For much of WALL∙E, the titular robot speaks not a word, but instead whimpers or exclaims, his language an assortment of expressive erps and eeps.


Director: Andrew Stanton
Cast: Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin, Fred Willard, John Ratzenberger, Kathy Najimy, Sigourney Weaver
MPAA rating: G
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
First date: 2008
UK Release Date: 2008-07-18 (General release)
US Release Date: 2008-06-27 (General release)

At last, an answer to the celebrity voicing in animated movies! No dialogue.

For much of WALL∙E, the titular robot speaks not a word, but instead whimpers or exclaims, his language an assortment of expressive erps and eeps (courtesy of Ben Burtt). When he does offer up language, it tends to variations on the name of his beloved, another robot named EVE (who responds with similar murmurs by Elissa Knight). Their meeting and his insistent, optimistic courtship take up the film's enchanting early portion, revealing the superfluity of words for communicating plots or points.

To be sure, WALL∙E is lonely before he meets EVE. Left behind on earth when humans abandoned it in 2010, the solar-rechargeable machine persists daily with his "directive" to collect and compact garbage, piling it high and repeatedly. Having been at it for some 700 years, WALL∙E's achievement looks from the air like a huge hodgepodge of skyscrapers. Each morning, for centuries, WALL∙E heads out to work, his mechanical treads taking him past the remnants of the people who devised him and his mission, the landscape dotted with logos for BnL (Buy 'n Large), the corporate entity that essentially governed the planet out of inhabitability.

The last of many such robots (the name stands for "Waste Allocation Load Lifter, Earth-Class"), the sole survivor plugs away, keeping for himself assorted bric-a-brac (a Rubik's cube, Twinkies, light bulbs, iPods, lighters, spare parts from other WALL∙Es so he can repair himself when something goes wrong) that he arranges in bins and on shelves back at the trailer that serves as his home base. At night, he watches a videotapes of the film he loves most, Hello, Dolly!, imitating the dance steps and longing for a hand to hold while humming along with "It Only Takes a Moment" ("... To be loved a whole life long"). Adorable and vivacious, WALL∙E brings home a cockroach he finds, another unkillable creature who in the Pixar universe is capable of wordless self-expression (that is, loyalty to the new friend who feeds him a Twinkie).

WALL∙E's encounter with EVE changes his routine. Delivered to the planet via a gigantic space ship amid fiery jets, EVE is all sleek, white, and Mac-y, hovering rather than grinding, swift and lovely. Also lethally armed and an ace shot, EVE slowly warms to the ancient robot's Chaplinesque entreaties, their vast differences overcome at last by their reciprocal loneliness, WALL∙E committed to the precious image of hand-holding in his memory bank.

Just as they look about to connect, the discovery of vegetation alters their embryonic rhythm, as EVE must deliver the evidence back to the human ship that has sent her forth. This disruption of the robots' romance jars the film into a second half, which includes futurized people -- obese, riding on hover-chairs, fixated on media screens ever before their faces, all aboard a BnL ark (the Axiom), riding around in space for 700 years, waiting for earth to become inhabitable once again. Defined by reduced bone mass and their eternal diversion, the humans barely notice time passing, let alone what's happened to their bodies and minds.

Even as the humans' cartoony corpulence offers an abject object lesson per 21st-century pollution and carelessness (this especially compared to WALL∙E's inveterate industriousness), they are granted a glimmer of hope, embodied in their captain (Jeff Garlin). Initially as sluggish as his charges, the captain is roused to a sense of mission when he discovers through a bit of computer-assisted research that earth was once a site of hoe-downs and pizzas (apparently BnL overran the planet using U.S.-labeled product). Challenged by his strangely tenacious auto-pilot, the captain is suddenly determined to find his way back "home," literally standing up to change the dire fate of his race.

While the captain provides the movie with something like a human hero (with fewer blubbery mishaps than you might expect to see exploited for "family movie" humor), he is never so compelling as his robotic counterparts. And if the captain and WALL∙E both end up with the same "directive" in mind -- to recover the plant that proves earth can again sustain life -- it is the robot who provides the film with poetry and uncanny elegance.

At first glance, this only reaffirms what has been true of all the new-generation animated entertainments, that the human characters never muster the same energy, charm or humanity as the toys-sharks-machines-monsters-rats. But the film also pushes this notion to a next step, revealing that even human vocals -- especially celebrity vocals -- have become so much unnecessary, if headline-grabbing, clutter. That said, WALL∙E provides a most excellent exception to prove the rule, Sigourney Weaver as the ship's serene, supreme computer voice: Mother's Revenge or Mother Refracted. Either way, she offers an alternative ideal for the animated celebrity, invisible and resonant.


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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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.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

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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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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