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Jorge Velez - Roman Birds Music Album Reviews

Inspired by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, this five-track ambient wonder finds the New York producer letting pulses and motifs overlap until the tracks resemble the inside of a lava lamp.
Jorge Velez has long been prolific, but that’s been especially true in the past few years. Like many underground electronic musicians, the New York producer has taken advantage of the internet’s self-publishing opportunities—in particular, the direct-to-fans platform Bandcamp—to sidestep label gatekeepers, streaming services, and crowded retailers. (Velez’s Bandcamp page currently numbers 26 releases.) Velez first gained recognition a dozen years ago with blippy disco derivatives for labels like Italians Do It Better, but his output has gradually become more esoteric and inward-looking. He’s still capable of ebullient club tracks, as last year’s excellent Forza attests, but many of his long, undulating machine jams sound like late-night missives to himself.



2018 GMC Sierra 1500 Review

2018 GMC Sierra 1500 Review
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The 2018 GMC Sierra is a rugged, handsome full-size pickup certainly worthy of your attention.

It’s hard to call any full-size pickup an off-the-beaten path buy, but the 2018 GMC Sierra 1500 comes close. The 2018 Sierra 1500 is a kissing cousin to the Chevrolet Silverado, but it brings more to the table than just chiseled good looks.

With its blend of performance, panache, and, yes, style, the Sierra scores 6.7 out of 10 on our scale.

This year, the Sierra sees few changes and is available in base, SLE, SLT, and Denali trim levels; only a newly standard rearview camera and two additional paint colors set the Sierra apart from 2017.

Sierra are basic to start, but hardly bare-bones. They’re meant mainly for work use, while SLE and SLT trims pile on more creature comforts and luxuries. The Sierra Denali brings with it a mountain of added features and tech, to the point where it’s nearly as decadent as the luxury cars it’s priced against. Somewhere in the middle lay a few packages, like the off-roady All Terrain, the stylish Elevation, and the value-laden Texas Edition. For those who need more lugging ability, the Sierra nameplate extends to the Sierra 2500 and 3500, which we cover elsewhere.

The Sierra lineup starts with a 4.3-liter V-6 rated at 285 horsepower before climbing to a 5.3-liter V-8 that checks in with 355 hp. Topping the lineup as an option on Sierra SLTs and Denalis is a 6.2-liter V-8 rated at 420 hp. A mild-hybrid version of the 5.3-liter V-8 called eAssist is also available on Sierra SLTs nationwide (last year, they were only in select markets). A lithium-ion battery provides a little extra scoot but mainly serves to take strain off of the gas engine. It works to save some fuel—to the tune of about 2 mpg over the standard V-8.

A 6-speed automatic comes standard with the V-6 and the smaller V-8. Optional on the 5.3-liter V-8 and included with the eAssist and the big 6.2 is a high-tech 8-speed automatic.

Even the Sierra’s V-6 is strong and smooth, but most buyers opt for the 5.3 and it’s easy to see why. Although it may not offer the mountain of torque seen in Ford’s 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 or the NASCAR-worthy soundtrack of the Ram’s 5.7-liter V-8, the GM 5.3 strikes a pleasant balance and can run on just four cylinders to save fuel in lighter load situations. The Sierra can be had with either rear- or four-wheel drive, the latter of which becomes a formidable off-roader with a few options selected.

With its separate ladder frame and leaf-sprung rear axle, the Sierra is traditional underneath. It may lack the flashy aluminum body of the Ford F-150 and the smooth air and coil suspension setups available on the Ram, but there’s something to be said about the Sierra’s Goldilocks nature. Moreover, a properly outfitted Sierra is rated to tow a formidable 12,500 pounds.

The Sierra’s conservative style outside is echoed inside with a clean, functional, and comfortable interior. Up front, there’s room for three with the standard bench seat, although a pair of individual buckets with a full center console is optional. Crew cabs provide SUV-like room in the second row with a backrest that’s a little too upright for long-distance comfort. Extended cab models have enough room for short drives in row two, but if passengers are expected to be the norm in your Sierra, you’ll want a crew cab. Three bed lengths are on offer: a 6-foot-6 setup that’s standard on all, a full 8-foot box optional on regular cabs, and a smaller 5-foot-8 available on crew cabs.

The 2018 GMC Sierra boasts a classy, conservative look inside and out.

The 2018 GMC Sierra is an elegant, conservative full-size pickup with nary a wasted line or crease. We’ve rated it at 7 out of 10 points, awarding one each for its clean interior and handsome exterior.

The broad-shouldered 2018 Sierra may be closely related to the Chevrolet Silverado, but parent company GM has done a nice job differentiating the two. Sierras have a tall, upright grille wrapped in chrome on most models. A large chrome bumper below provides a classic pickup touch without looking overdone. All models have standard LED accent lighting, something you won’t find on every version of the Chevy Silverado.

