Marginal Utility
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When shopping nirvana shrivels away like the mega mall growing incrementally smaller behind you at the end of a long day, and buyer's remorse begins gnawing at your nerves, and you begin to fret the futility of it all, Rob Horning's blog, "Marginal Utility", steps in to stimulate your woefully neglected neocortex. Read, laugh, weep, but above all: realize. You'll feel smarter again in no time.
More Recent Features
In ‘Mountains May Depart’ China’s Future Is Coming, Like It or Not

Jia Zhangke’s quasi-surreal triptych captures a fractured China losing its bearings amidst momentous changes.

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‘How to Be Single’, Until You’re Not

While you might know that being single and being coupled need not be antithetical, romantic comedies don't tend to embrace emotional or moral complexities.

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Arrow: Season 4, Episode 12 - “Unchained”

In a jam-packed episode, the most startling development is Oliver learning to let those closest to him make their own decisions.

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Instead of Mocking Modern Fashion, ‘Zoolander 2’ Is Undone By It

Dumb can only take you so far, and Zoolander 2 proves that stupidity's shelf life is very short, indeed.

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Transatlantic Sessions 2016, Royal Festival Hall, London

A wonderfully diverse set of artists and material, including surprise appearances of Bowie and Pink Floyd songs, made this year's Transatlantic Session a joy.

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Whedon’s Women: Melinda May and Maria Hill as Transgressive Superheroines

Leanne McRae explores Maria Hill and Melinda May as a groundbreaking new type of superhero; one without powers who's nonetheless always in command.

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Surviving the Moral Narrative of ‘Taxi Driver’ 40 Years On

"You do a thing and that's what you are." So what does that make us, the voyeurs in Travis Bickle’s world?

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Fleetwood Mac: Tusk (Deluxe Edition)

Despite popular narratives, Tusk isn't all druggy, unabashed excess. Instead, this new sets shows the record as a deeply self-conscious document, the sound of a band that didn't rebel against success so much as it misunderstood the privilege it brings.

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12 Feb 2016 // 2:20 AM

Foxes: All I Need

All I Need does not aim to make Foxes stand out amidst an overcrowded pop scene, but it still guarantees some of the pop singles this year will see.

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The James Hunter Six: Hold On!

This is more than interpretation or retro-perfection soul. This is the real deal that will kick your butt right out onto the dance floor.

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12 Feb 2016 // 2:10 AM

Alex Smoke: Love Over Will

Electro-recluse Alex Smoke re-emerges with a long gestating new album that adds up to an engaging, if unsettling, minor masterpiece.

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Elvis Costello’s ‘Detour: Live At Liverpool Philharmonic Hall Featuring Larkin Poe’

Elvis Costello has a rich body of songs, so it's no surprise that when he turns up on the stage he bests even some of the greats.

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There’s Splendid Concept Art to Be Found in ‘The Art of Star Wars’

This is a visually stunning display of concepts, characters and starships from a galaxy far, far away that, more often than not, didn’t even end up on screen.

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Ben Kenobi Returns in ‘Star Wars #15’

Jason Aaron provides another glimpse of Obi-Wan's years on Tatooine. But who has he become?

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The Flash: Season 2, Episode 13 - “Welcome to Earth-2”

"Do not get distracted," the Flash from Earth-2 instructs the Flash from Earth-1. But of course, getting distracted is precisely what The Flash wants us to do.

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iZombie: Season 2, Episode 12 - “Physician, Heal Thy Selfie”

“Physician, Heal Thy Selfie” does a great deal of heavy lifting plot-wise, yet it never does so at the expense of good storytelling and character development.

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There’s Something Oddly Comforting in Chris Oliveros’ Futile Tale

The Envelope Manufacturer is a light parable on the ravages of neoliberal capitalism.

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11 Feb 2016 // 2:30 AM

Wild Nothing: Life of Pause

Jack Tatum’s third album doesn’t chase new horizons so much as it absorbs their reflection into his fondly familiar dream pop bubble.

