20 best albums of 2014 so far


All the music mags have been releasing lists of the best albums so far. And some of my favorite albums have been getting snubbed. Plus, everyone like the Beck album more than it deserves. (Sorry, Beck.)

Since getting Spotify, I've been listening to lots more new music And so I'm going to inflict upon you my own opinion of 2014's best 20 albums so far. My criteria are that the album is on Spotify (sorry Natalie, Hannah-Lou, Trevor), that it is an album (sorry Nerina, Broods), that Spotify lists the album's release as 2014 (which cuts off some great albums on other lists because Spotify says they're 2013), that I've heard the album more than once (which means albums I just discovered looking at these other lists---did you know Norah Jones has a new band with a new album?---aren't eligible), and that I think the album is good. Some of these I think are terrific. But by forcing myself to choose twenty, I'll get to include some that are good but I haven't yet decided whether or not they are terrific. For your information, this is this my current 2014 list. But albums come on and off this list all the time. You may be looking at a different list than what it was when you first read this article last week. It's a living document.

Terrific ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Nicole Atkins

Slow Phaser
Every song on here is perfect and catchy and says something. I can't pick a favorite. Her album is so good, I refuse to listen to "Sin Song" because I know I will lose my soul. Seriously. This album is effin ineffable.


Rosanne Cash

The River & The Thread
I should grant this list is biased towards albums I added earlier in the year. Easier to get to know an album when it's not on a list 29 hours and 48 minutes long. But regardless, Rosanne Cash's new album deserved all those extra listens. I really admire this album. She's the best at what she does.


Sarah Dooley

Stupid Things
Fun and charm and cleverness and more more more love love love. But I've already written about this album.


Jonatha Brooke

My Mother Has 4 Noses
She sounds a bit like Emmylou and writes songs to match.


Marissa Nadler

Compelling without yelling.

Certainly very good, might be great, highly recommended ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Katie Herzig

Walk through Walls
Herzig's found a new way to use her unique voice and the songs on this album compel with both serious-face and a clean beauty.


Bombay Bicycle Club

So Long, See You Tomorrow
I don't like this album as much as I did earlier in the year, but it's young, international vibe is still charming.


Hurray for the Riff Raff

Small Town Heroes
Gritty girl-and-guitar country-rock.


Margot & The Nuclear So and So's

Slingshot to Heaven
Twee when you want it.


The Secret Sisters

Put Your Needle Down
Their clean harmonies sharpened over lyrics worth listening to.

Screw eleven!


The Colourist

The Colourist
This is the best pop album I've heard in a long time. And yeah, it seems too perfect not to be manufactured, I can't help loving it. If Death Cab for Cutie was happy---it Brandon Flowers shared vocals with a woman. It's basically all that's fun about rock and roll from the last ten years wedded to the sort of vocals I'm naturally drawn to. It's not fair. I surrender. I love you.



Maybe if I called it the Yeah Yeah Yeahs only they crush you instead of stab you, then would you understand?

Like a lot but haven't decided how much you should take my word for it ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Tori Amos

Unrepentent Geraldines
It's a solid Tori album. Couple songs that will become fan favorites. Not the best first-Tori-album for the neophyte probably, but you wouldn't regret it.


Lana Del Rey

Essentially, my initial impressions have solidified.


First Aid Kit

Stay Gold
It's Swedish chick singing folk. Please, sir. May I have some more?


Jenny Lewis

The Voyager
It's Jenny Lewis. Haven't decided what else needs to be said about it yet.


Various Artists

I Saved Latin! A Tribute to Wes Anderson
Some of the songs on here are among the best of the year. None embarrass.


Angel Olsen

Burn Your Fire for No Witness
Like a lot of the other folkie countrified girls on this list, only lower and darker.

Clearly good but either I haven't listened to them enough to determine quality or I'm just really conflicted ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++


Sharon Van Etten

Are We There
I loved her previous album. Haven't given this one enough attention yet, but so far this one seems equally deserving of love.



