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A potpourri of the best music of 2014 (pictures)

The Audiophiliac picks the best sounding recordings of the year, so far.

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Steve Guttenberg
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1 of 16

Richard Reed Parry, "Music for Heart and Breath"

Good or bad sound can't be credited to or blamed on digital, analog, vinyl, CD, or even MP3. Those are release formats; it's the innate quality of a recording and the choices the engineers made that make or break a given recording, and that's what I'm talking about in these capsule reviews.

Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry's music takes a classical turn on this album, and while it's definitely serious music, its pulse and rhythm might fascinate rock fans. In any case, the sound is simply gorgeous.

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2 of 16

Aphex Twin, "Syro"

Shape-shifting textures and beats, Richard D. James' latest batch of soundscapes will blow your mind, but for some reason "Syro" works a lot better over speakers than headphones.

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3 of 16

Rolling Stones, "From the Vault: Hampton Coliseum"

For this 1981 show, the band stretches out on a bunch of tunes, far more than they did on more recent performances. The Blu-ray's 96kHz/24-bit lossless DTS Master Audio sound is awesome, but "From the Vault: Hampton Coliseum" is also available on DVD, CD and LP.

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4 of 16

Antonio Sanchez, "Birdman" soundtrack

"Birdman," the movie starring Michael Keaton is a wild ride, but Antonio Sanchez' frenetic score is something else again. It consists of a series of short, really well-recorded drum solos that will test your speakers' or headphones' stamina. The palpable textures and contrasts Sanchez produces from his drum kit are simply astonishing. Play this album loud if you dare!

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5 of 16

Eno-Hyde, "High Life"

Brian Eno's back, accompanied by Karl Hyde on guitar and bass, and on this album they uncork jagged rhythms and a nervous energy that recall his best 1970s works. The sound is rich with texture and rough edges -- Eno's got his mojo back!

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6 of 16

Cliff Martinez, "The Knick" soundtrack

This synth-fueled soundtrack to the Cinemax TV series seems like an odd match for a drama set in a New York City hospital in 1900. Judged on its own, Cliff Martinez' ambient score has a steady pulse and works as free-standing music unrelated to the TV series, easily the best new show of 2014.

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7 of 16

Paul Butterfield, "Live at Winterland Ballroom"

I have no idea why it took more than 40 years for this stunning live recording to get a proper release, but it was worth the wait. Blues harmonica master Paul Butterfield and his Better Days band totally kicks butt!

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8 of 16

Medeski Martin & Wood, "Combustication"

This funk-fueled trio has made a lot of records, but this 2014 remastered LP shows off their rambunctious grooves better than most. It swings like crazy!

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Jan Kraybill, "Organ Polychrome"

Jan Kraybill recorded this album at a majestic organ, performing French works with rare skill. This recording's uncompressed dynamics and deep, deep bass will test the limits of your woofers' output. Some tracks are so quiet they're closer to ambient music -- lots of "space" in there. "Organ Polychrome" was recorded at Helzberg Hall in Kansas City, Missouri in 2013.

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10 of 16

Al Kooper, "Super Session" (SACD)

The legendary ""=""> is a classic one-off, mostly instrumental album recorded in 1968 with Kooper joined by Stephen Stills and Michael Bloomfield, but this brilliant surround SACD is a very different sonic trip. It blasts open up the stereo mix and fills up all five channels with sound. Highly entertaining.

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11 of 16

Marissa Nadler, "July"

Nadler's ethereal vocals float over this sparsely produced meditation on loss. Sonically, it's a wonder.

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The Beatles in Mono (LPs)

These mono LPs, newly remastered from the original analog tapes, are a real treat. Many audiophiles believe the Beatles mono albums better represent the band's sound than their stereo counterparts. Check out one or two mono LPs and decide for yourself.

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13 of 16

George Harrison, "The Apple Years Box Set"

This remastered, seven-disc box set covers Harrison's solo output from 1968 to 1975. Sound quality is excellent, and the early experimental titles like "Wonderwall" reveal another side of Harrison's talent -- his "Electronic Music" is definitely out there. His greatest work, "All Things Must Pass," has never sounded better.

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14 of 16

The Beach Boys, "20/20" and "Friends" (LPs)

These mid-period Beach Boys recordings have aged well, and the newly remastered LPs are a feast for your ears! You can't always count on remasters of 1960s albums retaining their analog sound, but these Capitol LPs absolutely do!

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15 of 16

Saft, Swallow, Previte; "The New Standard"

Oh man, this album feels fresh! Bassist Steve Swallow, keyboardist Jamie Saft and drummer Bobby Previte levitate the jazz standard up into our time. No tricks or electronics, just straight performances you can't help but get caught up in.

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Stefano Bollani, "Joy in Spite of Everything"

It's jazz, but don't be afraid. Pianist Bollani's tunes, all originals, evolve, flow and organically develop. This CD rewards repeated listening to the complete album.

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