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Blogging is still a recent enough phenomenon that most people involved with it are amateurs. Many who invest a great deal of time in it are doing it not for money or market share but for personal attention, for vanity. (One can derive a weird sustenance from the fantasy that one has legions waiting for descirption of parties one has been to, or relationship issues one is wrangling with, or incidental thought on whatever book one happens to be reading -- like me and Structural Transformation. The audience doesn't really exist, but pretense feels more real knowing they could be, that you are accessible and present online. You can pretend you are writing your personal fans into existence with each new post.) Site hits become a kind of currency, a means by which to rationalize one's decisions as one continues writing, providing an underlying purpose that pursuing profits often provides in other endeavors. So is blogging, and internet presence in general, evolving into a parallel economy (not unlike the strangely viable ones that spring up in online role-playing games like Worlds of Warcraft, et. al.) that runs on attention and interconnection rather that cash? (This Business Week article calls the number of Google hits you have "the Q ratings for the creative class" in the "era of microcelebrity" and coins the phrase ego surfing to describe searching the Web for oneself.) Or is attention merely a temporary proxy that everyone involved hopes one day to convert to cash, the way eBay allows you to turn your garage-sale refuse into money. Are bloggers looking to earn attention now to earn a living later, or are the attention, the feeling relevant to cultural debate, the community-formation that one can initiate and direct -- are these sufficently rewarding for their own sake, and will continue to be, drawing more and more participants without destabilizing the entire sphere?

Previously, the capital needed to publish and communicate on a mass scale eventually made the press an arm of corporate power -- just as the masses who expected to participate in the public sphere reduced it to a lowest-common-denominator discourse of leisure and passive entertainment. Internet media permits and rewards a more active approach to media consumption; it makes that consumption more productive, more critical and transformative. One can reinterpret and retransmit what one consumes -- by "remixing" cultural product to undermine it or make it more representative or expressive for the consumer or specific subculture or community built on shared intrests, or by linking to various items of interest, glossing them with what one wants to add to the conversation these items evoke, stoking the debate implicit in news or goods or ideas. This value that any individual consumers can add and pass along (a la wikis, blogs, filesharing, etc.) for no reward other than recognition, if that. The reward may simply be contributing to the public good in away that seems tangible and direct. The reward is a sense of belonging to a community that isn't one of defensive exploitation and status competition -- one that certainly persists in capitalist societies, but is driven underground by a variety of factors -- atomized living conditions in suburbs, job insecurity, invidious comparisons made salient by physical presence (seeing what others have and envying it). The Internet may revive the conceptual space where the public sphere can thrive.

The trend in the past has been for commercialization to ultimately undermine community-forming and alternate forms of authority to cash piles. The "bourgeois public sphere" that Habermas chronicles in The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere began as a public forum of disinterested debate as the bourgeoisie sought to repudiate feudal power and unjust influence peddling of courtiers close to monarchs and aristocrats. "Publicity once meant the exposure of political domination before the public use of reason" -- is this what disinterested, noncommercial blogging is reinstating now, after the public sphere had been "refeudalized" by the business of public relations and advertising, which corrupted discourse and made it opaquely instrumental? (The process that made public discourse into "publicity.") Will political blogs provide a lasting infrastructure for a critical-rational public sphere, as Habermas calls it? Or will they be refeudalized -- taken into the operations of public relations and become promotional and advertising and propaganda tools controlled by centralized mass media? If advertising remains the main source of cultural credibility, then inevitably the promise of blogging to provide a counterweight to commercial media will fall apart; if people cease to blog for the pleasure of existing in public space, and begin to demand something more tangibly beneficial (power, connections, money) -- then it will probably turn into a giant MySpace where one parleys the attention of marketeres into some paltry excuse for self-esteem and one congratulates oneself not for the substance of one's contribution to public debate, but for how many others whom, by virtue of your connections, you can feel superior to. In short, in will refelct the society that already exists in real space.


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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