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Catchgroove’s Best of 2014 (Music)

December 22, 2014

This year’s “best of” is going to be a bit of a hodgepodge – not strictly my top albums – but everything is music related.  There is no particular meaning to the order of the list except for my Album of the Year and its runner-up.

Vinyl Comeback

I have more vinyl records than the average person. I have been amazed by the resurgence of the medium. But for every news story about the LP’s comeback and endless variations of graphs showing the slow, but steady climb of vinyl over that last 20 years, I have to remind myself how inconsequential current sales figures are in historical terms (US sales could break 8 million units in 2014 compared to 344 million units in 1977). When you take a longer view it looks like this:

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But underneath this vinyl surge is the reality that the recording industry will never make the kind of money it did in the glory years ever again. There is a lot of gnashing of teeth on behalf of recording artists not getting paid these days, but lets face it, hardly any recording artist made game changing money over that last 100 years.  Most were like NFL players – a few good years and then a life of poverty or moving on to something else.  Most had been screwed by a record company or publisher.  At least now an artist has full control of their destiny – even though the odds are against them (but they were always were the houses’ odds).  I read a great article this past year that put things in perspective.

The record business as most people know it, was just a short hundred-year blip in the 40,000 year history of the music business. A stopgap to solve a temporary problem that existed between the invention of sound recording (1890’s), and the invention of the internet (1990’s).

I could not be happier that the record stores are popping up like mushrooms after a rainstorm, that Record Store Day exists, for new releases on vinyl, etc. But I also realize this is potentially a fad and a cult at best.  My own return to vinyl has been gathering steam for several years. But the reality is that more than half my listening is digital and most of that is via streaming (Spotify).  Convenience wins.

This year I tried a CD quality streaming service (Tidal) – I could not justify paying double the price of Spotify to listen to music on my phone via cheap earbuds. I was a day one supporter of Pono only to cancel to fund a new cartridge for my turntable. I made a great memory when my daughter bought her first turntable. But like me, most of her listening is digital and driven by convenience vs. great sound.  My wife a and I celebrated 30 years of marriage: she got a ring and I got an Oppo.  So I love my vinyl, but I am all in on digital too.

But nothing gives me greater pleasure in my listening life that pulling out a record, setting it on the turntable, cleaning it and setting the needle in the groove.  Even with surface noise there is something special about the sound that can’t be met by digital (until you get to really high-resolution versions).  It could be the sound, but I think it is more about the ritual and the engagement you are forced to have listening to record.  Vinyl welcome back – you were never gone – just kind of forgotten by the mainstream.

 

miles_fillmore

Miles At The Fillmore – It is a toss-up on who I have spent more money on over the years: Miles or Dylan.  2014 there was yet another great Miles reissue/new archival material: Miles At The Fillmore. Whoever thinks that Miles sold out when he went electric just needs to give a collection like this a spin – this is some of the most intellectually challenging music I have ever listened too.  And at the same time some of the funkiest.

Oppo 105D

oppo 105d front

Oppo 105d back

This is the digital age, yet I have never had a high quality disc player.  My wife bought me this player as a 30th wedding anniversary present – and what a great player it is.  It plays every disc imaginable and is a high quality DAC besides.  The Oppo 105D has enriched my listening to digital media.  Pricy, but not bad compared to other high-end audio equipment.

 

Bob Mould in Minneapolis

Bob Mould – Workbook Reissue and Beauty & Ruin – It was a nice year for Bob Mould and me.  I got to see him at an intimate show at the Women’s club, but missed out on an even more intimate show at the 7th Street Entry (I think it sold out the second Mould had the idea of doing it).  A reissue of one of my top 10 albums ever (Workbook) and some nice new material (Beauty & Ruin).

I did not get an opportunity to review Beauty & Ruin so I will give you a quick one here.  This is mature reflective rock from a middle-aged punk.  Which fits me just fine as I am middle-aged (but not much of a punk).  Bob knows how to mix jangle and buzz saw guitars better than anyone.  Reflective and loud at the same time – terror with a wink and a smile – quintessential Bob Mould.

P.S. I got an amazing poster out of the deal too!

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Keeping a Minnesota inspired theme…

HS TD

 Hold Steady – Teeth Dreams

One of the more clever best of lists I read this year was titled “The Best Tom Petty Albums of 2014” and this album was on that list and it is on mine.  This is just plain great rock and roll – a great bar band swinging for the fences and making it.  When straight rock and roll is done this well it can’t be beat.

The Replacements at Midway Stadium (St. Paul, MN)

Replacements_Twins_Poster

I had no expectations about this show – I was just glad to be there.  Well the boys delivered.  They were rehearsed, they played with passion – they played like they cared.  It was a perfect flannel September evening in the Twin Cities.  It was beyond exceeding expectations – it was rock and roll transcendence.

KIN

Pat Metheny Unity Group – Kin (<->)

This album has grown on me.  When it first came out I was a bit too enamored with the first two Unity Band albums.  But time has helped me appreciate this subtle refinement.  I love Metheny with a saxophone.

