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Neutral Milk Hotel - On Avery Island Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the oft-overshadowed debut from indie rock icons, a smaller and more intimate look into the mercurial world of Jeff Mangum.
In the mid-’90s, Jeff Mangum moved into a haunted closet in Denver where he had dreams of women in fur coats drinking champagne, yelling at him to get out of their house. During a snowy Colorado winter, the Louisiana-born songwriter and his childhood friend Robert Schneider set about recording what would become Neutral Milk Hotel’s debut album. They worked feverishly, going out to smoke cigarettes when they hit a roadblock, until, in May of 1995, they had a finished record. The North Carolina indie label Merge scooped up the young band and quietly released On Avery Island the following March.

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ExpressVPN Review

A fast VPN service with a simple interface and a wide range of countries to choose from, and easy access to Netflix US.

Should I Buy ExpressVPN?
ExpressVPN offers a great service which should suit privacy advocates as well as those wanting easy-to-use apps for many devices. There's a wide choice of countries and servers, solid support and plenty of step-by-step guides for installation on devices where apps aren't available and lots of security features to ensure your activity remains private. It isn't cheap, but for some people the price will be well worth it.

Price When Reviewed
  • From $6.67 per month
There are so many VPN services that it can be very confusing when it comes to choosing which one to pay for. Although there are some free options, you will quickly discover that they don't offer what you need, whether it's speed, unlimited data use or security.

But why consider a service that costs more than the rest? We asked the same question but after months of using ExpressVPN we have the answers. 

The idea behind ExpressVPN - as with all consumer VPN services - is to grant anonymous internet access regardless of technical ability. That means you need only press the big 'power' button in the app and within seconds you're protected from ISPs, governments and any other interlopers sniffing your computer's traffic. Then you're free to visit any website and download any file without anyone knowing or being able to track you. 

Another benefit is that you can choose a VPN server in different country which causes websites and online services to think you are in that country. This means you can access content - catch-up TV for example - that isn't available in your country. Some streaming services such as Netflix have different content available in different regions, so you may be able to watch something when connected to a US VPN server that you can't watch if you're in the UK.

Features
ExpressVPN is one of the largest VPN providers with thousands of servers. The list currently runs to 160 cities in 94 countries, ranging from Monaco to Mongolia. 

Apps are available for Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android, iPad, Linux and Amazon Fire TV. But it doesn't stop there. There are browser extensions for Chrome and Firefox and you can also use the step-by-step tutorials on ExpressVPN's website to get the VPN running on devices including Apple TV, Android TVs, NAS drives and more.

You can go one step further and install software on supported routers, too. This involves downloading specially modified firmware for the device (Asus, Netgear and Linksys models are supported) which means the VPN connection can work on every device that connects to the internet through it, but also lets you pick which devices connect without using the VPN.

ExpressVPN has a video for Linksys routers, so you can decide whether you think it'll work for you. Alternatively, you can purchase a router with ExpressVPN already installed.

We could nitpick and point out that there's no browser extension for Opera or Safari, but the bottom line is that ExpressVPN is supported on more devices than any other VPN service we know of.

TrustedServer
The newest feature is TrustedServer. It aims to increase security by running each and every ExpressVPN server entirely in RAM. Although servers still have hard drives, these are read-only and contain only the operating system image needed to boot up the servers. Every server runs the same version of this software and the setup means no user data is ever written to a hard drive. 

When the server is restarted, the operating system and VPN software is essentially re-installed afresh, so it also mitigates any threat from being hacked and malicious code persisting. 

3 Connections
One surprising limitation is that you can only use the ExpressVPN on three different devices at the same time. Most VPN services allow more simultaneous connections than this and the only way around it is to run ExpressVPN on your router.

However, most people are unlikely to feel this limitation, but it's worth bearing this in mind when deciding which service to sign up to.

Kill Switch
Available on Windows, macOS, Linux and now the Android app, Network Lock is ExpressVPN's kill switch. It stops any data being sent or received if the VPN connection unexpectedly drops, keeping you protected. If the connection is ever lost, the apps will automatically reconnect and restore your encrypted connection quickly.