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Destined for Greatness: A Conversation With Rikard Sjöblom of Beardfish

Beardfish frontman Sjöblom discusses the makings of his latest solo effort, The Unbendable Sleep, as well as the future of Beardfish, Big Big Train, and more.

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Various Artists: Still in a Dream 1988-1995: A Story of Shoegaze

This handsome, five-disc, 87-track box has more shoegaze than you can shake a delay pedal at.

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11 Feb 2016 // 2:15 AM

Chairlift: Moth

Moth is polished, poppy fun.

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‘Sun Ra: a Joyful Noise’ and the Joy of Ra’s Mythocracy

This film serves as an excellent way to try to begin to comprehend the enigma that was Sun Ra.

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The Hot 8 Brass Band: Vicennial: 20 Years of the Hot 8 Brass Band

A nicely rounded collection of the old and new on a collection that teeters on flawed, then bounces back with high energy and deep musicianship.

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The Nebulas Are Not About Elitism, But About Giving a Platform to Good Sci-fi Stories

Nebula Awards Showcase 2015 shows that contemporary literary sci-fi is in rude health.

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Earl Burrows: No Love for the Drowning

Earl Burrows is an intriguing, polychromatic, rock and roll entity. No Love for the Drowning, the band's debut, sports an astute, introspective nature, and an adventurous, exploratory urge.

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The Day the Specials Kicked Their Doc Martens Boots Against the Door

The ska revival kicked to life by the Specials blended previous subcultural styles in their own Cuisinart: Kingston, Jamaica, Mod, Skinhead and Jamaican rude-boy.

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The X-Files: Season 10, Episode 4 - “Home Again”

Where “Mulder and Scully Meet a Were-Monster” was meant to relive all the good times, “Home Again” poignantly reminds them of all they’ve been through and sacrificed.

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Mercy Street: Season 1, Episode 4 - “The Belle Alliance”

Mercy Street hits its stride with the various and earned twists and turns of its fourth episode.

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The Red Hot Chili Peppers Stoke the Fire for Bernie Sanders’ Political Revolution

The band’s short but sweet 12-song set reverberated with an electrifying vibe, charged by the sense of supporting Sanders’ political revolution.

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Supergirl: Season 1, Episode 13 - “For the Girl Who Has Everything”

This week's episode of Supergirl is inspired by one of the best known and most critically lauded Superman stories in the Man of Steel's long history; it fails precisely where that story succeeded.

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Daniel Craig’s James Bond Doesn’t Break a Sweat in ‘Spectre’

The 24th (official) James Bond film delivers with sleek, sexy cool and better realism, to the degree that Bond can really be "real".

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Downton Abbey: Season 6, Episode 6

While this week's plots run in a predictable fashion, there's still fun to be had in the Abbey.

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‘The Witness’: Puzzles Are Teachers, Puzzles Are Bullies

The Witness is the most pleasant and educational descent/ascent into madness you’ll ever experience.

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Tindersticks: The Waiting Room

The world's most cinematic band has invited a collection of film directors to interpret their latest record, to stunning effect.

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When Is Art Beautiful? When Is It Just Boring?

To paraphrase art critic Peter Schjeldahl, beauty is a kind of action and reaction between the work and the viewer, or the listener, or the reader. Beauty happens.

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10 Feb 2016 // 2:20 AM

Basia Bulat: Good Advice

If there's one thing that Good Advice shows most of all, it's Basia Bulat's flexibility as a songwriter. Her take on pop makes her emotive and multi-dimensional.

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Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto: The Revenant

After a short hiatus from music, Ryuichi Sakamoto set himself up for quite the challenge in scoring The Revenant.

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10 Feb 2016 // 2:10 AM

Bloodiest: Bloodiest

Relapse Records and Chicago underdogs team up for a bloody good noise/art rock mélange.

