Marginal Utility
Image: Marginal Utility
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
Karl Denson Brings Balance to the Force in 60th Birthday Fillmore Fiesta

The fact that Denson turns 60 on this same day that beloved Rebel Alliance leader Leia Organa has passed away at the age of 60 herself presents some deep insight on what a difference lifestyle can make in human longevity.

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The Lack of Imagination in ‘The Bye Bye Man’ Is Vexing

The Bye Bye Man's illogic is typical of horror movies.

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17 Jan 2017 // 8:57 AM

Wovenwar: Honor Is Dead

Wovenwar returns with an entertaining if safe sophomore effort. The group hasn't yet found its groove, but it's getting there—one radio-ready growl at a time.

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17 Jan 2017 // 8:53 AM

Jeff Parker: Slight Freedom

Guitarist Jeff Parker has now surpassed his previous solo albums and everything he ever did with Tortoise on his vinyl release Slight Freedom.

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17 Jan 2017 // 8:40 AM

J. Cole: 4 Your Eyez Only

A deeply personal album 4 Your Eyez Only represents J. Cole's most mature and cohesive record to date.

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On Speaking to Southerners About Southerners

The Liberal Redneck Manifesto is poised to really put a dent in this mess that landed that creepy moneybag in the White House.

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Menace Beach: Lemon Memory

Menace Beach return with their sophomore effort, Lemon Memory, with their ‘cool’ intact and some new tricks.

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A Minute to Breathe: Interview With Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

"The last thing I wanted to do was make a song that was preachy about climate change," saysReznor, who with Ross tackles the world's biggest issues on their own terms.

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‘His Girl Friday’: What a Difference One Sex Change Makes

By switching the main character’s gender and adding romantic sparks, Hawks turned the masterful, raucous Chicago newsroom farce The Front Page into the perfect screwball comedy.

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17 Jan 2017 // 2:30 AM

The Flaming Lips: Oczy Mlody

Oczy Mlody feels less like the group's 14th grand artistic statement and more like a minor footnote to a once-great band's recent output.

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To Live in The World of Edena—With an Orange-Haired Tyrant

Moebius' The World of Edena is a masterpiece that's fitting for reintroduction in our troubled times.

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Ancient Worlds: A Global History of Antiquity by Michael Scott

We are invited to adjust our angle of vision to consider multiple ancient worlds in Central Asia, India, and China.

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“The Bad Beginning” Is Anything But in Netflix’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’

Both visually and narratively, A Series of Unfortunate Events works far better as a series than the ill-conceived film that preceeded it; a gothic fable for our time.

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Dropkick Murphys: 11 Short Stories of Pain and Glory

The Celtic rockers offer messages of confrontation and recovery in the faces of losers, fools, and habits.

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16 Jan 2017 // 9:20 AM

The xx: I See You

Building off Jamie xx's In Colour, the xx have at last escaped from their own self-imposed limitations.

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Documenting the Little Abuses: Copwatching, Community Organizing, and Video Activism

The ascent of affordable video technology assists in propelling movements for self-determination and self-respect.

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Transience Permeates the Introspective Pages in ‘Turkey Rediscovered’

Where Job scraped his sores, where Xenophon crossed the Euphrates, Krause Reichert links the stories he knows well to their terrain and traces.

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The Similitude of Dreams: A Conversation With Neal Morse

American prog rock icon Neal Morse delves into the creation of his newest opus, The Similitude of a Dream.

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Our Lives Are Guided By Addiction

Gregor Hens’ new non-fiction work, Nicotine, is an exploration of one particular niche in the addiction dialogue.

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Joshua Redman and Brad Mehldau: Nearness

Good jazz doesn't always have to knock down barriers. Sometimes it's just the sound of two friends catching up.

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Forcing Connections in ‘100 Streets’

100 Streets offers four groups of people who have nothing to do with each other than, well, the fact that they have to.

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Madness: Can’t Touch Us Now

Madness serves up a release that disappoints while also suggesting there's still plenty of life left in the veteran band.

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Various Artists: Bobo Yéyé: Belle Époque in Upper Volta

Bobo Yéyé: Belle Époque in Upper Volta is a goldmine for musical history buffs and an excellent purchase for anyone in need of a little more African jazz.

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Sundara Karma: Youth Is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect

British indie rock's latest "next great hope" release a debut album packed with anthemic sing-alongs and a festival-ready sound, but also hints at greater depth, lyrical range and musical intelligence.

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The Band of Heathens: Duende

All in all, Duende goes down as the first notable Americana release of the New Year.

