I was in a bit of a wilderness when I abruptly retired due to a disability (that’s my official designation according to the government) in the spring of 2012. By the end of 2014, I had experienced one major upheaval after another that I think we were temporarily out of them for a bit. In May, my brother got remarried in Yosemite National Park. You would think that was a joyous occasion, but it didn’t begin that way.
Back in March, I was having stomach issues periodically. Ever so often, I would vomit and feel like crap, then quickly recover. Then, my mother-in-law passed away after a long battle with dementia and after a major stroke. As a matter of fact, I had thrown up right before I gave her eulogy. The very next day, I had my hearing for social security disability payments, a full two years after retiring and being denied once. Not even two minutes into my testimony, the judge stopped me and asked me what I wanted from life now. I told that I wanted to be the best husband, father and son that I could be. He said okay and ruled in favor of me getting social security and being considered disabled.
The cool part about the trip out West was this ended up being the last time my side of the whole family would be together, outside of my strange step-father. It was on this trip that I truly noticed how bad my mom’s dementia was. The bummer was that I was sick for the whole trip. It was a whirlwind trip that had on arriving on a Thursday and leaving the following Sunday. Unfortunately, I was sick the whole time and did not get to enjoy the beauty of this natural phenomenon. About a week after getting home, I had to be rushed to the hospital where it was discovered that my potassium blood level was critically low. That’s what was causing my nausea, vomiting and my back spasms being so severe. I was so critical that I had to be sent via ambulance to the Indiana University medical center in downtown Indianapolis for my treatment. Plus, I always make for an interesting case for the third- and fourth-year medical students and residents in the hospital. I spent the next several days getting IV potassium, as well as drinking the most metallic solution of potassium that I had ever tasted. No one knows why my potassium dipped, other than it might be related to the pain pump, muscle relaxers and blood pressure medications all reacting to cause this. Now, I have to take this horse pill of potassium every day to keep that level in the safety zone. Lord knows that no one wants to deal with me having a heart attack due to low potassium. At least if I pass out, I will not have to face the possibility of reawakening to see a student giving me mouth-to-mouth (that was a HUGE fear of mine!).
It was during this time frame in which a couple who were friends with us began to encourage me to start writing. This couple, both of whom are published authors, had liked some posts I had made on their websites and thought I had the makings of a writer. After laughing at them for a couple of minutes without them joining in, I decided they were serious. Now, I always felt I could write a bit in high school and college, but I had never taken it seriously. As a matter of fact, I had discovered early on that there was system to getting an A on a writing assignment. First, pick an unusual topic, preferably one the teacher was not an expert in. Second, when writing, remember to use sentence transition words when moving from sentence to sentence, and do the same with paragraphs. In your opening paragraph, use a story that it interesting but unrelated to your paper, eventually narrowing down the subject until you have answered “Who, what, when, where, why and how” about your topic in that opening. Close the paper with an inversed reminder of your opening. And, always, and I stress, always properly use a semi-colon somewhere in the paper.
In other words, I never really took writing seriously, even though I did have an English professor attempt to talk me into a degree in creative writing, telling me I should combine science and writing together. In retrospect, maybe I should have taken her more seriously. But, as a still-teenaged boy, I wanted to blow something up in the lab, so writing about such escapades never really piqued my interest. I guess the joke’s on me since I now spend some of my time writing.
So, I started to look for a topic to write about, when my friends stated that I should write about music. It seemed simple enough. I still loved to listen to music. I still bought new stuff that interested me. And, once my younger son finally moved out of the house by 2015, I would be changing his room into my music room. So, the planets were aligning for this blog to become a hobby to help me forget that I was no longer teaching or coaching. Writing really does not help me forget my former calling, but it does help me keep some form of sanity while being a semi-permanent prisoner of the walls of my home.
With that crappy stuff now out in the open, let’s look at the great music released during these two years. There really was some exciting music released during 2013 and 2014.
Beyoncé – Beyoncé (2013). This album was dropped on an unsuspecting public in the lead up to Christmas 2013. This self-titled album was quickly praised as Beyoncé’s finest ever, as we heard Queen Bey comfortably inserting herself into all discussions as to who is the best musical artist of this era. Everywhere you turned, you heard a confident woman who loved her man (Jay-Z) and loved her career. Confidence is the word in this most personal musical statement of her career.
Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013). Speaking of unexpected album drops, Daft Punk did the same thing back in the spring of 2013. The only warning we got was an unannounced commercial playing their soon-to-be-ubiquitous song “Get Lucky,” that had both singer Pharrell AND Chic guitarist Nile Rodgers playing. This was the sound of our favorite French robotic DJs embracing the disco life of the Seventies. And, Random Access Memories ruled the club dance floors for a good year after its release.
