Profile for Mr. S. M. Davies > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Mr. S. M. Davies
Top Reviewer Ranking: 39,580
Helpful Votes: 357

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Mr. S. M. Davies

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
Spanish with Michel Thomas--Complete Course 8 CD Set
Spanish with Michel Thomas--Complete Course 8 CD Set
by Michel Thomas
Edition: Audio CD

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good alongside a more formal approach, 7 Jun 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
If coupled with a more formal learning of the language, this CD represents a good platform for learning the spoken aspect of the language. Thomas does give good depth on verb forms and crucially the indicative/subjunctive distinctions, but essentially this is CD for getting to grips with how Spanish is spoken.

The recording takes a slightly unusual format. The eight CDs are essentially a continuous recording of Michel teaching two language learners in a classroom situation. One of them, an american girl, is more advanced than a gawky English guy, but both of them make typical mistakes you'd expect of a beginner. At times the English lad may be slightly annoying for some learners, but generally plays his part in a charismatic and entertaining box set. There is good chemistry between all three people and they speak clearly.

With the way the CD is structured, it's helpful for you to be able to pause it at the crucial moment when Michel asks a question, so it's ideally suited to home learning and not when you're on the move. Helpfully, the students do often take a while to answer.

Although focussed on the way Spanish is spoken, there is still a world of difference between mastering the drills on this tape and totally understanding Spanish as it is spoken in day to day life. This is simply the first few rungs on the ladder, but Thomas has put them together in an engaging and entertaining format that will help you to the next stage.

Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: 11.04

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mesmeric, 17 Mar 2006
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Sakura (Audio CD)
There is a tranquillity in Yokota's 'Sakura' that in the hands of others would become sterility. With each track, Yokota seamlessly transports the listener through his idyllic paradise, presumably the isle much of this work is inspired by. From the opening, unadorned bass pulse of 'Saku', string-like synths arrive from what seems like miles away, wrapping themselves into a cocoon of dreamy, otherworldy music. The method will not blow you away, as there are barely any dramatic shifts in Yokota's armoury here, but like with the curtain of distant rainfall ever-present through 'Taku', this artist works through steady accumulation that is mostly just as satisfying and effective: you sense the artist revels in crystallizing a momentary wonder into a flowing, unravelling experience.
Unlike Aphex Twin's Ambient Works, there is little disparity of mood in this album. Whereas Aphex's work can shift from mesmeric beauty to the paranoid and nightmarish, Yokota's work presents a smoother listening experience, taking some of the aforementioned artist's stellar beauty and mixing it with the synth-rich warmth and playfulness of Air. Indeed, where Aphex's melodies would drift for the best part of ten minutes, Yokota involves livelier and more vivified arrangements that are in a constant process of evolution, gradually filtering in and out beautiful sounds, continuing others; for instance, the end of 'Tobiume' sees a mellifluous, reverbed guitar cleanly picking in the background: the effect is similar to Air's 'Walkie Talkie' album, yet in the hands of a master like Yokota, you are barely aware of the addition. As a result, 'Sakura' consistently represents an organic, natural experience, pleasingly removed from the austere, esoteric atmosphere of Ambient Works Volume II.
Other songs try and test the parameters of ambient to its limits. 'Uchu Tanjyo' brings some clattering, tribal beats to the sonic table, hatching a bubbling, tremeloed bass to their rhythm as a voice rambles over it all: the effect is interesting, but it is one of the lesser lights on this bright album, although in the context of the sonic landscape, you do feel as though this is just another of the surprises on Yokota's island - signs of life perhaps.
'Genshi' begins with a sinuous, burbling bass that threatens to at any point lift of into the realms of one of Yokota's house excursions; however, despite the insistent pace, a slow organ melody and backing strings are imposed on the rhythm, engendering the sense of watching the world go by from the train, that feeling of stasis and movement combined. It demonstrates the feeling of adventure in this work, even more so Yokota's dexterity in marrying disparate tempos to form a cohesive texture.
The end to this album is slightly disappointing, however. ‘Kirakiraboshi’ features some lovely twinkling melodies but ultimately lacks the strength of composition that is found in earlier tracks such as ‘Hisen’, as after a couple of minutes it fizzles out. Yokota could also involve more chord progression switches in his music a little more often, as it is the shift from the choral, classical instrumentation in ’Hisen’ to the soothing organ coda on ’Hysen’ that is the albums highlight. Although the steady process of weaving sounds in and out of set basslines does work on songs such as ‘Saku’, on others such as ‘Hagoromo’ the effect feels tedious and underwhelming.
Overall, however, a magnificent ambient album, and one that promises much for the future.