Sun Structure
Sort of late Beatles, sort of Moody Blues, sort of new age, sort of awesome, sort of WTF. I've almost cut it from the list many times, only to have a song shuffle in and make me think I love this album. So that.


Lykke Li

I Never Learn
Haven't heard all the songs yet, but a couple of them are simply extraordinary. Start with "Gunshot."


Neon Trees

Pop Psychology
I'm not sure this is saying, musically, much they didn't say last time. But they say it so well.


Aliens, monsters, tigers, convicts


076) Nonsense Novels by Stephen Leacock, finished August 20

I've used the parody of courtly-love romance to teach courtly love. I've used the utopian parody to talk about the history of utopian literature. I'm considering how best to employ the Xmas-story parody. And don't forget the parody of Horatio Alger! Or od detective tales!

I can't remember anymore how I came to download this, but I'm glad I did. Some of the stories don't keep their quality or consistency throughout (and some moments have not aged well), but all of them have genuine lol moments. Emphasis on the latter L. "What are you reading, Theric?" people ask. Stephen Leacock, I answer when I stop laughing.

(Since I began reading, one of the stories has been included with the new Lemony Snicket reprints, and a confused person wrote the introduction to a recent reprint of this volume?)
many months maybe over a year or maybe even two years


075) Yukon Ho! by Bill Watterson, finished August 16

This is the only one of the square Calvin & Hobbes books we didn't own when I was a kid; we got this copy for Little Lord Steed's birthday last week. I've read them all before, but doesn't matter. Best strip of its decade. One of the best of all time. The only strip I would definitely place above it is Peanuts. Lofty company, that.

For the record, I read Calvin & Hobbes all the time, but rarely do I sit down and read a full book cover to cover. It's pages here and there of whatever's been left out by my kids. Good taste, them.
two days


074) Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell, finished August 16

I got talked into reading this again. Same complaints as last time, but I think I actually liked it more.


073) Dangerous by Shannon Hale, finished August 11

I've heard mostly terrible thing about her adult novels and mostly ecstatic things about her YA novels. Since I"m trying to get a jump on the Whitney's and she seems like a sure bet, I picked up her new novel.

I found the first ninety pages utterly tedious. Were it not for the Whitneys, I would have quit around page forty. I kept going because in the 90s I found something to write about (see AMV), but I never did fall in love with the novel. Which makes me sad. I really thought I was going to like it. Maybe I'll still pick up Goose Girl or Princess Academy one of these days, but I'm not feeling the drive I once did.

Anyway. Click on the AMV link.

Here are some things that didn't fit in that review.

So many YA books feature multiple characters who quote great poetry. I HAVE NEVER SEEN THIS IN REAL LIFE. GIVE IT UP, YA AUTHORS! Not that I don't frequently enjoy it, mind, but please. It's absurd. In this case, it's three of five. That's not realistic.

She does this weird thing where she's skip the expository dialogue only to have characters who BOTH heard the expository dialogue sum it up for each other. This makes no sense.

The suicide in the novel was a bit frustrating for me even though I think the ultimate reasoning all made sense, I was awash with skepticism through the whole thing. A shame, really, because it could have been the novel's great shock.

The book had some nice lines: "Are you only capable of talking to me as if an audience were listening?" (40) Shark! . . . Then I remembered who I was. And I ate it. (177)

Why aren't the aliens interested in, say, dogs? Or salamanders?

At times, the comedic aspects of the aliens reminded me of Smekday.
two or three weeks

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Fiction from Dialogue 47.1 (Spring 2014)


"Acute Distress, Intensive Care" by Karen Rosenbaum
This slice-of-life is perhaps more painful in its matter-of-fact sadness while observing loss of faith than in its observation of death and interfamily failure. Which is interesting because the narration certainly does not judge or condemn those who have lost their faith. And it's doesn't make the faithful seem more happy or full or honest, with the possible exception of an autistic teenager who encounters the sublime while saying the sacrament prayer for his congregation.

