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Colin McCartney (United Kingdom)

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Barbour Leather Wash Bag - Dark Brown
Barbour Leather Wash Bag - Dark Brown

5.0 out of 5 stars Essential travelling toiletries bag for geezers of distinction, 25 Jan. 2015
This classy men's toiletries bag sure beats hurriedly sticking your toothbrush, shaving gear and deodorant in a plastic bag every time you pack. Razors and toothbrushes, for example, can get a little messy - not only does this great bag stop the clothes in your overnight getting stained from toothpaste residue etc, but the interior of both the main compartment and the zip front pocket has a wipe-clean lining so the bag itself doesn't get too grotty over time. Small and easily stowable, in any travel bag, this Barbour wash bag is still big enough to hold all the toiletries a gent would need for any trip away - toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving foam, razor, moisturiser, deodorant, aftershave- with room for some more for those of a poncier disposition. It is expensive but with its leather exterior and classic design it should last a lifetime (provided you don't lose it).

Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 EP
Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 EP
Price: £7.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The sound of toys, possessed by an evil toymaster, 23 Jan. 2015
Word has it that "Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 EP" contains music played by Richard D. James's self-built computer-controlled orchestra. A continuation, of sorts of Tom Jenkinson's pioneering Music For Robots (also released on Warp, around 9 months ago).

This release may be packaged similarly to the latest Aphex Twin LP Syro but the similarity largely ends there. CCAIP2EP is not really a companion work, though the track "asiatsana" might have fitted on here. It's a 28 minute mini-LP of short/medium length percussive neo-classical music. Stripped down sound (in places almost to the point where it could be used as a demonstration recording for stereophonic sound), as opposed to Syro's dense layering. In fact if anything this is closer in vibe to Aphex's 2001 album Drukqs. The music can be challenging in places, but the short track lengths make this an accessible release overall and much less daunting than a lot of modern classical stuff. A headphone listen reveals come weird background noises which sound like kids and dogs - as though this was recorded live in RDJ's house (which it may well have been, who knows). And it does have beats as well - which are all too welcome, as the menacing opener "diskhat ALL prepared1mixed 13" kicks in. Whilst I loved "Syro" (album of the year 2014 for me, that one) it doesn't contain any obvious "killer" track, whereas CCAIP2EP does: "piano un 10 it happened". A melodic piano piece which is part "Avril 13th", part greatest ever R&B intro ever - a sarcastic scream of "sample me" aimed at Kanye West, perhaps?

CCAIP2EP is yet another step forward for the Aphex Twin. The influence of "Syro" is already all over Radio 1 (if anyone ever listens to that these days?) and I predict this little record will be no less influential.

Spiral - Series 5 [DVD]
Spiral - Series 5 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Grégory Fitoussi
Price: £24.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For my money, this is the second-best series of Spiral so far..., 22 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Spiral - Series 5 [DVD] (DVD)
...the best one being series 3. Spiral 5 continues as a solid, it not entirely essential (other than to those looking to improve their French) cop show.

Whilst series 3 and 4 stuck to similar format/presentational styles (- unlike series 1 and 2 which for me were actually visually quite different) there are a few stylistic changes with 5: some new music, new sets and the lifting of the grey filter which previously managed to make Paris look more like Manchester. This also seems to me to be the first series shot in hi-def, and the camerawork lends itself very well to this. The picture quality of the BluRay edition of series 4, I suspect, was no better than the DVD. Whereas time around the high definition really shows up - pity then that the BluRay edition (which is the edition I am reviewing this from), at time of writing, is available (without English subtitles) only on Amazon France.

As for the story: after a grim start, the mood picks up a bit - there are a more than a few surprises (shocks, even) along the way, building up to a tense, if slightly predictable final episode.

Roll on Spiral 6?

Ion Audio iTR03 Tape Express | Tape to MP3 Ultra Portable Analogue to Digital Converter/ Player
Ion Audio iTR03 Tape Express | Tape to MP3 Ultra Portable Analogue to Digital Converter/ Player
Price: £29.64

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Only for those with a patient disposition and a knack for computers..., 20 Jan. 2015
The Ion Tape Express is probably as good a way as you'll get of converting your cassette tapes to MP3. I suspect the unpopularity of tapes (although, following vinyl's revival, they are starting to come back) and hence I think lack of budget has limited what the designers of this product could come up with. If Sony had decided to reverse its decision to stop making the Walkman and done one of these, it would have been SO much better - but they haven't and there's nowt much else on the market, so if you've got tapes to digitise then this is one of very few options - and it is...useable, just. Even the manufacturer seems to recognise the product's idiosyncrasies since, on opening the box, there's a paper insert more or less begging you not to send it back if you can't get it to work first time and instead inviting you to refer to the instruction manual.