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Brown Lives Don’t Matter in the Dark and Cruel World of ‘Visaranai’

Visaranai compels us to interrogate our presumptions about the bourgeois state apparatus.

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10 Feb 2016 // 2:05 AM

Charles Murdoch: Point

Charles Murdoch first created a stir in 2013 and now returns to stir things up again with a record that is more emotionally complex than you might think at first.

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Questioning Authenticity and Narrative Performance in Dodie Bellamy’s ‘When the Sick Rule the World’

A new collection of writings by one of the progenitors of the American New Narrative movement is stylistically impressive, but lacks engagement with its subject matter.

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Hangin’ Loose: Exploring British Soul in the Music of Loose Ends

Loose Ends cultivated an art in supreme sophistication with their groundbreaking experiments in British soul and R&B during the '80s. Decades later, their music remains as potent as it was when it first graced the airwaves and clubs of both the UK and US.

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9 Feb 2016 // 2:33 PM

Pete Astor: Spilt Milk

The former Weather Prophet rediscovers his jangle ‘n’ roll voice.

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‘Jim: The James Foley Story’: Remembering and Not Knowing

Jim: The James Foley Story makes you aware of the need for more storytelling and more visibility, more open doors and more lessons shared.

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The Expanse: Season 1, Episode 6 - “Rock Bottom”

"Rock Bottom" marks a turning point in the journeys of our main characters, as The Expanse transitions to what promises to be an explosive second half of the season.

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The Blacklist: Season 3, Episode 13 – “Alistair Pitt (No. 103)”

A nice bounce back week for The Blacklist, although it still has a way to go to regain its mojo.

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9 Feb 2016 // 4:00 AM

Laser: Night Driver

Lisa Lobsinger has logged many hours with Broken Social Scene and is an excellent performer. Unfortunately, this collection doesn't find her living up to her full potential.

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“At the Service of the Song”: A Conversation with Angelique Kidjo

Angelique Kidjo speaks with conviction and humour about the major issues that drive her, such as the promotion of African music, the education of women, and our shared destiny as a people.

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9 Feb 2016 // 3:00 AM

Kent Finlay, Dreamer

Cheatham Street Warehouse founder Finlay was one of the world’s best-known and best-loved promoters, mentors, and gurus of Texas music.

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9 Feb 2016 // 2:30 AM

Future: EVOL

EVOL doesn’t stand up to Future's critical peaks, but this could easily be seen as but a release to tide fans over before the next blockbuster.

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Why Does Paul Bowles’ 70-Year-Old Existential Masterpiece Continue to Test Our Limits?

The Sheltering Sky is itself a test of limits: its form is an exploration of how far one can go in novel writing.

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Gogo Penguin: Man Made Object

Gogo Penguin’s debut on Blue Note is a relentless, electronic-influenced collection of rhythmic jazz that would make Miles Teller jealous.

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Promise and the Monster: Feed the Fire

Seriously kids, don't feed the fire. OK, but only if Promise and the Monster ask you nicely.

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Sister Sledge: Circle of Love (Special 40th Anniversary Edition)

By the time this record came out in 1975 Sister Sledge had been gigging steadily for some time and releasing small singles. There's little evidence of the powerhouse this quartet became.

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‘Take Me to the River’, Please

This promising documentary about the past and future of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta music scene is overcrowded with too many captains who steer the boat aground.

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What Doesn’t Kill You Will Surely Give You Heartburn

When reading The Bare Bones Broth Cookbook, food safety and strange adaptations of classic recipes may come to mind.

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Keeping Up With Jessica Jones, the Postmodern Anti-Hero Next Door

Jessica Jones breaks the Marvel superhero mold in a distinctly postmodern way.

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The Magicians: Season 1, Episode 4 - “The World in the Walls”

A well-crafted episode that ties together the loose threads that have made up this season so far.

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A No-Nonsense Agenda for the Left

The authors of Inventing the Future ask: why think local, when there’s a world to win?

