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
Machine Woman: When Lobster Comes Home

Machine Woman stakes her claim for best new techno artist on teeth-rattling, new EP.

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Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude

The composer and drummer at the forefront of the New Jazz presents his trio—but the slow, deliberate, brilliant music is much more "jazz piano trio" music. It is a soundscape of astonishing detail.

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22 Aug 2017 // 7:20 AM

Gordi: Reservoir

Gordi's debut seamlessly blends epic electronic soundscape with intimacy in lyricism and folk sensibilities, even if it pulls a little too often from Justin Vernon’s toolkit.

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Conversation Peace: An Interview with Bruce Sudano

While "impostors to the throne" hold court, chart-topping songwriter Bruce Sudano searches for common sense and compassion on 21st Century World.

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Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer: Not Dark Yet

Musicians and sisters Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer duet together for the first time on an album that strongly covers and links songs with ease and style.

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Maximal Minimal: The Legacy of Versatile Artist Tony Conrad

The former member of Lou Reed's The Primitives yearned to free himself of composition, to strive toward a new paradigm found in minimalism.

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‘Goodbye, Things’, on Japanese Minimalism, Requires a Certain Maximalist Means

Sasaki's simplify-your-life minimalism plan requires a certain amount of disposable income to achieve.

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Close Encounters of the 4th Kind with the Sun Ra Arkestra in San Francisco

Allen leads the Arkestra in building a steady groove with layers of rich horn melodies over a tribal beat, with a torchy female vocal about those feisty angels and demons on the cosmic plane.

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21 Aug 2017 // 8:43 AM

Hollow Everdaze: Cartoons

Psychedelic pop '60s style meets '90s shoegaze in a record that sadly sounds like an album's worth of decent filler tracks without the singles or highlights.

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21 Aug 2017 // 8:31 AM

Photay: Onism

Photay's full-length debut is is jam-packed with dense instrumentals that take inspiration from all over the world and all over the musical spectrum.

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Dent May: Across the Multiverse

With his fourth full-length, tunesmith Dent May finally settles into a persona well-suited to his particular brand of technicolor retro-pop, resulting in one of the best pop albums of 2017.

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Being Human: Rag’n'Bone Man and the Authenticities of Voice

Human fits alongside the works of Alabama Shakes and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, but can Rag'n'Bone Man's distinctive gospel-blues voice find a place on the American charts?

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‘Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays’ Attempts to Escape the Progress Trap

Recovering the sacred for a secular mindset, Paul Kingsnorth restores the awe and the caution of the numinous.

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The War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding

The War on Drugs have always had a way of conjuring sweepingly romantic images of the open road, but A Deeper Understanding finds them as desolate and far from home as they've ever been.

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Sabahattin Ali’s ‘Madonna in a Fur Coat’: The Turkish Novel That Refuses to Die

Maureen Freely, president of English PEN, talks with PopMatters about this slim, decades-old romance that has emerged as a symbol of resistance in the face of brutal state repression.

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Sziget Festival 2017: 25 Years of Love, Part 2

The 25th anniversary celebration of the great cultural events sees somewhat smaller crowds, promises major changes in the next quarter of a century, and the love keeps growing.

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Chantal Akerman’s ‘Jeanne Dielman’ in Many Ways Strikes One As a Vermeer Painting Come to Life

This remarkable film shares many qualities with Vermeer’s paintings of domestic interiors in its obsession with frontality and its exquisite concern with the rich textures of Interior space.

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Consumption, Performance, and ‘The Agony of Eros’

Byung-Chul Han argues that love, sex, and even theory are disappearing in consumer cultures because our systems of finances and behaviors erode the Other in favor of sameness.

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‘Logan Lucky’ Is an Oftentimes Funny Mishmash of Absurdism and Realism

Filled with colorful characters and playful plot twists, this hillbilly heist proves that Steven Soderbergh still loves a good con game.

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‘Brexit and the British’ Examines the Emotional State of a Divided Union

With tempers frayed and friendships tested following the Brexit referendum, it's easy to lose sight of what it means to be British at all.

