'Lemon' on PBS' Voces Starting 19 October

Laura Brownson and Beth Levison’s documentary explores how the collisions of poverty and celebrity produce stereotypes, myths, and also forms of truth.

"Right now, I'm creating an opportunity for me and my family," announces Lemon Andersen. Newly released from prison back to the projects, he means to make changes, to look ahead, to survive. The hope and the promise sound familiar enough, at the start of Lemon. But Laura Brownson and Beth Levison’s documentary, premiering 19 October on Voces and available on DVD and VOD, goes on to complicate this story, exploring how the collisions of poverty and celebrity produce stereotypes, myths, and also forms of truth.

As Lemon pursues his post-prison dream, he lands a gig on Russell Simmons’ Deaf Poetry Jam. The TV show leads to a Broadway show, and then a Tony Award, and the slam poets and performers who have come up from the streets are giddy with success and money. Lemon describes how great it was, that he bought big TVs and everyone liked him. When the show ends, he’s out of money and back in the hood. Specifically, he and his wife Marilyn and their two young daughters move in with her brother and their mother. Still, Lemon insists that he can make a living performing. He finds backing from the American Place Theater’s David Kener, who proclaims that theater needs to “talk to kids.” To do that, he says, “The conventions don’t work, we need new voices desperately.” Kener finds one of these voices in Lemon. Or so he thinks.

The movie documents Lemon’s work on his one-man show, County of Kings (The Beautiful Struggle), in which he looks at his relationship with his mother (who died of cancer when he was only 14), his struggles in the neighborhood (drugs, gangster-posing), and his troubled relationship with his brother. The autobiography is filtered through poetry, noisy and brilliant and compelling. He’s good on stage, the show seems a likely success. The problems, as you might expect, have to do mounting the show, with funding and directing, with corporate supporting. Meetings with producers and other people involved in the process tend to end on reaction shots by Lemon, looking disgruntled, just before he notes in voiceover how little these other people -- frequently white women -- understand his work and experience.

At the same time, the film also considers Lemon’s difficulties at home. Marilyn’s insights are very helpful, for you, anyway, even as he withdraws, sullen and resentful of deals falling through and threats the show won’t go on. When she sees they’re not communicating, she notes that he has his writing, in notebooks, as a means to work things out for himself: she begins writing on the bedroom wall, an effort to get him to notice that she has ideas and reactions too. The film takes its cue from Lemon, extolling Marilyn’s embodiment of his essential support system. And so you're reminded that performance -- on stage and in the home, on the street and for cameras -- is always an effort to communicate, to forge a relationship.


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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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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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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