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Junior Boys: Big Black Coat

First album in five years from the Canadian synth-poppers... now even synth-poppier.

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Nap Eyes: Thought Rock Fish Scale

There is a sense throughout that we’re sitting spellbound listening to a storyteller, even though part of our being is never completely sure we follow or even trust the yarns he’s spinning.

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Sierra Hull: Weighted Mind

Sierra Hull comes into her own, perhaps a bit ironically, on an album that has much to do with doubt.

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The Truth: A Step in the Right Direction: Singles, Demos, BBC Live (1983-1984)

Mining the R&B/Mod terrain of the early 1980s, the Truth was an attempt to fill a void left by the Jam. A new collection captures the band in its earliest form, doing what it did best back then.

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When Talkies Were Red Hot: ‘Gold Dust Gertie’ and ‘Her Majesty, Love’

From the era of Hollywood's creative borrowing of Broadway come two scandalous comedies that predate the Production Code's thematic restrictions.

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Shovels and Rope: Busted Jukebox, Vol. 1

Busted Jukebox, Vol. 1 features more imagination than most albums of original material.

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Christopher Hitchens’ Posthumous Anthology, ‘And Yet…’, and Yet There Is More

Why reprint what's already available, as done here, if a bounty of miscellanea is still uncollected?

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Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade: Children of the Light

Three jazz greats step out on their own as a trio for the first time after years working together as part of the Wayne Shorter Quartet.

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The New Faith of Kendrick Lamar: Dramatic Unity in ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’

Lamar's story is more that just a personal statement or expression; it seeks to bring light into a city corrupted by darkness.

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‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ Is in Pursuit of Brains

Lizzy and her sisters spar in the basement while debating the merits of one suitor or another, slamming one another into walls and bearing posts.

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Muse Commandeer Barclays Center for Drones World Tour (Photos)

Resistance is futile. Muse's walloping Drones World Tour forces the audience to confront Big Brother.

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The Magicians: Season 1, Episode 3 - “Consequences of Advanced Spellcasting”

Stella Maeve's performance is the bright spot in an episode that suffers from the same issues as the pilot.

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The Blacklist: Season 3, Episode 12 - “The Vehm (No. 132)”

Last year, much of The Blacklist felt like 3 pounds of sausage in a 5 pound casing; hopefully, "The Vehm" is an aberration rather than an indication of rest of the season.

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‘Hail, Caesar!’ Is a Comedy Without Laughs

The Coen brothers’ artfully conceived but strained satire of '50s Hollywood gets the look right, but little else.

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Game Theory: Lolita Nation

The most critically acclaimed masterpiece of the '80s that you’ve never heard finally sees re-release. Time having been kinder to this long lost album than the music industry, it remains fresh, exciting, and essential for any fan of good pop songwriting.

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Sweet Dreams Are Made of This: An Interview With Dave Stewart

With his new memoir Sweet Dreams Are Made of This in mind, Stewart joins PopMatters for an in-depth discussion about his new book and his influential catalog of music.

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Chaos Does Not Mean Despair in Bowie’s Soundscapes

What Bowie's music describes, again and again, is that we were endlessly, relentlessly killing ourselves.

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5 Feb 2016 // 2:20 AM

Mass Gothic: Mass Gothic

Noel Heroux crafts a genre-blending record of infectious creativity in debut as Mass Gothic.

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Bert Jansch: Avocet (Special Edition)

To say Avocet is representative of Bert Jansch’s other work would be missing the mark because it’s so individual and unique.

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Venomous Concept: Kick Me Silly: VCIII

Grindy little supergroup bringing together members of Napalm Death, Brutal Truth, etc. gives the people what they want with 20 tracks of whack.

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‘The New Mutants’ Is Rooted Both in Scholarship and in the Rich History of Superhero Narratives

Books about comic books, even scholarly ones, should be fun; The New Mutants certainly is.

