2013 was a really great year for music with many fine releases by artists old and new. Here is a look at some of my favorite music-related movies, surround sound discs, HD downloads, vinyl LPs and archival releases from throughout the year. I have to acknowledge some notable omissions since I haven’t heard them yet, including the 5.1 surround versions of Van Morrison’s Moondance and The Band Live at Academy of Music 1971, plus new releases from Arcade Fire and Pearl Jam. There is so much out there, but this a good place to start catching up on some things you may have missed.
Grateful Dead — Sunshine Daydream (Blu-ray, LP and CD) With awesome archival support, mixing and remastering via Plangent Processes and David Glasser (Blu-ray) and Jeffrey Norman (CD, 5.1 mix), this legendary never before officially released lost film and soundtrack was restored beyond almost every Dead Head’s wildest imagination. The Dolby TrueHD audio on the Blu-ray Disc is clear, full-bodied and tight. The 5.1 surround mix delivers a good basic live concert mix (mostly from a live stage perspective). And the CDs containing the entire concert are wonderful. Essential for Dead Heads and anyone interested in seeing what the ’60s vibe was all about, this is a great place to start, even if it did take place in 1972.
Sound City (Blu-ray and LP)
If you like movies about rock and roll and want an important lesson in both the history and process of making hit recordings, Dave Grohl’s Sound City is essential viewing. If you just want to play some new rock ‘n’ roll turned up real loud like you (or your Dad!) used to do back in the day – you know, the stereo cranked up to 11 and all that – well then, the companion soundtrack LP, subtitled “Real to Real,” is just what the doctor ordered. Pressed on high quality, thick, audiophile-worthy vinyl!
While Godfrey Reggio’s groundbreaking trio of films – Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqatsi and Nogoyqatsi – remain stunning and look better than ever, now you can also hear Philip Glass’ stellar soundtracks to them in 5.1 surround from Criterion on Blu-ray disc. While I would have liked to have heard a bit more discrete multi-channel activity, I do understand that the focus must remain on the films which frankly are already intense enough as they are. That said, these discs look and sound great. Side note: I realize this set came out in mid-December 2012, but in my book, that makes it essentially a 2013 release.
Frank Zappa’s A Token of His Extreme (DVD)
() The legendary 1974 Zappa TV special finally sees the light of day, showcasing peak Roxy-era band performances in a mix made by Zappa himself back in the day. This is a DVD-only release, but I suspect that was due to the fact that the program was taped on video, which means it has limited video resolution and thus is serviced adequately by the standard DVD. format
Surround Sound Audio-Only Releases
XTC’s Nonsuch (Blu-ray, DVD-Audio, CD)
Steven Wilson’s new 5.1 surround mix is tastefully immersive, making sure the music doesn’t loose its rock tightness, yet taking advantage of the surrounds wherever it makes sense. This reissue arguably reinvents the album for your reconsideration as one of the great lost pop masterpieces of the early 1990s.
Yes’ Close to the Edge (Blu-ray, DVD-Audio, CD)
() You read that correctly. Yes’ masterwork has been remixed into 5.1 Surround (again, by Steven Wilson). The new mix is intense, immersive, intriguing and retains the integrity of the original album’s sound. The band and artist Roger Dean oversaw this reissue personally and it shows, as they got all the packaging details near perfect this time around.
Primus’ Sailing the Seas of Cheese (Blu-ray, CD)
Les Claypool finds the sweet spot, transforming his band’s early ’90s breakthrough alternative hit into an immersive listen that even the most dubious prog-rock cynic will want to check out.
Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick (DVD, CD)
The 1972 prog rock classic in 5.1 surround? You betcha! They also put out 1970’s Benefit in 5.1 this year. Kudos again to surround engineer/producer Steven Wilson for figuring out how to do these mixes in a way that the artists and fans are excited about.
Read about all of the best 2013 releases on Vinyl and from the archives on Page 2…
Queens of the Stone Age’s Like Clockwork (180-gram LP, CD, Download)
This was easily the best hard rock album I’ve heard thus far this year. From the first needle-drop, the music jumped out of the speakers and reminded me of everything I like about hard rock in the first place. The vinyl is pressed perfectly and is thick and quiet, spinning at 45 RPM. What’s not to like? Killer.