Split Tunneling
On top of this, split tunneling is available in the Windows, Android and macOS apps (as well as the router version). What this does is let you choose which apps use the VPN connection and which don't. The advantage is that you can still access local websites or devices - such as wireless printers - without any problems while simultaneously accessing overseas sites via the VPN.

Alternatively, you can install and use the Chrome or Firefox browser extension to limit the VPN's scope to only websites you're visiting in that browser. These extensions offer HTTPS everywhere, which ensures you have a secure connection to a website even if the site itself hasn't implemented HTTPS.
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It's worth mentioning that ExpressVPN allows P2P and torrenting, which some VPN services specifically forbid.

Performance & Ease Of Use
For most people, the apps for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android will cover most of their needs, and the simple interface - below - couldn't be easier to use. Once you've logged in with your username and password and approved requests to allow the app to access your device's VPN settings, it's a simple case of picking a country and pressing the big button.

The Android app (below) has been completely updated and now features a useful widget that makes it really easy to connect to a server without even launching the app. Another thoughtful touch is that, in the app itself, there are shortcuts to launch apps after you've connected to a server, and you can add shortcuts to your favourite apps.

The servers we tested were all rock steady and speeds were very good. And by very good, we mean we saw only a small drop in download speeds on our 100Mb/s leased line, so this is a VPN you can use all the time without putting up with slower internet.

One box that most people will want ticked off is support for Netflix US-only shows. And whenever we've checked this we've had no issues streaming from one of ExpressVPN's US servers. 

The same couldn't be said for BBC iPlayer, but the BBC aggressively blocks VPN servers, and often it's a case of retrying the connection a few times, or opting for servers that might not immediately spring to mind: tech support suggested trying Isle of Man and Jersey servers.

Support
Not all VPN providers have 24/7 live chat but ExpressVPN does, and it's great. It's a shame this is only available on its website and not directly through the mobile apps. In those, the Help section basically lets you email tech support and wait a few hours for a response.

Security & Privacy
ExpressVPN is based in the British Virgin Islands, which is a self-governing territory that isn't subject to British laws. This means it's outside of the "14-eyes"  and you can find out more about why some users prefer their VPN service to be based outside of the 14-eyes here.

The privacy policy states that no connection or activity logs are kept that can be used by the authorities to identify end users in any case, including DNS queries and browsing histories. ExpressVPN also runs its own DNS servers to prevent leakages to less secure servers.

Fortunately you don't have to worry about these acronyms and any of the more advanced security features if you're using one of the main apps: you're protected simply by being connected to the VPN.

In terms of security, ExpressVPN uses OpenVPN with 256-bit encryption, which is exactly what you want. And as mentioned earlier, extra security comes from the kill switch facility, called Network Lock, which focuses on traffic rather than applications. If the VPN tunnel collapses, all traffic stops, rather than applications being killed. You can also tune this feature to still allow local traffic while dropping all remote traffic, to prevent other devices such as printers from losing connectivity when the kill switch is activated.

It used to be the only service which offered extra privacy and protection by layering TOR over VPN, but NordVPN also supports this now. It won't be necessary for many users, but it does give you maximum security, and using a VPN means you can access the TOR network even in places where it is blocked.

Pricing & Plans
And so, we come to the sticking point with this service. At $12.95 (about £10.50) per month or $8.32 (£6.70)/month when you pay by the year, ExpressVPN is one of the more expensive VPNs reviewed here, but for ease of use and the features on offer it still represents good value for money.

If you buy ExpressVPN through this link you'll get three months free when you commit to a year's subscription, which brings the price closer to £5 per month.

The company also offers 30-day money back guarantee, so you'll get your money back - no questions asked - if you're not happy with the service for any reason. Payment is by all the usual credit cards, PayPal, Bitcoin, and a wide range of other options including GiroPay and YandexMoney. 
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Verdict
ExpressVPN is one of our favourite VPN services, which has always been fast and reliable. It's hard to find a device that can't be protected, though if you're a Safari or Opera user you'd have to switch to Chrome or Firefox if you want to use one of ExpressVPN's browser extensions.

There's also the limitation of three simultaneous connections, but most people won't need more than this and the security and ease of use on offer means it's an acceptable tradeoff.

Price is the biggest drawback, and rivals such as NordVPN a similarly excellent service for less.

View my Flipboard Magazine.

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