Year in Review: Album of the Year/Artist of the Year, 2014

photo credit for banner image: Brad Searles

Early in 2014, I was patiently awaiting the new Black Keys album; their single “Fever” clearly pointed a band in a new direction, and I was looking forward to Turn Blue.

In the meantime, I needed something new to listen to. I poked around on Spotify, but didn’t find anything interesting to me. I headed over the First Listen on NPR Music.

“After a 16-year-hiatus,” I read, “the Afghan Whigs are back with Do to the Beast.”

Oh, yeah, I’d heard of them. I had never really listened to them, though. Wonder if they are going to be any good after a 16-year-hiatus.*

*click play*

The opening track kicked down the door to my aural pleasure center, and I was utterly, completely hooked.

Do to the Beast (D2TB) got more listens from me this year than any album on my top 10 list. It’s not an album of singles, for one thing. Almost any other album today, I can pick or choose a song or two, and then move onto another artist. But with Do to the Beast, I have to start at the top and listen all the way through.

The music is driving and virile, haunting, full of dark imagery, vengeful wishes, and regret. Front man Greg Dulli is a charismatic motherfucker. He is not a pretty boy; he doesn’t have a huge vocal range. But he unmistakably knows how to get a listener’s attention. “If time can incinerate what I was to you,” he wails on “Parked Outside”, “Allow me to illustrate how the hand becomes the fuse.”

Greg Dulli, leader of Afghan Whigs
Greg Dulli, image by Janet Gray

Like its predecessor Gentlemen — released this year as Gentlemen at 21 — Do to the Beast seems to be about the dissolution of a significant relationship. Unlike Gentlemen, which Dulli fully acknowledges is about an explosive breakup, Do to the Beast is the fuller, more mature reflection on the way things fall apart. There is a third player in this dynamic — “It kills to watch you love another,” Dulli sings on “It Kills.” On “Lost in the Woods”, my favorite on D2TB, he sneers, “Surprise, surprise, I’ll have you know I’ve come to see you die.” Later on the same track, he laments, “Baby, sitting outside in the cold, I can see that you’re not alone. That’s vanity swallowing you.”

The other outstanding track, for me, on D2TB is the no-holds-barred “Matamoros.” Clocking in at a lean 2:43, in the midst of a chugging bass line and swooping guitars, Dulli blows up the scene, hurt and lashing out at a betrayal. “I’m so excited you decided to come over and beg,” he sings, and one can picture him leaning back and lighting up a cigar, enjoying the groveling. “I’m over you.”

The great thing about discovering a band that’s relaunched itself is that there’s a whole backlog of great music to plunge into. Dulli, having disbanded the Whigs in 2001, continued to make music with the Twilight Singers, and with Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees fame, as the Gutter Twins. (Hence my earlier * — this guy never stopped making music.) This iteration of the Afghan Whigs features Dulli and bassist John Curley, the only two original members. Yet the music explores the themes of earlier Afghan Whigs albums, fusing bombastic rock sensibility with swaggering R&B sensuality to talk about love, lust, betrayal, longing, and revenge.

John Curley of the Afghan Whigs
John Curley, image by Janet Gray

The other great thing about discovering the Afghan Whigs now is getting to see them hit the tour circuit again. I saw them in September, and got to meet the band members after the show (along with about 100 of their biggest fans). This band is known for their stage show, their loyal and obsessed fan base (among which I can now count myself), and for sticking around afterward for meet and greets. And hugs.

The author and Greg Dulli
Me and Greg Dulli after the Pittsburgh show. I can’t stop grinning.

Who topped your list musically or artistically in 2014?

Year in Review — More Music 2014

I’m sorry, I can’t let the year end without mentioning these artists and sharing one more video.

Warpaint, Warpaint
Jeff Tweedy, Sukirae (such a pretty little album!)
Supernova, Ray LaMontagne
Beauty & Ruin, Bob Mould
Damian Rice, My Favorite Faded Fantasy (should’ve been in my top 10, but I misplaced that list)

And finally, a fun little LP from Jack Antonoff of fun. fame: Bleachers, Strange Desire. I believe I called their single “I Wanna Get Better” the 2014 summer anthem for the dysfunctional. The video bears me out.

