Year in Review, 2016: The Music Edition

Let’s face it, of all the popular culture out there, what I mostly take in is music.

I wanted to read more books this year, but I got seriously bogged down in non-fiction. I am still reading The Warmth of Other Suns, which I think I started a month ago.

Pathetic.

As far as movies, I’ve seen two Star Wars movies in the theaters, and a couple of animated films. So, I’m not exactly a good critic of what’s been outstanding in that field.

Music, on the other hand, has had an incredible year, both in terms of good music and of bad losses. Here’s what I listened to the most.

My top female artists (or female-led bands) this year:
1. Beyonce. I finally get it. I get chills every single time I watch “Formation.”
2. Lucius. I discovered this wildly, tunefully shrill (in a good way) band this year. So happy.
3. Florence + The Machine. Been on heavy rotation in my collection since about 2014, so no surprise here.
4. Brandi Carlile
5. Basia Bulet

My top male-led bands this year
1. twenty one pilots. I don’t think I kept my fascination with this millennial band a secret.
2. Fitz and the Tantrums. “Handclap” may have been the song I played the very most this year.
3. Afghan Whigs/Twilight singers. Greg Dulli didn’t even put out an album this year, and he’s still at the top of my playlist. Seeing his on tour in March was a highlight of the year.
4. Radiohead. Did it again, hauntingly catchy tracks on a new album.
5. Leon Bridges. Hoping 2017 brings a new album from this R&B crooner, who channels Sam Cooke.

My favorite tracks by the artists I will miss the most
I won’t call 2016 “the worst year ever”, but when the artists that formed the soundtrack of your younger years start dying, some of them suddenly, it adds up. Both David Bowie and Leonard Cohen put out amazing albums this year, but I picked different tracks that were formative to me.

1. Prince. I tried really hard to pick one song that meant a lot to me. And I just couldn’t do it. From the dance tracks to the funk anthems to the unabashedly sexy tunes, Prince made an impact in too many areas. “Kiss” ranks high, as does “Pop Life.” I always loved “Cream” and “Little Red Corvette.” The entirety of Purple Rain was ground breaking to me. And he penned so many other songs that made an impact on me, notably, “Manic Monday” by the Bangles and “Nothing Compares 2 U” as done by Sinead O’Connor.

2. Bowie. Bowie was nearly as hard to pick as Prince. Ultimately, “Rebel Rebel” and “Under Pressure” are two I will never switch away from.

3. Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows.” I imprinted on this song, that voice, the very first time I heard it. Man was a poet and a lover.

4. Maurice White, “September.” We had more kitchen dance parties to this song, and Earth, Wind, and Fire in general, than any other song and group ever.

5. George Michael. “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” I can still remember dancing to this song at some of my middle school dances.

Copyright for featured image: tzido / 123RF Stock Photo

Who were your top artists this year? And who are you going to miss the most?

Year in Review: 2015

Aside from two things, 2015 has been a great year for us. So, let’s start with the bad news, and move on.

I do not yet have a new job. And while it’s a little frustrating, it’s not horrible. After all I’m still gainfully employed; and opportunities keep presenting themselves. The right thing will happen at the right time.

The truly bad news is that Dan’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer. He had been sick for quite some time, and he finally started getting tests done around Thanksgiving. The official diagnosis was made about a month ago, and things are moving quickly. He’s getting appropriate and very aggressive treatment now, but we don’t know what kind of time he will get. Please keep him and Dan (and the rest of us) in your prayers.

I just spent about an hour going through my blog, and it has been a good year for us as a family, and for me as a writer.

Top Five Events from 2015

1. I was in Listen to Your Mother, the inaugural Pittsburgh edition, and not only was it one of the top events of 2015, it was one of the coolest things I have done in my life. I highly recommend it.

The ladies of LTYM.
Cast of LYTM 2015 Pittsburgh. Image by Ashley Mikula Photography

2. We went to Chicago, and Chicago was a lot of fun.

Cloud Gate
Cloud Gate, aka The Bean, and aside from Legoland, M’s favorite.
Angel of Chicago
Our guide and friend with a sassy M.

3. I wrote a lot in 2015, and not just on the blog. I did Project: Food Budget again; I participated in #30DaysofJournaling; I wrote two stories (with more to come in 2016) for kidsburgh.org; and I completed the challenge of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which is 50,000 words in 30 days. I still have to finish the book, and I am getting there, but, yeah. I used lots of words this year, and that feels good.

