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
Cannes 2015: ‘Saul Fia’, ‘Mon Roi’, and the Politics of Award-Giving

Whereas Son of Saul represents the advancement of cinematic language, Mon Roi encapsulates the politics of selection and award-giving at Cannes.

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27 May 2015 // 6:22 AM

Why “Wr” Still in Love With Joanna Gruesome

Joanna Gruesome had an early hit with "Do You Really Wanna Know Why Yr Still In Love With Me?" After we spent time with them, the reasons why we're still in love are obvious.

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A Return to Innocence in ‘Convergence - Shazam! #1’

The stakes are purposefully kept low in Convergence: Shazam! #1, which works as a highly entertaining reintroduction to Golden Age Captain Marvel.

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The Ongoing Conversation of Gender and Sexuality

Dutch author Maxim Februari's The Making of a Man is an interesting, if sometimes frustrating, contribution to discussions of gender and sexuality.

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Multi-Love

Psych-rock bedroom dwellers Unknown Mortal Orchestra expand their horizons on their latest album, sounding bigger than ever.

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‘Inside No. 9’: The Beautiful Horror Continues

Series 2 of Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith's Inside No. 9 provides a perfect balance of tragedy and comedy.

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27 May 2015 // 2:20 AM

Anti-Flag: American Spring

Anti-Flag have been in the game for quite a while. On American Spring, they show that it may be time to throw in the towel.

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Olivia Chaney: The Longest River

Baez, Collins, Mitchell, Marling -- the debut folk album by Olivia Chaney shows that she belongs in this company. It's pretty much perfect.

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Abandoned ‘Star Wars’ Plot Points, Episode III: Evolution of Light and Dark

"Minch Yoda"? "Darth Wilson"? "Kane Starkiller"? "Cos Dashit"? "Jaster Mereel"? "Gary Vader"? Who are these guys that brought the Star Wars saga we know to life?

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Zac Brown Band: Jekyll and Hyde

A mess of competing signals and bad politics mar what could have been a blandly competent country rock experience.

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George FitzGerald: Fading Love

On his effectively moody debut album, British producer FitzGerald inadvertently invents "emo-house".

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‘1995’: The Year the Netscape and Internet Explorer Wars Began

Netscape, Internet Explorer, Amazon, the Oklahoma City bombing, the O.J. Simpson trial, the Bosnian peace talks and the year President Clinton met Monica Lewinsky.

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Mavis Staples: Your Good Fortune

Though only four songs long, her latest, Your Good Fortune, offers a succinct summation of Staples’ range and ability.

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‘Leviathan’ Is a Kafkaesque Nightmare in Russia

Combine Orson Welles’ The Trial with Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, throw in some nods to Job and Thomas Hobbes, and you get Leviathan.

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Los Lobos Brought the Jams for the Benefit of PBS on Cinco de Mayo

Unlike any other band, Los Lobos can provide a uniquely multi-cultural soundtrack for Cinco de Mayo in the City of Angels.

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Cannes 2015: ‘The Lobster’ and ‘Louder Than Bombs’ Are Distinctive English-Language Debuts

Yorgos Lanthimos and Joachim Trier made distinct impressions with their English-language film debuts at Cannes 2015; the former with savage satire, the latter with absorbing family drama.

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‘A-Force #1’ Is Gender-Neutral Awesome

How to make an all-female team of heroes awesome for all genders.

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‘The Prime of Life’: It’s Time to Grow Up

Adulthood today is complicated, but it was complicated a hundred years ago, too.

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Colleen Green Is Having Fun Behind Those Dark Glasses

Colleen Green used to hide behind her sunglasses; now they're just a part of who she is. She tells PopMatters about their origin and the one song she refuses to play live.

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Snarky Puppy & Metropole Orkest: Sylva

On their collaboration with the Metropole Orkest, Snarky Puppy takes us on a journey, visiting a century of American music in a few seconds without ever stopping for air.

