‘Tis the season for year-end recommendations! So some of our staff are bringing you one thing that we experienced this year* that’s worth telling others about.
From all of us, thanks for another great year. Hope you enjoy these, and we’ll see you in 2024!
*Although not necessarily from this year!
- Roy T. Cook (he/him), CLA Scholar of the College and Professor of Philosophy, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
- Anthony Cross (he/him), Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Texas State University
- Alex King (she/her), Associate Professor of Philosophy, Simon Fraser University
- Matthew Strohl (he/him), Professor of Philosophy, University of Montana
- Mary Beth Willard (she/her), Professor of Philosophy, Weber State University
Roy T. Cook
One Rec: Cheap Grills, Sincere Engineer (2023)
What do you get if you mix one part raw, DIY Chicago punk, two parts angsty, relationship-fueled early-Tay-Tay-like songwriting, sprinkle in a dash of dark humor, and stir well? I have no idea, but Sincere Engineer wouldn’t be a bad guess. This Chicago Band, begun as a solo project by Chicago punk Deanna Belos, but eventually morphing into a traditional four-piece rock band, has released three full length albums: Rhombithian (Red Scare Industries, 2017), Bless My Psyche (Hopeless Records, 2021), and Cheap Grills (also Hopeless Records, 2023).
The most recent of these, Cheap Grills, is a melodic pop-punk masterpiece. Songs like “California King”, “Landline”, and “Fireplace” (all of which are catchy enough to have garnered some alt-radio airplay) are both humor-filled sing-along ditties and sharp-edged commentaries on life, love, identity, and contemporary 21st century life (one review likened Belos’s lyrics to diary entries). Full of sharp wit, solid songwriting, and a sometimes slight but never entirely absent angry edge, it is my favorite album of the year. What are you doing still reading? Click above and give it a listen.
One Rec: There I Ruined It (Dustin Ballard, 2020-present)
One of my most cherished holiday traditions is the Little Drummer Boy Challenge: starting at 12:01 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving, the goal is to avoid hearing any version whatsoever of the titular song until Christmas Eve. The barest hint of a rum-pum-pum-pum and you’re out. I’ve sprinted through many a holiday shopping expedition in fear of being subjected to versions ranging from Bing and Bowie to Bieber.
I made it through the first week of December with nary a drummer boy; I was sure I was going to make it this year. Thankfully for you, dear reader, my challenge was derailed by algorithm. Instagram served me a masterful mash-up of LDB and Flo Rida’s “Low”:
This bit of holiday genius is the product of my end-of-year pick: There I Ruined It, a project of musician/creative Dustin Ballard, which has the stated goal of “ruining as many beloved songs as possible before it’s banned from the Internet.” While he’s ruined plenty of Holiday songs (including many variations of Mariah), his work also extends to non-seasonal classics—including songs from Judy Garland, Hank Williams, and the Beach Boys.
Two small points: First, philosophers and other professional quibblers will be quick to question whether the mash-up version above actually counts for the purposes of the LDBC. Fortunately, the rules of the challenge are pretty clear: anything including a recognizable version of the LDB tune is enough to take you out of the game. A pity for yours truly! Second, you may be wondering how Ballard convinced Elvis to sing Baby Got Back. The answer, of course, is AI: Ballard uses an AI model to transform audio tracks of his own voice into those of another singer. While most of us are familiar with the rapid leaps in sophistication of AI image generation tools like Midjourney and DALL-E, the impact of generative AI on music production is still very much in its early stages. Platforms like Suno allow users to create entirely new songs from a snippet of text—here’s a “melancholy new years melody” I generated just for you—while Voicemod offers real-time AI voice changing. The results at this point are generally…not great. But they’re a taste of what’s to come—one which, even now, is enough to take this poor author out of the LDBC. There: AI ruined it.
One Rec: The Golden Bachelor (ABC, 2023)
I am a long-time consumer of the Bachelor franchise and assorted other reality television. But the last few years have soured me on that franchise (too formulaic, too produced, too gimmicky), to the point where I finally cut ties and stopped watching. But in 2023 they announced the premiere of the Golden Bachelor: a show with the same structure, but starring 71-year-old Gerry (confusingly pronounced “Gary”) Turner, with a cast of twenty-two women whose ages ranged from 60 to 75. The show is fabulous.
In the Bachelor shows, a cast of women (or men) compete for the affection of a man (or woman), and the lead must winnow the field of contenders down to one, to whom they are supposed to propose.
This iteration of the show destigmatizes aging (copious Botox and filler notwithstanding): The opening shot features dulled audio that drops in fully when Gerry inserts his hearing aid. It defies the traditional narrative of The One: Gerry and many contestants have lost or divorced long-term spouses. It spotlights the importance of romantic love and companionship and, yes, sex for this age bracket. It trades manufactured drama for familiar interpersonal friction, and it lets people be as weird and outrageous as they are. Most of all, it treats (or at least presents itself as treating) its cast as people, with some amount of respect and dignity, with curiosity, with humor—even as the format of the show creates torturous decisions for the lead and emotional turmoil for the contestants.
The contestants, too, don’t appear to manufacture their own drama for in a Faustian bargain for screen time. They have had careers; their existence is not defined by the number of their Instagram followers. They are here to make friends, just as they are here to fall in love.
This is reality dating for people who like to watch the Great British Bake Off. It’s a balm, a comfort. You will probably tear up at some points, and you will also feel good after watching it. It’s a breath of fresh air in an oversaturated market of aspiring influencers.
If the show continues for further seasons, I am certain it will lose many of these lovely qualities. So enjoy this nearly flawless piece of reality television while you can.
One Rec: Miami Blues (George Armitage, 1990)
Crime has rarely seemed so fun. One of the least inhibited movies ever made about the joy of breaking the rules. South Florida anarchism abounds, with peak performances from Alec Baldwin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the late, great Fred Ward. This was long out of circulation, but you can now buy it on Blu-ray from MVD (USA) or Radiance (UK), and you can stream it on Amazon Prime or Tubi.
Mary Beth Willard
One Rec: New Blue Sun, Andre 3000 (2023)
Much of the coverage of André 3000’s debut studio album has spilled more than a little ink on the attitude summed up by the title of the first track: “I swear, I Really Wanted To Make A ‘Rap’ Album But This Is Literally The Way The Wind Blew Me This Time.” Wait, wasn’t this supposed to be… this is the Hey Ya guy, right? And like everyone else who shook it like a Polaroid picture in 2003, I get the reaction. No one was expecting Andre 3000 to put out an ambient album that featured, among other things, a contrabass flute. It’s an “artistic left turn,” “it’s a departure,” or as he said, it’s what’s authentic for him now:
It actually feels … sometimes it feels inauthentic for me to rap because I don’t have anything to talk about in that way. I’m 48 years old. And not to say that age is a thing that dictates what you rap about, but in a way it does. And things that happen in my life, like, what are you talking about? ‘I got to go get a colonoscopy.’ What are you rapping about? ‘My eyesight is going bad.’ You can find cool ways to say it, but ….’[source: GQ]
The Internet is having a little bit of fun.
But while it’s not what anyone would have predicted exactly, maybe it’s not really surprising. Check out “Pink and Blue” from Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, close your eyes, and ignore the vocals. Pay attention especially to the last minute.
The textures are there. All it’s missing is a flute.
New Blue Sun burrowed into my head at the end of the semester, and one day, sitting at the computer, listening, I pulled out my clarinet and noodled along with the woodwind synthesizer on the first track. Your experience might be different, but give it a try.
Introduced and edited by Alex King