Whether faithful or faithless---whether seeing answers where they might not be or failing to see answers where they might be---each of us has some untouchable core of isolation and sadness and decay as entropy slowly claims us all.

Which sounds like a downer, but Karen's work always maintains a certain beauty and purity no matter how uncheerful it's subject or execution.

"Two-Dog Dose" by Steven L. Peck
A technique I'm losing patience with in general is the in-media-res-then-let's-go-back-and-surprise-the-beginning-was-actually-near-the-end. I can't deny that Peck uses it to terrific effect here, but I think that's largely due to how dang corporeal and shocking it is rather than any need for the story to have had that shape. Not, anyway, if it had had a different title.

(Incidentally, what is it with Peck and killing canines?)

Anyway, story is a powerful one about the decline of age and the decision to choose one's own moment of death and friendship and love and trust and faith. As in Rosenbaum's story, the p-o-v has lost his faith while remaining close to those who remain close to faith. And both story's share redemptive elements for the faithless character, without returning them to the community of faith.

Anyway, it's a moving tale and an significant addition to those keeping a lists of Mormon stories about male friendship.


Heading back to the old alma mater


I need 13.4 upperclass or postgrad credits to get to the highest paygrade with my district. The pay difference will pay for itself in about half a school year (based on BYU Independent Study costs) so it would be foolish not to plow through. Here are the classes I'm considering, ranked in two categories (an * notes classes I have [or may have] taken before and thus might not be eligible to take---excepting, of course, R[etakable] classes):

My Personal Edification / My Students' Edification

Persuasive Writing*
ENGL 312

Writing about Literature*
ENGL 314

Writing Poetry

Writing for Children and Adolescents*

The Bible As Literature*
ENGL 350

American Literature 1865–1914*
ENGL 362

American Literature 1914 - 1960
ENGL 363

Studies in Poetry
ENGL 366

British Literature 1789 - 1832: The Romantic Period*
ENGL 374

British Literature 1603-1660: The Late Renaissance*
ENGL 385

Modern American Usage*

The Grammar of English*

Writings of Isaiah
REL A 304

The Pearl of Great Price*
REL A 327

I have decided, selfishly I suppose, to take the poetry-writing class first, and use that as a gauge for future decision-making. Thoughts and advice welcome.


Where is 2014's Alfred Hitchcock?


I'm not talking about Hitchcock the film auteur or television fantabulist. I'm talking about Hitchcock the literacy promoter.

Before I ever saw my first Hitchcock film (which, incidentally blew me away---scared the crap out of me in broad daylight), before I had any idea who Hitchcock was, I was reading books with his brand. I've since read several and have just begun another. In general (maybe always), Hitch's involvement in these book projects was minimal to the point of nonexistent. But hey---his name and face and imprimatur sold books and got people to read.

So here's my question: What celebrity could recreate this in 2014?

Honestly, I don't know. Steven King comes to mind, but choosing an author seems a bit cheaty. Who from another field could sell books? I don't think Spielberg could do it. Wes Anderson maybe but not to mass audiences. I wonder of Abrams or Whedon . . . Nah.

Obama, after he leaves office, could sell some copies of interesting collections no one would read.

Really. I can't think of anyone who, by virtue of saying This Is Good could sell a jillion cheap volumes.

Can you?


So many pictures in so many panels


072) Tale of Sand by Ramón K. Pérez from the screenplay by Jim Henson and Jerry Juhl, finished August 9

Pérez was given the challenge of adapting a screenplay that has the same sort of visual chaos seen in Henson's Oscar-nominated (and really truly terrific and really truly strange) Time Piece. One method he employs is bringing in parts of the screenplay's actual printed and scribbled-upon pages. The story is wild and wonderful and nutty. It ends in a loop just after pulling the kind of prank I used in Armageddon Burning and Hell or that you see at the end of V for Vendetta.

