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Godless

I'm not here to mock God and his fanatical fan club, I'll sit back and let much more clever men and women mock them for me.

"If God did not exist, we would have to invent him."

-- Voltaire

"Dear God, if you were alive, you know we'd kill you."

-- Marilyn Manson

For all the soft-core aspirations of your average cable TV program, superstition and prudery still permeate American culture to a comically horrifying degree, much as they did when I was but a wee lad. The only difference between the '80s, the '90s, and now is that I have quit caring about the far Right sect of Christianity and its tiresome, histrionic responses to modern art or heavy metal or Nipplegate or Harry Potter or whatever.

By my 30th birthday, I had long-since outgrown the bitter, provocative, reactionary model of atheism I boasted as a teen. However, it came to pass that within a given month this summer, I moved to startlingly religious Twin Falls, Idaho… and Netflixed Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady's Jesus Camp. And now, watching this, I feel like I'm 13 again (indeed, at 13 I had planned to get "Atheist" tattooed across my bicep; I soon discovered – pre-tattoo -- that I'd been spelling it wrong, and therefore wisely took a permanent stance against tattoos); I've lost sleep over the years 'cause of everything from Freddy and Jason to The Sixth Sense and The Others, but I can say with nary a trace of hyperbole that Jesus Camp is the scariest film I have ever seen.

Cleverly opting to not bog down their movie with subjective narration, directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady choose instead to let the viewer choose for him or herself what to make of footage of desperately religious men and women indoctrinating their own children and the children of others with defensive, exclusionary, occasionally even overtly hateful, far Right Christian dogma. These adults and children spend their screen time talking of a cultural "war" between believers and non-believers, and to make the point as clear as possible, the children are made to wear face-paint and conduct a war-dance.

Obviously, any cultural persecution against which these determined far Right Christians are rallying is itself a direct retaliation to years of oppressive, bullying recruitment efforts and smug superiority complexes on the part of the saved. However, I'm not here to mock God and his fanatical fan club, but rather to sit back and let much more clever men and women mock them for me.

If ever an awards show offers a statue in recognition of years of service to atheism (and critical thinking in general), the top contender would have to be The Simpsons. A highlight from the theatrical preview of last summer's long-awaited (and sorely disappointing) big-screen Simpsons adventure showed a frantic Homer flipping desperately through a bible, only to announce, "This book has no answers!" This was but the longest in a series of such religious jabs dating back to the show's first seasons in the early '90s. I will never forget the awed admiration I felt for the writers of what was once the finest show on television, when a raging Superintendent Chalmers scolded substitute Springfield Elementary Principal Ned Flanders for conducting a prayer in a public school: "God has no place within these walls, just like facts have no place within organized religion!"

Additionally, Bart has sold his soul to his best friend for five bucks, argued that all the cool rock bands are "affiliated with Satan", and replaced the hymns at his local church with the lyrics to Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida". Meanwhile, his dysfunctional dad has mistakenly called the holy son "Jeebus", offered Ganesh a peanut and, in one of the show's funniest bits, responded to wife Marge's angry claim that "The Lord only asks for one hour a week" with, "In that case, he should have made the week an hour longer. Lousy God."

More importantly, and long before it was considered cool or even acceptable to do so, The Simpsons was devoting much of its scripts to exposing the foolishness and hypocrisy of religious authority figures. Unreasonably wholesome Ned Flanders and tired, cynical Reverend Lovejoy are among the show's most oft-visited targets; one of my favorite moments from the entire run of more than 400 episodes is when Flanders attempts to baptize the Simpson children; Homer's slow-motion "Noooooo!" is a thing of beauty.

Another of TV's atheist heroes is Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly. Whedon is a self-professed "hard-line atheist", and so it is little surprise that in the opening moments of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiere, Buffy's Watcher Giles dismissed Christianity as "popular mythology". Six years later, the series concluded with an arc wherein Buffy killed her chief antagonist: a preacher.

Religion is a neurological disorder.

-- Bill Maher

It would stand to reason that anyone seeking staunch atheism could expect heavy metal music to provide a lifetime supply, but aside from rare gems like Danzig's "Godless" and

Alice in Chains' "Get Born Again", metal has little to contribute to the atheism archives. Even supposedly Satanic bands seldom have the courage to express so much as an atheist thought. Black Sabbath's "After Forever" comes to mind ("I've seen the truth, yes I've seen the light and I've changed my ways/ And I'll be prepared when you're lonely and scared at the end of our days"), along with suck tracks as Iron Maiden's "Revelations" and Ozzy Osbourne's… well… "Revelations".

