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Music

Ain't Talking 'Bout Love: Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

During a week where you're bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Valentine's week is saturated with ads for ridiculously overpriced roses and chocolates that you're supposed to buy your significant other to prove you love them at least for one day a year. It's also a holiday that obviously excludes those who are single, or those who are still trying to pick up the pieces of a pervious relationship. Some of the greatest albums have been born from this exact scenario.

The most famous of these albums have backstories as interesting as the music. Be it a musician who retreated into the woods of Wisconsin, an artist who chose to follow-up a mega-selling blockbuster with a decidedly unanthematic look at a disintegrating relationship, or a group of musicians who were breaking up with one another under a haze of cocaine, these albums provide the soundtrack to that other side of love.

 
10. Kanye West
808s & Heartbreak (2008)

We should have known better than to underestimate Kanye West. After a multi-platinum trilogy of albums, 808s & Heartbreak was West's first album not to receive universal acclaim. The use of Auto-Tune almost guaranteed West's jarring, alienating detour would sound dated by 2009. Instead, a strong argument can be made that 808s & Heartbreak is the Kanye West album that has aged the least since its release. Sure, West's ever-reliable studio innovativeness is one reason the album continues to win new fans, but the overall feeling of heartache stemming from both the tragic death of his mother and the high-profile end to his engagement strike a far more universal cord than anything he's done since.

 
9. Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)

The warmth exuded in the intro guitar of the leadoff track "Flume" almost sounds like a salve to a wounded heart. Physically worn down by a case of mononucleosis and the end of his relationship with his girlfriend, Justin Vernon literally hibernated for three months in a cabin. What emerged was a lonely, soulful album that quickly went from indie phenomenon to instant classic.

 
8. Adele
21 (2011)

Almost two decades before "Rolling in the Deep" became an all-purpose kiss-off, Liz Phair sang about turning her disgust into fame. Adele heeded that advice and with 21, she made an album that made so much money that she could retire now and live a life of luxury that most of us can only dream of. The cost, of course, was wading through a tumultuous breakup that poured out in all of 21's 11 tracks. When 21 reached the prestigious diamond-platinum sales mark, it marked one of the first times in 20 years that a contemporary 10 million-plus selling album could rightly be mentioned alongside such a similar commercial and artistic blockbuster like Carole King's Tapestry.

 
7. Fiona Apple
When the Pawn... (1999)

In the late '90s, lazy music journalists tried to lump Paula Cole, Meredith Brooks, Joan Osborne, and Fiona Apple into a generic "Lilith Fair" label. Apple herself received a stinging backlash thanks to a so-called controversial MTV Video Music Awards acceptance speech when she dared to say that people should follow their own individual path. All it would have taken was a typically weak sophomore slump album and Apple could be regulated to the discount bins of '90s nostalgia. Instead, she returned with a lush, complex album that made the concept of love feel like a trauma ward. In "Paper Bag", Apple sings "Hunger hurts but starving works when it costs too much to love". In "Fast As You Can", she pleads a suitor to hit "eject" before things get ugly. She's made two great subsequent albums rooted in heartbreak, but When the Pawn... is still the preferred accompaniment to a bottle of wine and stack of photographs of a significant other ripe for the burning.

 
6. Aretha Franklin
Spirit in the Dark (1970)

In the '60s, Aretha Franklin was an unimpeachable figure of strength in both the civil rights movement and in the women's liberation movement. "Respect" and "Think" were defining statements of strength and empowerment. But in 1970, Franklin released an album that was stripped of heroics and showed a person facing the very ordinary and very painful experience of a dissolving marriage. With tracks like "The Thrill Is Gone (From Yesterday's Kiss)" and "Why I Sing the Blues", Franklin provided her own personal wake to the free love moment in the '60s. Spirit's dark tone initially cost the album in sales, but decades later, it's an album is regarded as one of her best.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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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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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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