DESIGN/APPEARANCE: Whilst the Tape Express looks like the old, conventional, Walkman tape player its design is actually rather odd. I may be wrong but I sense possibly some sort of patent-avoidance on the part of Ion in order to try and keep the price down? From how you open the tape door, to where the battery compartment is located (it also works of USB by the way), to the lack of a tape window (there is a window, three windows in fact, but none of them actually allow you to see how far the cassette has wound on) - the design of the unit instantly comes across as odd, perverse even. Fortunately not perverse to the point of unusability. The build quality is good enough as a PC peripheral; not good enough for a standalone/portable cassette player (the use of which I would recommend only as a last resort). The designers have given zero thought (unlike the designers of all those retro record players on the market) to the nostalgia and romance of the cassette era (not that there was all that much, admittedly, but there was some). This product has largely been designed (and not particularly well designed, come to that) to carry out its intended function of converting tapes.

EASE OF USE: Initial indications are promising in as much as it's a case of quickly installing the software, plugging in the machine, following the instructions and away you go. In principle, fair enough but users will soon find there is a lot of trial and error and need to be prepared to go back to the beginning. The instructions are also pretty badly written although I largely got the gist.

The supplied "EZ Vinyl Tape Converter" software is oversimplified: basically it facilitates recording one side of a tape onto your PC in one "live" take - get it wrong and you will need to re-start. There is no facility to edit the recording afterwards, or to pause it. The automatic track recognition would be good IF it worked - and it does work occasionally, but unfortunately you only get to find that out after the recording's finished. This feature is particularly unreliable (and to be fair does warn of this in the instructions) with electronic music. Fortunately there is also a manual facility to tell the recorder to start a new track but, once again, this must be done "live" during the recording (not always easy if you're not very familiar with you're copying). That said, the software's over-simplified approach is also a benefit. I have found other analogue-to-digital music converters to be over-complex and difficult to use, whereas this one, though it's lack of flexibility can be very frustrating at times, is an easy enough (all other things considered) to grasp "stop and go" system.

FUNCTIONALITY: Once you have transferred the music to your computer (the unit does NOT require iTunes, by the way) the experience remains underwhelming. Compatibility with Windows Media Player is minimal and requires tracks to be renamed within Media Player if you want to know (basic) things like the name of the artist. Indeed the designers of "EZ Vinyl Tape Converter" don't even appear to have foreseen the possibility that some of their customers may want to convert Various Artists tapes: it is presumed that each tape is by a single artist (though this can be changed later on in Media Player). Also, on completion of the recording, the software unceremoniously dumps the user in the Music folder location and you are then left to locate the recording for yourself - not easy if you have a lot of music files.

SOUND QUALITY: Other reviewers mention a hum and there is a hum, but in fact on playback the sound quality on the whole is rather good and perhaps this unit's redeeming feature. As with similar vinyl MP3 converters it's a reminder of how much warmer analogue sound, even analogue sound from tape, can be.

OVERALL: If you need to convert tapes to digital, then don't avoid this product despite its mixed Amazon reviews. It does the job if you persevere and the software, though rudimentary and uninspiring, is at least predictable, if not exactly user friendly. Despite my own frustrations to date I must say that I have largely enjoyed the process of converting my tapes but I still think this will be so only for those who enjoy a bit of tinkering with all things electrical: if you buy one for Nana to convert her Lena Martell tapes YOU will be the one doing all the work (plus you will have to endure Lena Martell). The Tape Express, despite its many design compromises is a reasonable value-for money package; and besides there's not that much else on the market. However would this inspire me to buy another Ion product (e.g. a record player)?. Firmly, no and in that sense it's a definite "could do better" product.

