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Music

The Balky Mule: The Length of the Rail

Don't balk a gift mule because of the length of its rail. This is Barrett-esque brilliance.


The Balky Mule

The Length of the Rail

Label: FatCat
US Release Date: 2009-03-24
UK Release Date: 2009-03-24
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"Everyone's taking pills just 'cause you're afraid of standing out. I was terrified when my doctor told me that I had a unique and interesting personality trait. But then he told me about new Zoloft, Prozac, and I just take three pills a day and I blend into this horrible, inbred corporate landscape, and I don't care." - Doug Stanhope

With a gap of eight years between albums (his last one barely released), Melbourne's Sam Jones took his time and assembled a brilliant lo-fi record. Somewhere between Syd Barrett, Capitol K, and Damon Albarn, The Length of the Rail is one of the early contenders for 2009's album of the year. It makes sense that Jones played guitar in Flying Saucer Attack, bass and marimba in Minotaur Shock, and EFX in Third Eye Foundation 'cause this record sounds like (and is) Sam jamming with himself, leaning more towards freak folk than his distorted psychedelectronic rock tendencies.

There's something so innocent and pure in Sam's frail voice, chipper acoustic guitar, and half-broken garage sale keyboards. In a world where pop charts almost exclusively contain the most polished, expensively produced music -- that which is autotuned and Pro Tooled to eliminate natural aural quirks and fake talent as necessary -- Sam's attitude of "not always thinking of faults and wobbles as things to be corrected, but rather as personality to be accommodated" is practically revolutionary. The faults on this record are what make it interesting, what make it as real as a human being. Also like humans, you may not take an instant liking to The Length of the Rail. Take some time with it, and get to know it. With an open mind and a joyful heart, you will end up with a friend for life.

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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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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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