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Metallica Is Back: They Never Were the Bad Guys

Metallica's already huge legacy is solidifying, and history is treating them quite well.

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Luigi Pirandello on Film: L’Umorismo and Confronting the Other of the Self

The Film Forum hosts seven films based on the writing of Luigi Pirandello that illustrate the complex ironies of the fractured Self.

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‘Arsenal’: Saving Your Brother From Himself

This small entertaining genre movie about the strengths and dangers of brotherhood transcends its shortcomings.

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‘We Are the Flesh’ Is a Work of Art Masquerading as an Atrocity

The madman’s meditations on the rewards afforded solitude are intriguing and there are intimations that he has roots in a reality we might recognize.

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‘This Is Us’ Has Some Mixed Messages About Parenting in “Career Days”

This Is Us is in danger of presenting parenthood as a zero sum game.

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‘Rogue Archives’: Fan Fiction and Cultural Memory

Featuring "archive elves" and "digital marionettes", Rogue Archives offers a joyful memorialization of fan productions.

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Colin Kaepernick and the Perils of Patriotism as Fandom

For citizens of a country founded on rebellion, many people in the United States seem inordinately resentful of someone speaking their mind.

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The Forecast Is Unsettling in ‘It’s Always Fair Weather’

Not all musicals present a slap-happy world.

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12 Jan 2017 // 2:30 AM

Austra: Future Politics

Austra's third album represents a fuller realization of their self-concept as a queer political band.

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12 Jan 2017 // 2:25 AM

Davey Dynamite: Holy Shit

With Holy Shit, Davy Dynamite releases a masterfully anthemic folk-punk album with which we can all relate.

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Visage: The Wild Life (The Best of 1978-2015)

This is the collected works of the '80s British New Romantic band, best known for the synthpop classic “Fade to Grey”.

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Is There Such a Thing as a Quintessentially Cleveland Film?

Cleveland’s film resume doesn’t equal even a Toronto or Vancouver, but it’s been hiding in plain sight behind some fairly notable films over the years.

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Le Tout-Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rythmo: Madjafalao

After years of lighting up the night, Benin's oldest big band lets the sunshine in.

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Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur: Penny’s Farm

Those that listen to this music will treasure the beauty of the musicianship. These guys got the goods. Others may find the artifice bothersome.

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Paul and the Tall Trees: Our Love in the Light

Staten Island native and former touring guitarist for Charles Bradley steps out on his own with a soulful, vocally idiosyncratic debut.

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What Happens When Happy Shows Turn All X-Files on You?

From The Brady Bunch to M*A*S*H, what do we do when our favorite TV shows spawn shockingly dark offspring?

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New Monsoon Storms Terrapin Crossroads for Rhythm Reunion

Bay Area jammers rock the Grate Room with original percussionists for force of nature reunion.

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What’s Left of the Left? Bernie Sanders’ ‘Our Revolution’

Why now is the weirdly perfect time to "Feel the Bern".

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‘Beautiful Minecraft’ Sees ‘Minecraft’ As a Sculptural Tool, Not Just a Game

Beautiful Minecraft muses on the possibilities of using Minecraft itself as a medium for art.

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In ‘The Quiet Earth’ The End of the World Arrives With a Whisper

This cerebral drama stands up with some of the best and most original science fiction.

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When the Forms Start Taking Shape: An Interview with Bonobo

Bonobo: "I moved to L.A., but I don't really have a base anywhere: there's no base in England, there's no base here, it's just sort of me and wherever I am is where home is."

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Richard Dawkins and the Need for a New Science Populism

Now, more than ever, public intellectual scientists like Dawkins are needed to counter the forces of faith, fiction, and farce dominating our so-called “post-fact” society.

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11 Jan 2017 // 2:25 AM

SOHN: Rennen

If at times Rennen suffers under the weight of its own trendiness, it finds redemption in SOHN's unmistakable craftsmanship and ear for nuance.

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11 Jan 2017 // 2:20 AM

Body/Head: No Waves

The experimental duo of Kim Gordon and Bill Nace return with No Waves, a live document that strives to capture the impact of their impressive debut album.

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Arvo Pärt: Kanon Pokajanen

Kanon Pokajanen features Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's otherworldly exhortations on eternity.

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11 Jan 2017 // 2:10 AM

Jai Wolf: Kindred Spirits

Jai Wolf's proper debut holds promise for the young artist's future in EDM.

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Maria Taylor: In the Next Life

This indie folk sits somewhere between a pretty background and an aural comfort.

