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Performance theft

Wired reports on a mobile-phone application that lets a user scan a barcode of a DVD and launch a bit-torrent download of it at their home (link via BoingBoing). Somehow this seems more like stealing than using a search engine to find a torrent in the privacy of one's own home. Handling the object you will no longer have to buy seems to make tangible the notion of intellectual-property theft, which makes me wonder why anybody would bother to do it. Are there those among us gripped by a self-destructive desire to flamboyantly to perform theft in public rather than in the peace and anonymity of their own homes? This would be like defiantly parading to the Adult Books store rather than surfing for porn online.

Perhaps straight-up pirates who are looking to steal everything to sell it subway platforms and the like woudl benefit from a system in which they could just scan everything on the shelf, but it would seem like these people would have more reason to want not to be on camera in a retail outlet doing this.

It has been a long time since I browsed in a store looking for DVDs or music (one of the major quality-of-life improvements the internet has brought my life is that I never have to go to a record store again), so maybe I have lost touch with that level of impulsivity that would make bar-code-automated stealing seem like a good idea. I suppose it has a poetic flavor to it, using the retail machine's tools against the system itself. (And then I'm going to get a tattoo of a bar code on my arm, to make an important statement about conformity.) It's hard to remember what it was like to have to discover new culture by browsing in stores, though it was once my primary mode of cultural discovery. It still is, to some degree, in book stores and libraries. I'm not nostalgic for learning about music from the import section at Listening Booth -- but it is for that sort of nostalgia that this bar-code-reader

But it seems like most discoveries of new cultural products to want are made online -- a depressing fact is that we have our cultural world expanded not by wandering through the world having experiences and encountering unlikely or unexpected things, but through the systematic and highly rationalized, virtually automated mode of searching online. I could set a schedule by my cultural discoveries -- every week or so I spend an hour or so plowing through newsgroups and mp3 blogs to see if anything sounds interesting. I'm not sure if these count as "discoveries" any more. Instead, I'm merely calibrating my internal novelty-seeking metabolism, rendering the very idea of discovery impossible.

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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