It’s an impossible task to sum up any year in art, but it feels especially challenging in 2022, a year in which we laughed with joy on Beyoncé’s dance floor, cried tears of secondhand embarrassment at Love Is Blind on Netflix, and scream-sang to Plains’ debut album. We asked Texas Monthly staffers and contributors to share their favorite moments of culture in 2022. The list that follows mixes high and low, pop culture and the avant-garde, and art to seek out along with streamable couch-potato fare. This year contained multitudes, just like Texas.
Beavis and Butt-head
The return of Beavis and Butt-head on Paramount Plus this June was a homecoming of sorts. Mike Judge’s cartoon hellions embraced their Texanness more explicitly than ever before, confirming at last that their fictional hometown of Highland is firmly situated within our fair state. Not that their surroundings matter much to them: Whether exploring the outer reaches of space in their new film Beavis and Butt-head Do the Universe, or experimenting with beekeeping, body-switching, and virtual reality in the rebooted series, TV’s most static duo remained squarely focused on scoring and breaking stuff. In the best of the new episodes, we even caught up with Beavis and Butt-head as middle-aged men—still couch-bound and wallowing in their own crapulence, only now with beers and disability checks in hand. There’s comfort to be found in their stagnation; even as we get older and the world changes at a terrifying pace, Beavis and Butt-head remain at the immutable center of it all, reliably pointing out everything that sucks. — Sean O’Neal
“Boxes for Meaningless Work,” Walter de Maria
The most interesting work in Walter de Maria’s retrospective at the Menil Collection in Houston is not an artwork at all; rather, it’s an essay from 1960 that’s displayed in a case. De Maria is best known for his Lightning Field in remote New Mexico—a vast field filled with four hundred gleaming metal rods that rarely, in fact, attract lightning, but which attract devout art pilgrims. But early in his career, the artist made humble, explicitly “meaningless” works directing viewers to do things like move a ball from one box to another or walk endlessly between two paintings on opposite walls. Boxes for Meaningless Work (1961) involves two open cubes with the following instructions: “Transfer things from one box to the next box, back and forth, back and forth, etc. Be aware that what you are doing is meaningless.”
In the essay displayed nearby, de Maria explains what he’s up to: “Meaningless work can contain all of the best qualities of old art forms such as painting, writing, etc. It can make you feel and think about yourself, the outside world, . . . etc. without the limitations of the old art forms.” Throughout the twentieth century, artists were trying to upend centuries-old norms of art. This is how we got abstraction, and later on, conceptual art like de Maria’s. This is art about ideas, not about beautiful objects. But the end goal of his seemingly nonsensical sets of instructions is the same as the Old Masters’: to make you attentive to some aspect of your human experience. His meaningless work is a kind of meditation, and although it seems funny, de Maria is deadly earnest. He finishes the essay with two lines of text, no punctuation: “Grunt Get to work.” — Rainey Knudson
Chronophage are a classic Austin band, if yours is the Austin of the Butthole Surfers, Glass Eye, and Sincola: indie rock that’s both gender- and genre-expansive, with equal helpings of art-damage, hooks, and noise. The four-piece band’s excellent second album, 2020’s Th’Pig’kiss’d, was largely lost to the pandemic; Chronophage, which was produced by Craig Ross (Daniel Johnston, Patty Griffin, Shearwater), is a true reach-for-the-sky third album of even greater scope and polish. Songs like “Black Clouds” and “Summer to Fall” have the spikiness of British art-school post-punk, but also the odd dreaminess of such influences as Prefab Sprout and Game Theory. The band is now scattered between Texas and other parts of the country, with co-frontpersons Parker Allen and Sarah Beames moving on to new educational and artistic endeavors in New York City and South Florida, respectively. But then, leaving Austin is also a pretty Austin thing to do. — Jason Cohen
Corrections in Ink: A Memoir, Keri Blakinger
Keri Blakinger landed in Texas in 2016 as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. She quickly proved herself to be one of the most essential voices in the state’s media landscape, covering criminal justice with a fervent tenacity and an uncommon empathy for those with the least power in the system—defendants, prisoners, and their allies. In her memoir, Blakinger depicts in vivid, compelling prose why criminal justice reporting isn’t just a job, but a calling—because she has been through it all herself. She tells her story of being busted with six ounces of heroin while a senior at Cornell University, resulting in a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence, with an intimacy that brings to life not just her own humanity, but that of all of those with whom she served time. The book is a powerhouse of compassionate storytelling about some of the most marginalized among us, a group Blakinger serves well, both through the book and through her work at the criminal justice–focused journalistic outlet the Marshall Project. — Dan Solomon
