It’s the end of 2022 and I’ve got nothing else to do, so I thought I’d share some of the works of culture that really made my year (even including things that weren’t made in 2022).
I did one of these before in 2019, but something happened (and continues to happen) and I missed the following two years, so a couple of these might be things I discovered in 2020 or 2021 but continued to really enjoy this year.
The Revolutions Podcast by Mike Duncan
The first episode or Revolutions came out in 2013 the series finale was just released on Christmas day of 2022. I started listening to it this year and managed to go through the entire catalogue. It’s a sprawling look at the revolutionary period that was kicked off by the English civil wars and ended with the Russian Revolution, including the revolutions in the US, Central/South America, Haiti, and Mexico, the several revolutions in France, and the revolutionary uprisings in 1848. I was initially skeptical of the idea of an American podcaster recounting revolutions, fearing it might end up being nothing but simplistic narratives, but I was pleasantly surprised by the nuance and detail that Duncan draws out of these histories. He covers the historical, political, and even ecological factors that shaped revolutions, and draws interesting connections and parallels between seemingly unrelated revolutions. If I had one critique it would be that, while Duncan certainly doesn’t endorse a Great Man theory of history, he does, in my opinion, give fairly short shrift to popular movements that lack a charismatic leader—anarchists in the Russian Revolution, Anti-Federalists in the US, The Diggers in the English civil wars, to name a few. This is certainly an unfair critique stemming from my own biases, and it in no way detracts from my enjoyment of the podcast.
Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit
“In the spring of 1936, a writer planted roses.” This is the opening line of Orwell’s Roses, and in some ways the puzzle that its author Rebecca Solnit is trying to solve—why would an apparently grim pessimist like Orwell bother with planting something as apparently frivolous as roses? The book is an exploration of both Orwell and roses and a refutation of their reputations as being grim and frivolous respectively. Solnit’s almost stream-of-consciousness style of writing belies the fact that she’s making an argument and backing it up with research and reason. The argument seems to be a perennial one on the left as to what place the non-material welfare of people should matter—should leftists be concerned with beautiful things like roses, or are such concerns ultimately bourgeois? Solnit is decidedly on the side of roses, and argues that Orwell was too.
The book somehow manages to be extremely readable but dense, poetic but journalistic . Definitely worth it.
I’ve been pretty much done with Star Wars for a few years now. I didn’t see The Rise of Skywalker and other than The Mandolorian—which I watched because I was out of things to watch in lockdown and would describe as “fine”—I’ve steered clear of the streaming shows. So when I heard they were making a series about the origin story of the second lead in Rogue One—A film I enjoyed—I thought “wow, they’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel here”, and boy was I wrong! Everything about the show feels fresh, its links to the Star Wars canon are so tenuous that it could almost not even be a Star Wars series, and it definitely has something to say. Even the choice of protagonist—Cassian Andor, the petty thief transformed into a revolutionary—is interesting precisely because, as Alan Sepinwall notes, Cassian might be the least compelling character in the show. But while Sepinwall sees this as a flaw, I can’t help but see it as a secret weapon. Because Cassian doesn’t hog the screen, the secondary and tertiary characters get to have their say and make their perspectives known. Andor, much like The Wire—a comparison already made by David Klion—is ultimately a social drama. It’s much more interested in exploring the links between capitalism, imperialism, colonialism and fascism, and the nuances of resistance and rebellion—the showrunner, Tony Gilroy, apparently listens to the Revolutions podcast—than any individual relationships, though it doesn’t shy away from exploring the personal impacts of the social.
Actual critics have done the show more justice than I can, but one last thing I want to highlight is the score by Nicholas Britell, which has the epic orchestral sweeps that you’d expect but also jarringly centers a wobbly detuned synth for much of the score, highlighting the fact that the world of the show is rather shaky—teetering on the brink of collapse. Again, really not something I expected from a Star Wars franchise.
The Sloppy Boys Podcast/The Blowout
The Sloppy Boys are a comedy party rock band consisting of Jeff Dutton, Mike Hanford, and Tim Kalpakis, all former members of The Birthday Boys sketch group. In 2020, just when COVID hit, they released their third album Paradiso, and without the possibility of touring to promote the album, they decided to start a cocktail podcast. Tale as old as time, really.
The premise of the show is simple: every week, the Boys make a new cocktail—the Trinidad Sour was an early classic—and talk about it. Add to that the fact that these are three good friends and some of the funniest guys on the planet and they legitimately make each other laugh and you’ve got an excellent podcast. They also have a second show The Blowout available to Patreon subscribers—patróns in the parlance of the show—where they talk about whatever they want—best guitar solo, taking a bath, going to the mall, the 80s movie Gremlins, the best Christmas aspect, to name a few. It’s sometimes truly the thinnest of premises but Jeff, Mike, and Tim always manage to make it great!
LIFE ON EARTH by Hurray For The Riff Raff
Hurray For The Riff Raff is the musical project of Alynda Segarra, a singer-songwriter originally from The Bronx, who formed the band when they moved to New Orleans. I first encountered Hurray For The Riff Raff in their 2017 album The Navigator—an album which you should absolutely seek out—and they released LIFE ON EARTH this year. While The Navigator was big and overtly political, LIFE ON EARTH kind of snuck up on me. It’s a smaller sort of album and much earthier than its predecessor—with titles like “WOLVES”, “RHODODENDRON“, “JUPITER’S DANCE” and “ROSEMARY TEARS“—but not devoid of politics—”PRECIOUS CARGO” tells the story of a migrant coming across the US/Mexico border only to be abused by US authorities. I don’t think it got much press, but when I was reviewing the music I’d listened to this year, I realized LIFE ON EARTH had really wormed its way into my rotation as one of my familiar records, even though it’s less than a year old.
Jeet Heer is a Canadian journalist and critic. On his podcast he talks with other commentators about some current topic in the news, politics, or culture.The podcast is also completely unpolished, which very much adds to its charm.
Everything Everywhere All at Once
A wonderfully unique movie amid what’s become the standard fare of Disney-owned IP and other studios trying to emulate/compete with Disney. Any attempt to describe the plot would do it a great disservice, so all I can say is you should watch it if you can.
I met Jadea in undergrad where she would often perform at our college open mic. She was clearly talented so when she sent out a Kickstarter request to help fund her next album I was happy to throw in a few bucks. Flash forward several years to 2022, when I get notified that her album is complete and a CD is on its way to me. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was completely floored by what I heard—well-written songs with mature poignant lyrics beautifully performed and produced. An early standout and still one of my favourite tracks: “When I Fly”
A jazz guitarist out of Iowa City IA, I met Dan through the Sloppy Boys discord server. He released an excellent solo EP this year as well as an LP with Jarrett Purdy, both are well worth a listen. He also regularly posts cool guitar covers of whatever songs he feels like on his Instagram and Youtube channel.