Theo Parrish - American Intelligence - Sound Signature
Theo Parrish - American Intelligence - Sound Signature

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth getting hold of, 18 Jan. 2015
The price of this LP has caused some controversy, but the way I see it Theo Parrish is entitled to charge what he wants for his own work. It is a case of "what the market will bear". Perhaps those criticising Parrish for the price of the LP and CD releases of "American Intelligence" tend to forget that, even not allowing for streaming and illegal downloading, the price of recorded music has been driven downwards in the last 20 years or so. The end result is that cult artists like Theo who sell limited runs will simply see a decline in their income. I don't believe that he is trying to rip people off; rather he is asking fans and prospective fans to make a considered purchase and to savour and cherish their music as opposed to buying it at £10 (or whatever) and exploiting its rarity value by selling it at £50 once and it goes out of print. If a record is any good (and this one is very good), whose equity is it anyway? Good luck to him I say.

As for this album, available as a very nice looking (maximising the effect of the Will Bankhead artwork) 9 track triple vinyl or a not quite so nice looking (but with 6 extra tracks) digipack 2CD, as records of 2014 go for me it's up there with "Syro". A very different style of techno from Mr James of course, but like that LP, repeated listens reward. The opener (on the CD version) "Drive" could only come from Detroit - a Juan Atkins-style downbeat techno record with near-whispered vocals asking [the listener] "Where's your drive?". The first disc (of the CD set) hits its peak with "Tympanic Warfare" more or less segueing into "Fallen Funk". Highlights, for me, of disc 2 are the opener "Cypher Delight", "Thug Irony" (great title) and the almost pop single "Footwork".

Unlike Parrish's previous albums like "Parallel Dimensions" and "Rotating Assembly", there are perhaps no out-and-out obvious killer tracks on here (again a trait "American Intelligence" shares with "Syro") but the depth is in the background detail. Some of Theo's past releases have maybe been a little long-drawn out, but this one entertains from beginning to end: a spirited and benevolent slow jam sounding like a cross between Beastie Boys "Check Your Head" and Basic Channel.

You won't find this release in (m)any end-of-year 2014 charts - it seems the Detroit guys, who have steadfastly never played the game, like to release their LPs in late December and early January (as did Parrish's 3 Chairs collaborator Moodymann last year) expressly to avoid all of that. "American Intelligence" is difficult to get hold of (particularly the CD version, for some reason) but those who do manage to will find it worth their time and their money.

Little Things Left Behind 1988 - 1998
Little Things Left Behind 1988 - 1998
Price: £12.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Arresting, 11 Jan. 2015
Until now (when I was bought this 2CD as a present), I knew the name of Roger Eno only as a collaborator on Brian Eno's classic Apollo and had, with no foundation whatsoever, jumped to the conclusion Roger must have been the capable but less talented brother. This collection shatters that, admittedly weak, conclusion. To say that R. Eno is an artist in his own right is an understatement as I think many will even find Roger's work more entertaining and immediately appealing than that of Brian, if not quite as ground-breaking sonically.

The Amazon product blurb mentions Satie and Nyman as sounding similar but I would also recommend this compilation to fans of Vini Reilly (Durutti Column), Gabriel Yared, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Max Richter.

"Little Thing Left Behind" is, without doubt, a great introduction to the music of Roger Eno - since it was for me - and strongly recommended to all the real music fans out there.

Bodum Brazil French Press 8-Cup Coffee Maker, 1 L/34 oz - Red
Bodum Brazil French Press 8-Cup Coffee Maker, 1 L/34 oz - Red
Price: £19.06

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic design, no fuss coffee maker, 5 Jan. 2015
This is my fourth, and biggest, French press coffee maker. Three of my four are Bodum and I would have to say that it's worth spending the extra on Bodum and avoiding the supermarket own brand versions which are not as well designed and more prone to breaking.

This 8-cup version has the best build quality of all four of my existing coffee makers. It is a very good size: it will give you at least three generous mugfulls - ideal for that Saturday morning hangover!

If you've never had this type of coffee maker before they are dead easy to use and give you a decent cup of coffee. So much so that I don't even bother to buy instant any more.

For those sucked in by the coffee advertising hype - coffee, it seems, is a lifestyle - something to spend lots of money on, get fussed over and talked about endlessly...but for me, it's just a drink - a good drink. The classic simplicity of this coffee maker is ideal for those who want to cut through all the c**p that gets talked about coffee and just have a decent value-for-money brew (or three) to wash down their toast.