Happy Songs For Happy People
Happy Songs For Happy People
Price: 8.38

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Band learns new tricks, 17 Mar 2006
This record is typical of the later, more mature Mogwai: which means nothing even approaching the feedback terror of ‘With Portfolio‘, and no more samples of late night NFL and answer-phones. Whilst for some this kills the raucous essence of the band, ‘Happy Songs For Happy People’ ultimately shows a band more aware of mood, of structure, and most of all song structures stretching beyond the perfunctory build-destroy mechanism of their earlier efforts.
But enough of that, the opener 'Hunted by a Freak' is simply a great post rock song. Here, the spindly opening riff stretches along with that practiced Mogwai uncertainty, segueing nicely into a mellifluous chorus: soon the delay pedals arrive on scene to increase the emotional fervour. Yet the intention to wig out, to simply add more, is commendably forestalled (see ‘mature Mogwai’) and instead Mogwai shift the mood to one of calm in the middle eight, where a cello weaves between clean guitar lines. This demonstrates Mogwai’s growing maturity working to their advantage, and the shift back into the chorus clinches the songs hymnal quality perfectly.
'Killing all the flies' starts of with a simple guitar riff that is evocative of REM, complete with vocoder-voice layered over the top. The song seems like it would be better suited to a live vocal, and maybe Mogwai could have given Gruff Rhys a call, who added so much to 'Dial:Revenge' on Rock Action. This is a similar sort of song, but the structure lacks any kind of punch and after a flurry of guitars mid-song, collapses away into the same tedious, skipworthy harmonics as closes ‘Kids Will be Skeletons‘.
The intermission of 'Boring Machines' is welcome and vital. The melange of smooth textural sounds, culled from all kinds of treated feedback and rich organ, create a choral sound that is reminiscent of some post-rock church service. Like with 'Moses', the percussion is intermittent and allows the music to breath: undoubtedly this is one of my favourite songs on the album, and it has a majesty that seems to make it a spyhole into the icy drifts of Sigur Ros.
'Ratts of the Captial' is undoubtedly the standout. It has that typical Mogwai build up with its spindly-clean telecasters, yet the transition into the chorus is unexpected and alters the mood from a sense of ennui to ebullient expectation. The band again show their growing observance for the advantages of restraint, almost sadistically refusing the temptation to kick in with the distortion to the last possible moment: the resultant effect is pure energy and exhilaration. The song ends with a kick of majestic octaves that is evocative of King Crimson or Tool - a slight overkill here - but it doesn't mean this song isn't fantastic. The production is so good that the xylophone is allowed to chime through and not be destroyed by the overarching guitars: Mogwai again get that balance between beauty and brutality that is a part of all their best work.
'Stop Coming To My House' is slightly disappointing. The melody the song develops is to begin with interesting, but then the capturing of it by simply topping it with distortion topples any sense of drama this song is trying to create. This is the sort of song Mogwai could write in their sleep; it is an example of where the temptation to indulge is simply too great for them.
Overall, this is an album worth having. If you are wanting a gateway into post-rock this is also a good place to start: it shows some of its weaknesses and some of its strengths, but most of all nearly all of these songs are good songs - there is precious little filler and there is a coherence on offer that many of Mogwai's albums seem to lack.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 7, 2008 3:35 PM BST