4. I got a new niece, and we went to see her for Thanksgiving! (The rest of my family was there too.)

5. The Christmas Eve baton was passed, and I nailed the Seven Fish meal.

I had my struggles, too, but the great thing about having a blog is that I got to work them out.

1. I walked out of church one day. It turned out okay; I went back.

2. We put the girls in public school. It was the right decision, but it resulted in some adjustments.

Kate's first day of school, 2015.
Think positive! Kate on the first full day of third grade.

3. We dog-sat for a week, and learned that one of our children is ready for a dog; one is not; and the other is indifferent.

4. Flora asked if it was hard to be a mom. I said no, but the truth is, it’s complicated.

5. A message for the ladies: Stop saying sorry!

My Five Favorite Posts from 2015

I am sincerely hoping that 2016 turns out to be as much fun, as productive, and as positive as 2015. I’m sure it won’t be without its bumps, but as always, I’m confident the good can outweigh the bad.

Happy New Year, from the RPM family to yours!

Family portrait
I mean, c’mon. Not only do we have a good time together, we’re a pretty good-looking family!

What was the highlight of your year?

Year in Review: Top Ten Albums of 2015

I will say, it was another fantastic year for music. Unlike last year, though, I don’t have a stand-out artist.

Here are the albums I listened to the most this year, ranked alphabetically. Links go to the albums on Spotify, which if you don’t have it yet, why not?

The Arcs, Yours, Dreamily
I might pretty much love anything Dan Auerbach does. Maybe. I don’t know why. He just goes digging around in his box of musical tools, and throws it out there.

Chvrches, Every Open Eye
This Scottish electro-pop band makes the list on the strength of Lauren Mayberry’s voice: sweet singing, bitter words.

Florence + The Machine, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
I’m a big fan of Florence Welch’s big voice on this album, especially on “Ship to Wreck” and “What Kind of Man.” She infuses her offering this go-round with more emotion than ever before.

Foals, What Went Down
These guys were new to me, and I primarily gave them a listen because a music journalist I admire (Ed Masley, formerly of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and now of AZCentral, Arizona) compared frontman Yannis Philippakis to Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs. Which, while I’m not feeling that 100 percent, I did find “Mountain at My Gates” compelling enough to put on the Spotify playlist I call “Can’t Stop Listening 2015”. The Foals are dark and brooding, your emo teenage boyfriend all grown up. And hot. Very, very hot.

Mark Ronson, Uptown Special
It’s true I gave this album a spin (if you will) on the inescapable hook of “Uptown Funk,” but after hearing a few interviews with Mr. Ronson, I was sold. It is, without question, a night in Vegas, from the mellow contentment of a cigar-smoking fat cat, to the fast-paced action of the casino floor, to a down-on-his-luck guy trying to get off the Strip. Along with Bruno Mars, Stevie Wonder and Andrew Wyatt fill out the talent here, and Ronson introduces Kevin Parker and Keyone Starr to the world.

The Weeknd, Beauty Behind the Madness
Pop Radio done lost its mind putting this guy front and center in 2015. Aside from the undeniable earworm, “Can’t Feel My Face” — which is all about drugs — this is the dirtiest, raunchiest pop album EVER. It doesn’t *sound* raunchy; it sounds like mellow R & B. The Weeknd has a nice voice, reminiscent of Michael Jackson. But, I mean, if you haven’t listened to the entire explicit album, just put on the non-radio edit of “Often” or “The Hills”. This crazy, horny, drug-addled dude makes Taylor Swift look like the choir girl she probably is.

Worriers, Imaginary Life
At turns rollicking and vulnerable, The Worriers are powering through the daily grind on Imaginary Life.

File Under: Call it a Comeback
A number of artists came out with albums this year after a long hiatus. Here are my top three of those:

New Order, Music Complete
I just love how, after all their disappearances and reformations, New Order hit 2015 with an unchanged sound and are cocky enough to call their release Music Complete. If you have questions, direct them to Bernard Sumner.

Veruca Salt, Ghost Notes
This album from Veruca Salt is the best they have done since American Thighs. Vital and longing, this is what it sounds like when girl-lead punk rock grows up.

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities to Love
Carrie Brownstein, Corin Tucker, and Janet Weiss released their first album in ten years. It is a rocker, and my top pick of 2015. I understand that they are an acquired taste — Tucker’s voice and the absence of a bass make them an odd-sounding trio — but they have their fingers on the pulse of feminist, anti-consumerist commentary. Sleater-Kinney pick up where they left off, and as a punk chick from the 1990s, I am so, SO glad.

