Written by 5:00 am Audiophile Music

Mark’s Picks for 2014 Music Releases

Mark Smotroff looks back on a year chockfull of musical wonderment and discovery

I’m kinda-sorta over this notion of trying to make any sort of definitive “Top 10” best of the year, yada yada list-icle type round up. It is almost impossible for any one reviewer to keep on top of everything out there and (thankfully!) I don’t even pretend to be that type of reviewer.

AR-beckmorningphase.jpgHowever, people do tend to ask “what were your favorites this year?” and readers seem appreciate a recap of some sort.  So instead of doing a countdown or whatever, I’m just going to call out some of my faves in no particular order. It’s really the only honest thing I can do, since I have (frankly) not heard everything that was released in 2014.  And that is what it would take to make a judgement call as to whether an album is “Best of the Year.” 

But I can at least remind you of some of my discoveries and if you’d like you can search for my full reviews on them here on Audiophilereview.com. And besides, my “best of the year” probably isn’t going to be anywhere near the best of the year lists that will include releases from Taylor Swift (whom I respect) and D’Angelo (whose much-buzzed-about album I haven’t heard yet). That all said, here we go ….

The year started pretty brightly, with Beck’s release of his glorious Morning Phase collection on a beautifully packaged and pressed LP. Still a winner, I have revisited this album numerous times throughout the year.

We saw a lot of fun releases from The Flaming Lips including a fine single LP edit of their 24-hour song (its more of a song cycle really) called 7 Skies H3, pressed on lovely thick clear vinyl.  The Lips also delivered a quite stunning re-thinking of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper in the form of With A Little Help From My Fwends (on fab peachy-orange-pink vinyl) and a first-time-on-vinyl appearance of their wistful and lovely Christmas recording Imagene Peise on crystal-clear red vinyl.  There are other releases they put out that I still have yet to purchase including their prog-rock alter-ego band Electric Wurms (on purple vinyl!) Musik, Die Shwer Zu Twerk. Maybe I’ll get to that one early next year…

AR-HDNBlu.jpgMajor kudos must go out to The Beatles for their mostly-out-of-the-ballpark Beatles in Mono boxed set. A winner start-to-finish of very high quality, finally doing justice to the Beatles legacy. Now let’s hope they revise the stereo editions similarly. The Beatles also get extra brownie points for the lovely 4K restoration of their 1964 silver screen debut A Hard Days Night. Reissued theatrically and on Blu-ray disc, the images and sound on this pop music classic have never ever sounded or looked better.

I loved Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes album and his new remastered box set — and companion high-resolution downloads available via HDTracks.com — of the first 10-plus years of albums are quite outstanding from what I’ve heard so far. The Grateful Dead’s Complete Studio Recordings downloads (also on HDTracks) have also been proving themselves stunners in 192 kHz and 24-bit resolution. Both the Springsteen and the Dead’s albums were all restored with wow-and-flutter reduction via Plangent Processes. These resulted in recordings that are much clearer, revealing more sonic details than ever and even — at times — tightening up and improving the pace of the songs, some of which were subtly lagging due to problem inherent in the tape recording process. Fascinating technology which our editor Steven Stone has written about in some depth.

AR-Croz.jpgDavid Crosby’s beautiful new release Croz sounds magnificent on the HDTracks high resolution download. The high-res downloads of Led Zeppelin’s first run of albums all sound pretty spectacular. I really liked the new albums by Interpol, Morrissey, Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and U2. There are a bunch of recent indie releases I really liked by bands across the country, including Caspian and Years.

In the area of surround sound, there continued to be exciting new and archival releases including Tom Petty’s latest, Hypnotic Eye. I have to give kudos to engineer supremo Steven Wilson for his yeoman-like work on 5.1 surround sound archival restorations from the likes of XTC (Drums and Wires), Yes (Relayer, The Yes Album), Jethro Tull (A Passion Play). I still need to pick up his remix of Tull’s War Child and some how the guy managed to put out one of his own albums.

Have to give honorable mention to The Who for finally finishing up Quadrophenia in surround sound as well as the completists dream of the Allman Brothers’ entire run of 1971 Fillmore shows. Both groups issued these recordings in fine-sounding high-resolution 5.1 surround sound and on Blu-ray disc.

Out of the archives, there were many notable resurrections in 2014. At the top of my list is the first-time-on-LP surprise appearance of The Move Live at Fillmore West 1969. Initially put out on CD a couple years back, this beautifully pressed, well centered, 180-gram red vinyl release is a gem that sounds warmer and rounder than the CD version and also delivers it all in a very high quality gatefold two-LP set package, replete with photos and liner notes.

AR-RSDIdleRaceSLEEVE.jpgIn somewhat related news, the Record Store Day edition of the long out-of-print first album called The Birthday Party by The Idle Race (on gold vinyl!) was a welcome revelation for this fan of all things Move, ELO, Roy Wood and Jeff Lynne. For those of you not in the know, The Move eventually morphed into The Electric Light Orchestra when Jeff Lynne joined the band (not long after this US live tour, actually). The Idle Race, of course, was Jeff Lynne’s band before joining The Move. Accordingly, the sounds you hear on this album are a raw and fascinating blue-print of the sound that would mature further in the final Move albums (Looking On and Message From The Country) and then in the early ELO albums. Essential stuff for fans of these bands.

One of my great personal discoveries this year — and I still wonder how I completely missed this one along the way — is the 1970 Abbey Road-recorded, Norman Smith-produced opus by The Pretty Things, which sounds like a missing link between 1969 incarnations of of The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Not entirely surprising since Smith had engineed recordings for both of those bands. It has been reissued as a budget release (which I own) with period-accurate labels on Rare Earth Records, as well as a UK version from Madfish Records (which I plan to get sometime in the New Year). Essential stuff if you like British rock from that period.

AR-FrippEnoParisCDInnerCover.jpgIf that wasn’t ethereal enough for you, the live 1975 Paris concert release by Robert Fripp & Brian Eno is nothing short of revelatory; this is a dream for fans of ambient music and the sound that became Frippertronics.

Also of note from the archives this year are a live DVD by the mid-’90s reformed Big Star — the only known live video of the band in existence — as well as a slew of posthumous releases by Scott Miller’s power pop groundbreakers Game Theory.  A final surprise on Record Store Day this year was the re-release of Sneakers, an early band that gave us future members of the dBs and Let’s Active and also included future super producers Don Dixon and Mitch Easter. Fun, great-sounding lost power pop!

All this is just the stuff I was able to get my hands on and review in my limited space here on Audiophilereview.com, mind you. There are still tons of other great things I didn’t get (yet!) which hopefully I’ll be able to squeeze in next year.

The music never stops!





(Visited 73 times, 1 visits today)