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Benji Hughes: Songs in the Key of Animals

The beauty of the stream of consciousness that bleeds into both Hughes' lyrics and his melodies is that while it feels sporadic, it doesn’t ever become disjointed.

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5 Feb 2016 // 2:00 AM

Jamie Woon: Making Time

Jamie Woon’s Making Time is a diligently watched pot that, predictably, refuses to boil.

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The X-Files: Season 10, Episode 3 - “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”

Even if the remaining three episodes don’t live up to the standard set by “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”, there’s no doubt that it'll stand as a new classic.

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Tradition Meets Innovation at the Fifth Annual Maqam Fest

In a city with an abundance of smartly conceived and adventurous music events, Maqam Fest stands out for its unique vision and its broad and expanding constituency.

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The Flash: Season 2, Episode 12 - “The Fast Lane”

The Flash is one of the best family dramas on TV today.

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iZombie: Season 2, Episode 11 - “Fifty Shades of Grey Matter”

At this point, the larger story that looms over the entire series is so intricate and the characterizations so spot-on that watching the show never disappoints.

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‘Spider-Man #1’ Shows That Adolescence Is Everybody’s Kryptonite

Give any teenager superpowers and they'll still struggle with just being a teenager.

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Arrow: Season 4, Episode 11 - “A.W.O.L.”

Arrow takes a breather from the fight against H.I.V.E., and instead turns the focus to Felicity and Diggle.

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On the Meaningful Nonsense in ‘Jottings From a Far Away Place’

Formally inventive, beautifully written and thematically dense, Brendan Connell's latest collection is a multi-layered anthology that compels multiple readings.

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August Wilson’s ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ Gets a Vibrant National Theatre Revival

Charismatic performances from O-T Fagbenle and Sharon D Clarke ignite Dominic Cooke’s major revival of August Wilson’s play at the National Theatre.

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4 Feb 2016 // 2:30 AM

Bloc Party: Hymns

Over a decade since their classic debut Silent Alarm, Bloc Party's fifth album does nothing to change the downward trajectory of each album they've released since.

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Bruce Springsteen, ‘The Ties That Bind’, the Working Class, and Authenticity

As we use the term today, authenticity allows no truth from art, only from artists. It visits art the way one visits a subway station or an airport: to get to somewhere else.

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4 Feb 2016 // 2:20 AM

nonkeen: the gamble

nonkeen's the gamble is a really impressive release given its context. Strip the album out of it and the listener will have something more humane and approachable.

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Jason Collett: Song and Dance Man

A versatile assemblage of roots and country-influenced singer/songwriter pop, with splashes of '70s AM soul.

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Ane Brun: When I’m Free

Ane Brun is capable of making strong records, maybe even great ones. But this isn't one of them.

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Takashi Murakami’s ‘Jellyfish Eyes’ Smacks of Derivative Pastiche

Famed Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami earnestly attempts to translate his innovative Superflat aesthetic to the world of film.

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Wadada Leo Smith and John Lindberg: Celestial Weather

A titan of trumpet, a titan of double bass come together and give us a record that is undeniable in its ability to blow winds and minds.

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Is It Always Better to Think Things Through Twice?

Columnist Stanley Fish's collection of works has readers reconsidering how they form their opinions.

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The Resolution of a Lifespan: James Dean in ‘Giant’

In Giant, James Dean plays a character so desperate to belong that he winds up becoming a perverted reflection of it.

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‘Madoff’: That Smirk Seen Round the World

With a smirk, Dreyfuss as Madoff invites you to feel as though he's granting exclusive access to the mechanics of the biggest Ponzi scheme in US history.

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More Recent Features
//Mixed media
//Blogs

Violin Virtuoso L. Subramaniam Mesmerizes in Rare New York Performance (Photos)

// Notes from the Road

"Co-presented by the World Music Institute, the 92Y hosted a rare and mesmerizing performance from India's violin virtuoso L. Subramaniam.

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