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In the spirit of open-mindedness and discovery I decided to go to a place that I never thought I would be: Disney World, and in particular Epcot Center, which I was told was the "educational" park on the resort. But I wasn't so open-minded not to have already prepared a thesis to test, an elaborate theory about reificiation of the ideas of "curiosity" and "discovery" and the efforts of Disney to capitalize on consumers' habitual passivity but promising pseudo-interactivity and all that sort of thing. The premise -- you pay them to do your imagining and discovering for you but then take the credit for it simply by showing up. As it says in the Epcot brochure: "Use your imagination and experience more of ours." For some reason (general unfamiliarity and credulity, I think) I had it in my mind that Disney was actually really good at capturing the spirit of discovery and the excitement of new things and was capable of conveying the feeling of that without the substance. (This way they stifle the desire for substance and and reinforce the desire for shortcuts, for experience as a packaged thing rather than a process of which every step yields pleasure and personal betterment. Imagination is a process. not an experience, but Disney wants to invert that. Disney, I thought, was trying to hoard the "magic" of discovery and curiosity to itself, to corner the market on it.) I figured the whole point of the company was that its name guaranteed a tourist experience a cut above the run of the mill tourist traps.

Obviously, anyone who has been there knows it is the mother of all tourist traps, trading on the fame of the cartoons to hawk merchandise and pacify children. I was shocked at how shallow and second-rate Epcot was; the lameness was beyond all expectation. Epcot doesn't reify curisoity; it pretends that it simply doesn't exist. In Disney's world, curiosity is extinct and all that is left is platitudes ("Over time, communication has changed!" "Man has learned over time to take care of the land!") and empty spectacles, epitomized perfectly by the sail-by dioramas (with the weird robots acting out cliched scenes), the soaring films of landcape footage and the vapid tones the corporation's "cast members" (aka wage slaves) are trained to take when making their mirthless recitations of any information that they are required to provide. Our guide on the "Living on the Land" ride spoke as if to make it clear that he had no idea what he was saying and none of us should really care about that. The tone he took to list (not explain or elaborate) the fruits of hydroponic agriculture was the exact same tone the minion in charge of the "O Canada" movie took when she instructed us not to sit on the lean rail. It is a tone to discourage questions and placate children. It's a tone that doesn't admit of inqusitiveness in any form, and it is the prevailing spirit of the park.

And very little need be said of the absurd "World showcase" exhibits meant to represent a dozen or so countries -- these reduce cultures to a representative restaurant and gift shop, and perhaps, maybe a surround-screen movie shot in the 1980s featuring marching bands in a parade. (The same idiots who watch parades are perhaps the same people who flock to Disney World. Parades and pointless pagaentry seem to feature prominently in every aspect of the resort -- the triumphal music that blares everywhere, the grandiose architecture, the uniforms, etc.) Not that one would expect anything resembling authenticity, but still -- I've learned a lot more about Italy from reading the placemats at Sal & Joe's than I did by visiting the Italy portion of Epcot.

So Epcot was a pretty much a waste of $60 for me (I had about ten zillion times more fun at Disney's miniature golf courses, which are hidden away in nooks and crannies of the Disney fiefdom) but I looked around and I didn't see too many discontented faces while I was there. It seemed like no one would have ever thought to question that what they had paid was worth it. "Worth it" probably wasn't really a factor. Being able to be there at all is probably better understood as a middle-class rite of passage, a sign that you've made it into the mainstream. $60 is a small price to pay to feel like you belong in America.


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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