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Boys on the Bus #5

Dem Debate sheds light on the troubling shift in the Supreme Court

During last week's Democratic Presidential Debate, there was a brief question and answer session concerning the recent decision by the US Supreme Court to uphold a specific abortion ban. A number of Dems emphatically denounced the outcome. The speedy exchange was only a glimmer in the 90-minute debate, but it addressed an issue that should be of concern to the American people.

The Supreme Court's 5-4 decision upheld a law banning a rarely used procedure carried out in the middle-to-late second trimester of a pregnancy. Understandably, the Dems did not defend the procedure itself – which should only be used in cases where the mother's health is at risk – but instead focused on the court's rationale and the further implications the decision could have.

As Delaware Senator Joe Biden pointed out, the decision echoes the sentiments of Robert Bork, the legal scholar and Reagan nominee for the Supreme Court. Bork's failed nomination brought attention to the judicial philosophy of originalism, which attempts to interpret the constitution as the founders originally intended it. This narrowly decided case was a huge boost to the originalist movement, and deeply troubling to those who advocate a right to privacy. A right to privacy is implied in the Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment of the Constitution; it was subsequently established in cases such as Griswold vs. Connecticut. Even with this precedent, originalist judges prefer interpret the law as they see fit.

Judges such as Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas have followed in Bork's footsteps, advocating similar textual approaches in their writings. With the recent addition of Bush appointments Samuel Alito and John Roberts, it is clear that the Court has shifted to the right, putting privacy and civil rights issues in the hands of this unconventional theory. Voters tend to adhere to the originalist approach, only when it happens to suit their needs – the pro-life crowd have been ardent fans of late. But the theory can have broad implications relating to various aspects of everyday life: surveillance, religious freedom, gun rights.

Abortion is a complicated subject, one that should exist outside the standard pro-life/pro-choice sentiments spouted about in public forums. The issue deserves some serious discussion about personal responsibility, the plight of the poor and universal access to decent health care. Problems like these, and many others, need to be discussed before we as a society can determine how to make the practice of abortion as rare as possible. The first Democratic debate briefly began this conversation by broaching some of these topics, we can only hope it will continue.

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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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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