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Monk and Coltrane Return to Vinyl: A Conversation with Producer Nick Phillips

The classic 1957 studio encounters between a mature Thelonious Monk and an up-and-coming John Coltrane are now remastered for high-quality vinyl. The music deserves it.

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Gogol Bordello: Seekers and Finders

The immigrant punks of Gogol Bordello are back with odes to world wandering and anarchic party spirit on Seekers and Finders.

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Ray Wylie Hubbard: Tell the Devil I’m Gettin’ There as Fast as I Can

Call him the people’s poet laureate of Texas. Ray Wylie Hubbard delivers another collection of spare, beautiful songs of grace and damnation.

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Pyrrhon: What Passes for Survival

Technical death metal outfit Pyrrhon returns with their most captivating record in What Passes for Survival, establishing their position in the pantheon of the genre.

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18 Aug 2017 // 2:00 AM

‘Narcos’ and the Trap of Tropicalism

How the Netflix original series Narcos “otherizes" Colombia and the Latin American through its single-story focus.

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Legacy, Family, and Ninjas in ‘Marvel Generations: Wolverine & All-New Wolverine #1’

This comic is worth its weight in dead undead ninjas.

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‘Arithmetic’ Delightfully Yields Anything But Obvious Results

What looks like a simple topic becomes a surprising trip into unexpected worlds in Paul Lockhart's beautifully executed Arithmetic.

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Sziget Festival 2017: 25 Years of Love, Part 1

The iconic week-long festival in Budapest -- possibly the most diverse cultural event in the world -- welcomes its 8-millionth visitor and celebrates a quarter century of love and freedom.

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A Nice Guy in Noirland Reaches ‘The Breaking Point’

This 1950 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not features John Garfield and director Michael Curtiz at their best.

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The Way Is the Goal: A Revealing Talk with KMFDM’s Sascha Konietzko

"I was not musically inclined to begin with," says Konietzko, "I came to music from a technical point of view. Like ‘How do you make sounds like this. How do you make dub reggae?’"

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17 Aug 2017 // 2:30 AM

Steven Wilson: To the Bone

With To the Bone, his foray into '80s progressive pop, Steven Wilson does something unusual: he writes happy songs.

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17 Aug 2017 // 2:15 AM

Black Asteroid: Thrust

Rather than channeling misery, Thrust has a way of inflicting it.

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17 Aug 2017 // 2:15 AM

The Accidentals: Odyssey

The Accidentals deftly blend a mélange of musical influences on their major label debut.

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Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Myth, Truth, and Anger

Daniel Wolff examines how one tragedy in 1913 Calumet Michigan survived through the anger of topical folk music to be told by self-mythologized characters Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.

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‘Orphan Black’ Closes With a Reaffirmation of the Power of Sisterhood

The way Orphan Black always put women at the center of its story, never shortchanging their complexity for likability or easy solutions, is what will be most remembered and missed.

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‘T2 Trainspotting’ Is Just ‘Porno’ Repackaged

Irvine Welsh’s pacey, gritty, but often daft, follow-up to Trainspotting receives another printing run, but to what purpose?

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“To Penetrate the Fug of Things”: On Trump’s Response to Charlottesville

Rationality, in the moral sense, is an act of love because it is an attempt to bring the world closer, not drive it away. Rationality is not an inherent human trait, it is a choice.

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Ann Powers’ ‘Good Booty’ and the Connection Between Eroticism and Popular Music

This is how American music got its sexual groove on.

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‘David Lynch: The Art Life’ Pulls the Garmonbozia Directly Out of the Auteur Himself

This insightful documentary brings advanced closure to lingering questions we may have when Twin Peaks: The Return ends its triumphant televisual revival in September.

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Oneohtrix Point Never: Good Time Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

One of the finest electronic musicians of this era continues his hot streak with the Good Time motion picture soundtrack.

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16 Aug 2017 // 2:20 AM

KMFDM: Hell Yeah

KMFDM's 20th studio album is a stirring, brutal rally cry against fascism, conformity, and America’s new administration.

