Looking back on the various media items I consumed the past year – I really need to keep better track of some of them – I was looking for some kind of trend or meaning for what stuck with me. Alas, there really isn’t any, so here’s just a collection of interesting things, both new for 2022 and new to me for 2022.
I didn’t get to sample a whole lot of “new” music in 2022, but it’s unlikely that any would have perched higher in my soul than Marillion’s latest, An Hour Before It’s Dark.
Grappling with COVID-induced lockdowns and fears (which vocalist/lyricist Steve Hogarth initially said they weren’t going to do), the album manages to both dredge up some of the worst of it and still end on a beautiful, hopeful note. It’s not as great an album as Fuck Everyone And Run, but that’s not much of a criticism. That the band has been at it so long and is still so good is either inspirational or enough to make you give up. Either way, I can’t wait for the next one.
In terms of “old” stuff, the complete out-of-the-blue find I had in 2022 was Norwegian band Suburban Savages and their 2021 release Demagogue Days.
Stylistically they’re hard to pin down, with a foot each in surreal Canterbury-style progressive rock and the other in the more avant garde side of things. There’s also a lot of great synth work, which naturally attracts my ears. The title track may be the catchiest use of 7/4 since “Solsbury Hill,” too!
The wife and I still haven’t seen a movie in the theater since COVID hit (more out of inertia more than anything else, I think), so I didn’t get to see a lot of “new” movies in 2022, although we did get to catch up on several big-name flicks over the holidays, most of which (Nope, Glass Onion, etc.) were solidly “meh” in my mind. The standout from 2022, for my money, is The Wonder.
It’s a small, quiet film about an English nurse in post-famine Ireland who is brought in to observe a teenage girl who allegedly is surviving without eating anything. It’s no spoiler to say she’s not what she appears, but the way those around her deal with it are fascinating. The movie has a creepy atmosphere that doesn’t really read “horror,” but makes it feel that way anyway.
For some reason, in 2022, I decided to regularly take a look at the offerings on Turner Classic Movies. As a result, we wound up watching a lot of movies from the 1930s and 1940s, classics that I’d never seen before. Top of the heap for me was Double Indemnity, the 1944 noir classic directed by Billy Wilder.
It’s a pretty sleazy tale for the middle of Code-era Hollywood, but everybody gets theirs in the end, so I suppose that’s justice. All I know is that it’s a ball to watch the plotting and scheming unfold. You can see the DNA in a lot of modern thrillers in it.
I also wanted to give some love to a pair of documentaries I saw this year that dealt with overlooked aspects of music history.
The first, which hardly needs my approval (it won an Oscar, after all), is Summer of Soul, directed by musician Questlove.
It’s about a series of concerts held in Harlem during the summer of 1969, the same year as Woodstock (which overshadowed these shows in the popular conscience). A lot of them were recorded for proposed TV specials that never really happened, so there was a rich treasure trove of performances from the likes of BB King, Stevie Wonder, and Nina Simone. But the movie also gives a lot of context for why these concerts were such a big deal at the time, along with modern feedback from several attendees (and a few performers).
The other gets at the overlooked contributions of women to the development of early electronic music, Sisters With Transistors.
It focuses on real pioneers, including Delia Derbyshire (responsible for the Dr. Who theme, the assembly of which is amazing) and Wendy Carlos (of Switched on Bach fame), so lots of cool archival footage.
Looking back I’ve already written a lot about some TV shows in the past year, with some thoughts on the finale of Better Call Saul, the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, and the fascinating documentary series The Most Dangerous Animal of All. I wanted to highlight a few others, too.
First, exiting the stage along with Better Call Saul was, for me, the best sci-fi series of its generation, The Expanse.
As it happens, I read the first book in the series (which I highlighted in my list of favorite recent books last year) before the TV show started so I was already primed to like it, but the adaptation was really excellent. Maybe it lacked swoopy spaceships, but it had compelling characters dealing with real human issues against a backdrop of an existential threat to our species. They didn’t even bowdlerize Avasarala!
One that both came and went in 2022, in that it won’t get a second season, is Archive 81.
Based on a podcast (which does continue past this only season), it’s about a guy hired to digitize a series of videotapes that pull him into a mystery/conspiracy involving a cult and a huge apartment fire decades before. It’s creepy and atmospheric and the cult aspect actually works better than I thought it would. I think the season could stand on its own, but there was clearly an expectation of more given the ending. Oh well.
Hopefully, since we’ve already gotten two (short) seasons, we won’t be denied more of Slow Horses.
Based on the books by Mick Herron, the series is about a clutch of essentially exiled British intelligence agents who either are, or are perceived to be, useless fuck ups. Until somebody thinks they might be useful and then the shit hits the fan. I read the first book before diving into the series and the adaptation was incredibly faithful, right down to Jackson Lamb’s championship flatulence.
I loved Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell when it came out and had kind of given up on getting anything else from her when Piranesi appeared in 2020.
It took me a couple of years to get to it, perhaps worried that the slighter volume wouldn’t measure up to its predecessor. I shouldn’t have worried. It’s a beautiful, expertly crafted book and completely different from Strange & Norrell. If you’ve heard people praise Clarke’s work by find the first book’s length a bit daunting, start here. You won’t be disappointed.
After Salman Rushdie was cowardly attacked in New York in August I finally decided to jump into The Satanic Verses.
It was, admittedly, a lot, with a narrative that jumps all over the place in terms of time, place, and tone. Beyond that, Rushdie isn’t exactly sparse with words, spinning sentences that sometimes seem to wrap around you two or three times before the period comes. I found it challenging and exhilarating all at once.
Finally, 2022 was the year I finished up the saga of necromancer Johannes Cabal, with The Brothers Cabal and The Fall of the House of Cabal.
I had a couple of quibbles (I don’t find the fictional nations in the middle of otherwise recognizable Europe very compelling), but overall it was a great ending to the tale of one of my favorite characters. Johannes is deeply cynical, but also funny and honest. You may not like him, but it’s hard to argue with him (to borrow a phrase from Clerks, “he’s blunt, but he makes a point”). The story of his brother, Horst’s, struggles with being a vampire were a fresh take on that theme.
In spite of hosting one, I haven’t really been a podcast listener until this year. For the most part I cherry pick episodes here and there on things that interest me, but there are a couple that became more regular listens this year.
The more entertaining of the two is Discord and Rhyme.
It’s a podcast in which a rotating cast of young(ish) music writers gather to talk through one of their favorite albums. What drew my attention when I was scanning through the back episodes was how many of them involve progressive rock (and adjacent) bands. It’s heartening to hear people not raised in the early 1970s who genuinely like that kind of music (most of them have parents to blame). But even on other albums what works the best is that they’re all coming from a place of love (or at least like) for particular albums, so the talk is engaging, informative, and enthusiastic. It’s much more fun to praise something you love than to tear down something you don’t.
The more aggravating of the two was Hoaxed.
A six-episode podcast, it dives into an incident from the UK in 2014 in which two children accused their father of being part of a cult of devil-worshiping pedophiles. Shades of the 1980s Satanic panic when the kids recant and it turns out that they were put up to it by their mother and her very odd boyfriend. That’s enough to hook you, but the story goes on to cover the backlash against the community when the charges fell apart and whether anybody will ever be held accountable for the damage done. It’s like a QAnon story in miniature. All right – bring on 2023!