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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.

Sunday, December 21 2014

‘Green: The History of a Color’ Is a Monochrome of Multiplicities

Green: A History is a broad-spanning visualization of this multifaceted color, one that reveals the value of seeing different shades of meaning in the color of historical artworks.


Saturday, December 20 2014

Edward St. Aubyn’s ‘On the Edge’ Brings Some Humor to Life’s Fathomless Oddness

Here's another reasonably entertaining novel of ideas from this internationally-celebrated satirist.


Friday, December 19 2014

The Best Part: Ringing in the New with Dark Horse’s Mike Richardson

Who better to talk about the future of the comics industry than someone who’s been inventing the future of comics for nearly four decades now? To wrap up this year, we sit down for a full session with Dark Horse Publisher and President Mike Richardson.


‘Mr. Turner’ Is Mike Leigh’s Portrait of an Artist

This film makes J.M.W. Turner's story fascinating, his personal failings and artistic innovations seemingly inevitable, throbbing, propulsive and painful.


‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ Is a Solid, not Sublime, Send-off

If all you care about is action, of witnessing outstanding special F/X and genre fantasy fashioned by a true master of such material, then this will satisfy your needs to no end.


Kate Miller-Heidke: O Vertigo!

The real attraction to a Miller-Heidke release lies in the pleasure given by her voice. She may sing about love and life and engage in some interesting wordplay, but her distinctive vocals and range merit the bulk of attention.


Kim Hiorthøy: Dogs

Scandinavian renaissance man's first album in seven years is glorious piano purity over sample-free glitch.


Diana Reyes: Mis Mejores Duranguenses

Heartbreaking melodies belted over Hi-NRG beats of endless momentum -- only the beats are polkas.


Look at the Women: “Bitch Planet #1”

Bitch Planet gives us naked bodies and bloody violence. (Naked bodies and bloody violence in space, no less!) It's called Bitch Planet for God's sake. And it gives us something more.


‘London: A Literary Anthology’ Captures the City’s Candelit Circles and Foggy Shadows

This wide-spanning anthology is a mélange of London experiences, encapsulating rich and poor, native and immigrant.


‘American Interior’: A Multimedia Tale of a Welsh Vision Quest

Gruff Rhys' innovative, multi-platform narrative unfolds the beguiling and intriguing narrative of an enigmatic Welshman seeking out his kind... in America.


The Bright Knight Rises: ‘Batman: The Complete Television Series’

The 1966 live-action series still mesmerizes today as a deft Pop Art confectionary satire on '50s squares that wanted its viewers to have their cake and eat it too.


The Best New / Emerging Artists of 2014

There was no shortage of new and exciting music in 2014. From an avant-garde saxophone quartet to soul-inflected pop from the UK, this crop of artists gave us a lot of great music this year.


Bastille: VS. (Other People’s Heartache Pt. 3)

VS. both affirms Bastille's successes up to this point and highlights the weaknesses that need to be remediated as the band moves forward.


‘Hate Crimes in Cyberspace’ Shows Us the Steps to Overcome Online Bullying and Terror

From revenge porn to cyber mobs to trolls, Hate Crimes in Cyberspace shows the ugly side of the Internet and, most importantly, what people can do about it.


Thursday, December 18 2014

The Tension of Art and Ego Drives the ‘Monk With a Camera’

As Nicholas Vreeland's journey into Buddhist philosophy goes deeper, the tension between his photography and his role as a monk increases.


‘See You in Paradise’ Casts a Shadow Over the Domestic Sphere

J. Robert Lennon's morbidly dark vision of American domesticity drains the light out of the human dream of domestic bliss to leave it shrouded in shadow.


Pianist Jacky Terrasson and His Quartet Heat Things Up at Smoke Jazz and Supper Club

As always, Jacky Terrasson's trio of shows in New York City's Smoke Jazz and Supper Club highlight his catch-all creativity and energy as a performer.


The Best World Music of 2014

The best world music albums of 2014 often possessed some element of exaggeration or extremeness that seemed too unlikely to be fully true, and made you listen to them again and again.


How Digital Comics Changed the Way I Think About Print

There is no cloud storage for print, making the decision to recycle a bunch of my print comics qualitatively different from my decision to delete a book or title from my tablet.


The Best Jazz of 2014

The skeptics who claim jazz is weaker than before simply aren't listening. As these 16 albums reveal, jazz remains on the cutting edge.


Dwayne Johnson Bulks Up for Nothing in ‘Hercules’

One day, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will land a role in a film that’s fitting of his charisma, physique, and on-screen likability, but Hercules is not that film.


Charli XCX: Sucker

More often than not, Sucker just ends up being too clever for its own good, despite Charli XCX's attempts to be the smartest student at the Pop Music Academy.


