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: 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

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?