Offered by mrtopseller
Price: 7.00

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Post-Acoustic Wonder?, 11 Mar 2006
This review is from: Pajo (Audio CD)
I bought this album based on the fact that I knew Pajo's work with Tortoise, and also because the cover art, with it's panorama of a desolate landscape, seemed to promise something sonically expansive: let me first make it clear that the album flew in the face of any such assumptions: the work is nothing like Tortoise, is largely acoustic, and in fact bears more in common with bands like The Shins or Sparklehorse.
The production is lo-fi to say the least, and it is really no surprise that Pajo recorded the entire album on a laptop computer: vocals, beats, the lot. Although it sounds cliche, the production really does lend the music an intimacy that otherwise might not be matched by spotless production values, and it is seldom that you get the impression that the artist is being limited by cloth he has cut.
Although dominated by acoustic guitar, this is not one of those artist-centred acoustic albums, where each song seems a soap box for the speaker to brow-beat the listener to tears. Each song is distinguished, in some way, by Pajo's assured musical touch: for instance, 'Let Me Bleed' features some phased-out, shimmering accompanying guitar, whilst 'Mary of the Wild Moor' features a tasteful delayed guitar melody, intervening at the end of each verse. The music also effortlessly takes on a variety of acoustic styles, as on the evocative 'Manson Twins' Pajo attaches a strangely sonorous vocal to an understated country ballad; yet Pajo is more inspired by his influences than led by them, underneath the music there is a distinct personality that lifts it above imitation, as in the song's middle-eight, the tempo shifts up into the trees and the sunlight: it is the albums highlight.
The album is not without weaknesses, however. Pajo's whispery vocals, over the course of an album, go a long way to explaining why much of his work has been instrumental to date. It wears thin after a while, and on the repetitive, two-note riff of 'War is Dead', is noticeably impoverished; Pajo just doesn't have the range to manoeuvre around the simple structure and turn a sow's ear into the proverbial purse like a confident singer-songwriter would - we get the impression of a writer living on his wits, at times: thankfully, the upbeat and lilting strummalong of 'baby please come home' allows Pajo to recover his poise and the albums pace.
However, at times Pajo's dreamy mood seems a little too contented with it's own indifference, and the sing-song nature of his delivery hints that the album may be turning towards one of those cutesy, quirky albums that drift pleasantly but are ultimately more satisfying to the solipsistic artist. Mindful of this, the album achieves a startling and moving ballad in 'Mary of the wild moor' that is both lyrically and musically affecting.
Telling a simple pastoral tragedy above a plucked acoustic guitar, Pajo's previously distant and often unintelligible voice is brought higher up in the mix, so that his presence is almost tangible; in the same way, the acoustic guitar, creaks and all, is as spartan as the cold moor. Telling the tale almost reluctantly, Pajo's voice is tender and nervous to the point of tears: it is an intensely bare and moving piece of music. It just is. It is amazing how an unoriginal generic sounding song can in Pajo's hands be vivified in this way.
‘Let Me Bleed’ transports Pajo from the Yorkshire moors to some lofty hotel room where he can stare out at the city nightlife and expound his cynicism on it all; brilliantly arranged with glittering effects and sub-aqua guitar chords, Pajo swims contentedly in his own bile, speaking in tones so hushed, you feel he’s afraid someone will hear him and take notice. The music is simple but has a ceiling of glittering stars, showering down on the disillusioned artist; it is undoubtedly a highlight here, continuing a strong end to the album.
‘Francie’ is musically in opposition to the rest of the album, developing an ambient dreamscape similar to some of ‘Voyager 36’ by Porcupine Tree, complete with a spoken word by a prophetic voice, and underpinned by a smooth, melodic bass. With all the shiftings of environment, from the moors to the city, to the american country, we are left facing the stars, seemingly floating in the air as the formless, distorted guitar chords fade out. Pajo has effected an album of modern dislocation, of jumping into different acoustic styles that don't hold expectations of him, the final feeling is one of freedom. I sense this was a hugely liberating album for Pajo; that feeling is not lost on the listener, either.