Year in Review: Top Albums of 2014

2014 was a fantastic year for music. Whether you are a fan of pop, country, rock, punk, or alternative, lots of new music hit the airwaves this year.

And it was good.

Here’s a short list of albums that did not make it onto my top 10:

The Both, The Both
Pixies, Indie Cindy
Jack White, Lazarreto
Little Daylight, Hello Memory
KONGOS, Lunatic
Future Islands, Singles
St. Vincent, St. Vincent

Plus Sleater-Kinney released a single, “Bury Our Friends”, which bodes very well for their upcoming 2015 album, No Cities to Love.

I cannot wait.

Here are my top 10 albums for 2014.

10. Hunger Games, Mockingjay: Part I Soundtrack. 

Although I feel they made a faux pas by not including Jennifer Lawrence’s version of “The Hanging Tree” on this release, it makes it onto my list on the strength of the Lorde’s contributions, including “Yellow Flicker Beat.”

9. Weezer, Everything is Going to Be Alright in the End

This album captures the idea “return to form” for this long-lasting and prolific band. In my opinion, Weezer’s album’s have been uneven at best. This makes me recall the heydays of The Blue Album and The Green Album, and I believe Rivers Cuomo may be right: Everything is going to be okay.

8. Protomartyr, Under Color of Unofficial Light

This band brings forth a dark and brooding sound that gets into my bloodstream and won’t leave. The lead singer sounds like someone, but I haven’t been able to place my finger on whom. Part ’90s-influenced, and part utterly unique, I can’t stop listening to what Protomartyr is creating.

7. TV on the Radio, Seeds

This was a late entry, and I had to rewrite my list because of it. Seeds is a continuation of TV on the Radio’s exploration of music and sound. They can bring the poppy, like the do on “Could You”, and they can bring the noise experimentation like they do on the opening track, “Quartz”. Seeds needs a lot of listening, and it deserves it.

6. Azealia Banks, Broke with Expensive Taste

Pretenders to the throne, step aside. I’m looking at you, Iggy and Ariana. Azealia Banks puts you all to shame. Sassy, dirty, and not afraid of her quirks, Azealia is going to school all y’all.

5. The Both, The Both

This came out early in 2014, and stood the test of time. Aimee Mann and Ted Leo team up to make the most of both of their talents. Pretty and poignant, funny and bittersharp, these features two veteran artists at the top of their game.

4. Jenny Lewis, The Voyager

Another veteran of the singer-songerwriter/pop life, sweet-voiced chanteuse Jenny Lewis comes back to the scene with wry observations on being the oldest, singlest woman in the room.

3. FKA Twigs, LP1

This is the weirdest, sexiest album of the century so far. Deceptively cute-looking, FKA Twigs (Tahliah Debrett Barnett) lets her darkest, most seductive fantasies flow. Her voice is high and breathy, yet powerful, and she captures a lot of desire, insecurity, and longing over the course of these 10 tracks.

2. The Black Keys, Turn Blue

I am surprised that this came in second place on this list. I truly feel it was one of the best albums this year. I have enjoyed hearing the evolution of The Black Keys from a two-piece garage band into their current iteration. Given access to the toys in the production room, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney turned the story of a bad year into a classic rock album. From the seven-minute opus of “The Weight of Love”, I knew they were doing something different. I know long-time fans are not in love with this one, but I Turn Blue leave no question, to me, that The Black Keys have more to show us.

My number 1 pick and Artist of the Year coming before Jan. 1, I promise. In the meantime, what was your favorite album of 2014?

Year in Review: My Top Moments of 2014

1. I asked for a raise! I got it too, albeit not as much as I had asked for.

2. My cousin got married to his husband, and we went to his reception in Erie.

3. I quit smoking.

4. Kate and Michael had T&A surgery, plus got ear tubes. There were a couple of bumps along the way. And afterwards.

Looking back (and knocking on wood), this was probably our best parenting decision of 2014. Kate and Michael have been doing so much better. No snoring, no sleep apnea, no ear infections. They actually have not been seriously ill since the surgery.