Spank Rock: The Upside EP

“Do you want a spanking or do you want to go to bed?” This EP is meant for those who want it both ways.


‘The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress’ Is a Historical Mystery With Panache

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress is all about speakeasies, gangsters, glamour, and mystery. Best of all? The mystery is a true story.


Homewrecker: Circle of Death

Circle of Death works best when things become subtle and a big part of that is slowing stuff down.


Various Artists: Palo Alto (Music From the Motion Picture)

Devonte Hynes and Robert Schwartzman head up this synthy, très indie companion piece to Gia Coppola's film.


Wednesday, December 17 2014

‘Foxcatcher’ Is a True Story About a False World

For his third film based on true material, Bennett Miller tells a tale of how when wealth and Olympian athleticism mix together, those living in those worlds become increasingly insulated.


The Manic Street Preachers Re-Open ‘The Holy Bible’

With their full performance of The Holy Bible, the Manic Street Preachers take the most sunless of records and place it under a spotlight.


Nikki Yanofsky: Little Secret

She started as a pre-teen Ella Fitzgerald clone, flirted with being Norah Jones, and now (at 20) finally sounds like the young pop singer she is...despite some lingering belief that she needs to "give jazz new life".


Faust: j US t

Ostensibly a grand experiment, Faust's latest is just another pretentious excuse to avoid the most difficult step in all art: finishing it.


Continuism: The One Interview with Scott Snyder

With a mind as encyclopedic as Scott Snyder’s all interviews seem to become a single interview. And talking about Wytches #3 (released today) also means talking about parental love, childhood fears and the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA.


The Society Islands: The Big Sleep

There’s strong production value here, as alt rock and indie rock sensibilities are mixed in with dreamy psychedelic ambience.


‘The Imaginary App’ Shows How Real Apps Have Become to Us

Apps changed everything. The Imaginary App explains how.


When Kendrick Lamar Hits NPR, We All Win

When everyone feels they can be an expert, how do you reassert your ownership over a topic? By waiting for its crossover moment.


‘Lord of Illusions’ Is Clive Barker’s Horror Style Filtered Through a Noir Lens

Lord of Illusions is at its best when it balances noir mystery with supernatural elements without veering too far to one side or another.


The Best Avant-Garde and Experimental Albums of 2014

With new albums from icons like Swans, the continued proliferation of vaporwave, and a bevy of exciting new acts, 2014 has been a wonderful year for experimental and avant-garde music.


Unwound: No Energy

The No Energy boxset provides a valuable opportunity to place the unsung Unwound in a proper context, both offering nostalgia-tinged appreciation of a band at the height of its powers, as well as putting the music of the '90s Kill Rock Stars stalwarts in a new light.


‘The Strange Library’ Is Classic, Opaque Murakami

Whimsical and frustrating, Murakami's latest may alienate some readers, but fans will want to add this oddity to their collection.


Tuesday, December 16 2014

‘National Gallery’: Frederick Wiseman Looks at How We Look at Art

Within three minutes, the film connects stories across time as told by painters and observers and those who work in London's National Gallery.


Grading on a Curve: “Spider-Man and the X-men #1”

Spider-Man's first teaching experience with mutants has some new twists, but misses out on important lessons.


Buddhism Wins and Crack Loses in ‘Herbie Hancock: Possibilities’

Herbie Hancock's memoir shows us how possibilities in and of themselves can be fleeting, but their ripple effects can go on nearly forever.


A Healthy Dose of Darkness: The Best Film Scores of 2014

The year 2014 saw classic composer/director teams hit new highs, as well as a considerable dark streak take over the world of film scoring.


The Best Electronic Music of 2014

The most compelling electronic music of 2014 could be found in thoughtful experimentation and dancefloor-ready fun. But the ones who led the way tended to be pioneers who made their reputations doing just that.


‘I Am Santa Claus’ Shows That Santa’s Life Isn’t All Candy Canes and Cheery Smiles

After watching I Am Santa Claus, you'll never think of Santa the same way, whether you like it or not.


Joni Mitchell: Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, a Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced

Love Has Many Faces is a great box set, but make no mistake: while it does tell Joni Mitchell's story, it may not be the exact one you've been wanting to hear.


Rancid: Honor Is All We Know

...Honor is All We Know is a solid but ultimately inessential addition to the Rancid catalogue that finds Rancid back where they belong, crafting straightforward punk anthems without pretense.


Nerina Pallot: Small Things / Spirit Walks

EPs nine and 10 in Pallot’s 2014 song-writing project are polar opposites of each other; from the cheery to despondent.


Various Artists: The Rough Guide to African Blues

Yes, there's already been one Rough Guide to African Blues. But don't go thinking this is more of the same.