Kanye West – Yeezus (2013). During the lead up to the release of Yeezus, everyone involved in this album’s creation was sworn to secrecy. Rumors were swirling as Kanye’s ego was in the process of exploding much like a star readying itself for its move into supernova status. We were witness to Kanye’s ego exploding in the same manner. And, no one was ready for West to go full industrial music on this album. From the artwork through the lack of artist-involved hype to the music itself, Kanye was being anti-establishment which was the manner in which his ego first moved. But, there is no denying just how innovative this album, not just to the hip hop world, but to the whole music world. I find it interesting that the vinyl cover of this album would actually be a photograph of a “naked” CD. Now, that’s a juxtaposition if there ever was one.
Paramore – Paramore (2013). This is the sound of a pretty good pop punk band maturing into a major artist. The band doesn’t just stick with its normal sound, as they begin to incorporate more than just the normal noises. This is Paramore’s landmark album as they do some genre-breaking on their own. Now, the band can be looked at as major players, not simply a fresh version of Blink-182. This is simply the sound of a band finally putting it all together.
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (2013). Welcome to yet another artist who was recorded while displaying growth. On this album, VW uses a more sparse production to get their Graceland-inspired tunes across, all the while downplaying the whole Graceland influences. This album is a great transition album as VW finds a manner in which the band continues to make strides as a unit while never relying upon clichés. These guys continue their winning streak.
D’Angelo & The Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014). Finally, one of today’s more enigmatic performers quietly dropped his first album in 14 years. This sound is loose and very much at odds with the sound of current R&B. Actually, the album has more in common with the work of bassist Thundercat, jazz saxophonist Kasami Washington and rapper Kendrick Lamar than anything currently being played on the radio. The loose nature of the playing, along with the socially conscious lyrics allows for comparisons to Sly & the Family Stone’s classic There’s a Riot Goin’ On. This album is the perfect album for the times. I love this one much more than D’Angelo’s first two. Personally, I feel D’Angelo proves that he has more artistically in common with Prince or Miles Davis than anyone else. My one request is that he doesn’t make us wait so long for his next joint.
Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels II (2014). Killer Mike and El-P’s collaborations have quickly become some of the most thrilling music being created today. As Run the Jewels, the duo have released one fine album after another. But it was their second album that caught the attention of the public. Hip hop has always had its finger on the pulse of the nation’s heart, and Run the Jewels have described a slow boil in the inner city that eventually erupted just this past summer. If you had been listening to this group and Kendrick Lamar, you would not have been surprised.
St. Vincent – St. Vincent (2014). If you are like me and find yourself pining periodically for Talking Heads reunite, stop that right now. St. Vincent, the artistic name of Annie Clark, is here to fill that void in the NYC art rock/alternative music sweepstakes. Annie grew as an artist when she actually collaborated with former Heads leader David Byrne in 2012. Now, she has released an album that is ready for mainstream success. Plus, her performance on SNL was nothing short of breathtaking.
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (2014). Whenever country music mainstream seems to be drifting away from its core, a movement of traditionalists come in to pull the genre back in place. Back in the Seventies it was Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings leading the way. Today, it’s Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson. These men embrace the traditional sounds of country while bringing in touches of the blues and southern rock into the mix. Simpson did just that on his stellar sophomore album that established himself as an heir to a modern day Outlaw Movement.
Taylor Swift – 1989 (2014). On Swift’s previous album, the outstanding Red, she confidently announced to the world that she was ready for pop music domination. Although it did not sound that way, Red was intended to be the transition album in which Taylor was metaphorizing into a pop star. In that context, 1989 (the year in which she was born) is the rebirth of Taylor as a major pop star, to be mentioned in the same breath as Lady Gaga, P!nk or Halsey. One listen to “Shake It Off” and you come away convinced that the change was every bit as successful as it was inevitable.
The Black Keys – Turn Blue (2014). The Black Keys return for the duo’s third straight classic album with this LP that is steeped in the psychedelic side of the garage sound. The band is still hitting on all cylinders with producer Danger Mouse still at the helm. Rock is alive and well in the hands of The Black Keys.
The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream (2014). If anyone is yearning for a band who sounds like a updated version of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty rolled up into one, look no further than The War on Drugs. These guys, although steeped in the indie rock world, sound like they are ready to make the classic rock format into a current sound. Although the three aforementioned artists were still creating terrific music in 2014, The War on Drugs were forging their sound in a new light for a fresh renovation of that classic music.
And, there, my friends, are the albums I love the most from 2013 and 2014. Only 37 more albums to tackle in this series. Until next time, peace!