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26 May 2015 // 2:20 AM

Turbowolf: Two Hands

Featuring big notes, commanding melodies and biting hooks, Two Hands bathes listeners in thick, fuzzy, quirky rock.

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Shelby Lynne: I Can’t Imagine (take 1)

I Can't Imagine feels like a remarkably minor record in Lynne's discography, full of warmth and good vibes but lacking that conviction that has defined virtually all of her post-millennial work.

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26 May 2015 // 2:10 AM

Bill Fay: Who Is the Sender?

Once obscure singer-songwriter Bill Fay returns with his second album in three years, a celebration of life and an expression of hope for the future.

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Guided by God and Other Adventures in World Travel

Albert Podell's Around the World in 50 Years is an entertaining read that's in need of a timeline and other such worldly "guides".

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Sneaky Feelings: Send You

This 1983 debut effort by under-appreciated Flying Nun band, who were in the vanguard of the famed Dunedin Sound, is the latest to get the Captured Tracks reissue treatment.

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Is There Anybody Out There? Looking for UFOs in the California Desert

With his appearance at the Contact in the Desert conference this year, Jim Marrs continues to spread his unconventional views on what is really going on in the world.

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Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: Space/Time – Redemption

Milford Graves and Bill Laswell turn in another one of those duet albums that don't sound like one.

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On Denaturing Racial Elements in Two ‘50s-era Films

Two fascinating bits of Americana, Black Gold and Face of Fire, are defined by racial themes, yet tackle the subject quite differently.

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The Viewers Are the Only Ones in Pain in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

Christian Grey refers to his playroom as "the Red Room of Pain". If he really wanted to inflict torture on people, he'd show them Fifty Shades of Grey.

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Cannes 2015: ‘Love’ and ‘Youth’ Amp Up the Sex at the Festival

Both Gaspar Noé's Love and Paulo Sorrentino's Youth explore sexual desire, but they take very different approaches.

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The Ghosts of ‘Poltergeist’ Can’t Spook Technology

There's lots of tech on display in this remake of 1982's Poltergeist, but the script sure doesn't know how to grapple with it.

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Cannes 2015: ‘Dheepan’ and ‘The Lobster’ Depict Different Kinds of War

Two movies screening in competition at Cannes, Dheepan and The Lobster, consider very different sorts of war, between hardcore gangs and between life aspirations.

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Cannes 2015: Women Resist Their Masters in ‘Sicario’ and ‘The Assassin’

Both Sicario and The Assassin tell the stories of women embroiled in conflict: in the former, the drug war; in the latter, the courts of ninth-century China.

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‘Tomorrowland’ Is a Future That’s Past

In loving a future that used to be "better", Tomorrowland is predictably incoherent. It wants an old future, one that's long gone.

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Cannes 2015: ‘Mediterranea’ Explores African Migration to Italy

Evoking De Sica, Denis, and the Dardennes, Jonas Carpignano’s film Mediterranea is a humane and visceral portrait of African migration to Italy.

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A Job for Superman: On Multiversity, Convergence and These Precious Mortal Hours

The Multiversity: Ultra Comics #1 begins with a return to the beginning of the superhero genre, but not the real beginning.

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22 May 2015 // 8:10 AM

Why It’s Time to Stop Hating Spotify

An independent artist opens up about how much he’s earned from Spotify, what it means to his band, and why listeners should feel good about the shift to streaming consumption.

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Richard Goldstein on the Front Lines With Janis Joplin, Andy Warhol, Abby Hoffman and More

Richard Goldstein's journey is a closely observed, fervently lived “I was there” account of the music, the politics, the sex, the drugs, and the poetry in rock lyrics.

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The Milk Carton Kids: Monterey

Monterey is an earnest, serious collection of minimalist folk songs that only comes to life when the Milk Carton Kids liven up those songs through lyrics or tempo.

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How Are Sci-fi TV Shows and Their Starships Like Canadian Cities in Winter?

