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Ugly cars

I'm going to assume this jump hed, for a story about Toyota, in today's Wall Street Journal is dripping with irony and relish it accordingly: "Scion's Cool Strategy Is to Sell Fewer Cars." The counterintuitive strategy of buying something ugly (like a Toyota Scion, which looks like a rolling refrigerator box) so that your purchase can make you unique is dumb enough; buying one that's also deliberately made to be rare in hopes of enhancing its exculsivity is just downright stupid. The Scion is much like a faddish car from a few years ago, the "retro" P.T. Cruiser, which conveniently has a brand name that is as lame as the car actually is. (It must be named for P.T. Barnum, who of course noted that there's a sucker born every minute.) But by owning one of these you show how slavishly dependent you are on brand marketers for parcelling out to you your apportioned amount of "coolness" -- that you have been convinced that your own behavior alone is insufficient to establish your own worth, your own hipness (if you are determined to be hung up on such juvenilia in the first place). It's as though you want to signal to the world with your ugly car the ugliness and insecurity trapped within your soul. (Not unlike the goth strategy of marring one's face with pale makeup, wearing half destroyed and unflattering black clothes and getting unbelievably bad dye jobs done to one's hair -- this shows how different they are.) If you are confident about your coolness, you don't need to buy a car that Toyota has decided in advance will be its cool brand. If you do, you're not cool, you're a dupe; you are announcing that you are easily swayed by marketing tactics. Snake-oil salesmen of all stripes should be saving their money for the Scion customer list, because these people can certainly be sold on all sorts of artificially rare pseudo-positional goods that sensible people recognize as worthless. That is if Scion itself doesn't beat them to it:

To better position it as an "underground" brand, Scion over the past year has reduced its television advertising -- never very significant to begin with -- to a narrow range of late-night and obscure programs, like shows on Cartoon Network's late-night "Adult Swim" programming. (On the Oct. 29 episode of "Frisky Dingo" on "Adult Swim," a Scion tC was talked about by the show's characters.) Now it is re-evaluating that strategy and may completely get rid of television advertising so it can focus more on experiential marketing, including event marketing and branded entertainment. Scion already launched its own music label for emerging artists and its own clothing line called Scion Release.

Wow, those cartoon characters were talking up the Scion? Maybe I need to rethink this whole "ugly cars are for idiots" thing, because watching adult cartoons like "Frisky Dingo" is also really "cool." And I can't wait to check out the great bands I'm sure will be involved with this project. Scion is so cool, it's moved beyond MySpace to Second Life, which fits, because Second Life seems to be a realm devoted in part to the creation of value through artificial scarcity.

When prizing ugliness no longer suffices to serve as a distinguishing mark of advanced taste, the next logical step will be embrace non-descript averageness -- whereby we will attempt to stand out by being entirely indistinguishable. From there, the only way to be cool will be to disappear altogether.

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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Music

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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7

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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