It's fun and dreamlike and nonsensical---sort of an Alice for grownups---and I'm absolutely unsurprised it never got funded. But we now have the next best thing. We have the comic book.


071) The New Yorker Book of Literary Cartoons edited by Bob Mankoff, finished August 9

This 2000 volume has some real gems that made me laugh out loud, but the more trendy cartoons have not aged well. Even for a collection from 2000, some of the gags seem based on a literary world that barely existed then, if, indeed, it ever existed. But the gems, man. Worth it for the gems.
five days


070) Liō: Making Friends by Mark Tatulli, finished August 9

Liō is better is small doses. The repetitious nature of the gags gets obvious in collected form.
out for ice cream


069) Paying for It: a comic strip memoir about being a john by Chester Brown, finished August 9

This is the great thing about libraries: I never would have bought this book. Probably no one would have ever lent it to me. I've read some Chester Brown and been underwhelmed. I didn't really care for the subject matter. But it sits next to other books I'm checking out and it ends up coming home with me. (And, unexpectedly, ends up being the fourth book with prostitiution from that pile.) And I read it. And if I had an audience who cared more about my opinions on this particular topic, I could write a long time about this book.

The first thing to say is that other people who've said this book is not erotic are right. For a book entirely about sex and which features the depiction of lots and lots of sex acts, this comes as a bit surprising, perhaps, but it's true. I did not find Paying for It to be at all erotic. I'm not sure why. Maybe because it's manifesto as much as memoir? I don't know.

Anyway, the main point of Brown's book is to convince you that prostitution is better for humanity than marriage, which he calls evil probably four or five times. His tirades against romantic love provide my main issues which I'll get into in a moment (but not in great detail because, as I said, I don't think my audience cares what he thinks), but his arguments for prostitution are actually pretty compelling. Prostitution fits in the category of Things I Don't Like But Will Always Exist. That category breaks into three subcategories and currently prostitution is in the subcat with murder (things we try to stop and punish) instead of sharing space with alcohol (things we regulate in order to minimize the damage) or flipping people off (we support your right to be a knave). Brown is for no regulation of prostitution at all and I think he may have convinced me. Although he also thinks prostitutes shouldn't have to pay money on their earnings which is stupid. If someone makes their living that way, then income is income. Tax it like my freelance editing is taxed. But I'm not getting into that.

Brown's philosophy is grossly materialistic, by which I mean that he thinks the only things that matter are property and that all things that exist are property and the only meaningful definition of morality is respecting other people's property. That's important to know, but I'm not going to engage with that philosophy. Just know that's where he's at.

When it comes to longterm relationships, Brown believes that entropy is inevitable. That shared experiences don't lead to deeper love. That all relationships gradually lose their frequency of sex which leads to resentment which leads to fighting and bitterness and breakup. Needless to say, I find that cynical and immature. But I do suspect that our serve-me-first culture is moving in that direction sexually. In the appendix he describes a utopia in 2080 (assuming prostitution is decriminalized posthaste) where people have kids if they feel like it and no one's trapped in exclusive relationships and people charge for sex or give it away as they please. I imagine he's like my students who find Brave New World a utopia as well.

Brown's spent a lot of time honing his arguments and I would no doubt lose a public debate with him, but he's not logically or philosophically consistent. He has his conclusions already and fits the evidence to them. For instance, he finds an Asian culture that looks like his utopia and uses it as proof that he's right. But cultures that don't match his ideals (say, mine) don't have anything worth thinking about. He behaves similarly toward historical evidence. This wouldn't bother me so much if he wasn't so quick to call things he disagrees with "evil." I have one of these religious backgrounds he's so disapproving of, and I'm much less likely than he is to whip out the e-word. His property-based libertarianism seems a bit evangelical in that it provides him somewhere to stand as he preaches to and condemns the world around him.