Sierra Denalis go a little further—perhaps too far—with extra chrome and a unique grille treatment that’s just the wrong side of gaudy in our eyes. Given that you can dress up a more humble Sierra with swanky 20- and 22-inch wheels and several appearance packages, the Denali seems awfully expensive for what it is.

One styling touch we like for its functionality is the way GM has integrated steps into each corner of the Sierra’s rear bumper. They provide terrific access to the bed.

Inside, the Sierra’s dash is symmetrical with controls logically arrayed and generally within an easy reach of the driver. The look here is simpler than that you’ll find in the Sierra’s rivals, and it works well. Base trims look better this year with the addition of a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system that replaces a much more basic setup used last year. Sierra Denalis stand apart with their own trim finishes, contrasting French stitching, and wood-like trim scattered about.

The 2018 GMC Sierra rides well and has a lineup of solid, strong engines.

The 2018 GMC Sierra is a low-compromise, comfortable pickup that eschews catchy turbochargers for a lineup of tried-and-true V-6 and V-8 engines. There’s nothing wrong with that conservative approach and we’ve awarded the Sierra a few points accordingly—one for the slick 8-speed automatic on higher trims and another for the strong V-8s.

Sierras come standard with a 4.3-liter V-6. With 285 horsepower and a solid 305 pound-feet of torque, it’s hardly a low-end engine and thanks to direct injection and a slick-shifting 6-speed automatic, it’s rated to tow up to 7,600 pounds when properly equipped. For most of us, it’s just fine, and it’s fairly fuel-efficient.

But if you’re likely to haul more than a small trailer with your Sierra, the 5.3-liter V-8 makes a worthwhile upgrade. It’s good for 355 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque and it can tow up to 11,000 pounds. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard with this V-8, but SLT and Denali trims come with a more advanced 8-speed that fires off borderline imperceptible shifts. Optional on SLT and Denalis is a larger 6.2-liter V-8 rated at a stump-tugging 420 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque. Though thirsty, this big V-8 is muscular and easy to modulate. Its maximum towing rating is a hefty 12,500 pounds. If you’re regularly towing that kind of load, perhaps a heavy-duty pickup is in order—but it’s always nice to know that kind of capability is there in reserve.

Sierras boast accurate steering and good highway stability. They don’t hide their weight—most you’ll find on dealer lots top 5,000 pounds—but they’re fairly nimble in town and sufficiently competent on a winding road.

Denalis have an extra ace up their sleeves: GM’s Magnetic Ride suspension setup. Like that in the Chevrolet Corvette, Magnetic Ride reacts ultra fast to whatever the road throws at it to either stiffen or loosen the shocks as needed. It may sound like marketing hype, but the Denali rides far better on its standard 20- and optional 22-inch alloy wheels than it has any right to.

Certain GMC dealers also offer a mild-hybrid that GMC brands eAssist. It’s based on the 5.3-liter V-8 and it adds a small 0.45 kWh lithium-ion battery pack mated to an electric motor designed to provide a little extra grunt when needed and to allow for gas-free coasting. The electric motor adds 13 hp and 44 lb-ft, but there’s not much real-world difference in the way it accelerates. Instead, some high-mileage users might eventually see its 2 mpg bonus over a similar 5.3-liter pay off over time.

But for the rest of us, the Sierra eAssist is probably not worth the extra cash.

Comfort & Quality
Pickups aren’t known for their passenger comfort, but the 2018 GMC Sierra scores well with a comfy cabin and great utility.

The 2018 GMC Sierra lineup offers a wide range of body and bed configurations, an upscale feel even at its most basic level, and comfortable front seats. That’s all good news, but a tight second row knocks it down to a 7 out of 10 overall. 

The Sierra can be had in regular-, extended- and crew-cab configurations—depending on the trim level. Regular cabs have a classic look but not much room for more than a pair of humans inside, although they’re available with either 6-foot-6 or 8-foot beds. Extended-cabs are more popular with their four front-hinged doors. There’s not much room inside for adults to sit behind adults, although we like the pet and parcel utility aspect. They come only with a 6-foot-6 bed.

Crew-cabs are the most popular with consumers, and it’s easy to see why. They offer SUV-like space for four, five, or even six passengers when the front bench seat is ordered. Row two is definitely second class, though, with an upright bench. The base of the bench does fold up with ease for storing larger items inside and out of the elements. A choice of 5-foot-8 and 6-foot-6 beds are on offer.
No matter what, you’ll want to measure your garage since even the shortest Sierra is more than 17-feet long.

