If you want to know what Eufloria would be like if it was ever to made into a film imagine Monty Don as Commander Adama in Battlestar Galactica and the whole show rewritten with a very strong horticultural slant. Or to put it another way, think space opera as gardening. Part real-time strategy space adventure, part eco-fable and part relaxation aid this iOS-stalwart finally made it onto Android at the start of the year and is a strong contender for the award for the Best Mobile Game ever.
Paradise Valley is Mayer's sixth studio album in a career that to date has seen his musical talent often overshadowed by his uncanny ability to behave like a bit of a prat in public. As the title intimates (Paradise Valley is Mayer's new retreat near Bozeman in Montana) the new album presents an artist who, after successfully coming through two operations for granuloma in the throat (a condition that threatened to put an end to his singing career permanently) is starting grow up both as a man and as a singer and find his place in the world. And about time too.
Ocean's Eleven meets Inglourious Basterds sounds like a great idea for a movie and it's a pretty good way to describe the new George Clooney and Matt Damon vehicle about a group of American art historians and museum curators who join the US Army for D-Day in the hope of recovering renowned works of art stolen by the Nazis before Hitler's henchmen can destroy them.
Terrace is a Vancouver-based electronic dance/pop who according to their debut album's press release have the ambition of, and I quote, "breaking the world-wide dance-pop mould". That's a bold ambition to say the least, especially from a group just about to launch its first album. Of course dance is a genre where false pretenders come thick and fast and ephemera is one of the few constants but perhaps Terrace has what it takes to make good on its boast because as debut albums go As Far As The Night Can See is a rather fine body of work.
Back in the day Peugeot made a truly great motorcar called the 205 1.9 GTi. I owned one and loved it. For blasting down narrow B-roads few things on four wheels were faster. Along with the Volkswagen Golf GTi the 205 GTi created a whole new class of car, the iconic Hot Hatchback. Both VW and Peugeot had trouble replacing their first and greatest hot hatches though in Peugeot's case the failure was the greater - after 1995 the hot versions of the 206 and 207 got flabbier, softer and more and more wretched. The 207 never actually carried the GTi badge in the UK, that’s how bad it was.
For their sixth album, Bell X1 have moved away from the Talking Heads-like electronics that flavoured their previous albums Blue Lights on the Highway and Bloodless Coup as part of a deliberate attempt to strip their songwriting and production back to its simplest components. It’s a bold move that ran the risk of revealing weakness in the trio’s creative process and presentation but luckily they have pulled it off and with some style. The end result of the one of most musically interesting rock albums of the year.
A few weeks ago we reviewed the Ultimate Ears Boom Bluetooth speaker and came away suitably impressed though we'd be the first to agree that its sticker price of £170 is still at bit on the high side for a device designed for occasional or casual use. Now British Hi-Fi stalwart Cambridge Audio has jumped into the Bluetooth travel speaker ring with its new Minx Go unit which promises tip top sound quality for only £100. Granted the Minx doesn't have the Boom's funky, robust styling or its Coke-can size convenience, nor its waterproof credentials, but those features may not be needed by everyone.
When it comes to smartphone/tablet hybrids Samsung’s Galaxy Note 2 has had the market pretty much all to itself for nigh on a year but the competition is hotting up. Sony’s 6.4-inch Xperia Ultra and the 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 3 are both due to be launched soon as are similar devices from the likes of LG and Asus. Being range-topping flagships all four will doubtless cost a pretty penny (meaning £500 or more for an unlocked example) which leaves space for cheaper alternatives like Huawei’s Ascend Mate 6.1 and the new Samsung Galaxy Mega 6.3.
Kick-Ass was without doubt one of the motion picture highlights of 2010. Based on the comic book of the same name by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. it captured the spirit of the graphic novel perfectly and featured stand-out performances from Aaron Johnson as the eponymous hero as well as a scene-stealing turn from Chloë Grace Moretz as the teen assassin Hit-Girl. Some quality support from Mark Strong and Nicolas Cage sealed the deal.
Emmylou Harris is no stranger to partnerships. From the first Gram Parsons duets through her work with Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton as one third of Trio to her collaboration with Daniel Lanois on the career-redefining Wrecking Ball, Harris has over the years worked with a hugely diverse range of musical partners. This has allowed her to raise harmony singing to new heights with appearances on record with artists including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith and Mark Knopfler to name but a few. Now it’s the turn of country troubadour par excellence Rodney Crowell.