I, like many folks (seriously, check the Twitter discourse), thought From Scratch, a Netflix limited series that debuted in October, would be a light, romantic reprieve à la the perennial Italy-escapism favorite Under the Tuscan Sun. Boy, were we all wrong. The show, starring Zoe Saldana, was written by Houston-born-and-raised sisters Tembi and Attica Locke, and is based on Tembi’s memoir of the same name. The first episode is frothy enough, with Saldana’s character (based on Tembi) traveling to Florence to learn about art and falling in love with a Sicilian chef named Lino. The emotional hammer comes down quickly after that. What follows are seven well-written, supremely well-acted, devastating episodes that incorporate parental abandonment, cancer, adoption, death, and grief, among other tough subjects. I was clicking “Next Episode” through a waterfall of my own tears. (Bonus: There are a few fun Texas-y references, including a shout-out to Greenberg Smoked Turkey.) — Kimya Kavehkar
I Walked With You A Ways, Plains
The debut album from Plains, a band composed of Dallas-area-native Jess Williamson and Alabaman Katie Crutchfield (aka Waxahatchee), feels like a modern version of the Chicks’ early-aughts endeavors. Stunning harmonies, evocative lyrics, banjo, fiddle, slide guitar, plenty of twang, and just an overall feeling of, well, wide open space. It is the sort of music to wail along with, happily, as you’re driving in your car. With songs written by both Williamson and Crutchfield in a kind of alternating Lennon-McCartney model, I Walked With You A Ways is a gift to Americana fans everywhere. But it seems extra special for anyone like me, who grew up with the Chicks. Cowgirls, take me away. — Emily McCullar
Immersive virtual reality experiences based on the lives of popular artists have become as common as street art in major cities. As a frequent museum visitor, I find them both entertaining and kind of appalling. I don’t think Van Gogh and Monet really need that kind of help. But immersive mediums can be incredibly affective when they present something entirely new. Science- and nature-themed shows seem to work especially well. “The Infinite” takes you “aboard” the International Space Station so convincingly it feels like you’re the one spacewalking. You could experience it, well, almost an infinite number of times and see something different with each trip. After opening in Houston last winter, it went to California and is on view in San Francisco through January. — Molly Glentzer
This fall, Love Is Blind, Nick and Vanessa Lachey’s deranged social experiment on Netflix, returned for a third season, this time set in Dallas. As in previous seasons, individuals looking for long-term love dated one another—and got engaged—without ever laying eyes on their partners. This time around the dating pool, the arrangement resulted in saline tears, borderline abuse, a blunt discussion about abortion, and a conversation about Cuties so dissected as to be this generation’s Zapruder film. After the series finale aired in November, it seemed everyone in the nation was transfixed, picking sides between warring couples and inserting the newly minted reality television stars into the narratives of our choosing. Is love truly blind? It’s still unclear. Does this TV show serve as the ultimate blank slate on which to project our own issues with romance and partnership? You bet. — Taylor Prewitt
The Mars Volta, The Mars Volta
The Mars Volta has long billed itself as the name of the creative partnership between El Paso natives Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. For about a decade, until the band’s hiatus in 2012, that partnership sounded like epic, multi-movement jams that could stretch psychedelic freakouts across a single thirty-minute song. When Bixler-Zavala and Rodriguez-Lopez announced the band’s return in the fall, they did so with a single that had a dramatically different sound. Were the Mars Volta a pop band now? The answer, on the band’s first self-titled album, was yes—and that’s a good thing. The Mars Volta featured fourteen tracks spread over 44 minutes, with Bixler-Zavala’s elastic voice in the forefront and Rodriguez-Lopez’s layered guitar experiments adding some extra interest to the catchy melodies. The Mars Volta have been many things since forming in 2003, but “accessible” is a new one—and it’s a good look for a band that had little left to prove. — D.S.
