There aren't many albums that seamlessly blend rock, classical music, Kate Bush and Tori Amos-style vocals and a singer-songwriter mentality but the debut album A History of Things to Come by Australian songwriter and pianist Amanda Bloom does just that. Eclectic, diverse and highly individual this is one of the most rewarding musical discoveries I've made so far this year and in many ways it is a quite remarkable body of work.
Sony's previous flagship, the Xperia Z has had a surprisingly short spell as top dog because now we have the Xperia Z1 which addresses all the Z's failings. What makes the Z1 as good as it gets in Sony's (or anyone else's for that matter) smartphone universe is a more powerful quad-core processor, much improved 1080p screen, 20-megapixel camera and a waterproof glass and aluminium body that doesn't require you to faff about with a plug in the 3.5mm audio jack. Could this be the best smartphone in the world?
Let's cut to the chase, in this writer's opinion Blue Jasmine is one of Woody Allen’s darkest and best films yet. A post financial meltdown morality tale set in San Francisco, it tells the story of two adopted sisters – the exquisitely beautiful and vacuous Jasmine, (nee Jeanette), played to perfection by Cate Blanchett and good-hearted, working-class Ginger, charmingly acted by Sally Hawkins.
Ryan Keen's name may not be familiar to many people reading this but the hard-grafting folk troubadour has certainly paid his dues. In the build up the release of his debut album Keen has toured extensively and has played on the same bill as the likes of Newton Faulkner, Leona Lewis and Ed Sheeran. Despite these high-profile stage-sharers Keen has still managed to build a solid fan base for his brand of delicate, introspective story-telling and well thought-out acoustic numbers.
Samsung started this whole phablet business with the first Galaxy Note which sold surprisingly well. Its successor the Note 2 upped the stakes with a 5.5-inch screen compared to the Mk. 1's 5.3. It sold in huge quantities. The moral? Bigger is better. That's why the Galaxy Note 3 has a 5.7-inch display plus a 2.3GHz quad-core processor with 3GB of RAM. Being a Note device it naturally packs a stylus too. Samsung has also added a 13-megapixel camera into the mix to give it a pretty impressive all-round technical specification.
A Tesco tablet? An odd idea, but one that makes more sense the more you think about it. You see Tesco owns the Blinkbox film, TV and music streaming service and is projecting massive growth through its .com and Direct home delivery businesses. Anything that puts those services into the hands of as many potential (or existing) customers in as easily accessible form as possible and also lets them manage their Clubcard accounts is a Very Good Thing in Tesco's eyes. Enter then the Hudle, Tesco's new budget (£119 for cash, £60 if you have enough Clubcard points) Android tablet.
Right from the the release of the band's first EP in 2012 Haim was heralded as The Next Big Thing and Lo! It has come to pass. The three not unattractive sisters Haim are now gracing double-page magazine spreads and hanging out with Kate Moss at London Fashion Week. Danielle, Este and Alana Haim also spent the past summer performing at some pretty serious UK music festivals the most notable being their gig in a rammed tent at the Reading Festival. So much for the hype and PR. Does the music on the debut album match up? Thankfully yes it does. And in spades.
The Santa Fe was the car that turned Hyundai into a serious player in the UK car market. Before it the Korean firm was known for offering cheap cars that were pretty dire by Western European standards but by launching an eye-catching, chunky-looking but more importantly competent SUV the brand immediately gave itself some much needed street cred. Now we have a third generation model only this time it makes up part of a car range that doesn't really have a weak link. So is the Santa Fe still the pick of the Hyundai crop?
The mixing of indie rock-pop and dance music certainly seems to be the flavour of the month and now following hard on the heels of excellent genre releases from London Grammar and The Naked and Famous comes the debut album from the Chvrches (pronounced Churches). The Scottish trio's debut album The Bones of What You Believe is stuffed chock full of catchy tunes, wonderfully appealing songwriting and some very interesting soundscapes. Think M83 meets Robyn with a small helping of Depeche Mode and London Grammar and you'll get an idea of what's in store from a purely musical perspective.
One of the most consistently political bands of the 1980s, at its best New Model Army howled a rallying, banner-waving anthem for the downtrodden and disenfranchised of Thatcher’s Britain. It's fitting then that the Army's best album in a long time, maybe one of their best ever, should arrive at the start of the third winter of Cameron's Britain. Some records arrive at just the right time, Between Dog and Wolf is one such.