Come On Die Young
Come On Die Young
Price: 12.72

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Defiant beauty, 11 Mar 2006
This review is from: Come On Die Young (Audio CD)
If Young Team gained an appeal through the shoegazer-style washes of ‘Tracy’, and its digital tide of effects pedals that layered the endless ’Mogwai Fear Satan’, ‘Come On Die Young’ shows the band wanting to simply plug in and play. Opener ‘Punk Rock’ features untreated clean guitars chiming in minor-key over a speech by Iggy Pop. The band’s trademark plaintive emotion, often covered below layers of feedback and delay on the previous album, is here bravely on show: ‘the brilliant music of a genius, myself’ Iggy Pop declares; you sense Mogwai would say the same themselves; if their music did not already do that for them.
‘Cody’ is a rare vocal track that sounds like a country lament from a ghost town, straight after the gold rush. Indeed, the sharply picked minor-key guitars could easily be Neil Young on Zuma: just darker. In the background a tasteful pedal-steel howls mournfully, as Stuart Braithwaite’s vocal sounds like all of Glasgow propping up the bar, and the soft, lugubrious music emphasises an overall half-drunken, half-romantic stupor.
If ‘cody’ is a bar-room howl, then ‘Helps Both Ways’ is the loner sloping home to his empty house and falling on the couch in front of the telly; almost literally, as an American football game plays in the background for the entire song. Again there is a clean guitar, but this time a nicely muted horn section plays over the top to the pace of a fugue. The song is strangely entrancing, a fine demonstration of how classical instruments are used in post-rock as not just to fill in the gaps, but to add something to the music.
‘Year 2000’ and ‘Kappa’ propound the sparse, ennui-rock further, the first with layers of metallic sounding guitars and samples, the second with a definite Slint-feel that is slightly atonal. The songs feel like a pair, but also as more an exercise in sound and unfettered production than anything else. The atmosphere of locale created by the previous tracks is in this way slightly compromised, but not totally.
‘Waltz for Aidan’ returns us to this drunken, woozy feel; and it’s sumptuous, aching melody, that finally melts into long country lanes of delay is one of the most beautiful moments on the album. The song is overdosed on wistful melancholy, and leads into the rather tenderly titled ‘may nothing but happiness come through your door’: the poignancy evident in the title is played out by a solitary guitar, that builds in volume as a clattering drum beat turns it to an impassioned shout: the rage finally collapses into a pool of soft keys, as a phone message plays pathetically in the background. At these junctures, we get this sense of a narrative running through this album, perhaps a person who has lost everything, and that this is a journey through his solipsism: the barren nature of the production enforces this brilliantly.
After the distorted piano interlude of ‘Oh! How the Dogs Stack Up’, the album enters into its tour de force: a triptych of lengthy songs - ‘Ex-Cowboy’, ‘Chocky’ and ‘Christmas Steps’ that each demonstrate Mogwai’s outreaching talent. In the first, a loose bass groove uncovers swathes of sound, from the beginning violins to towering guitars that finally rage to the surface, coating the soundscape in nightmarish entrancing squalls of feedback: the result is paralysingly beautiful, like staring over a precipice. The following number ‘chocky’ demonstrates the band’s sincerity of feeling as a plaintive piano melody unfolds alongside ascending guitars, the song drifts on like a journey through the hills, before foundering in a fog of static. ‘Christmas Steps’ is far better than it’s E.P. counterpart, sounding better with the lighter, less prominent guitars; it feels like someone picking their way through a snowbound landscape.
The closer is slightly disappointing, but this is a great album, an important album. I can’t understand why people see ‘Young Team’ as the flagship album: for me it is ‘Come On Die Young’ - the band took a brave risk with eschewing their early stomp box fascination, and this album demonstrates that they could make the most battered sounding guitar cry.

On An Island
On An Island
Price: 14.70

7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stuck on this island, unfortunately, 11 Mar 2006
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: On An Island (Audio CD)
The idea of a Mediterranean island as the focus of an album is an alluring one for an artist, inviting him to capture the essence of a place, its atmosphere and its soul by music. However, although I feel this album is not without musical merit, it falls short insofar as it's raison d’ etre, to explore a holiday experience, is not conveyed convincingly: it just falls short, to be honest. Some of the lyrics, particularly from the title track, feel all too considered and pre-selected, whilst bereft of the vitality of holiday living, the music lumbers resolutely on to the next solo.
Although not a focussed attempt, this is something I felt was explored far more compellingly on King Crimsons 'Islands' album, where the title track and 'Formentera Lady' particularly stand as examples of how a place may be evoked lyrically and musically, creating clear visuals of it, allowing for that connection between artist and listener. For me, this never happened with Gilmour's exploration: the symbols were familiar enough: 'empty harbours' and so on, but they weren't individuated properly to recognise it as Gilmour’s personal experience; likewise the music didn't feel inspired by the place but written for it, with a few superficial additions such as a tastefully chosen instrument here and there, but mostly the usual suspects: guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, with an orchestra to help fill in the gaps and add depth.
A song that stood out for me was 'A Pocketful of Stones' with its interesting manipulation of mood, and what were easily the best lyrics on the album. Also, until the end of the song, Gilmour trademark guitar was kept in check, allowing the interesting instrumentation and shifts in tone to shine through, unadulterated by the all-too familiar trademark sound. I felt that 'Red Sky at Night' and another instrumental 'Then I Close my Eyes' were accomplished also; again, songs that did not feature Gilmour's guitar soloing. I felt that with their particular arrangements, they helped evoke the accompanying sense of place we expect of the album. For instance, with the former, I could imagine looking out at a sunset from the beach; whilst the busy arrangement of the latter reminded me of a cluttered market place, busy and full of sunlight and custom. However, that these two songs are sandwiched by a bluesy number in the shape of 'This Heaven', ruins any sense of continuation. Perhaps this wasn't Gilmour's intention, but given the cover art and the lyrics it at least seems to be. I just feel that if he had taken the risks of alienating some of the guitar fans, he would have produced a more evocative and memorable album.
However, that is not to say these three songs are not wonderful, and Robert Wyatt’s solo on ‘Then I Close My Eyes’ seems to sound from out of a morning mist, it is really quite beautiful, almost worth buying for just this alone.