Polyphonic Spree’s Yes, It’s True (180-gram LP, CD, Download)
A grand, fun and wonderful-sounding pop album. Heartfelt, uplifting and overflowing with good vibrations, it will make you smile. Full of grandiose sunshine-y pop hooks and catchy melodies, the album comes packaged in a lovely full color gatefold cover and the LP version is pressed on super-pretty 180-gram pastel minty-green-splatter-colored vinyl.
Sebadoh’s Defend Yourself (LP, CD, Download)
Quite possibly the best ’90s comeback of the year, this 13-song cycle plays out the pain and freefall abandon of a broken relationship. Likely recorded digitally, this album rocks true, loud and clear, with a remarkable sense of analog-flavored definition. VIP edition (500 copies made) were pressed in beautiful red/blue/yellow vinyl; 2500 copies were issued on nice milky red vinyl as well.
Ra Ra Riot’s Beta Love (LP, CD, Download)
Intelligent and fun modern pop/rock/soul album inspired by 1970s sounds as well as a fair amount of Yoshimi-era Flaming Lips. Lovely die-cut album cover and gorgeous limited edition purple swirl-color vinyl (mail-order only, 300 copies pressed).
Atoms for Peace’s AMOK (180-gram LP, CD, Download)
More than a side project from Radiohead leader Thom Yorke, the album is a glitchy rhythm mood experience that may just make you get up on the dance floor to twitch ‘n’ twirl. Stunning packaging housing a lovely audiophile-grade LP makes this one a keeper.
Toro Y Moi’s Anything in Return (LP, Download)
Real nice modern soul with vintage instrumentation twists. High-quality LP pressing (140 gram, possibly) and lovely die-cut cover art, too.
Flaming Lips’ The Terror (LP, CD, Download)
A dark, not easy and brave release from this band that has been working hard at reinventing itself after (arguably) painting itself into a corner with the pop trifecta of The Soft Bulletin, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and At War With the Mystics. Issued on a super-cool, mail-order-only limited edition run of silver paint-like vinyl.
Elvis Costello & The Roots’ Wise Up Ghost (180-gram LP, CD, Download)
Great album bears repeated listens and grows on you quickly. A return to form? Nah. Elvis never lost his form. This is just another great stop on his journey. Cool cover art concept is ultimately a bit lackluster given the rich music inside, but perhaps – like Howl, after which it is modeled – that is the point.
Paul McCartney’s New (HDTracks Download, CD)
Great album, but, jeez Sir Paul, you are one of the wealthiest guys in the world, so why skimp on fidelity (some tracks were recorded at 44.1 even on the HDTracks versions)? I will be curious to hear the LP version when I get my hands on it.
David Bowie’s The Next Day (HDTracks Download, LP, CD)
Excellent album and, while the LP pressing was disappointing (off-center, noisy) and the cover (in my opinion) fairly drab, the HDTracks download sounds pretty fab, all things considered.
Philip Glass’ Rework (180-gram LP, CD, Download)
Supervised by Beck, this remix project has moments of brilliance and elation. A fascinating way to revisit Glass’ music, or get exposed to it for the first time. On very cool splatter vinyl (including a limited edition of 500 pure “glass” clear copies).
This new import box set includes 17 CDs that arguably sound better than the classic original LPs, which were either produced with a very compressed sound or were hindered by oft-noisy Dynaflex pressings. Three of the CDs collect rare B-sides and BBC recordings across Nilsson’s entire career. An essential for the Nilsson fan.
Big Star’s Nothing Can Hurt Me (LP, CD, Download)
This gorgeous-sounding two-LP set of previously unreleased material is the soundtrack to the documentary of the same name. The beautiful orange vinyl 180-gram first pressing is rich-sounding, dead quiet and perfectly centered. The Blu-ray disc version of the movie is slated for release at the end of November.
Grateful Dead Spring 1977 Tour Box Set (CD)
An amazing run of shows, beautifully remastered from the original multi-track soundboard recordings, capturing a peak moment in the band’s journey. Wonderful near-steampunk-styled package design features an intricate die-cut case housing each leather-bound book-like cover in this multi-disc concert CD set. Your guides to an alternate universe …
What music did you buy in 2013 that you really liked? Please share with us in the comments below.