Base Sierras are a little plasticky inside, but SLE and higher trim levels have a full complement of soft-touch surfaces and some terrific material finishes for a pickup. Models we’ve tested have felt very well screwed together. The leather upholstery on SLT and Denali trims is particularly nice, too.

The 2018 GMC Sierra 1500 has mixed crash-test results but offers some optional high-tech safety equipment.

A newly standard rearview camera elevates the 2018 GMC Sierra 1500’s safety score to 7 out of 10 on our scale.

Among big pickups, that’s a solid figure. There are a few blemishes on the Sierra’s record, but we give it points for a five-star government safety figure and because it offers low-speed automatic emergency braking on SLE and higher trim levels.

The Sierra comes standard with the requisite front, side-impact, and curtain airbags, plus anti-lock brakes and stability control. Optional on SLE and SLTs and standard on Denalis is a package that combines low-speed automatic emergency braking with lane keep assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and park assist.

The NHTSA rates all versions of the Sierra 1500 at five stars overall and four stars for rollover, which isn’t much of a surprise for a tall-riding truck.

The IIHS isn’t quite as complimentary. It says that the Sierra extended cab nets a “Good” score in all but the small overlap frontal collision test and that its optional LED projector headlights with automatic high-beams rate “Acceptable.” Sierra’s other headlights range from “Poor” to “Moderate.”

The IIHS says that the Sierra crew cab, meanwhile, doesn’t hold up quite as well. It earned just a “Moderate” score for the small overlap test in addition to an otherwise “Good” report card.

The 2018 GMC Sierra can be loaded up to full-on “Cowboy Cadillac” level…for a price.

The 2018 GMC Sierra isn’t everywhere you want it to be, but it can be just about anything you want it to be. The Sierra is available in base, SLE, SLT, and Denali trim levels, with a choice of rear- or four-wheel drive, numerous individual options, and plenty of option packages.

Our 7 out of 10 score here is based on its customizability and its now-standard touchscreen infotainment system.

This year, even the base Sierra includes a rearview camera and a 7.0-inch touchscreen audio system with Bluetooth and some apps. Extended- and crew-cab variants have power windows and locks, which are optional on the standard cab. The Sierra base is rather spartan otherwise, so most buyers will probably want to step up to the Sierra SLE. In addition to offering a far higher level of optional equipment, the Sierra SLE brings to the table an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and alloy wheels and its interior has more soft-touch surfaces.

Optional on both the base and SLE is the Elevation appearance package, which includes special 20-inch alloy wheels, HID headlights, and a few other styling goodies.

Next up is the Sierra SLT, which adds leather upholstery and chrome exterior touches and can be further upgraded with the 6.2-liter V-8.

Sierra SLE and SLT trims are both available with the off-road-oriented All Terrain package, which adds more rugged tires, skid plates, and some special styling touches.

At the top of the heap sits the Sierra Denali with its own styling inside and out, heated and ventilated front seats, and an option package that adds the 6.2-liter V-8, 22-inch alloy wheels, and power-retractable side steps. GMC Sierra Denalis also have their own suspension tuning with magnetic dampers like those used in some high-end sports cars.

Regardless of trim level, GMC offers plenty of individual and packaged options on the Sierra. The automaker’s OnStar concierge and safety connection service is included on SLE and higher trim levels and it’s optional on the base Sierra. In addition to linking the vehicle to a call center, it includes a 4G LTE antenna that can create a wi-fi hotspot—perfect for working from a job site.

Fuel Economy
A hybrid powertrain can make the 2018 GMC Sierra 1500 thriftier—but only a little.

Pull up a chair because the 2018 GMC Sierra 1500 has a long fuel economy story to tell.

Our 5 out of 10 score here is based on the non-hybrid 5.3-liter V-8, but other models are generally thriftier.

Starting with the base V-6, the Sierra is rated at 18 mpg city, 24 highway, 20 combined with rear-wheel drive and 17/22/19 mpg with four-wheel drive. The V-6 can also run on E85, which is significantly less efficient but may be cheaper in certain corn-centric parts of the U.S.

The 5.3-liter comes standard with a 6-speed automatic, which is actually more efficient on paper than the 8-speed thanks to a different final drive ratio between the two gearboxes.

A rear-drive Sierra 1500 with the 6-speed is rated at 16/23/19 mpg; four-wheel drive a hair lower to 16/22/18 mpg. The 8-speed automatic comes in at 16/22/18 mpg for rear-drive and 15/20/17 mpg.

Predictably, the Sierra 1500 with the optional 6.2-liter V-8 comes in at just 15/21/17 mpg with rear-wheel drive and 15/20/17 mpg with four-wheel drive.

If you can find it, a mild-hybrid system in the Sierra 1500 bumps ratings up to 18/24/20 mpg with rear-wheel drive, 16/21/18 mpg with four-wheel drive.


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