Monday, December 15 2014

‘Approaching the Elephant’ Lets the Students Speak for Themselves

Amanda Wilder's remarkable "free school" documentary shows all sorts of pleasures and tensions among the kids and adults as they figure out how to manage such an experiment.


A Calm Surface, an Inner Rawness: ‘World Film Locations: Florence’

Like the other entires in the World Film Locations series, this Florence installment acts as a great starting point for serious scholars of film.


‘The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher’ Is White-Hot Storytelling by a Mind Possessed

These stories are as delightful and fizzy as Hilary Mantel's many awe-inspiring historical novels.


Potently Poetic Adaptation: “ODC-Y #1”

Fraction’s writing, which dips in and out of epic verse with a casual mastery, demands a close attention to rhythm and meter, but retains his unique voice.


Free Speech Came of Age in ‘The Great Dissent’

Thomas Healy offers up a masterful psychological portrait of one of America’s great thinkers, one whose legal opinion would eventually shape free speech in America.


‘The Marvelous Miss Take,’ a Red Headed Robin Hood

Very simply put, Miss Take is an exceptionally executed game, advancing a kind of minimalist, arcade-style form of stealth that never wears out its welcome.


The Best Norteño and Banda Music of 2014

Beware: what follows may contain tubas. Also accordions, clarinets, canned gunfire, protest songs, dance songs, songs about roosters, songs about drug cartels, songs using drug cartels as metaphors to make the singers seem intimidating and/or awesome and/or "authentic", songs using roosters the same way, and amor.


‘Union Station’ Reminds Us of a Pre-Automobile America

Rudolf Maté's Union Station tells a noir story from a time when passenger rail travel was central to American life.


The Best Album Re-Issues of 2014

The music world saw reissues from all over the genre map, spanning classic rock titans to electronic music legends.


Old 97s: Hitchhike to Rhome

Twenty years on, the Old 97’s see their indie debut re-released in deluxe packaging by Omnivore. It’s worth the plunge.


The Story of Glyn Johns’ Life in ‘Sound Man’ Is Refreshingly Unpretentious

Sound Man gives you a look through 50 years behind the studio glass with the premier engineer/producer of the classic rock era, without any obsession over fame or status.


Cretin: Stranger

If you're looking for a pretty sick and twisted metal record, here you go.


Easy Star All-Stars: Dub Side of the Moon

Space-rock and dub reggae sound great together, man. Who knew?? 10th Anniversary reissue for the Pink Floyd reinterpretation.


Annette Peacock: I Belong to a World That’s Destroying Itself

Legendary music artist Annette Peacock fuses blues, rock, jazz and poetry on her once rare 1969 debut, finally reissued by Ironic Records.


Friday, December 12 2014

In ‘Top Five’, Chris Rock Does More Than Tell Jokes

While it shows Chris Rock is still a bit shaky when it comes to his cinematic skill set, Top Five is a triumph. It is easily his best movie, as well as one of the best comedies of 2014.


America’s Existential Crises in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Adaptation of ‘Inherent Vice’

As in The Master, the ocean haunts the protagonist in this film adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel, but it’s a haunting of a different kind.


Worldbuilder: The Paul Duffield Interview Concludes

Paul Duffield takes us back to the power of Frank Miller’s Daredevils, where the vertical sunless, steel-and-glass canyons of Manhattan, were always repurposed as horizontal spaces.


The Context of ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ Is Out of Its Control

Just like Moses' task from God, the social and cultural context that surrounds Exodus: Gods and Kings shapes it in ways that these actors and filmmakers might not have wanted.


The Year’s Work at the Zombie Research Center

The Year's Work at the Zombie Research Center answers any questions you might have about the burgeoning field of zombie studies.


The Best Hip-Hop of 2014

This year's push of stylistic diversity, craft, and experimentation adds fuel to hip-hop's movement into the future.


J. Cole: 2014 Forest Hills Drive

With 2014 Forest Hills Drive, J. Cole relies on on stimulating emotions by telling instead of evoking emotion by showing.


Philip Glass: The Complete Piano Etudes

Philip Glass' collection of 20 etudes, written over a span of 19 years, is given a moving performance by the virtuosic pianist Maki Namekawa.


‘The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.’ Reveals a Talent for Understatement

It's only in America that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.


Maggie Björklund: Shaken

A soporific lullaby of the heart and mind, Björklund’s Shaken puts to bed any misconception of how a Danish artist should sound.


The Dead Milkmen: Pretty Music for Pretty People

Pretty Music for Pretty People is fun. Fortunately, that's not the only thing going for it.


Ratos de Porão : Século Sinistro

Brazilian thrash veterans Ratos de Porão's first offering in eight years is certainly nothing worth dancing over.


Automat: Automat

In an ideal world, Automat is what industrial music would have grown into, something which acknowledges the roads its founding members paved without imitating them in the process.