This Bodum is easy to clean (and it goes in the dishwasher) and store. If there is one minor design fault with this particular model it's that coffee granules appear to get trapped between the glass and the base and don't come out after washing (NB this can only be seen from the inside when the jug is empty and the filter is either not in or not pressed down, so not a biggie). I thought I might be able to cure this by separating the glass and the base (as you can on other Bodum models) but I haven't actually managed to do that yet - mainly for fear of breaking the glass jug by exerting too much brute force (so if anyone has managed this - please le me know). Also whilst I'm a brands man, I'm not really a logos man - so I'm not crazy about that large raised Bodum logo on the casing.

All in all though, this is a design classic and a five star product and I would anticipate will give me many years of use - just as my other Bodum coffee makers have done.

Lenco L-90 Walnut Veneer Turntable with USB Connection
Lenco L-90 Walnut Veneer Turntable with USB Connection
Price: £226.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well engineered and good-looking USB turntable, 21 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've owned the L-90 for about a year now, following a recommendation on the Bleep (Warp Records) website that made it look pretty cool. I had been after a decent, cheap-ish turntable with USB conversion for a while but the problem with low-end models I'd owned previously was that the tracking was very poor. I own a lot of quirky US vinyl pressings of techno records so I really needed something that was capable of playing anything that a Technics SL1210 can play - and I'm happy to report that it does the job.

SETUP: The L-90 is easy to set up although as it is a quasi-audiophile product it does require some assembly but the instructions are very clear on this.

USE: The L-90 plays just about anything - inside out pressings, off-centre pressings, records with tracks cut very near to the label, warped records. A real bugbear of mine with non-audiophile turntables is the auto-return function which kicks in too early and doesn't let you put the needle on the record near the centre of an LP and can't be disabled. Fortunately then the L-90 doesn't have this - it does have a quirky auto-stop to save the needle (for anyone with a non auto-stop turntable e.g. the SL1210 who's ever fallen asleep before the record ends!) which works fine (but is a bit odd - you'll see what I mean if you buy this) and can be disabled anyway. Overall the L-90 is an extremely well engineered piece of kit for the money and this is its strongest feature. However, if you mainly own conventional major label LP pressings and if you are one who prefers automation, then this may not be the machine for you and you may want to look at something like a Pioneer PL-990 instead.

Note that the L-90 has a built-in preamp so will play through any amplifier and doesn't need a phono stage.

SOUND: The sound of the L-90, for those, like me, who think that vinyl sound quality generally exceeds digital, is perhaps a little sterile - a bit like CD in fact. It is still quite heavy on bass (a good thing) but lacking in detail. It might be worth investigating a replacement cartridge.

APPEARANCE: The main visual attraction of the L90 is the walnut veneer plinth. It gives the unit a classic, high end appearance that will appeal to vinyl lovers: much better than some of the awful plastic-y designs out there. However, as with just about every turntable ever made, the dust cover is prone to scratches. I don't know why the manufacturers can't do something about this, but, there you go. it needs a bit of looking after - DON'T polish it vigorously. Use a very soft cloth or tissue gently and occasionally to wipe off dust and it won't fare to badly for scratches. Also, though not a major problem, the legs are actually a bit unsightly: the record player looks better from above (as in the Amazon picture) than it does on an elevated stand.

USB FUNCTIONALITY: I bought this in preference to a Pro-Ject II because of the USB connectivity, not realising that in fact all you need for USB is a USB pre-amp. Also, the need to digitise vinyl, even obscure vinyl, is diminishing due to the amount of stuff that is now available to stream or download (e.g. Mayday's "Wiggin" - you don't get much obscurer than that). The supplied software, "Audacity" is very technical - for anyone thinking of digitising old vinyl you will need both patience and quite a high degree of computer literacy. It is worth sticking with though, as the results are pretty good, particularly when played back through Audacity - which to my ears sounded even better than the record player itself. Conversion to MP3/WAV is not quite so good but still more than adequate. If you have an inner sound engineer waiting to get out then you may very well enjoy using Audacity. For many it will be a bit too much faff though BUT if you're looking to do your own painstaking re-master of a rare vinyl record then look no further - but the key word here is "painstaking".

OVERALL: The Lenco will suit, if not delight, audiophiles on a budget looking for a "proper" turntable with USB functionality. The sound's not as good as it could be (though it is still good) but for durability and versatility the L-90 is a winner. On the other hand, those just looking to copy their old Dire Straits albums rather than spend money on a digital copy might do better to look elsewhere.

