Editor's Choice

Theses inspired by Hipster Runoff

I will take the bait. Here are a few theses inspired by Hipster Runoff, a site that bills itself as "The Most Conceptually Celebrated Blog in the History of the Memesphere." It strikes me as the apotheosis of a new category of critical discourse that, for better or worse, has been slowly congealing over the past few years via such various modalities as LOL cats, Vice magazine do's and don'ts, flame wars, douchebaggery and douche bags as a widely recognized species, text messaging, sock puppeteering, YouTube karaoke, intensely and disturbingly self-referential video art, and so on. This category still needs a label -- I'm hoping that postpostmodern will not be employed. I'm not entirely convinced that this is not just a fresh iteration of previous forms of postmodernity. Anyway, to the theses!

1. Online sociality has brought on a crisis of identity. The self has been externalized and its evolution preserved in ways that were previously unthinkable. The burden of self has thereby become more palpable.

2. Social criticism has been resolved into self-expression.

3. One can't be against hipsters. Hipsterism consists of its own repudiation. Recognizing the existence of hipsters to a certain degree makes one a hipster.

4. Social networks mandate identity formation on the model of cloud computing. One's corporeal self is merely the local host for a self whose operating system is now fixed elsewhere, distributed across a digital array. Our bodies function merely to transfer data to the cloud, to the networked space in which it may be transmogrifed into identity. Akin to "software as a service," we now have self as a service.

5. The variables we transfer to the cloud increasingly delimit the field of identity and condition what sorts of data will subsequently be considered relevant or applicable. Our data trail winnows, making online recommendation services seem more prescient and useful. These services will work to colonize more and more aspects of social being, suggesting friends and lovers as well as music, hobbies and interests. A song recommendation generated by your online practices will not be some byproduct of one's identity but its very substance. One will exist as the residue of the recommendations that one generates actively or passively through consenting to consign most of one's social activity to online forums and have them tracked and compiled. Our identity will only be as deep and complex as the quantitative density of our Facebook status updates and tweets.

6. Existence online appears accelerated, though in fact it consists of a series of frozen moments. It waits for and demands our input, perpetually presenting options and reminding us of alternatives while confronting us with the history of our previous tendencies. It thus forces on us unremitting self-consciousness. There can be no harmonizing of action and its preconception; no spontaneous authenticity.

7. Online, we are made painfully aware of the existential need to act, though that awareness is tempered by the way in which our actions online are always provisional and easily altered, augmented or supplanted. We can embrace necessary action with none of the responsibility for consequences.

8. Online practice is always a simulation in the sense that it occurs within a world that offers no real resistance to the self. A nondialectical space, the field of online being offers nothing to negate; it only assimilates. If, as Hegel claimed, the "rational is the actual" and vice versa, the realm of online simulacra is a realm where rationality is impossible. No critical intention can disrupt the reality presented online, nor can it merge with action and become praxis. Action results not in self-actualization but merely self-conscious agglomeration.

9. The collapse of language into abbreviations, arbitrary conditions of brevity, self-enforced infantilism and the like are attempts to import the the inflexible conditions of reality, against which we shape ourselves, to the online world, which lacks such conditions and threatens us with an amorphous and intolerable incontinence of identity.

10. Faced with the promise of a seemingly infinite extension of identity online, our actual lived identity shrivels to the disappearing point of spontaneous revisions at every instant, all of which are minutely recorded and make subsequent necessary reinventions that much more implausible and untenable.

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

It's just past noon on a Tuesday, somewhere in Massachusetts and Eric Earley sounds tired.

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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Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

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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.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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