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Dave Liebman and Joe Lovano: Compassion - The Music of John Coltrane

Two very different saxophonists revisit a rare set of tunes on an anniversary John Coltrane's death. Original, bracing, excellent.

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The Relentlessly Hopeful Comedy of ‘The Last Leg’

Political comedy is necessary these days. But hope is even more so. Thankfully, The Last Leg provides both.

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‘The Many Lives of Catwoman’ Captures the Many Influences of This Multifaceted Superhero

Author and comic book historian Tim Hanley explores the far more than nine lives of DC’s Catwoman in this thoroughly in-depth biography/cultural contextualization.

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Franz Hessel’s ’ Reprinted Walking in Berlin’ Celebrates the Observant Urban Stroller

Reading Walking in Berlin is the next best thing to traveling back in time to visit the capital of the Weimar Republic as it was in 1929.

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‘The Bold Type’ Is Fun, But It Could Go Bolder

Is the vibe of sincerity real in The Bold Type, or merely a veneer applied like a coat of pretty nail polish because suddenly, feminism is fashionable?

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Roger Waters: Is This the Life We Really Want?

It’s not quite a lost Pink Floyd album, but it gives a sense of what they might sound like now.

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Kasey Chambers: Dragonfly

Australian roots artist Kasey Chambers creates a stunning statement, bold and big and essential, with Dragonfly.

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Dancing the Tango Through Mao’s Cultural Revolution With Argentinian Pancho and His Orchestra

On Shanghai dance halls of the late '30s and a vinyl tango artifact that survived Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

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15 Aug 2017 // 2:30 AM

Grizzly Bear: Painted Ruins

Grizzly Bear returns with Painted Ruins, the band's best album to date.

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‘Stalker’ Warns of a World Where Escape Can Lead to New Forms of Imprisonment

Tarkovksy’s cinema dialogues with the current chaos of rising authoritarian regimes in the West and the threat of nuclear devastation as the United States and North Korea rattle their sabers.

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Sacha Guitry’s ‘La Poison’ Is a Small, Sour Masterpiece of Provincial Satire

This is a very dark and sardonic explosion of all the polite conventions that grease society -- and other movies.

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Circles Around the Sun Take Orbit at Terrapin Crossroads

It’s only the first song of the night, but the band is soon in “the zone” as they go on to deliver a sensational 30-minute opening jam.

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Frank Turner Lives for the Show, and the Show Is Almost Always on the Road

While the gold standard for tour diaries may still be Rollins' Get in the Van, Turner's memories of more than a thousand gigs in The Road Beneath My Feet are entertaining and heartfelt.

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‘The Devil’s Bargain’: Some Men Just Want to Watch America Burn

Joshua Green’s swift and incisive political war story tells how Steve Bannon's years-long nationalist insurgent campaign culminated in the election of Donald Trump.

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Moon Diagrams: A Lifetime of Love

Moon Diagrams' debut merges an intriguing, genre-hopping beginning and end with a lackluster middle section of extended ambient dance tracks.

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Dusty Springfield: The Complete Philadelphia Sessions - A Brand New Me

Two recording sessions separated by one album are compiled on this collection to represent the cohesive recordings Dusty Springfield made with production team Gamble and Huff.

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I Wanna Destroy: An Interview with EMA

EMA talks with PopMatters about her new album Exile in the Outer Ring that tackles issues like the harmful effects of gentrification and the political divisions rife in our societies.

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The Wordless Protagonist of ‘Leaf’ Doesn’t Save the World—Just Improves It

The absence of life-or-death consequences in Daishu Ma's debut graphic novel lowers the stakes while raising the novel’s quiet complexity.

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14 Aug 2017 // 2:30 AM

Jay-Z: 4:44

Already one of the greatest rappers in history, this is the kind of late-career artistic gem that will cement Jay-Z’s place on rap’s Mount Rushmore.

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‘Twin Peaks’ and Its Twisted Reflection

The return of Twin Peaks fundamentally reshapes the theme of the entire text, refashioning it into a meditation upon reflection, and the inability to know oneself.

