8 year old computer speakers or $15 headphones, I haven’t been able to really hear the album as I’d like to. Since becoming a new Dad last year I have to keep the volume down unless I’m really looking forward to a night of no sleep and tinnitus inducing screams from my daughter. As much fun as that is I knew that I’d be able to finally listen to this album properly with the MDRXB500’s.
After putting my daughter down to sleep for the night I sat down in my recliner seat, sipped a cold beer and pressed play. Wow. From the moment the band kicked in on the opening track it was like I was hearing for the first time. I forgot how much more amazing music can sound through a good pair of headphones. Everything sounded so clear and spacious. But being a bass junky, this is where the headphones really sold it for me. I normally turn the bass up so loud that the clarity in the guitars and singing is lost but no matter how hard I’d drive the bass everything else was clear as a bell. The vocal crescendo towards the end of the epic 10 minute opener, Flowers In The Middle Of The Road, gave me goosebumps and put a huge smile on my face.
The second track, Dark Heart Of Pleasure, although having the title of an emo porno is a haunting tune with a delay driven guitar playing under amazing vocal harmonies that make it one of the stand outs of the album for me. Even though most of the album is a progressive rock sound akin to Cog, Dead Letter Circus or Butterfly Effect – I just can’t get enough of the vocals on this track. Again, the headphones help to give the song this open sound that accentuates the single notes played by the guitar. Awesome.
The single Discipline kicks things up a bit more on the rock side with distorted guitars while maintaining a slow vibe that can be a bit repetitive but the last minute of the song makes up for it.
I blame Quiet Child and the MDRXB500’s for eliciting the brown note when the next song, Stealing Inches, blasted into my ears. Now I know how my daughter feels when she explosively fills her nappy. I paused, changed my diaper and continued to listen. Seriously, the heavy riff on this song sounds so cool in these headphones as the bass flows through your whole body. Love it.
The album takes another turn here for Don’t You Know Me?. Being a guitar player, the opening of this song just sounds like the guitarist was practicing a major scale run a few times before starting to record. It’s the weakest song on the album but in saying that it is still a great song. I think the vocalist is the highlight of the whole album and he helps keep your attention through this slow song that never really goes anywhere instrumentally.
Key And The Pillow is full of rise and fall moments of quiet peace to frantic heavy riffage. While air guitaring in my chair, my wife walked in on me and spilt some of the drink she was holding from laughing at seeing her husband pout like the new bass player from Metallica. After explaining to her that “it wasn’t my fault, the music made me do it” she left me to enjoy the rest of the album in peace.
I was looking forward to listening to this next track the most on the new headphones. Captain Trips, a reference to the plague that kills most of the world in Stephen King’s novel The Stand, is an epic journey of a song. There is a nice driving bass line that hints at what’s to come while a subdued guitar quietly picks with the falsetto vocals. This song just builds and builds from one awesome moment to the next. When the heaviness comes to stay in the last third of the song everything comes together. The bass line that played through in the beginning is fleshed out into a thick, heavy driving riff that closes out the track. When the track ends I’m always tempted to just play the song again. It sounded so awesome I did just that.
The last song of this 8 track album is a nice closer that bring things down again with acoustic guitars, piano and soaring vocals that are so clear and bright through the MDRXB500’s. I really though that the bass would drown out everything on the headphones, especially considering how high I have the bass in the EQ but they do a great job of enhancing those frequencies while giving the others enough room to breathe. The song gets a bit heavier towards the end and just when you think it’s over, a very stripped back last verse utters the final moments of the album.
It was great to be able to hear the subtleties in the very quiet moments of this album but the heavy rock riffs just sounded so amazing. I can’t wait to use the headphones to listen to some other albums but for now I have a dirty nappy to change.
My daughters, not mine ok?