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Chris Robinson Brotherhood Flies Freak Power Flag Proudly at the Fillmore

The CRB is at the forefront of the 21st century movement to keep rock ‘n’ roll alive as a vital force for counterculture community gathering and musical catharsis.

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‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’: “Laws of Inferno Dynamics” Offers a Welcome Return to Science Over Magic

As the team puts its collective heads together, they find the answers are more science than supernatural.

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Nico Muhly and Teitur: Confessions

Though it sometimes struggles to find balance, Confessions transforms the mundane into an elaborate Baroque fantasy.

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Haunted by Nothingness: Emanuele Severino’s ‘The Essence of Nihilism’

Ask anyone whether something can be born of nothing, and the reply will be decisive: No! Yet we think, speak and act “as if” this were not the case.

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‘The Sopranos’: Mythologizing the Gangster Genre

From The Public Enemy through to Scorsese, the Sopranos family knows how to pick a bad example to follow.

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The Criterion Edition of ‘Cat People’ Leaves an indelible Impression

The horror master Val Lewton is immortalized in this excellent reissue of his first (and possibly best) film, Cat People.

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Amazon Go Is Hacking Away at the “Poetics” of Supermarkets

Grocery shopping is one of the earliest forms of schooling that we experience.

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How Did Julia Holter Wind Up Scoring a Boxing Film?

How was a composer who makes music as delicate as Julia Holter’s ever going to channel that unique boxing energy?

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Pere Ubu: New Picnic Time / The Art of Walking / The Song of the Bailing Man

Pere Ubu is known mostly for their first two records, The Modern Dance and Dub Housing. This subsequent trio of releases showcases a noted change in the direction of the band.

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10 Jan 2017 // 2:20 AM

Matt Pond PA: Winter Lives

Matt Pond PA sheds some light on a season sometimes overlooked in song in a way that should translate well to year-round listening.

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Johnny Marr Keeps the Story of His Life Uncomplicated in ‘Set the Boy Free’

This may be a quick read, but the true magic is saved for the music and a life well-lived.

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Conrad Schnitzler / Schneider TM: Con-Struct

Con-Struct proves that messing with some so-called gospel materials can lead to marvelous things.

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‘Sherlock’: “The Six Thatchers” Goes Beyond Disappointing Into Downright Nonsense

Holmes spends "The Six Thatchers" hoping for a better plot to unravel, and I can't blame him.

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Mithras: On Strange Loops

Conceptually, Mithras depict the universe as a strange, chilly, and timeless place. Musically, they step -- and also misstep -- off their technical metal bearings.

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The Pop Group: Honeymoon on Mars

The Pop Group's follow up to their 2015 comeback album steers away from classic post-punk and into odd new territory.

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9 Jan 2017 // 9:15 AM

Mika Vainio: Mannerlaatta

With Mannerlaata, Mika Vainio has created a soundtrack that is presumably as sinister and confounding as the film it accompanies.

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‘Stranger Things’ Nightmare/Nostalgia in the “The Upside Down” Episode

The gang confront the creature in "The Upside Down" as Stranger Things season one draws to a close.

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Glistening Male Bodies in Film: ‘Descended From Hercules’

This is an extensive and thoughtful survey of the peplum that's limited only by its ambition.

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9 Jan 2017 // 3:00 AM

Tom Waits: Eluding the Authorities

However many smokes he’s inhaled since childhood, Waits' trademark growl is a choice -- his first step to direct listeners' attention to the work of musical performance.

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If You Haven’t Seen ‘His Girl Friday’, Consider Your Life Wasted So Far

Walter Burns (Cary Grant) and Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell): a love-hate story no matter how you cast it.

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Kid Cudi: Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’

The curious case of Scott Mescudi continues on Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin', which runs at 87 minutes across 19 tracks.

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9 Jan 2017 // 2:20 AM

The Doors: London Fog 1966

These newly rediscovered tapes represent the earliest known live recordings of the Doors, something that unfortunately quickly becomes all too evident.

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Is There Anything Left to Say About Julia Child? A Great Deal, in Fact

With The French Chef In America, readers get a fresh look at a beloved personality.

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‘Gilmore Girls’ “Spring” Shows Lorelai Moving Forward, Rory Falling Down

"Spring" reverses much of Rory and Logan’s character growth in favor of an ill-advised affair.

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‘Hidden Figures’: Looking Beyond the Numbers

Hidden Figures assumes you'll share its vision, making correct judgments regarding differences between perception and blindness, bigotry and justice, right and wrong.