 

U2 Songs of Innocence

U2 – Songs of Innocence

Despite all the controversy this is actually a decent album.  U2 is pretty irrelevant as a contemporary act, but this is a great gift to their legion of fans.  Lyrically the album reflects on their early history.  Sonically they update the U2 sound courtesy of Danger Mouse. It sounds better than last couple albums.  U2 has never been afraid of the spotlight and I kind of get a kick that they figured out a way to actually piss people off at this late point in their career – intentional or not.

 

ryan adams ryan adams

Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams (plus a bunch of 7 inch)

There was a time in Ryan Adams’ career where he issued so much material it became hard to keep up with him.  He had  slowed down recently – but he is back with a vengeance with a new album this fall and a new 7″ every month for the last several months (generously available on Spotify for the vinyl and financially challenged).  The album was pure Ryan Adams alt-county ear candy that enhances his brand.  The 7 inch records allowed Adams to experiment with his many muses.

Northrop  Auditorium – Minneapolis (University of Minnesota)

Northrop

Northrop had an extensive renovation and reopened this year. I went and saw Ryan Adams and it was the best sounding show I have ever heard.  I have seen Ryan Adams a couple of times at the State Theater in Minneapolis so I know he knows how to present his sound well – but this was something altogether different – the sound was so pristine.  Every instrument was clear and distinct.  You could hear the player’s footsteps on the stage.  I have got to see another show at this venue to verify, but this could be the best sounding venue in the Twin Cities.  A lot of bands don’t know how to play in an acoustically great venue – typically playing to loud.  So some credit goes to Adams and his crew.

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Pink Floyd – Endless River (Blu-ray)

This was my first try at a the Blu-Ray format for audio and it sounds great (my comparison point was a CD and Spotify – sorry no vinyl).  As for the music, as I stated on my original blog post, this is pretty inconsequential release in the Pink Floyd catalog – but still is great.  Simple ear candy.

 

Lucinda Down

Lucinda Williams – Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone

The last several Lucinda Williams albums have not really resonated with me, but this one really did.

 

choc milk

Milk Chocolate – Action Speak Louder Than Words

This was one of my Record Store Day discoveries this year.  Sophisticated funk from the Earth Wind and Fire school with a New Orleans twist.

 

Southsiders

Atmosphere – Southsiders

It is great to see a group that is well into their career continue to put out quality material.  For me this is as good as anything in their catalog.  Got to meet the boys too!

 

Tord Extended Circle

Tord Gustavsen Quartet – Extended Circle

This is jazz that is both mellow and regal a the same time. Gorgeous stuff.

 

malkmus

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Wig Out at Jagbags

It has been a long year and I almost forgot this early release. Malkmus is brilliant at juggling indie-rock hipster with classic rock.  Guitars, guitars and more guitars.

 

basement tapes

Bob Dylan – The Bootleg Series Vol. 11: The Basement Tapes Complete

This is one of the most legendary sessions in the history of pop music.  I have barely dipped into this treasure chest.  I like that this was issued warts and all – a true fly on the wall experience of one of Dylan’s great creative periods where there were no pressure to be Bob Dylan – just a simple songwriter hanging out with buddies.  I never understood the hype when I listened to the 1975 version – now I realize that version was a bit of a fake.

 

Rich Robinson ceaseless_cover

Rich Robinson –  The Ceaseless Sight

This was an unexpected wonderful release.  After getting into various Chris Robinson albums the last several years, his brother drops this one that is a ringing endorsement of the value of sibling rivalry.  This is great classic rock that would not have sounded out-of-place on FM radio in the old days.  One of the best vinyl packages of the year – coolest piece of wax I have seen in a long time:

rr wax

St. Paul &  The Broken Bones – Live At The Varsity (Minneapolis)

st+paul+broken+vita

I liked St. Paul &  The Broken Bones LP Half The City, but it can’t hold a candle to the spectacle of seeing this band live.  I will  be shocked it vocalist Paul Janeway does not completely blow out his vocal cords (I hope he doesn’t).  There are so many retro R&B acts out there these days it is hard to keep up with them all.  But if you have the chance to see this super nova live you have got to check it out.

 

tweedy

Tweedy – Sukierae

I love Wilco (more about that later) and I had high expectations about this solo release.  Wilco is probably more of a band than we fans give credit – my assumption has always been that it is the Jeff Tweedy Band.  This “solo” album is not far off from a Wilco album.  It has a a looser feel than a typical Wilco release.  When this first came out I was bit disappointed – more underwhelmed.  But time has made me appreciate it.  For a Wilco fan it is a very pleasant diversion.

Beck mp

Beck Morning Phase

I really debated putting this on the list as it is just a reprise of Sea Change.  But if I gave Pink Floyd a pass for reassembling crumbs on the floor from a session 20 years ago, it is hard to deny Beck for reprising what I think is his greatest album.