5. I discovered rhubarb is DELICIOUS.

6. We went to Erie and did everything. It was the best vacation (with children) so far.

7. I discovered the Afghan Whigs, and dragged Dan to see them live. (He’s a good sport.) More on this later.

8. And I went to go see Mockingjay: Part I. Well worth the price of admission.

Those are just the highlights. Lots more happened. Mostly good.

How about for you? What was the highlight of 2014?

Greg Dulli, leader of Afghan Whigs
Greg Dulli

Year in Review: Books of 2014

I’ve read 38 books this year, and I’m on track to read 40 (according to Goodreads, and my stab at tracking my reading there). Last year, I apparently only read 22 books, so I’m managing to read more. Good news for me!

I am currently reading Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, a memoir by Viv Albertine of The Slits. It is an excellent and unsentimental memoir of the U.K. punk scene of the late 1970s, and I’m really liking it. If you consider yourself a fan of punk at all, it’s a must-read.

Here are the other books that I liked most this year. They weren’t necessarily written this year, and I’m presenting them in no particular order.

Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell
I discovered Rowell this year, and I’ve read a bunch of her stuff: Landline, Eleanor & Park, and Attachments. I love her modern romantic sensibilities. Her books about relationships are sweet, and frantic, and hopeful. Of the ones I read this year, Attachments is my favorite. I would highly recommend Landlines as well.

Horns, by Joe Hill
A weird and extraordinary thing happens to an Average Joe. Told in a mix of flashback and present day, Hill captures the magic and innocence of childhood friendship and love, as well as the allegorical terror of being a nominally responsible adult.

The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith
If you don’t know by now, Galbraith is the pen name of J.K. Rowling. This is her second book centering about the private detective Cormoran Strike. I’m not a huge fan of mystery books, but I’ve enjoyed the characters and stories spun around Strike. It’s clear that writing under a nom de plume is liberating for Rowling. Say what you will, but she’s a good storyteller. Her editors were definitely on for these books as well; there’s no word vomit, which is something even I, a fan, recognize Rowling has a propensity for. These books are brisk moving with enough twists to keep you guessing.

The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
This is probably my favorite read of 2014. It’s lyrical and fantastical, a love story, a story about grand rivals, and magic, and longing. It was recommended to me, and I’m so glad I remembered it next time I was checking out books for my Kindle.

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
Donna Tartt’s third novel is a beautiful use of the English language. Melancholic and (again) lyrical, the story of a lost boy who grows into a lost man, with one thing, the titular classical painting, anchoring him to his mortal coil (as well as hope and love).

Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King
A cracking good suspense novel from the King of Horror. This was definitely the summer read of 2014 for me. Three unforgettable characters team up to take down a twisted psychopath, and King gets into the internal motivations of all of them.

Read anything good this year?

The Night Circus cover


Out with a Whimper

I had big bloggy plans for December. I was going to do a year in review for a couple different things, and I was going to write every day — or as close to it as I could get. Heck, at least three times a week!

Yeah, no.

I do have some lists for you, my dear readers. Music and books, as well as the top RPM moments from 2014. On a personal level, it was actually a pretty good year.

Socially, though, it was quite a disaster. Women’s rights took some big hits; and black males lost big time over and over again. I still can’t wrap my head around Ferguson. Or Eric Garner. Or Tamir Rice.

Ebola ravaged Africa. Measles, mumps, and pertussis broke out in the United States. Robin Williams committed suicide.

In the wider world, yeah, 2014 kind of sucked. And it seems (to me) that the lens of social media exacerbates the bad stuff. I guess it feels like that everybody is supposed to have an opinion, and furthermore, share it. It’s exhausting. I burnt out on social media in July, which I believe was right after the Supreme Court decisions that I hated as well as Ferguson, and I checked out for a few days. I think it’s the third or fourth year in a row that I had to do that.

Anyhoo, between being busy at work (mostly good), and a little stressed on the home front (holidays!), I haven’t had time to review 2014 as much as I would’ve liked. But stay tuned. I do have a few things I’d love to remind you about!