These songs and many like them seem to be little more than frustrating and calculated attempts to deflect conservative Christian attacks; How can I be a Satan-worshipper if I sing a song like this? It wasn't until the arrival of Marilyn Manson, cheesy and uneven as his lyrics can be, that we were presented a proper atheist anthem in the form of "Fight Song", with its simple but stirring chorus: "I'm not a slave to a god that doesn't exist".

Of course, an atheist song need not be angry, defiant, or hateful. Nick Cave's "Into My Arms", being a ballad from the perspective of an atheist (or perhaps an agnostic) in love with a believer, is among the most touching love songs of the past century: "I don't believe in an interventionist god, but I know, darlin', that you do. But if I did, I would kneel down and ask him not to intervene when it came to you/ Not to touch a hair on your head, to leave you as you are/ If he felt he had to direct you, than direct you into my arms.") The irony is that Nick Cave, a believer, wrote arguably the greatest atheist song of all time.

Anyone seeking more choice quotes, insights and witticisms paying tribute godlessness would do well to type "atheist" into YouTube and "atheist quotes" into Google. In the meantime, we are apparently at war. I say, let's give 'em hell.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta



19. Antwood: Sponsored Content (Planet Mu)

Sponsored Content is a noisy, chaotic, occasionally beautiful work with a dark sense of humor that's frequently deployed to get Antwood's point across. For instance, throughout the aforementioned "Disable Ad Blocker", which sounds mostly like the creepy side of Tangerine Dream's early '80s experimental output, distorted slogans and recognizable themes worm their way into the mix. "I'm Loving It", we hear at one point, the Sony PlayStation startup music at another. And then there's a ten-second clip of what sounds like someone getting killed in a horror movie. What is there to make of the coexistence of those sorts of samples? Probably nothing explicit, just the uneasiness of benign and instantly-recognizable brand content in the midst of harsh, difficult art. Perhaps quality must to some extent be tied to sponsorship. That Antwood can make this point amidst blasts and washes of experimental electronic mayhem is quite the achievement. - Mike Schiller



18. Bonobo - Migration (Ninja Tune)

Although Bonobo, a.k.a. Simon Green, has been vocal in the past about not making personality driven music, Migration is, in many respects, a classic sounding Bonobo record. Green continues to build sonic collages out of chirping synths, jazz-influenced drums, sweeping strings and light touches of piano but on Migration sounds more confident than ever. He has an ability to tap into the emotions like few others such as on the gorgeous "Break Apart" and the more percussive "Surface". However, Bonobo also works to broaden his sound. The electro-classical instrumental "Second Sun" floats along wistfully, sounding like it could have fit snugly onto a Erased Tapes compilation, while the precise and intricate "Grains" shows the more intimate and reflective side of his work. On the flipside, the higher tempo, beat driven tracks such as "Outlier" and "Kerala" perfectly exhibit his understanding of what works on the dance floor while on "Bambro Koyo Ganda" he even weaves North African rhythms into the fabric. Migration is a multifaceted album full of personality and all the better for it. - Paul Carr


17. Kiasmos - Blurred EP (Erased Tapes)

The Icelandic duo of Olafur Arnalds and Janus Rasmussen, aka Kiasmos, is a perfect example of a pair of artists coming from two very different musical backgrounds, finding an unmistakable common ground to create something genuinely distinctive. Arnalds, more known for his minimal piano and string work, and Rasmussen, approaching from a more electropop direction, have successfully explored the middle ground between their different musical approaches and in doing so crafted affecting minimalist electronic music. Blurred is one of the most emotionally engaging electronic releases of the year. The duo is working from a refined and bright sonic palette as they consummately layer fine, measured sounds together. It is an intricate yet unforced and natural sounding set of songs with every song allowed room to bloom gradually. - Paul Carr



16. Ellen Allien - Nost (BPitch Control)

BPitch boss and longtime lynchpin of the DJ scene in Berlin, Ellen Allien's seven full-length releases show an artist constantly reinventing herself. Case in point, her 2013 offering, LISm, was a largely beat-less ambient work designed to accompany an artsy dance piece, while its follow-up, 2017's Nost, is a hardcore techno journey, spiritually born in the nightclubs and warehouses of the early '90s. It boasts nine straight techno bangers, beautifully minimalist arrangements with haunting vocals snippets and ever propulsive beats, all of which harken back to a hallowed, golden, mostly-imagined age when electronic music was still very much underground, and seemingly anything was possible. - Alan Ranta

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Since 2003, Earley's band, Blitzen Trapper, have combined folk, rock and whatever else is lying around to create music that manages to be both enigmatic and accessible. Since their breakthrough album Furr released in 2008 on Sub Pop, the band has achieved critical acclaim and moderate success, but they're still some distance away from enjoying the champagne lifestyle.

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There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

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