Hewlett-Packard's first Android tablet, the Slate 7 was a cheap and wholly awful device so when I heard the next one was 21-inch affair my reaction was one of incredulity mixed with foreboding. In short I expected a bad idea poorly executed. I'm happy to report I was utterly wrong on both accounts. The HP Slate 21 is a rather good idea very well executed. The only carryover from the 7 is the impressively low price. Granted £350 isn't exactly pocket change, but you do get quite a bit of kit for your hard earned.
For readers of more tender years a few words about the timescale we are dealing with here. Man & Myth is the title of folk rock “outsider” Roy Harper's twenty-second studio album and sees the light of day 47 years after his debut album, Sophisticated Beggar. It is his first album in 13 years. In the X-Factor era when artists arrive, release albums and then vanish in less time than it takes to blow your nose Roy's career has been almost geological in length.
Keen Elvis fans may know Crown Electric as the name of the power company that employed the young Presley as a delivery truck driver before he got the call to record his first session at Sun Studios. Sixty years on, it's also the title of the tenth album from Liverpool-born singer-songwriter Kathryn Williams - and her first solo record in almost four years.
Unless you've been under a rock for the last six months it can't have escaped your notice that all the major British telecos now offer 4G services. Well, almost all. 3 is due to launch it's network in a few weeks. Vodafone and O2 have just done so while EE got the ball rolling last year. To date 4G has meant expense but with 3 promising that it's 4G service will cost not more than it's 3G offering prices should start to drop across the board. Timely then that Nokia has launched a decent 4G large screen phone for less than £200, unlocked and SIM-free.
The Manic Street Preachers are going out with bang. Their swansong will consist of two albums both of which the trio wrote and recorded more or less simultaneously. Futurology, to be released next year, will be an electro-rock album affair that the band has likened to a forty-something version of their 1994 album The Holy Bible, while Rewind The Film which has just landed is a largely acoustic, sometimes even introspective affair.
Indie-rock five piece The Naked And Famous was a sensation in their native New Zealand seemingly from the get-go. The band's 2010 debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You entered the NZ album charts at No. 1 and went on to rack up an impressive list of awards over the following eighteen months. The band established itself elsewhere by licensing songs to TV shows and movies until the point came where it seemed The Naked And Famous was the most famous band whose name nobody knew. People eventually figured it out, and Passive Me, Aggressive You went on to sell well over half a million copies.
Back in 2006 Audi launched what it called a product firework - the idea was that like a branching firework all its ranges would spin off as many niche models as was commercially feasible so there would be an Audi for everyone. Hence the Q3, Q5 and Q7, the various cabriolet models and now the ever expanding A3 range. The latest model is something is a step into the unknown though because small, premium saloons don't traditionally sell in the UK. China and the USA yes, Blighty and Germany no. Audi UK is being quite open about not really knowing how many A3 saloons it will sell so I took the entry level 1.4 model for a spin to see if it's likely to strike a chord with British motorists looking to trade up from the likes of a Golf or Focus.
The Fallen is the fifth book in the The Enemy series by Charlie Higson - yup, that's Charlie "Fast Show" and "Swiss Tony" Higson. Though officially categorized as young-adult fiction the body count, gore and sheer horror of this zombie-esque apocalypse series means it's absolutely worth reading no matter what your age. Let's put it this way, as a work of sci-fi horror any book from the series will give you the heebeegeebees more than Max Brooks' World War Z. But before we get into The Fallen, a few words about the previous books.
To a casual observer The 1975 have seemed to emerge out of nowhere last year as a fully formed part-indie, park-funk pop band with slick and catchy songs destined to get stadium crowds on their feet and jumping up and down. It wasn't long until support slots with Muse and The Rolling Stones came along and a top 20 single called Chocolate. In truth though, despite looking like twenty-something pin-ups the band is actually comprised of lads who've been playing under different guises for the best part of a decade.
Lapland is the pseudonym of singer/songwriter Josh Mease. Born and raised in Brooklyn Mease has always found comfort in the solitude of his own thoughts, often preferring the landscapes within his mind’s eye over the bustle of the city that surrounds him. Lapland's debut UK single Unwise showcases Mease's knack for mixing various genres. One can hear the effect of the myriad of music styles and genres that have shaped Lapland from early synthesizer pioneers of the 1960′s and 70′s to French impressionist composers like Ravel and Debussy and 1970′s rock staples such as Fleetwood Mac.