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‘Assassin’s Creed’ Is Full of Elaborate Illogic

As the movie spirals into the elaborate illogic of the videogame on which it's based, the hero Cal is resurrected and tormented, again and again.

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X-men 92 #10: Xtreme Satisfaction From a Most Xtreme Era

X-men 92 comes to a premature end, but still finds a way to embody everything we love about every era of X-men.

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Guilty Pleasure ‘Master’ Falls Just Short of Crime Film Mastery

Master achieves escapist fare early by heaping on layers of vulgar poetry and happily overt symbolism.

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David Coggins’ ‘Men and Style’ and Our Infatuation With Being Cool

In an age of renewed discussion and debate over the true definition of masculinity “versus” femininity, how relevant is a book like Men and Style?

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Culture and History for the Age of Trump

History doesn’t always tell us how to get it right. It sometimes warns us of the cost of getting it wrong. Art steeped in that history can remind us, if we’re paying attention.

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The Galloway Case: Sexual Harassment, Due Process, and Literary Exceptionalism

Steven Galloway's sexual harassment case, and the literary establishment's response to it, reveals a lot about how much work still needs to be done in combating misogyny.

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Fellini’s ‘Roma’ and the Polysemic Surreal

Fellini’s films are haunted by an absence, a pervading sense of loss, a mourning for the unattainable, and yet imbued with an effervescent sense of fun as well.

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The Seductive Brutality of Crossing Borders

The year 2016 has demonstrated that the American imagination could use another dozen novels with the defiant honesty of Norte.

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BFI’s Release of Abel Gance’s ‘Napoléon’ Does Justice to a Masterpiece

The BFI’s restoration of Gance’s groundbreaking, grandiloquent 1927 epic is one of the year’s most highly anticipated Blu-ray releases.

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The Doctor (Finally) Returns to TV in the Serviceable “Doctor Mysterio”

The referencing that we've come to expect falls strangely flat: a mishmash of tropes, symbols, and callbacks that ultimately don’t lead anywhere.

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The 10 Best Dance Songs of 2016

From the '90s-flavored house of London-based Antony & Cleopatra to French electronic duo You Man, here is a collection of songs from DJs, producers, and electronic musicians that continue to push the frontiers of artistic expression.

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Winning Streaks and Resolutions in ‘Civil War II #8’

Nobody will be gasping for air or picking their jaw up off the floor with the big climax of the story, here.

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‘Nicotine’: A Riotous Collision Between Squatters and an Eccentric Family

Nell Zink's irrepressible humor and intelligence makes Nicotine a thrilling read.

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Painful Humor and Euphoric Pleasure In ‘Punch-Drunk Love’

Anderson's quirky film is reinvention in the purest sense, free of commercial pressure.

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The 25 Best New Musical Artists of 2016

The best new artists of 2016 mash up genre dividers and take popular music in new and exciting directions.

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Ed Ward’s Prose Reads Like It Was Written for an Erudite broadcast

Ward's concise and readable attempt to consolidate rock 'n' roll’s messy history comes across as a little too neat, at times.

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The Working Man’s Heist in ‘The Asphalt Jungle’

The heist film finds its genesis in John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, a top-notch and unglamorous depiction of criminal life in the city.

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How the Hell Did ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ Characters Survive?

The series comes back from the edge after a fatally flawed penultimate episode, setting up an intriguing season two.

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The Totemic Mother and Father of ‘The Squid and the Whale

Our parents loom over us, first literally and then figuratively, for the entirety of our existence.

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David Bowie in Conversation

Turn and face the strange: a posthumous interview compilation shows David Bowie as a brilliant artist and a warm conversationalist, an all-too-rare combination.

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The 15 Best R&B/Soul Albums of 2016

2016 has been a banner year for soul music of all stripes with a number of momentous debuts and returns to form from veterans. All the while, soul music keeps pushing forward.

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You Have Been Loved: Remembering George Michael

"... (H)ow can you not realize that the elation of a good pop record is an art form?"

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Ben Affleck’s ‘Live By Night’ Is a Lax Effort at Making Sense of Complex Ideas

Live by Night is good at era-appropriate garb, but its adaptation of Dennis Lehane's story lacks anything remotely close to sizzle or scope.

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More Recent Features
//Mixed media
//Blogs

Stone Dead: Murder and Myth in 'Medousa'

// Short Ends and Leader

"A wry tale which takes in Greek mythology, punk rock and influences of American suspense-drama, this is an effective and curious thriller about myth and obsession.

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