The arrival of lightweight machines like the MacBook Air and the various Windows/Intel Ultrabooks have given sales of traditional, portly, heavy but affordable laptops a bit of a kicking. There are still plenty about but most are bulky, cheap affairs that you’d only buy for reasons of price. Acer’s latest Aspire though seeks to inject a bit of style into the traditional laptop by combining a reasonably thin body with a touchscreen and an affordable price tag of just under £600 . In other words it looks a bit like an Ultrabook but costs the same as a traditional laptop.
At the start of the year Spotify was the preeminent on-demand music streaming service but now the big boys from Google and Apple have crashed the party. Google’s All Access service has been available in the US for a few months now while iTunes Radio is due to launch very soon. Google has also beaten Apple to the punch in the UK by making All Access available here in Blighty. At the moment there’s still no news as to when and in what form Apple’s offering will cross the pond.
To date Huawei’s smartphone offering has concentrated on budget and lower-mid range devices but the arrival of the Ascend Mate phablet heralded a change in the wind. Now with the P6 Huawei has launched a phone that it hopes will appeal to potential buyers on the grounds of style, performance and quality as much as value. That’s a tough trick to pull off because it puts Huawei in direct competition with the likes of HTC, Samsung and even Apple: big boys with established brand loyalties and a track record of making popular, quality devices.
Back in the day medium-sized MPVs where frumpy, bulbous affairs that you bought for reasons of practically not style. My how things has changed. Citroen's new C4 Picasso may be an MPV but it's one of the most eye-catching shapes in the French car-maker's line-up, and that means one of the most eye-catching designs on the road full stop. With its striking nose featuring four lights (headlamps down low, indicators and running lights above) and tastefully restrained chrome trim the new Picasso looks funky, modern and grown-up all at the same time and that's quite a trick to pull off.
Friday August 16th sees the release of the long awaited biopic of Apple founder Steve Jobs in the USA. Strangely bearing in mind the UK's love of the shiny gadgets his company makes there's still no word of a UK release date so for the time being you'll have to make do with a look at the new trailer, entitled somewhat pompously American Legend.
Chinua Achebe who died in March was quit simply a giant of African literature. His 1958 novel, Things Fall Apart has sold more than 10 million copies and in this writers opinion his Anthills of the Savannah is the finest novel ever to come out of Africa. This posthumous memoir is at the same time a lament for the lost independence of the state of Biafra and also for the general decline of Nigeria which since being granted independence from Britain in 1960 has gone on to be regarded rightly or wrongly as just another African basket case state. Achebe credits this decline directly to the Biafran war of 1967-70.
Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour is a bit of a rare beast because it’s a full-on first person shooter that’s available for Android, iOS (iPhone and iPad) and Windows Phone 8. That means it’s available for most smart-device owners, only BlackBerry 10 users being left out of the fun. It’s also one of those games that makes you wonder about the wisdom of buying a console or forking out for proper PC games. At a fiver MC4:ZH isn't cheap, for a mobile game it’s actually rather expensive, but for the money it delivers the full, immersive FPS experience and may be all the shoot’em’up most people need.
The last few years has seen Sony's crown as the maker of the best tellys usurped by the likes of Samsung but the new W9 series TVs are set to put Sony right back on top . Gone is the heavy base and monolithic, macho styling of previous ranges and in comes a more futuristic, airy look, with a very cool circular chrome stand. The W9 design is called "Sense of Quartz" by Sony and features cut-glass edges, a narrow matte black bezel to set off the display and a so-called "intelligent core" below the screen which gently glows with a colour dependent on the input source. All in all it's a very smart bit of kit.
Della Mae was formed in 2009 in Boston, Massachusetts and has the distinction of being one of the few (if not the only) all-female bluegrass bands. The band's members (Kimber Ludiker on fiddle, Celia Woodsmith on vocals and guitar, Shelby Means on bass, Jenni Lyn on guitar, and Courtney Hartman on guitar, vocals, and banjo) were all accomplished musicians prior to forming the band making it something of a bluegrass super group. This World Oft Can Be is the band's first full length collection following a seven track acoustic EP released all the way back in 2010. It's been worth the wait.
Most tablets have 10 inch screens mounted in a chassis that weighs something in the region of 500g and cost around £500. But what if you want a 20-inch tablet that weighs 5.1Kg and costs just over £800? Well, then Sony has you covered with it's new Vaio Tap 20 a machine that's one part tablet, one part desktop PC and one part object d'art.