Anyway, it was an interesting book. Certainly loosened up my own thinking on the subject, though I'm not about to encourage you to get (or become) a hooker. So don't ask for my approval. Brown would call me puritan no doubt, but we're not even starting from the same axioms, so whatever. We can be civil.
midnight and morning


068) Richard Stark's Parker: The Score by Darwyn Cooke, finished August 9

Cooke is a fascinating artist. This book is black and white and orange and he exploits the full potential of that simplicity. One example: an explosion. The next page hurt my eyes as the black disappeared and the splash was nearly all white with just enough orange to delineate the basics of what was happening. Astonishing bit of art.

I also like how this is essentially an Ocean's 11 story, but the inherent risk of violence is more real. That's crime, buddy. It feels more honest because it's less fun. It's a darker look at that great American antihero, the outlaw.
one night


067) Ghosts and Ruins by Ben Catmull, finished August 8

This Goreyesque collection of drawings and words about haunted spaces is a delight to peruse. And it reminds me of a project I never got around to executing a few years ago. Now it's resurrected that idea in my mind and set it off in a new direction. Thanks, Catmull!
one day


066) The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion by Will Eisner, finished August 7

I never thought about the Protocols before. I mean: I knew they were crap and had caused some problems. But I didn't realize how their falseness and their evil were so casually intertwined. If people can deny the Holocaust, of course they can believe in this nonsense.

This is a comedy of horrors.

Eisner did an adequate job of balancing his goals of teaching and stretching out the yarn. Ultimately, his simple characters can carry you through even the long sections of textual analysis (though I did do a bit of skimming). He was a master. I don'n know if this is his best work, but it certainly must be one of his most important.
two days


065) Unterzakhn by Leela Corman, finished August 6

I knew Unterzakhn when I saw it because of BAC2013. The excerpt there wasn't really enough to catch my attention, but when I saw it on the shelf at the Berkeley library, I grabbed it as part of my large stack comics I was taking. (It also ended up being the third of the first three we read which featured prostitution. I certainly have a type.)

The story of two sisters (twins as it ends up, though this is not clear until the final pages) in early 20th-century New York City---the children of Jewish immigrants (the story of their father is told in an extended flashback that should have been cut) who take different paths through the backwaters of sexual mores and the hypocrisy of others.

This book, like Grandville below, does a good job of casually complicating characters. I'm reading another book that fails even when using seemingly identical techniques. I need to think more about this.

The ending is suitably tragic and understated.
two days


064) Grandville Bête Noire by Bryan Talbot, finished August 5

I knew I recognized the author's name, but couldn't place it until the story ended and his bio identified him as author of the punchlineless joke, Alice in Sunderland. This story too, "A DETECTIVE-INSPECTOR LEBROCK OF SCOTLAND YARD SCIENTIFIC-ROMANCE THRILLER, plays fast and loose with history, but its anthropomorphic animals remind constantly that this is a work of fiction. Even if that chimp is clearly Toulouse-Lautrec. But fiction or not, the story is clearly against robber-baron capitalism. But it's just as clearly against abstract-impressionism as a tool of the rich to control the rest of us. And I don't know whether I'm meant to take that argument as seriously. It seems like it. But am I really?

Anyway, what I like most about this book is its casual character development. I didn't know until I sat to write this review that this is the third in a series, but it didn't even matter. The variations in the protagonists' backgrounds and bearings and attitudes and reactions simply felt developed and real. Not explaining properly is a task many writers never master. This book teaches how it's done.

On top of all that are the little gags (a Q-like scientist saying "This is not a pipe"---a drunk Paddington staggering down a Paris street) that add pleasure to the reading. To say nothing of Roderick's terrific slang.

(Roderick is Watson to LeBrock's Holmes---except their relationship is much more evenly balanced.)

two days

Previously in 2014 . . . . :


Hemingway and Dave Barry do not write about travel in the same ways.


063) Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, finished August 4

I can see why people like this. On the surface, it pretty much appears the same as any fantasy/scifi hybrid. But somehow it tastes entirely different. I wasn't excited or impressed enough to run down What Happens Next, but it was good.
at library and a couple parking lots


062) Bubbles & Gondola by Renaud Dillies, finished August 4

Cute and symbolic, but not very deep. In fact, it's that pseudo-arteest bull#### about the tortured soul needing to chill out so he can make great art. If that's something you need, you might actually be better off reading Dave Barry's really terrible advice to aspiring authors listed below.
at library


061) You Can Date Boys When You're Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About by Dave Barry, finished August 3

Dave Barry is to prose what Calvin & Hobbes is to comics: the most enjoying and inspiring things in the newspaper during my boyhood. This book was a blast of that pure Barry wonder. Moments of absolute hilarity and excellent execution of the tricks ever humor writer since is trying to emulate. One of America's great humor writers. Though the Israel section, though frequently brilliant, ultimately shied away from importance. So it goes.

But you can take his how-to-be-a-professional-writer advice straight to the broker.
three days


060) We Were Gods by Moriah Jovan, finished August 1 or 2 (it was midnightish)

I have a LOT of thoughts about this novel, but they're not really congealing into anything like coherency:

Etienne gets two monomythic journeys in the first hundred pages, before even meeting his Penelope---and their meeting is this novel's real story.
"Tess!" he croaked. "Don't you see? We have to be gods together. That's the goal of this life, right? To become gods in the eternities. We can't do that separately, but look---we were there As mortals. And our work will stand for generations, making us immortal before we die."
My reading of this novel ultimately was so personal it's difficult to write about without talking about my own marriage and perhaps making things public that, for sake of my marriage, should not be.

Architecture in Jovan's universe demands consideration of Randian ideals. But this time it adopts them and shatters them simultaneously.
He changed from a roll to a thrust, to fill and then empty her, to stroke her the way his engines stroked her buildings, to draw the wind and collect the sun, converting it into energy that would light her body up bright against the night and heat it up warm against the winter.
Sex used for important plot and character-building purposes. But weird third time just after realizing the first two not legitimate.

The good and bad from their own lives repeated in the lives of their children.

Allllll the Labyrinth quotes.

Variants in What's Important to Mormons differ so much from character to character, book to book, that she seems to capture something of the real variety in Mormonism that I'm becoming more aware of all the time.

"I know that," he answered crisply. "And that's okay because I did the right thing. The only approval I need is mine. And the Lord's." He paused. "Crap. Should've put him first."
Chapter with motherly flashbacks overdone. Falls into caricature and melodrama. Or maybe my complaint is that the explanation for Tess's issues do not quite match those I would expect were she based on my own wife and so I am dissatisfied from the turn away from my autobiography.

A very familial and warm and satisfying ending which may not have been possible without so many books, giving us close looks to so many characters. Valedictory. Almost don't want her to keep writing any more. We have a happy ending now! Look away! Look away!
under a month


059) The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, finished July 27

I can see why the Lost Generation is romantic and attractive to so many people. Read in large chunks, this book is romantic and attractive as well. But it's impossible to escape the ultimate hollowness of these people and their lives. Midnight in Paris is lovely, but night is enough. Wouldn't really want to live there.

Hemingway's prose is everything everyone says it is, but when I wasn't reading it in large enough chunks to get swept away in it, it read like self-parody at times.

For as much as Moriah's characters knock Hemingway, one thing he is unquestionably superior at is helping us see the bull as beautiful and magnificent and worthy of idolatry.

Ultimately, that Jake's genital injury---the thing preventing him from fully moving ahead with Brett---is ultimately the only thing that keeps her his, is a beautiful, romantic bit of horror and disappointment. And that's a feeling the never-quite-fully-adult will always need literature that speaks to.
two weeks

Previously in 2014 . . . . :