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CD: North Sea Radio Orchestra/Kung Fu Super Sounds

North Sea Radio Orchestra: Birds

SETTING poems and subtle songs to calm, melodic strings is a musical project that could so easily go wrong and is particularly hard to compare.

Indeed, North Sea Radio Orchestra mean so different things to different people that they have been likened to myriad other performers and objects; among them are Benjamin Britten, Sufjan Stevens, water from the Thames and London Clay.

The variety of these alleged similarities goes to show how unique is the sound of the NSRO. Some will like it, some will hate it, many will crack open a bewildered ear for a few seconds before turning off.

But if you're partial to a little Polyphonic Spree and you have the patience to give experimental art a fair hearing, you may well get something out of this.

Birds is their latest album – out on Monday – and is effortlessly beautiful to listen to.

With songs, choral numbers, three William Blake settings, instrumentals and miniatures, NSRO manage to take you back centuries to an ancient form of music while retaining a eerie ability to remain thoroughly modern. Featuring acoustic guitars, two violins, cello, piano, drums, clarinet, bassoon, oboe and chorus, Birds has a distinctly non-conformist sound but nevertheless achieves its aim with quiet, reserved gusto.

NSRO aren't about to go on a media rampage shouting about how good they are; the whole project is far too middle class for that. But by putting out Birds they are giving their audience a knowing wink.

They realise they've created a fine piece of work and you can feel the confidence growing from track to track.

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Kung Fu Super Sounds

FANS of cult martial arts movies get the chance to listen to the best of the soundtracks when this CD blasts into the shops like an exploding fist.

The album is a juicy compilation of the best bits from The Shaw Brothers Kung Fu movies. Since 1930, The Shaw Brothers have become the biggest producer of Hong Kong films – Five Deadly Venoms and Brave Archer among them.

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