My favorite singles:

  • Beck, “Dreams”
  • Santigold, “Radio”
  • Missy Elliot, “WTF (Where They From)” (Another comeback track, and my nominee for Video of the Year)
  • Courtney Barrnett, “Pedestrian at Best”
  • J. D. McPherson, “Head Over Heels”

What music rose to the top for you in 2015?

Year in Review: 2014 Uber List

How did I do?

Here’s my list from last year:

1. Ask for a raise. This is kind of a cheat. I already have a meeting scheduled, and my reasons worked out. Now I have to sit in my bosses office and say, “It’s time for me to get a raise.”

I’m pretty terrified.

2. Update and promote my blog.

3. Redo the front closet and paint the hallway going up the stairs.

4. Write and publish something not blog or work related.

5. Find a new brand of pants that fits. And buy all the colors.

++

1. I got a raise. It has gone poof this year, but that is a story for another time. (Think health insurance premiums.)
2. Um… I did make a few tweaks. And I’m more active on Facebook. But I need to do better.
3. Front closet: yes. Hallway: no.

Front closet redo
Front closet redo
Up-the-stairs hallway.
Up-the-stairs hallway.

4. I did branch out a little bit. I guest posted here and here a few times. I wrote copy for this guy.
5. This one hasn’t worked out so far. But, I don’t shop that much either.

++

I have my word of the year, and lots of thoughts about it.

My uber-list for 2015 is shaping up, and it will be short and sweet like 2014’s list.

Onward!

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: 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

mr-mercedes

2013 Year in Review

I did a pretty awful job on my uber-list from this year. I’m trying not to let it get me down.

I probably did manage to read 40 to 50 books, but I didn’t track them on Goodreads. I did track some — according to Goodreads, I read about 22 books this year — and I did a decent job of mixing non-fiction in with the fiction.

I also did manage to start exercising again. I’m very pleased about that, and I plan to keep it up in the New Year.

Some things I did that weren’t on my uber-list:

Flora received her first Holy Communion. That was pretty awesome.
The girls and I spent a weekend in Bedford, PA, to celebrate my friend’s birthday.
Dan and I went to Churchill Downs to see the Kentucky Oaks. I got to wear a big hat! While in Kentucky, we also toured the Maker’s Mark distillery.
We saw a giant ducky.
We went to North Carolina for Thanksgiving.

Those are pretty much the high points of 2013. I didn’t paint anything; I didn’t get the office organized; we didn’t go to the Science Center or the Children’s Museum — although we’ve been to the National Aviary twice, and are now members. I want to go again on New Year’s Day. We’ll have to see if I can make that happen.

In the arena of food: I bought locally sourced beef and chicken, cooked it, and even ate it. I tried a number of new recipes, but nothing so noteworthy I wanted to blog about it.

I did fairly well blogging. I usually managed to get two posts up a week, and I did post every day for NaBloPoMo.

For 2014, I am going to cut my list in half, and be very specific about what I want to achieve. Tune in on my birthday (the last of January) to see what makes my uber-list.

In the meantime, have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve. May 2014 hold more surprises (the good kind) and blessings for us all.

Year in Review: 2011

I have been wracking my brain for some amazing highlights to mention in a year-end post.

And I got nothing.

It’s just kinda been a year, you know?

In January, I turned 40.

In February, Dan and I closed on the property where he has his psychology practice, which is a pretty big deal I guess. I’m incredibly proud of my husband — his career development has been a big highlight of our year. It’s just not *mine* per se. (I didn’t even blog about it!)

I went back to work in February, full time, and I’m still bitching about it. People say, “I don’t know how you do it.” (Some people say, “Suck it up, buttercup!”)

Trust me, I’m not.

Flora started a new school in September.

I did the PodCamp thing! Maybe a little too much.

My sister got married in October, and Flora was the flower girl. I was the Best Woman, and I gave a nice toast.

I started a new blogging — sorry, online writing project.

In general, the kids have been all right (I think).

Michael hit his milestones. Then, a little more than a week ago, he had ear tube surgery. So far, so good.

In lieu of an end-of-the-year post, here’s an idea (that I am stealing): a guiding word for the new year.

My word for 2012 is going to be “change”. I have to figure out what needs to change in my life, how to change it, and then go. I don’t need big upheavals, but I need better balance. I need more things for me to sustain me. My children need me to make some changes to benefit them.

