2014 Top 10

Music is a passion that never grows old. We listened to a lot of it in our house in 2014. Here’s a list of what grabbed our attention. Each one, in its own way, is “just exactly perfect” (hat tip to Bob Weir) for providing pleasure, lessons or epiphanies. Feedback welcome!

Beck – “Morning Phase”   Sublime, sustained, intimate loops of sonic purity. It was our “house record” this year.

Beck – Live at Masonic Auditorium, San Francisco, Sept. 19   Beck opened up the newly renovated Masonic with six cuts from “Morning Phase,” amped up for the concert hall and brimming with slacker energy. It was loud. Then he plunged into the festival songbook and by the time he got to “Loser,” you had lost all sense of age and the passing of time.

Dark Star Orchestra – Live at Terrapin Crossroads, San Rafael, April 9   Yeah, yeah they’re a cover band, but they do it very, very well and they do it with their own twist. At Terrapin Crossroads, they were on home ground and the passion and love for the Dead’s songbook energized every song. There was levitation at some point.

The War on Drugs – “Lost In the Dream”   Pure melody, expanded by layers and layers of guitars. When Adam Granduciel finds a groove, he’s not afraid to dig into it. The more you listen, the more you’re rewarded.

Dave Grohl   Grohl was everywhere this year. There was the Nirvana “reunion” at the Hall of Fame awards with Lorde sitting in for Kurt. There was “Sound City” (released in 2013, but getting lots of air on Netflix in 2014), which eloquently made the case for analog as a metaphor for heart and community. There was “Sonic Highways” on HBO, Grohl’s deep dive into the musical terroir of cities like Seattle, Washington and LA; imagine drawing a straight line from Washington’s “go-go” genre and funk pioneers like Chuck Brown to the seminal punk band Fugazi. Grohl did it. He actually makes me like Foo Fighters.

Mariah Cary – Live at Rock Center’s tree lighting ceremony, Dec. 3   Mariah got trashed for her rocky performance of “All I Want For Christmas Is You” at the annual tree-lighting ceremony (people on Twitter can be so mean!). But the performance taught us something else. Watch the clip on YouTube that isolates her microphone so all you can hear is her voice.

“Histrionic” doesn’t quite capture it. It’s the voice that launched a thousand Cary clones. The tragic triumph of technique over soul. Did she really make Christmas a 10-syllable word?

Grateful Dead – “Spring 1990, The Other One” box set   The Dead’s annual box set completed the official release of the Spring 1990 tour. It’s a masterpiece, right up there with their 1972 and 1977 work. David Lemieux’s careful curating and Rhino’s continued release of the Dead’s 30-year body of work is sui generis.

NPR – “Serial”   We were hooked on the first episode of this podcast. Dark, fascinating, and humorous, it is a Mobius strip of a story that taps a deep root of humanity and curiosity. And it forces you to listen, a lost art.

The vinyl renaissance   Vinyl sales were up 50 percent in 2014. With Neil Young’s Ponos and proselytizing, Bob Weir’s Musicians for Audio Quality initiative, and Record Store Days, the rear-guard action against Auto-Tune continues. “You know,” says Tom Petty, “music really isn’t supposed to be perfect.”

Martin Scorsese, Amir Bar-Lev, David Lemieux, Justin Kreutzmann, Eric Eisner, Nicholas Koskoff, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Andrew Heller, Sanford Heller, Rich Yorn and everybody else involved in producing the first comprehensive documentary of the Grateful Dead, which will be released in 2015.  It’s about time.

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