Two Canadian forays into sci-fi television, Ascension and The Starlost, bear interesting parallels to modern life in Canada.

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Joanna Gruesome: Peanut Butter

Joanna Gruesome mash together lo-fi punk and fuzzy twee pop for a gleefully unbalanced follow-up to their acclaimed 2013 debut.

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Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web

All it takes is one mis-sent Tweet to reveal just how muddy the context for engaging in social media discourse really is.

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Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear: Skeleton Crew

If Madisen Ward’s singing surprises for its somewhat overt oddness, the lyrics sometimes surprise too -- not in big, powerful ways but in humble ones.

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Darryl Holter: Radio Songs: Woody Guthrie in Los Angeles 1937-1939

By making a record to remind us about Woody Guthrie's tenure on Los Angeles radio, Holter is also reminding us of California’s unique legacy of promises unfulfilled.

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Darren Hanlon: Where Did You Come From?

Hanlon, the Australian, was walking on hallowed American ground when he recorded these songs. But they're still very much his songs -- elevating his own personal style to new heights.

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Beau James, A Modern Troubadour on the ‘Indigo Road’

Most musicians dream of the day fans know them by name. Beau James is different: he wants to know your name.

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“Kiss Me, Stupid” Is a Sex Comedy That Follows Up on Its Tease

Kiss Me, Stupid dares to suggest that middle-class Americans, just like the ticket buyers, might not be as sexually upright as they're cracked up to be.

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‘The Saint’ Is a Charming Fairy Tale in the Form of a Spy Mystery

Effortlessly charming and infinitely resourceful, Roger Moore's Simon Templar sets the world to rights in hourly installments in The Saint.

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In ‘Secret Wars #2’ Gravity Reverses

Right from the start of Secret Wars #2, it feels like gravity is reversed. This feels big. This feels important. This feels new.

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21 May 2015 // 8:20 AM

Cannes 2015: ‘La Loi de Marche’ and ‘An’

Two films at the Cannes Film Festival consider work; work as a means to an end, and work as a need for social connection.

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Can Selfishness Be a Virtue?

Through the magical intersection of text and image The Age of Selfishness seeks to clarify the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and how it influenced the Masters of the Universe.

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‘The Weaponographist’: A Casual Roguelike?

The Weaponigraphist approximates a hardcore gaming experience, while not really actually being all that hardcore.

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Paul Weller: Saturns Pattern

This is not just serviceable "craft" meant to keep the fans happy; this is magic that's up for grabs to all.

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Portrait of a Family in the Throes of Freudian Panic

An electrifying story of deadly obsessions and poisonous pedagogy, Pin captures perfectly the dread and unease of '80s American suburbia.

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21 May 2015 // 2:20 AM

The Acorn: Vieux Loup

Vieux Loup is more of a holding pattern than a great revelation.

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Bang on a Can All-Stars: Field Recordings

Background, foreground, acoustical, mechanical, pre-recorded, and live. Noise and music coexist in a strange place.

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Doldrums: The Air Conditioned Nightmare

Doldrums' latest is a sprawling exploration of modern synthetic life through artificial drum sounds, synthesizers and Airick Woodhead’s hauntingly human voice.

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Two Works in Anaïs Nin’s Cities of the Interior

Ladders to Fire and Seduction of the Minotaur, two of Anaïs Nin's most self-reflexive works, examine the sexual tensions rooted deeply in the female consciousness.

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21 May 2015 // 2:05 AM

San Fermin: Jackrabbit

San Fermin's second outing offers extensive chamber pop that's both exhilarating and exhausting.

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Trout Steak Revival: Brighter Every Day

A wistful travelogue, Trout Steak Revival can book this trip as a successful blend somewhere between the sonic realm of "Randy McNally meets pie."

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‘Freedom of Choice’ Is What You Got: A New Look at Devo’s 1980 Hit Album

Evie Nagy's latest book explores Devo's most successful record, Freedom of Choice, which contains the legendary “Whip It”.