Overall, how was 2014 for you?


My Favorite Christmas Music of All Time

Recently, the Washington Post did a small feature on Pentatonix. I was thrilled, because we love Pentatonix. I discovered them two years ago, and promptly shared them with the children.

These guys could probably sing a Taylor Swift song — maybe even a Bob Seger song — and I would willingly listen to it.

Anyhoo, That’s Christmas to Me debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 — IN OCTOBER. It’s the highest charting Christmas album since 1962.

Flora likes it because, in her own words, “They turn ‘Go Tell It On the Mountain’ into a rap!” (Note to self: expose the children to actual gospel music.) Highlights for me include “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and “Mary Did You Know?”

Two mis-steps, in my opinion: They do a mashup of “Winter Wonderland” and “Don’t Worry Be Happy” — which if you are a child of the ’80s is a deathly ear worm. But the kids love it, so I grit my teeth through it.

They also do a tune called “White Winter Hymnal”, which is terms of Christmas music is an odd little ditty. My searching for the origins of this song turn up a lovely single from Fleet Foxes from 2008. It’s better done by them, in my opinion. The Fleet Foxes can do dark and pretty; Pentatonix are mostly just pretty.

Pentatonix do a version of “Little Drummer Boy” (which is not on That’s Christmas to Me) that actually makes me like the song. For the longest time, it’s been my absolutely least favorite Christmas carol — coincidentally, LDB was covered by Bob Seger on A Very Special Christmas. So.

Also, I know that we are all over “Let It Go” from Frozen, but I got chills listening to the version Pentatonix does. I just think any thing this little group can do with five people is pretty amazing.

Case in point: “Carol of the Bells.”

What carol would you love Pentatonix to make fresh for you?

More Than A Day

The children (plus Niece), Dan and I spent Sunday afternoon at his office cleaning.

Do we know how to have a good time or what?

He had gotten new carpet in his therapy room, and everything on the second floor needed to be moved and cleaned and dusted. It didn’t take a long time, only about three hours, and the children were good. Flora and Michael even teamed up to shred old bills in his admin office.

I mostly carried things up and down stairs. We took home all the Christmas decorations. It was a good, productive, exhausting day. Kate and Niece played together nicely.

At one point, Dan, vacuuming and dusting in his small therapy room, said, “Thank you so much for coming and helping. This really needed to happen.”

I said, “Well, this is my house, too you know.”

And I realized something (after 13+ years of marriage): You don’t marry a person, you marry a life.

I didn’t invent this idea. I grew up in a household where my parents were partners in marriage, child-rearing, and business. When Dan came to me about buying his office building (a house in Crafton), we talked about the pros and cons, and about what it meant for our future. He was committing to private practice, which comes with a lot of work — paperwork, admin, billing, taxes, and so on. It wasn’t just showing up somewhere to do therapy and collect a paycheck.

Plus, two houses, which is why our family was spending a Sunday vacuuming and dusting in Crafton instead of at home.

We’re still learning the ins-and-outs of medical practice. His sister and his mother have been big helps with billing and paperwork. It means long hours for him, and me holding down the fort at home.

But it’s been worth it. Even the stressful weeks when billing has been off, or the insurance has denied more claims than it accepted, or that time he got audited because he had to testify in court. Even when my job has been less than ideal, or the children have a lot of school issues that need to be handled.

When I said, “I do,” I wasn’t just marrying Dan. I was committing my future to his, and vice versa. We were hitching our trains together for the long haul (not a euphemism).

It’s a little scary to think about before you get married, probably. If people who are getting married ask me for advice (those silly people), I tell them to try to find a marriage class (or pre-Cana). It can help you focus on what comes *after* your wedding day. It’s a lot of conversations that you don’t necessarily think about when you are excited about planning your wedding day with the love of your life.

But they are important conversations to have. What are your priorities? Do you both want children, and if so, how many? If it’s hard to have children, what measures will you take (if any)? What about careers? What about careers and parenthood? How much time will you spend with each others’ families? What about seeing friends? Who will take care of what around the house? If you expect the chores to be split 50/50, you need to express that in words.