Palomino, Miranda Lambert
Is Miranda Lambert our last great rock star? Her last two solo albums—2019’s Wildcard and this year’s Palomino—make a strong case that the East Texas native might well be. Palomino opens with a slinky bass line, big hooks, and the declaration that Lambert’s got her “own kind of country—kinda funky,” and does she ever. The album pulls a handful of songs off of Lambert’s 2021 release—the pandemic project The Marfa Tapes, a lo-fi collection of songs she recorded in West Texas with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall—recontextualizing tracks such as the “Jolene” send-up “Geraldene” as full-band jams with rollicking guitar solos and a percussive stomp that’s a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. She leans further into the latter as the album progresses, digging deep into the archives of rock history to collaborate with eighties new wavers the B-52’s (on “Music City Queen”), channeling Fleetwood Mac on “Waxahachie,” and nodding to Prince on the gender-bending “If I Was a Cowboy.” Rock star, country star, or something else entirely, whatever Lambert is, we’re lucky to have her. — D.S.
“The Permian Recordings,” Phil Peters
This site-specific sound and sculptural installation in a post-industrial lot on the east side of Austin was a highlight of November’s Austin Studio Tour and a reminder of what makes the city’s grassroots cultural scene so special—despite what you may have heard about it becoming a bland surf-park town. It’s hard to imagine this smart, immersive, and far-out art-viewing experience anywhere else. Peters collected audio samples of fracking machinery by burying microphones underground in the Permian Basin oil and gas fields of West Texas. Then, to make these low-frequency vibrations audible to the human ear, he built a massive, forty-foot-long subwoofer in an outdoor concrete culvert provided by venerable Austin arts nonprofit Co-Lab Projects. The result is an eerie, pulsating machine you can step inside to feel the inhuman hum of the extraction economy within your body. — Michael Agresta
Beyoncé’s latest album was such an unexpected delight that, five months after its release, I haven’t been able to stop listening. Renaissance beautifully embraces the history of Black and LGBTQ musicians and icons such as Big Freedia and Beyoncé’s own Uncle Johnny with a long index of iconic samples and featured artists, all while being infectiously joyous and fun. Just one example of the multifaceted energy that Beyoncé brings to Renaissance is “Church Girl,” a bouncy twerk anthem that samples the gospel song “Center of Thy Will” by the Clark Sisters, and still manages to convey a sense a spiritual triumph and salvation. “I been up, I been down / Feel like I move mountains / Got friends that cried fountains,” Beyoncé begins, and despite (or because of) all that strife, she’s “warning everybody, soon as I get in this party / I’m gon’ let go of this body, I’m gonna love on me” because “Nobody can judge me, but me / I was born free.” I love this song, and it’s not even one of my top five most played from the album. At a moment when people are attempting to erase us, Renaissance tells us to celebrate and hold onto our Black and queer history and culture. Make no mistake: times are hard, but with the help of albums like Renaissance, we can still create space to feel cozy in our skin, celebrate what makes us alien, and remember that we were born free. — Doyin Oyeniyi
“Ropa Usada,” Valleyesque, Fernando Flores
In May, Rio Grande Valley–born, Austin-based writer Fernando Flores released the short-story collection Valleyesque, his third book and follow-up to surrealist border noir Tears of the Trufflepig. Flores’s story “Ropa Usada,” available online in full, is a delirious outpost of his jazzy, post-magic-realist style, piling on fantastical details in the service of capturing real, hard-
to-describe feelings, often about life in Texas. Here, a broke grad student named Cassie drives to her hometown to buy used clothing to resell on the internet from a giant warehouse-style store “down by the border in the maquiladora district.” Dream images evoke the vastness of such stores—women pulling sleeves like ripe carrots from undulating hills of clothes; a den made of jerseys of sports teams that no longer exist, like the Houston Oilers; a village in the aisles with meat roasting on a trash-bin fire. Lest you think this will be a goof of a story where the quiet epiphanies of realism are impossible, here’s Cassie when she’s almost buried in a cascade of
used clothes: “It made her sad to think that, in what she felt were her final moments, what tumbled through her mind was all the money she owed: not her mother, her family, the people she loved, or the possessions she held dear, but her crushing debt.” Flores has found a cool sound and knows how to play. — M.A.