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Altman Turns to Crime in ‘The Long Goodbye’ and ‘Thieves Like Us’

These two crime pictures provide insight into the ways Robert Altman operated within and without Hollywood conventions.

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Cannes 2015: ‘Youth’ Is a Memorable Meditation on Ageing and Art

Paolo Sorrentino’s arresting new film brilliantly pairs Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as two elderly creators assessing their lives, loves and attitudes toward art.

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Clear Skies and Clearer Understanding in ‘Storm #11’

A perfect ending to a story that reminds us why the X-men's resident Weather Goddess is truly worthy of worship.

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Science Inspires Thomas Pierce in This New Story Collection

Hall of Small Mammals is a disquieting book of bizarre, brainy tales from a young Virginia-based writer.

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Black Widow and the Burden of Being the Female Avenger

All too often, when you have a token female in a story, that character's primary super power is simply that she's a girl.

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20 May 2015 // 2:30 AM

Shamir: Ratchet (take one)

Far beyond boxes and genres, Shamir Bailey's debut album Ratchet sees the 20-year-old arrive in front of the public eye, creatively unscathed and defiantly confident. 

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Shamir: Ratchet (take two)

On Ratchet, Shamir predicts his own domination of pop music. He’s probably right.

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Prefuse 73: Rivington Nao Rio

The second of three releases for 2015, Rivington Nao Rio finds Guillermo Herren testing his ability as collaborator and producer, and ever-so-slightly evolving his acoustic-tinged electronic formula.

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Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld: Never Were the Way She Was

The unlikely duo of saxophonist Colin Stetson and violinist Sarah Neufeld creates a series of classically minimalist dronescapes that toe the line between the accessible and the avant garde. It’s a daring collection with often surprising results.

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Jeremy Loops: Trading Change

There's something for everyone in Trading Change, a record that altogether breaks down every conventional wall sustained by the music industry for the past several decades while maintaining a respect for the traditions of each.

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Punk Was Never the Same After the Slits Came on the Scene

There’s a lot of blood on the pages of Albertine's memoir. And she mixes it into the ink generously for an unflinching look at life in a punk and post-punk world.

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There’s a Freak Out Brewin’ at My House: The State of DIY Music in Santa Fe

In the words of Santa Fe musicians, when it comes to making a DIY music culture grow and stay nourished, "If you’re not gonna work, it’s not gonna work for you.”

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Fairport Convention: Myths and Heroes

In some ways, Fairport's new album, Myths and Heroes is a bit of a throwback to their hallowed legacy.

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Agatha Christie Plus Alfred Hitchcock Equals Mario Bava’s ‘Evil Eye’

This dual language (Italian and English) Blu-ray release is a disorienting, elliptical, and dreamlike horror experience.

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Cannes 2015: ‘Carol’ and ‘Nahid’ Reveal the Costs of Repression

Two dramas at Cannes 2015, one by Todd Haynes and the other by Ida Panahandeh, depict the costs of repression and loss of privacy for women under patriarchal codes.

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Cannes 2015: ‘Mia Madre’ and ‘Tale of Tales’ Are Two Contrasting Italian Films

Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre is a minor-key ode to family and film-making, while Matteo Garrone’s Tale of Tales is a wild fairytale ride.

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‘Toren’ and the Art of Mythmaking

Toren does everything that games are supposed to be excellent at while also providing all the things that games need most right now. It looks stunning, it sounds incredible, and every moment of play is filled with importance.

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It’s Not the Spirit of (19)76 in ‘Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters #1’

It's disappointing that so little of the original spirit of these characters found its way into this book.

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‘Formalism and Historicity’ Marks an Important Place in the Revival of the Frankfurt School

Benjamin Bucloh's dense, insider guide to 20th century problems of Abstraction continue the rigorous and serious work of October press.

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Faith No More: Sol Invictus

While it probably won't top Angel Dust or The Real Thing for most longtime fans, Sol Invictus finds Faith No More fully engaged and playing with enthusiasm. That's a whole lot better than where they left it in the late '90s.