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‘Annabelle: Creation’ Assaults the Senses From All Angles

David F. Sandberg takes a straightforward approach to horror in this atmospheric, immersive, The Conjuring spinoff.

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Crowd Pleasing ‘Step’ Brims With Humanity and Courage

Amanda Lipitz’s debut feature is an unrepentant hug in a world more accustomed to gut punches.

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‘Uncomfortably Happily’ Considers the Radical Notion of Expecting Less of One’s Self

Marriage and creativity through the eyes of an artist burdened by student debt and the frustration of a changing economy.

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Jesse Ed Davis: Red Dirt Boogie - The Atco Recordings 1970-1972

A tight musical structure itself was considered uncool when being free was the highest value. The 19 tracks on this anthology embody this type of loose approach.

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Sympathy for the Devil: Two Supernatural Fantasies from René Clair

I Married a Witch and Beauty and the Devil enjoy sophisticated evil.

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Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960

A rediscovered Thelonious Monk session sheds light on the composer's skill as a bandleader as well as his unassuming professionalism.

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11 Aug 2017 // 7:43 AM

Kesha: Rainbow

Forged out of difficult circumstances, Rainbow emerges with such absolute confidence of vision that it instantly goes down as one of the best pop albums of the year.

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11 Aug 2017 // 3:00 AM

The Flipside #4: Lorde’s ‘Melodrama’

Critics are hailing Lorde's sophomore effort as a pop masterpiece, but does her new album live up to the hype or does its meaning get lost in the Melodrama?

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Whom to Love and Whom to Hate in War and Film? Interview With ‘Land of Mine’ Director and Cast

"I have always been drawn to the flip side of the coin. My other two movies are also about the demons, the hate, and the betrayal," says Martin Zandvliet.

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An Artful Discussion About ‘The Art of Death’

Edwidge Danticat examines ways we leave the world as seen through her life and the narratives of other great writers.

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Rising Ashes From Two Eras: ‘Marvel Generations: Phoenix & Jean Grey #1’

Two stories, one character, and a shared fate converge in a moment of cosmic drama.

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Metatextual Games Stamp Out Thriller Conventions in ‘Based on a True Story’

French author Delphine de Vigan is very successful at setting up an original mystery, but she gets bogged down in overly literary reflections.

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Can We Chat? Teen Problems Percolate in ‘Face 2 Face’

This 2016 indie film logs in for the long haul with mixed results.

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Los Angeles Percussion Quartet: Beyond

The Grammy-nominated modern music ensemble explores location and language on their latest release. Beyond is a striking and ambitious work in both intent and depth of material.

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Moby: More Fast Songs About the Apocalypse

Moby continues to flip though and blend genres and, like a slot machine, he may eventually hit another jackpot, but for now the symbols aren’t lining up and paying off.

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10 Aug 2017 // 7:30 AM

Dead Cross: Dead Cross

Mike Patton and Dave Lombardo collaborate with Michael Crain and Justin Pearson of Retox in bringing a volatile, short-tempered work of hardcore punk savagery.

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Is a Feminist Revolution Unfolding on ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Twin Peaks’?

Game of Thrones and Twin Peaks share cultural DNA in their pervasive and structural violence against women, yet both seem to be transforming into unlikely forms of feminism on television.

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“All the News That Fits”: Rolling Stone Celebrates 50 Years

As a teen with Rolling Stone you weren't just buying a magazine -- you were buying a piece of the hipness and cool that told people you were really serious about music and culture.

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The Riddle in the Middle of Nowhere: Anja Garbarek’s ‘Smiling and Waving’

Impossibly Norwegian in style and substance, Anja Garbarek's Smiling and Waving describes the most ordinary lives lost in the voids of the most extraordinary riddles.

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Performance Artist, Provocateur, Revolutionary: The Wild Life of Jerry Rubin Finally Drawn Together

A high point of my college years was the chance to truck up to the ballroom in the University of Texas student union for the Yippie vs. Yuppie debate, the supposed showdown between Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.

