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The Aliens - Luna -

02 December 2008
Rad Bennett

This time out marks my first in selecting a digital download as a great-sounding album: Luna, by the Aliens, on Linn Records, available in FLAC or WMA format at 24-bit/48kHz. Linn also offers Luna in 16/44.1 CD quality in FLAC and WMA, but don't go there if you want great sound.

The music of the Aliens - what's left of a popular Scottish group, the Beta Band - is usually described as upbeat, psychedelic pop. (You can find videos and live footage on YouTube.) The music on Luna, their second album, is appealing and eclectic, sounding by turns like the Who, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, and others, but the main ghosts in this machine are those of the Beatles. There are lots of sound and instrumental effects and tight harmony vocals, and never a dull moment.

The CD was released first. Linn, wanting to encourage other independent labels, picked it up, and the producer completely remixed Luna for release in Linn's Studio Master series (the 24/48 downloads mentioned above).

The difference is one of night and day. The CD has compression of all sorts, resulting in harsh, congested sound. The download has no compression and sounds open, free, and transparent. Lots of things are going on simultaneously in these mixes, but none of them is lost in the download. The bass is solid and, like everything else, in good focus. On the CD, when the struck cymbals enter in "Bobby's Song," they might as well be garbage-can lids. In the download, they shimmer - I can clearly hear the striking of the stick and the ensuing sound of the cymbal.

I found Luna fun to play with as I tried out different synthetic surround formats. Dolby Pro Logic II worked pretty well, but best was Neural-THX Surround. Luna's constant fluctuations between in- and out-of-phase signals produced some very clean and effective surround. Some racing cars seemed to go around my room. Pretty neat.

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