Atom Heart Mother
Atom Heart Mother
Offered by nagiry
Price: 9.56

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Single Mother, 10 Mar 2006
This review is from: Atom Heart Mother (Audio CD)
'Atom Heart Mother' is remarkably difficult to place in the Floyd corpus. Although a commercial success, it is often placed by simple chronology behind 'Meddle' and 'Obscured by Clouds' in terms of musical accomplishment, and seen as the last transitional album, a transition that began with the expulsion of Syd Barrett from the band in the late 1960s. However, the album is probably far more advanced than it is given credit for, and although dismissed by some fans and the band themselves, is loved in equal measure by others. My opinion is that the album is neither as bad as the Floyd think, nor as good the fanatics think.
The title track that opens the album is a quasi-orchestral opus formed in collaboration with Ron Geesin, a partnership whose uneasy nature is typified by the convoluted nature of the song itself, particularly in the opening section 'Father's Shout'. However, following an impressive and well-managed build-up involving the portentous Georgian-style chanting of a choir, and some vastly improved Nick Mason drumming, the piece breaks down into the slow groove of 'Funky Dung': this is effectively the first time in Floyd's career where the immaculate soloing guitar of Gilmour has been allowed to swim over the burbling organ of Wright, and here, progressing to a reverberating chant section, Floyd do achieve some interesting music that has their own identity splashed over it. However, with the returning refrain, you are always kept aware of Geesin's at times inappropriate tone that frequently takes the music into the realms of a Benny Hill-style burlesque: you sense that the two camps are working exclusively and as such the piece is something of a curate’s egg.
After the organised bluster of 'Atom Heart Mother', 'If' places itself in direct opposition to anything so overwrought. This Waters ballad is a tiny gem, containing an unusually soothing vocal from Roger, and a moving lyric that revolves around the desire to escape one's habits and shortcomings, but ultimately realising that the person is constrained by them. The genuine tone of the lyrics lifts the slightly bathetic, cliched music to a new level, and it can rightly be considered a classic early example of Waters's burgeoning lyrical brilliance. Again, Gilmour's developing lyricism on the guitar is prominent in the background; accompanying as opposed to intruding.
With Roger's lachrymose ballad moving along at a languorous pace, the next offering, this time courtesy of Rick Wright with 'Summer 69', effortlessly evokes those long summer days spent chasing through the fields with beautiful girls, with attendant dewy-eyed fondness from the writer. The lyrics are shot through with the typical 60s iconography of the touring band, to name just a few - girls, friends lying in the sun and loud music. The bouncy, up-tempo melody and rather jocund vocal helps enforce this feel-good, rather un-Floyd vibe, there are even some Beach Boys style backing vocals. The closing brass section jars slightly however and is played ad nauseum, spinning us back to the excess of the title-track.
Gilmour's offering, 'Fat Old Sun', is therefore his attempt and subsequent yoke to outdo the summertime feel of the two previous compositions, and begins well as he strums a lonely acoustic guitar in a lonesome fashion. This shows Gilmour's leaning toward folk, but it is not clear as to whether the emotion is meant to be serious; whether what we are getting is intentionally bathetic or not. Gilmour seems drawn to a tender exposition of his desire to be out in the country, but at times the emotion seems contrived. The closing guitar solo finally relieves us of untangling the opposition, setting free his guitar to wail over a smooth tapestry of slide guitar, and keyboard, as Mason's cobbled together drums echo and clatter uncomfortably in the background, giving the unfortunate impression of them tumbling out of the back of the tour bus, which is a shame as Mason’s drums show a marked improvement over the rest of the album.
'Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast' must have seemed like a wonderful idea at the time; although ultimately it is three interesting jams interspersed by the ramblings of a man tucking into his cereal. The at times jaunty music sums up the mood of the preceding three tracks, but in reality it simply sounds like what lift music sounded like in the sixties - in three different elevators. The first cut features a synth sound so obnoxious I am sure Rick Wright just used it as a joke. The second fares slightly better, as above the unpalatable sound of Alan enjoying his breakfast we get a folksy ramble through Gilmour's pastoral meadows around the river Cam, which is actually rather charming, if a little bland. Floyd could probably have culled a proper song from this, as opposed to shoe-horning it into this strange format. The last song is slightly dull but features some interesting instrumentation, pointing the way towards 'Obscured by Clouds'.
Overall, this is an album worth buying if you are interested in the exact origins of Floyd’s classic sound, as there are moments during this album where it shines brilliantly through. Also, there is some fantastic music, particularly in the title track, and in the excellent Waters ballad; Wright’s effort is also commendable though too saturated by the end with its horn section, whereas Gilmour song is just about saved by it’s psychedelic outro.

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5