Editor's Choice

Comments on comments

I don't have access to the amount of hits this blog gets, so I rarely have any sense of whether it is being read other than the number of comments a post gets. The commenters seem to be a group of about dozen people whose input is always appreciated, even if I only occasionally respond directly. Of course, I would love it if there were more comments, not only because I might learn more, but because I would feel more popular. But I do read them and don't regard it as some kind of a chore.

I say that because I don't really agree with how Virginia Heffernan assess comments in this NYT Magazine piece -- which in reality is more of an advertisement for conservative columnist Anne Applebaum.

Online newspaper commenters as a whole seem to have (at least) the stamina, drive and spare time to become a cogent part of online journalism. But as it is, online commentary is a bête noire for journalists and readers alike. Most journalists hate to read it, because it’s stinging and distracting, and readers rarely plow through long comments sections unless they intend to post something themselves. But perhaps the comments have become so reader-unfriendly, in part, because of the conventions of the Web-comment form.
Which conventions are those? I'm not sure; Heffernan doesn't really elaborate. She laments that comments are often rote exercises in reader self-promotion in which the writer's actual argument is neglected, is not "read against itself" in the manner of a contrarian literary analysis. Why this would be preferable or even different from the point-by-point refutations that Heffernan regards as formulaic is also not clear.

Though she tries to orchestrate a balanced view, Heffernan seems to be bothered ultimately by professional writers not receiving due respect from commentators, who sometimes find journalists to be operating in bad faith or turning in disingenuously presented copy. Toward the end, she passes off this sentiment to other writers in a jokey turn of phrase -- "making commenters more accountable for their posts doesn’t exactly transform them into the reverential chorus that every writer probably thinks he deserves" -- but then again she is a writer herself. And she begins the piece with by contrasting commenters' boorishness with Applebaum's resume and a recounting of a few of the plaudits she's received from other journalists, i.e., the people who matter; the professional opinionmakers.

It's not that journalists expect reverence so much as they want to protect their monopoly on opinion formation in the public sphere. And judging by this, they seem to believe they are above having their motives questioned. But as a group of people who produce information for money and then make a big pretense of their objectivity, journalists are precisely those whose motives must be scrutinized, and at times, when necessary, ridiculed. For the sort of respectful commentary Heffernan prefers, publications need to make sure they have an editorial assistant -- as they always have -- to sort through the letters, etc., to find the stuff they think others would be interested in reading. Commenters are under no obligation to make that judgment themselves in providing content to the publication for free.


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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