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Music

Troublemakers: Adam Lambert and Will Phillips

Adam Lambert and Will Phillips have a lot in common. Both have publically pushed boundaries of what is deemed socially allowable.

Will Phillips is ten years old, and he got into trouble. Not unusual for a ten year old, but his act of rebellion drew national media attention in the United States. The fifth grader (he skipped a grade) refused to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance because “I really don't feel that there's currently liberty and justice for all.” Will's family has many gay friends, and Will has come to believe that to say the Pledge would be dishonest, as his gay friends don't have the same rights as others. Rock on, Little Dude.

(However, it wasn't refusing to stand that got him sent to the principal's office. It was telling the substitute teacher who tried to make him stand to go jump off a bridge.)

Will's caught a lot of crap from some of his classmates for taking a stand, who call him "gaywad" and other homophobic names. You've got to respect Will for standing up for what he believes in the face of such hatred; quite a few of the 40-year-olds I know aren't that committed to their own beliefs.

Adam Lambert got in trouble, too. The 27-year-old American Idol runner-up caused a stir when he kissed his male drummer during a performance on the American Music Awards, an act that had all the sensuality of salmon spawning, but was still met with gasps of horror from Middle America. He also ground his crotch into the face of one his male dancers, which further horrified parents whose children were still up at 11:00PM.

Lambert is right when he says that women have been performing same-sex kisses and raunchy dance routines for years and getting away with it (although, not without the occasional controversy). This isn't even the first time an awards show has broadcast a male same-sex kiss, as many gay and lesbian winners have kissed their same-sex partners before making their way to the podium. In reality, one can see more salacious TV mid-day on All My Children.

If Lambert got sent to the principal's office, then the punishment didn't hurt much. Sure, his appearance on GMA was canceled, but he wound up with more free publicity and interview requests than any artist with a new CD could wish for. It's not like the people who were complaining about the kiss were going to be first in line to buy his album, anyway. Billboard reported the week after the CD dropped that it was exceeding sales expectations.

Adam Lambert and Will Phillips have a lot in common. Both have publically pushed boundaries of what is deemed socially allowable. But as we know, it is through such individual acts of disorder that social progress eventually comes. The next time a male singer kisses another man in performance, people won't be quite as shocked. Similarly, the kids at Will's school might be a little more informed about gay issues and civil disobedience should they encounter it again. Who knows -- maybe one of the kids calling Will a "gaywad" might just grow up to engage in a same-sex kiss on TV years from now.

In a time when the gay rights movement in America is taking a beating, such acts announce that we aren't going away or backing down anytime soon. We stand up and make a scene, do our own thing, or sneak in through the back door and appear on stage -- we make ourselves known in some way.

Lambert and Phillips aren't trend-setters when it comes to taking a stand. Many historians of gay history would point to ACT UP as the predecessor of contemporary in-your-face gay activism, while others would argue that the credit should go to the Stonewall rioters. Both have helped lay a foundation for the gay protest movement, but I would maintain that it was the active lesbians of the '70s who truly created a standard for pro-active social change.

By integrating themselves into pro-feminist organizations, such as National Organization for Women, these women successfully showed the world that the gay voice could be heard in mainstream and powerful political movements. The advances of women in the last 40 years is due in large part to a motivated group of lesbians who organized, marched, and lobbied alongside straight women. Unfortunately, the hard work of lesbians in the women's rights movements has frequently been used as far-right wing rationale for not supporting women's equality.

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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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Wars of attrition are a matter of stamina, of who has the most tools with which to keep fighting. A surprising common tool in this collection? Humor.

The name of the game is "normal or abnormal". Here's how you play: When some exceedingly shocking political news pops up on your radar, turn to the person next to you, read them the headline and ask, "is this normal or abnormal?" If you want to up the stakes, drink a shot every time the answer is abnormal. If that's too many shots, alter the rules so that you drink only when things are normal—which is basically never, these days. Hilarious, right?

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The Dear Hunter: All Is As All Should Be EP

Jordan Blum
Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Although All Is As All Should Be is a tad too brief to match its precursors, it's still a masterful blend of songwriting, arrangements, and singing that satisfies the Dear Hunter anticipation.

The Dear Hunter is undoubtedly one of the best—and consequently, most egregiously underappreciated—bands of the last decade or so. Aside from 2013's Migrant LP, every one of their major releases featured an ambitious hook; for example, 2011's The Color Spectrum presented nine EPs (consisting of four songs each) that individually represented a different sonic tone (in order: Black, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet, and White), whereas the five-part (so far) Act saga, with its genre-shifting arrangements, superlative songwriting, narrative complexity, and extraordinary conceptual continuity, is a cumulative work of genius, plain and simple.

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