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Music

CMJ 2009: Day 1 - Mon Khmer + The Naked Hearts + Sugar & Gold

The CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival invades New York City this week. Here's the latest from PopMatters' writers on the beat.

Mon Khmer

Cameo Gallery, Brooklyn

A quintet of shoegazers, Mon Khmer were going somewhere in their music, but slowly. So slowly that the sometimes beautiful sounds they crafted after layering two guitars and a pedal steel guitar never materialized. The occasional coalescence of harmonies was further diminished, however, by muddled and confused vocals. But whenever the group did seem to hit its stride (pulsating tom-tom rhythms under blending, repetitive guitar lines) the transformative capabilities of the pedal steel stalled, the player caught looking up and just admiring his own band mates. Hunker down and join the party already!

Photo by Thomas Hauner

Photo by Thomas Hauner

Photo by Thomas Hauner

The Naked Hearts

Cameo Gallery, Brooklyn

“No one likes you like I do” sang the Naked Hearts. Any more apathy and the lyrics would have at least sounded ironic. But what started as an ennui-indulging set gained momentum with each angst-tinged observation from lead singer, and guitarist, Amy Cooper, her bowtie pendant shaking with each taut strum. Overall the two-piece (with the aid of a bass player) flaunted a lo-fi sound that was more of a deterrent, or distraction, rather than a badge of authenticity.

Photo by Thomas Hauner

Photo by Thomas Hauner

Photo by Thomas Hauner

Sugar & Gold

Cameo Gallery, Brooklyn

The completely irresistible disco grooves of Sugar & Gold were mostly lost on the crowd at Cameo Gallery. No matter the prodding (e.g. “Hello Buffalo, NY!...Lets all jog in place together, like we’re all in Central park and 100 lbs overweight!” ) from lead singer, and provocateur, PAM (Phillip Alberto Minnig), the dance collective’s insatiable hooks and cadences could not bring the room of groggy hipsters into a rhythm. The group never relented though, playing pop gems like “Workout” and “Neighborhood” with pure dance-floor panache. Hopefully everyone gets the memo next time: dancing shoes REQUIRED.

Photo by Thomas Hauner

Photo by Thomas Hauner

Photo by Thomas Hauner

Photo by Thomas Hauner

Photo by Thomas Hauner

Photo by Thomas Hauner

Photo by Thomas Hauner

Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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