If you had a rough 2011 (and gauging by my Twitter stream, some of you sure did), I hope that 2012 is better. Even if you had a good 2011, I hope 2012 is better. And if, like me, you just kind of had a year, well, maybe a little change up will do you some good, too.

What’s your 2012 word?

Artist of the Year: Lady Gaga

I don’t know when I first heard her name, but it wasn’t until I read this article in Slate that I thought to myself, “Hm. Wonder if I should look into that.”

I’m am no pop music aficionado. The last time I listened to Top 40 radio, cassette tapes were the cutting-edge technology, okay? In high school I discovered college radio, punk rock, the B-52s and Depeche Mode. The Pixies are easily my favorite band ever, ranked right up there with Nirvana, Radiohead, Tori Amos, and Green Day. Before her, the music that was turning me on in 2009 included The Decemberists, The Arcade Fire, and M.I.A.

Then — and this is the weirdest story ever — I went to my niece’s first dance recital, and a group of 6-year-olds (I know, I don’t know who picked the music, either) did a routine to this funky song that wormed its way into my brain. And I said to myself, that’s her, and I have to find out more.

An obsession was born.

I YouTube’d her — a lot. I read about her in Rolling Stone and on Wikipedia. I was intrigued by her image, and completely hooked by her hooks. After listening to “Poker Face” and “Love Game” about a thousand times, I got the album from the library and burned it to my iTunes.

And it made me wish I were a 22-year-old club-hopping hottie in New York City. (I can’t even chair dance without looking like I’m seizing.) I was still enjoying The Fame on a nearly daily basis (and my kids were too — sometimes the girls spontaneously break into “Paparazzi” and there is nothing funnier than two little girls singing “pa-pa, pa-pa, paparazzi”… unless it’s watching an almost 3yo shake her bootie to “Poker Face”) when I heard “Bad Romance”.

I checked You Tube to see if there was a video for the single. When I first viewed it, my thought was: “It’s Madonna meets the Borg. Also? Cher.” And I watched it five times in a row. I couldn’t get enough of “I want your love/ and I want your revenge/ I want your love/ I don’t want to be friends”. (And if someone can translate that French bit for me, I will happily kiss you — on the cheek. Hey, I’m married.)

(I want to know how much that mosiac dress weighs, too.)

I downloaded The Fame Monster, and I get chills listening to “Speechless”, “Teeth”, and “Dancing in the Dark.” “Teeth” is by far the freakiest thing I have heard in years — I mean, “take a bite of my bad-girl meat”, and I don’t want to giggle when Gaga sings it. It scares me.

And the power ballad “Speechless”. “Could we fix you if you broke?” Girl wails it. Chills. Pop music doesn’t give me chills.

The Fame was uber pop fun, with some sexual twists; The Fame Monster is many shades darker. Although “Telephone” is an upbeat dance number, and “Alejandro” is a bit of an ABBA shout-out (a spoof all in good fun), here is the other side of Gaga — the flip side of “Boys Boys Boys” is “Monster.”

It’s not just the music, of course, it’s the spectacle. Lady Gaga wears bizarre costumes; she played piano while wearing a gyroscope on SNL; she set fire to a piano on the American Music Awards. “Bad Romance” puts her squarely in the beautiful freak camp: those wonderfully weird costumes, dance moves, video enhancements (super round eyes, alien spines).

And yet, when she talks to Ellen or Barbara Walters (who should have stopped about two facelifts ago), Lady Gaga seems so sweet and down to earth. She took her sunglasses off when she talked to Babs. She shook hands with the Queen of England! (Also, did not set anything on fire or touch herself while performing for Her Majesty.)

Lady Gaga, I’m yours. I don’t have any idea what you’re going to do next, and that’s probably why. I’m going to have to explain a lot of stuff to my girls (for example, if a relationship they are in ever reminds them of “Bad Romance” get the eff out! And the difference between love and sex — which I have to do anyway), but that’s okay. If they want to shake their booties to “Just Dance” when they are young and free, I am going to totally get behind that. Because, Gaga, you make me want to shake my bootie, too. And I’m not generally what you would call a bootie shaker.

Cranky aside: Why in the hell did iTunes censor The Fame Monster? If I had known that Lady Gaga was going to be declaring herself a “free bit” I would have looked elsewhere for the uncensored version of the album. Actually, I probably will. In the meantime, I won’t have to tell my kids why a lovely young lady like Gaga is referring to herself as a female dog.

Here’s another article from Slate, A Defense of Lady Gaga, that probably articulates what I am trying to say much, much better than I am doing here.