If I’ve learned one thing about being married, it’s that you need to express things in words.


Last week, several news outlets reported that the oft-quoted “50 percent of marriages end in divorce” is no longer true, and hasn’t been true since the 1980s, when divorce rates in the United States peaked.

This is good news for marriage. Researchers attributed the drop to later marriages, family planning, and what the article calls “love marriages”. (Does anyone know what this means? I mean, it seems evident, but I’ve never seen it put like that.) Of course, fewer people are choosing to tie the knot, as well.


And this isn’t meant to be an anti-divorce screed. Dan and I made a series of purposeful decisions and commitments. We’ve had fights and been through some shit. We haven’t considered divorce in any serious way because we know regardless of the shit going on around us or between us, we are better off with each other than without each other.

That is not the case for everyone. I understand that.

It’s taken a long time and hard work to get here. We’ve had bad habits to overcome. We still have to consciously not take each other for granted, and we still have to communicate with one another. I don’t imagine that will end.

I really don’t have any idea how to cap this off. I’m not trying to tout marriage as the be-all, end-all of human existence. Everyone has their own lives to live and choices to make.

I guess I’m just feeling good about my own marriage, and our own choices. And I wanted to tell you about it.

My honey and me
My honey and me

Toys Will Be Toys

I came across this piece at Slate — and I end up feeling a little bad for that little girl.

Her dad, the author of the article, is WAY over thinking her toy interaction and play.

My approach to play has always been… like, way less fraught with this. Did I want to have girls who were obsessed with princesses, or dresses, or pink? No, not necessarily. But I also did not completely shield them from any of these things. Furthermore, as much as I feel STEM fields are where the future jobs lie (STEM and healthcare), I am not inculcating my girls to love math.

Because that would not end well.

Tell a child what to do. Let me know how that goes.

This was my favorite sentence: “I think the onus, unfortunately, remains on individual parents to make sure their boys and girls question every instance of groupthink, whether it’s which toys girls should have or whether Frozen is actually all that female-empowering.”

His daughter is 4. She doesn’t care if Frozen is empowering, she just wants to pretend to freeze stuff and sing “Let It Go”.

Additionally, by attempting to steer a girl away from princesses and dress up, these parents are simply reinforcing that idea that girlie things are worthless! “No, you can’t be a princess because you’re smarter than that.” “No, stay away from pink; it means you’re a weak girl.”

Guys, you’re doing it wrong.


On a recent Family Movie Night, we all watched Mr. Peabody and Sherman. I didn’t like it. And, part of the reason I didn’t like it was that the two main female characters were mean girls — mean, bossy, bully girls (okay, one girl and one woman).

You know what I did? I said that out loud. “I don’t like that these female characters are bullies and mean girls. I just want you to know portraying girls and women like that in a children’s movie offends me. I don’t like the message.” (I also didn’t like Mr. Peabody. He was a smug, pretentious know-it-all. But, ya know, he was a dog. So.)

Girls can like pink and math. Smart girls can also be pretty girls (and vice versa). Girls can play with Legos, and Barbies, and LPS, and do science experiments at the kitchen table.

Having an attitude like the author’s sets our girls up for a false dichotomy. Limiting their choices to STEM-only is just as limiting as saying, “You’re a girl so you can’t play with cars.”

And instead of fretting, talk to your children. I do it all the time. Teach them to think critically about the shows they watch and the toys they play with and the school work they like (or don’t like).

Flora HATES math homework. She loves science and social studies, and reading books. So I focus on math with her because that’s what she needs to work on. But she’s not bad at math because she’s a girl. She doesn’t want to practice; practicing math takes focus, which Flora is famously lacking.


I asked my girls what they wanted to be when they grew up on the ride to work this morning. Flora wants to be an ornithologist. Kate went into goofy mode; she wants to be a turtle. She also did a word problem about selling turtles.

Children can do anything. It’s up to us as parents to show them the options, and then stand back and let them be themselves. Instead of worrying about them playing with dolls.

What do your children want to be when they grow up?

Kate and Flora, future ornithologist and pet store owner
Flora and Kate, future ornithologist and pet store owner