The Sea Drift, The Delines
Amy Boone was one of two singing sisters in the Damnations, a beloved Austin alt-country band back when the term “alt-country” was still new. More than twenty years later, her gorgeously lived-in, heart-tugging but understated vocals are at the center of this Portland, Oregon–based band, led by songwriter and novelist Willy Vlautin. Vlautin both writes for Boone and is inspired by their conversations about Texas, life, and music; The Sea Drift is a Gulf Coast soul record, noirish and sultry, with most of its hard-luck songs set around Galveston, and sonic inspiration from the likes of Bobbie Gentry and Tony Joe White. In 2022, The Delines played fifty shows in Europe and four shows in the Pacific Northwest; some festival or venue in Texas needs to fix that in 2023. — J.C.
“Soul of Black Folks,” Amoako Boafo
The writing of W.E.B. Du Bois has inspired a lot of great visual art, books and film. His ideas manifest powerfully in the nuanced portraits of Boafo, a 38-year-old Ghanaian who lives in Vienna. Instantly recognizable for their spare composition and bold colors, and the finger-painted skin and steady gazes of subjects that include major celebrities (think Bey and Jay-Z), Boafo’s works capture the thoughtful complexity of contemporary Black identity. Discovered by Kehinde Wiley on Instagram, Boafo caused a collectors’ frenzy before museum curators could catch up. Contemporary Arts Museum Houston presented Boafo’s first solo museum show last summer, including a site-specific mural—now painted over—that collectors would love to have peeled off the wall. The point was that it couldn’t be sold. — M.G.
To borrow what Harry Styles said about a film that wouldn’t make this list even if it had a Texas connection, what I liked about Top Gun: Maverick was that “the movie feels like a movie, like a real, like, you know, ‘go to the theater’ film movie.” I’m not the only one who thinks this, because a lot of folks went to the theater to see Top Gun, which set box office records when it came out in May. It is the platonic ideal of a big-screen movie: expensive, loud, patriotic to the point of being practically propagandistic. It had heart, speed, practical effects, sweaty beach sports, and a handful of mega-charming movie stars, including Austin’s own Glen Powell—plus a near-perfect Lady Gaga song on the soundtrack. — E.M.
As the father to two young, rambunctious children, and living as I do in Austin, a town bursting at its glass-and-steel seams with residents, I’ve never felt less alone in my life. Yet this year, I still found myself utterly beguiled by Old Fire’s Voids, a record that is consumed by loss, absence, and the kind of cavernous lonesomeness that currently only exists in my romanticized imagination. Composer John Mark Lapham drew upon his own feelings of isolation, which he experienced while growing up gay in the largely conservative town of Abilene, to create a haunted suite of songs that land somewhere at the nexus of spiritual folk, ambient electronic, and Massive Attack–inspired trip-hop. Guest vocalists like Austin’s Bill Callahan and Emily Cross change the colors to suit their respective moods, but there’s a cohesive mood of mourning and rumination that remains broken. It’s an album that feels as expansive and tranquil as the West Texas plains that inspired it, but take it from me: it plays just as well when you’re cooped up in the city, longing for a little space of your own. — S.O.