M-Print : 20 Years Of M-Plant Music
M-Print : 20 Years Of M-Plant Music
Price: £12.19

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 3 disc compilation of former UR man's solo work for his own label, 15 Dec. 2014
Robert Hood left Jeff Mills' Axis record label in 1994 to start his own - M-Plant. Whilst Hood had previously already had his own label (the Underground Resistance-affiliated Hard Wax) and was no stranger to solo releases either (as The Vision), M-Plant was something of a breakaway: from the rave-ier UR-sound, to the minimal sound with which he went on to really make his name.

The compilation concentrates almost exclusively on Hood's work for M-Plant although it does (on Disc 1) contain 4 tracks from his classic album Minimal Nation which was originally released on Axis. Throughout the period that M-Plant has been in existence Rob Hood has also had releases on Metroplex, Tresor, Cheap and Peacefrog and notwithstanding the quality on here it seems a shame that ("Minus" excepted - which was on Tresor) these tracks aren't on here. Basically, Hood is such a consistent and prolific producer that even a three disc set doesn't cover all of his very best stuff. Never mind, as "M-Print" is certainly a good value and well-presented set including a lot of stuff that hasn't previously been available on CD.

A word of warning to anyone expecting an easy introduction to Detroit techno though - along with Terrence Dixon, Robert Hood is one of the more avant-garde exponents of the genre. Even those of us of a certain age who remember our parents or grandparents telling us that the needle was stuck on a Cabaret Voltaire record (when it wasn't), may be challenged by some of Robert's music. A lot of it does sound like a locked groove, but it's this repetition that Hood uses to create his sound - in much the same way that if you listen to any repetitive noise, like a burglar alarm over a period of time, you start to hear things that aren't there...or are they? He has mellowed a little in recent years, as his more recent LPs Omega and Motor: Nighttime World 3 demonstrate - though there's not much evidence of that within this selection, even as we get to his more recent stuff towards the end of disc two.

The real draw for Hood fans is the third disc, containing mostly previously unreleased tracks and remixes - some of which are so good it's hard to believe they haven't seen the light of day until now.

Possibly serving better, overall, as a catch-up (for those who missed first time around) than as an introduction - I personally would recommend the aforementioned "Minimal Nation" to newcomers before tackling this one. 4.5/5.

Jeff Mills: Man From Tomorrow [DVD]
Jeff Mills: Man From Tomorrow [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jacqueline Caux
Price: £16.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A short film and accompanying soundtrack CD from Jeff Mills, 10 Dec. 2014
For me, "Man From Tomorrow" DVD follows, to an extent in, the surreal tradition of Daft Punk's Daft Punk's Electroma [DVD] [2007], Pet Shop Boys Pet Shop Boys - It Couldn't Happen [VHS] [1987] and Cabaret Voltaire's "Gasoline in Your Eye" - but doesn't quite hit the high standards of those. It is an avant-garde 45 minute "short film", shot mostly, though not exclusively, in monochrome (or very low colour settings) with some innovative visual techniques. The package also comes with a CD of the soundtrack.

Like those early Cabaret Voltaire videos, "Man From Tomorrow" looks like it was shot on a budget. It plays like an extended music video rather than a film...which is disappointing. The opening sequence, with its strobe effect will probably be unwatchable for the majority of people - even those who DON'T suffer from photosensitive epilepsy. As the film continues, it does reveal some interesting photography techniques AND it contains some great locations. After about 18 minutes there's a voiceover taken from an extract of a Jeff Mills interview although just not any old interview - the views Mills expresses seem to be those of a person from the near future.

SPOILERS: Even if I really wanted to include some I can't - as I'm not sure I can really figure out what this is all about.

I think the main draw for many Mills fans will be the accompanying CD - a new Mills album which includes 12 previously released tracks - which is actually longer than the film itself. The track listing for the CD is as follows:

The Occurrence
Multi-Dimensional Freedom+
The Event Horizon+
Gravity Drive+
Star Marked+
Us And Them+
The Man Who Wanted Stars+
The Source Directive
The Watchers of People+
The Warning+
Light-like Illusions+
Star People+

[+ Previously unreleased]

The packaging is a DVD-sized digi-pack with a booklet which doesn't actually reveal that much about the film.

The DVD , though an American release, is double-sided and contains both US and European versions: PAL on one side and NTSC on the other and should hopefully play on most if not all DVD players.

Overall this is probably a "for the fans" Jeff Mills release so, 4/5 from this fan.

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