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‘Orphan Black’: Helena’s Past and Present Are the Fulcrum of “One Fettered Slave”

Absent for much of the season, Helena (Tatiana Maslany) is front and center in "One Fettered Slave".

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Beck Rocks the Berkeley Greek, But Can He Get to Madison Cube Garden?

Beck poses a timely question when he asks what makes a “Soul of a Man”, as some fans might wonder why so many present seem to lack the soul to get up and groove.

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Peter Himmelman: There Is No Calamity

Veteran singer-songwriter Peter Himmelman is back yet again

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Randy Newman and the Magic of the Unreliable Narrator

After 45 years, Randy Newman's Sail Away remains one of the most beautiful, difficult, evocative testimonies to lust, desire, and America's collective racist past.

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Pieces of Human Stories Create the Total Mosaic That Is ‘Fractured Lands’

Scott Anderson's Fractured Lands is not only one of the most accessible and synthetic account of events in the Middle East, it's also among the most powerful.

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Blancmange: Happy Families / Mange Tout / Believe You Me

Blancmange seemed cut out to be the perfect '80s synthpop duo. So why didn't it quite turn out that way? This set of deluxe reissues helps explain.

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Various Artists: Invenciones: La Otra Vanguardia Música en Latinoamérica 1976 - 1988

Spanish label Munster unearths a wealth of unjustly neglected avant-garde and experimental music from Latin America.

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Steve Coleman’s Natal Eclipse: Morphogenesis

The MacArthur winner and deeply influential jazz composer and saxophonist makes one of finest recordings -- and one without a drum kit.

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Through the Fog of TV Amnesia: Remembering The Briefly Lived ‘Coronet Blue’

Coronet Blue seems to be TV's earliest incarnation of the amnesiac hero, and moreover the amnesiac spy.

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How to Kill a Cliché: Celebrating Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard somehow managed to incorporate (and yes, transcend) virtually every cliché of Americana, distilling it into his own, unique persona.

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‘Maudie’ Director Aisling Walsh on the Enduring Appeal of Cinema’s Collaborative Nature

"You get younger people in to see this movie and they're hugely effected. I’ve heard teenagers walk out saying: “I never knew you could make a film like this."'

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Books Like Chuck Klosterman’s ‘X’ May Represent a New Kind of History Lesson

Pop cultural savant Chuck Klosterman’s X collects his many disparate musings on all things otherwise inconsequential and in so doing creates a pop culture roadmap.

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8 Aug 2017 // 8:37 AM

Konx-om-Pax: Refresher

Konx-om-Pax returns to refresh the warm rave memories and get the blood pumping.

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Criterion’s ‘The Marseilles Trilogy’ Gives Us Binge-worthy, Sea-worthy Melodrama

Marius, Fanny, and César offer a detailed portrait of the interlocking lives of a small cast of characters, most of whose lives are shaped in some way by the sea.

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Various Artists: Rough Guide to Ragtime Blues

Listeners looking for an entryway to this early offshoot of the blues, or anyone curious about the roots and influences of Jack White and Pokey LaFarge, would do well with this compilation.

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Os Mutantes: Ao Vivo

A vinyl reissue brings the oft-overlooked prog phase of iconic Brazilian rock group Os Mutantes back into the spotlight.

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Newport Folk Festival 2017 Hit All the Right Notes

A great weekend at Newport includes watching talented, diverse performers, participating in a protest song sing-along and maybe a lobster roll.

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Rain Parade: Emergency Third Rail Power Trip / Explosions in the Glass Palace

Thirty years on, the so-called “Paisley Underground” deserves a critical reassessment documenting their wide reach and influence. Start here.

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8 Aug 2017 // 2:30 AM

Jlin: Warrior of Art

On the heels of massive praise for her latest album, Black Origami, electronic music innovator Jlin talks with PopMatters about her methodology and the lessons learned on her pursuit of inner alignment.

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More Recent Features
//Mixed media
//Blogs

Zeshan B Performs Late Night Set at Mercury Lounge After Colbert

// Notes from the Road

"Powerful Chicago soul-singer dips into the '60s and '70s while dabbling in Urdu, Punjabi and Italian.

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