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PM Pick

Which beer am I?

I like to think that when I choose a beer to drink, I'm picking based on which one I think tastes best among the available options. In this I'm probably wrong. I'm exercising my taste, but not my taste buds; rather I'm probably picking based on my taste for who I want to pretend to be. That's what I learned, anyway, from an article about Miller Brewing's recent market-share renaissance in the latest BusinessWeek. This in't really news, but the brewer's various brands are all designed to target certain male lifestyles, or certain moments in the drinking man's life. "The imported Peroni targets trendsetters. Milwaukee's Best Light is for the hard-working man. Icehouse is positioned as the beer for young guys to drink before going out." What a touching image: "Miller wants Icehouse to be the beer for those times when you're hanging out with the guys, playing Xbox. or gearing up to go out." That's funny, I thought this might be the beer they were secretly interested in. No mention is made of which beer to have when you are having more than one, or which one to have when you're looking for a little of the hair of the dog in the morning, or which one to have before you go careening off the road drunk driving. A beer I drink sometimes, Pilsner Urquell (it's plan B after Spaten at the Bohemian beer garden near where I live), is designed for "discerning drinkers," so it figures I would foolishly think I was buying it for the taste rather than to send out the signal that I'm discerning.

Anyway, this illustrates the insidious way brands are supposed to operate. Through sheer advertising and promotional clout, a brand is associated with a lifestyle, a concept of masculinity or modernity or insightfulness or free-spiritedness or whatever, and one might gravitate to that brand in an attempt to reinforce one's own sense of oneself. But inevitably -- maybe this already has happened -- it begins to seem that you must buy the appropriate brands to be masculine or fun or discriminating, that you can't demonstrate those qualities without being on the playing field of brands, without speaking the language of brands to get the message out. It's no loner enough to simply act in the way you want to be perceived. If you aren't accompanying that with the sanctioned products, you are insufficiently invested in your chosen identity, you are not putting your money where your mouth is, you are inauthentic.

And then we're where anthropologists Mary Douglas and Baron Isherwood, among others, insist we are, where consumerism, brands, etc. are deemed necessary to be able to express oneself in any meaningful way at all. Ultimately, brands and advertising have this corrosive effect on behavior itself, refuting its ability to stand on its own, to be understood plainly. But perhaps the idea that it ever was so straightforward and legible is itself a mystification. A hypothesis: Perhaps the relance on consumerism for behavior authentication comes with a loosening of the class hierarchy. Once, the context within which behavior becomes comprehensible was determined by class-based identities that were fixed; there weren't opportunities for dilettantism. With social mobility a need opens up for something new to supply context -- hence lifestyle consumerism, backing up certain behavior with the effort and resources required to acquire the accoutrements of such behavior. This thereby proves your committment to the lifestlye and makes people feel comfortable in really seeing you that way. So authenticity is turned inside out -- you establish it by investing energy in maintaining the illusion of it by discovering and acquiring the appropriate products, not by simply responding spontaneously to whatever situation you are confronted with. So next time you are pounding a few 12-packs of Miller MGD, rest assured you've proved you are a "mainstream sophisticate" far more convincingly than you would by actually acting like an adult.

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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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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