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19 May 2015 // 2:30 AM

Is Online Trolling a Reflection of Our Social Values?

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things confronts the interrelation between subversive trolls and mainstream ideas, and opens up conversations about post-internet politics, activism, and human relationships.

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19 May 2015 // 2:20 AM

Holly Herndon: Platform

The nexus of surveillance paranoia and sound architecture resides in Holly Herndon's mind.

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Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino: Quaranta

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino marks its 40th anniversary with a portrait of Italy and its discontents.

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Raekwon: Fly International Luxurious Art

The world of top-40 rap proves to be to Raekwon what dry land is to Aquaman.

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Billie Holiday: The Centennial Collection

The Centennial Collection serves as a masterful representation of Billie Holiday’s enduring legacy.

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Dave Alvin, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Billy Boy Arnold, Joe Louis Walker: Live in Long Beach 1997

Dave Alvin leaves little doubt about his commitment to the blues.

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Jim Cornette on Rescuing the Lost Carolina Wrestling Classics

Jim Cornette is one of the most outspoken figures in all of pro wrestling, but his journey to unearth rare, lost match footage from decades prior makes for a story worth telling.

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‘The Babadook’ Isn’t a Horror Movie About a Monster, But a Mother

The Babadook doesn't twist all that many conventions, but its crystal-clear execution as to what makes people truly terrified puts it a cut above the rest.

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Cannes 2015: ‘La Tête Haute’ Is a Rosy View of France’s Juvenile Courts

Long takes of Malony gazing at harvested wheat fields and planted trees surrounding his rural rehab center -- a traditional, idyllic, cultivated French countryside -- suggest order and peace.

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Three Fully Formed Concepts in First Issues: ‘The Maximortal’, ‘Deep Sleeper’ and ‘Rebel Blood’

The first time I read The Maximortal #1, I honestly believed it was a self-contained one-shot. Was I ever wrong.

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Don’t Shoot Yourself!

A game with this many bullets shouldn’t be this boring.

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18 May 2015 // 2:30 AM

Hot Chip: Why Make Sense?

Why Make Sense? falls a bit short of the high standard set by its predecessor, In Our Heads, but it's still a wryly creative release by a brilliant group.

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Ubiquitous Grooves: A Vinyl Obituary

Perhaps these days our real choice is not between buying vinyl or digital, but between listening and not listening.

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Yes: Progeny: Seven Shows From Seventy-Two / Progeny: Highlights From Seventy-Two

Prepare to travel back in time to an era where an eight-minute progressive rock song was a smash hit.

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18 May 2015 // 2:15 AM

Juan Wauters: Who Me?

Wauters slouches, sighs, and whines his way to goofy charm.

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Leo Bud Welch: I Don’t Prefer No Blues

On this latest album, Leo Bud Welch makes the blues sound like the future and, at 82 years old, his future is bright.

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The Pro-War Verus Anti-War Debate on ‘American Sniper’ Misses the Point

It’s impossible to observe sniper Chris Kyle’s (Bradley Cooper) gradual descent into madness and believe that Clint Eastwood promotes an explicitly pro-war message.

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Glen Campbell: Rhinestone Cowboy (expanded reissue)

The overly amplified arrangements and an occasional clunker like the schmaltzy "Pencils For Sale" aside, Rhinestone Cowboy makes for an album well worth rediscovery.

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The Characters in ‘The Book of Unknown Americans’ Are Silenced by the Voice

Though Cristina Henriquez's entrancing prose promises to save this poorly plotted and contrived mess, it ultimately dooms it.

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More Recent Features
//Mixed media
//Blogs

St. Vincent, Beck, and More Heat Up Boston Calling on Memorial Day Weekend

// Notes from the Road

"With vibrant performances by artists including St. Vincent and TV on the Radio, the first half of the bi-annual Boston Calling Festival brought additional excitement to Memorial Day weekend.

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