Thursday, December 11 2014

Sometimes I Live in the Country, Sometimes I Live in Town

Today on the Iconographies we begin with Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, and work our way through Revival and Rachel Rising to Gotham?!


Madeleine Peyroux: Keep Me in Your Heart Awhile: The Best of Madeleine Peyroux

Choosing the busker over the diva role, Madeleine Peyroux’s eclectic 20-year career is highlighted on this collection of jazz vocal non-standards.


Little Dragon: Best Of

Best Of only offers a truncated, abridged version of three quality records that, ironically, misses out on much of the Swedish synthpop band's best music.


Jonathan Richman: No Me Quejo De Mi Estrella

Has Jonathan Richman reached the point in his career where the only people who buy his new albums have been fans of his for 20 years?


Abysmal Dawn: Obsolescence

If you bemoan the fact that the metal genre is getting more and more unlistenable due to groups trying to push beyond music into something else entirely, then this will fit the bill.


Smashing Pumpkins: Monuments to an Elegy

Meet the new Smashing Pumpkins, gradually distancing themselves from the old Smashing Pumpkins.


The Best Emo Albums of 2014

Like emo's first wave, today's revival has taken issue with the category itself. But concerns over labels shouldn't get in the way of appreciating the connections between the subgenre's up-and-comers and legacy acts that reconvened like Y2K never happened.


The Heart That Refused to Burn Steadfastly Holds Its Secrets Close: Joan of Arc

Kathryn Harrison's longtime fascination with the Catholic Church finds its ultimate expression, and biggest challenge, in this biography of Joan of Arc.


Computational ‘Superintelligence’ and Human Idiocy: What Does Our Future Hold?

Superintelligence may evolve or it may be engineered; either path leads to an existential threat to humanity, perhaps in decades, perhaps in hundreds of years.


‘The Copyright Wars’ Rage on After 300 Years

In a historical sweep of trans-Atlantic arguments over copyright law, some surprising shifts and patterns emerge, but the key, centuries-long battles remain.


The Best R&B of 2014

With no small amount of soul and passion, the best R&B records of 2014 will make you feel the power of love.


With Season Two, ‘The Paradise’ Had to Duck Out Too Early

The Paradise lights a slow fuse that burns brighter than its ITV rivals. Too bad low viewership has brought the series to an end.


Frank Sinatra: London

Sinatra box-set with re-mastered studio album Sinatra Sings Great Songs From Great Britain and a wealth of British extras.


Wednesday, December 10 2014

The Results of True Collaboration: ‘The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio’

Reading this book is like entering the offices of Simon and Kirby and rifling through their files, scouring the slush pile, even breathing in the smoke from one of Kirby’s cigars.


Weapons of Bass Destruction: Mondo Marcio’s ‘Musica da Serial Killer’

Italian rapper Mondo Marcio turns the bass on Musica da Serial Killer into a weaponized element. Never before have the sensations of death, dread and groove been so synonymous in music.


Six Shots in Ferguson, One Night in New York

Trumpeter Igmar Thomas and his haunting tune, "The Hunted", sums up the most difficult lesson of 2014.


The Best Dance Singles of 2014

Like a gluttonous monarch with a taste for domination, electronic dance music continued to saturate the airwaves and feast upon the U.S. charts in 2014.


‘Accused Series 1 and 2’ Is a Good Procedural, Episodically

Fans of quality British television could do much worse than Accused, but only certain episodes, such as the one featuring Sean Bean's stunning role as a transvestite, stand out.


David Bowie: Nothing Has Changed

Nothing Has Changed, despite the exact nature of its target demographic being up for debate, remains a thrilling go-to for the semi-casual Thin White Duke observer, and is about as damn close to perfect as a Bowie anthology can get.


Could It Happen in America? The Rise and Fall of Fritz Kuhn’s German-American Bund

Could America have become a Swastika nation in the '30s? Arnie Bernstein assembles a riveting in-depth portrayal of the rise and fall of Fritz Kuhn's German-American Bund.


Lloyd Cole: Standards

Lloyd Cole’s Standards is literate and engaging, with pop music hooks deserving of attention.


Robbie Basho: Art of the Acoustic Steel String 6 & 12

This reissue of Robbie Bahso's 1979 album feels more like a conversation between him and his guitar about larger Western spaces.


Teyana Taylor: VII

Though she doesn’t break new ground, Teyana Taylor delivers an enjoyable contemporary R&B album capturing the ups and downs of love.


Various Artists: New Orleans Soul: The Original Sound of New Orleans Soul 1960-76

The Big Easy creations are grounded in luv, pronounced with a long sultry dipthong, doing somebody wrong for the right reasons and instrumental arrangements dipped in the sweat of sex.


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