 

Robert Plant

Robert Plant – lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar

I did not get a chance to review this album this year, but it was one of my delights.  I have been a long time fan of Robert Plant.  Who would have ever thought that Plant would be the most creative force vs. Page post Led Zeppelin?  Plant continues to be master chef of the musical gumbo.  This album mixes folk, electronica, world music, rock, country – sometimes all in the same song.   Plant made his name with his lion’s roar, but his gift has been that he can also purr like a kitten.  Another success in his amazing post-career.

 

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D’Angelo and The Vanguard Black Messiah

Best Prince album since Sign O’ The Times – enough said. 

Original-Release-Series-5-8-Cover

Reissue of the year: Neil Young Official Release Series 2 Disc 5-8

I said as much as I am capable of saying about this already.

Paul McCartney Live at Target Field (Minneapolis August 2, 2014)

Paul McCartney in Minneapolis

Lennon or McCartney – I am not too cool to say I am a McCartney guy.  Over 3 hours he built to an amazing crescendo.   He is a true legend and his performance lived up to all the hype.

 

New basement

New Basement Tapes – Lost On The River

Part tribute album, part super group, part archeology dig; this is an album like Wilco and Billy Bragg’s Mermaid Avenue series – take the lyrical fragments of a great songwriter (in this case Dylan vs.  Woody Guthrie) and make new music.  The great producer T Bone Burnett put together a diverse cast of characters that had Americana in common and created a temporary band to create new songs out of old Dylan lyrical fragments.  I think it works as an album and not just as the typical tribute album.  Various artists are featured, but those same people play back up too.  The stars include: Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Elvis Costello, Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes) and Rhiannon Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops).  For me Rhiannon Giddens steals the show – I had never heard of her before and her voice is amazing – both as lead and back up.  Discovering her was worth the price of admission.  We can’t get enough Basement Tapes this year.

 

alpha mike foxtrot

Wilco – Alpha Mike Foxtrot 

If you are a Wilco fan you must have this collection of rarities.  If you are wondering what is all the hype about Wilco then try What’s Your 20? (greatest hits).  I was tempted to make this collection my album of the year – but could not justify a collection of odds and ends vs. a true album.  Even Wilco’s dust in the corners is pretty damn brilliant.

Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus -You’re Dead

One of my music theories is that there has not been a new idea in popular music since 1975.  I am not saying Flying Lotus has invented something new, but this is a very clever combination of 70s jazz fusion and hip hop.

 

Rosanne Cash The River

Catchgroove’s Album of the year runner-up: Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread

This was a real debate in my mind lobbying for this to be my album of the year.  Cash’s The River & The Thread is a gorgeous country album.  The arrangements on this album are perfect and the album is perfectly engineered.  Her voice has so much depth to it – I can’t describe how it touches me – it is the sound of wisdom. The lyrics have a great sense of journey: both physical and emotional.  Cash, who has a couple of masterpieces in her portfolio already, has made another.

 

jenny lewis

Catchgroove’s Album of the year: Jenny Lewis – The Voyager

Jenny Lewis totally captured the late 70s singer/songwriter Laurel Canyon vibe with this album – yet it sounds total contemporary.  The songwriting is top-notch and the production values are perfect.  This album sounds so good.  The words and music are in a dance of emotion.  Great pop music is a combination of slick and subversive – it sucks you in like a Siren’s call.  The Voyager is pure ear candy, yet there is a bitter pill is hiding under honey – this is a great pop album that will appeal to both young and old ears.  Listen to it loud and often.

Disappointments…

The year was not without disappointments:

  • Chris Robinson Brotherhood LP – One of the issues of the vinyl renaissance is that some releases are poor quality.  I loved this year’s Chris Robinson Brotherhood album (Phosphorescent Harvest), however the LP was of poor quality with lots of noise in the grooves.  I returned it to my local record store and unfortunately its  replacement was the same.  I am not picking on Chris Robinson – I have experienced this on several releases.  
  • Led Zeppelin Reissues – Jimmy Page allegedly dedicated a couple of years of his life to bring these reissues to life (try spending some time on some new music Jimmy).  I was excited about the full album of bonus material with each release – turns out it was nothing.  Not particularly interesting demos, minor remixes, mixes without the vocals. A huge disappointment.  Only bought one deluxe CD – I figure these reissues have been so digitally doctored why spend a fortune on vinyl cut from a digital file.
  • Fleetwood Mac Live – My wife and I had the misfortune of seeing the latest tour of the Rumors era band on night number one of the tour.  The bands playing was superb and their sound man did a great job with the mix in the notoriously bad sounding Target Center (Minneapolis).  However this was the most awkwardly paced concert I have ever witnessed.  They would create some momentum only to crash into a wall.  I read reviews of other shows on the tour and it seems they got their act together.  Be wary of night number one of a reunion tour.

As you can see there was lots of music I enjoyed this year.  The recording industry continues to be a mess and yet musicians are fighting their way through the obstacles.  Looking back on my selections I am disappointed by how it is dominated by “established” artists.  Hopefully next year I will make some new discoveries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments
  1. Love your year end picks.

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