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

14 Feb 2017 // 2:00 AM

Defensiveness, Vengeance, and Unashamed Self-pity, or, Trump Music

Some troubling common themes in songs from the Trump administration.

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On Bucking Up Against Tradition With Tradition

Loving is the amazing story of a time when two quiet people touched the future.

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The Cool Cats of Istanbul: ‘Kedi’

Beautifully framed images of humans interacting with stray cats tell stories of hope and survival in Istanbul.

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Westworld’s “Trompe L’Oeil” Is a Placeholder Episode With a Jaw-Dropping Twist

Mid-season, Westworld may be marking time, but shocks and reversals still abound.

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Migos: C U L T U R E (take 2)

Migos’ second studio album, Culture, is a victory lap and a statement of intent.

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Whitney Rose: South Texas Suite

Like the flower from which she takes her name, Rose may be thorny, but it’s her showy blossom that gets one's attention.

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‘Power to the People’ Bleeds History on The Now

Fifty years after the formation of the Black Panthers, a pictorial/oral account reminds us of the movement's power, and promise.

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Debashish Bhattacharya: Hawaii to Calcutta

Classical Indian ragas meet Hawaiian roots music on Hawaii to Calcutta, an impassioned tribute to trailblazer Tau Moe.

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The Orwells: Terrible Human Beings

The Orwells do what they do best, except a little better, on their new full length.

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The Timid, the Tacky, and the Talented: The 59th Annual Grammy Awards

"I thought it was her year," Adele told reporters backstage after upsetting Beyoncé. "What the fuck does she have to do to win Album of the Year?"

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Take a Vacation From Despair With ‘The Dark and Other Love Stories’

Deborah Willis enchants and transports with 11 stories of adolescent friendship, Canada, and birds.

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Believe Me! Trumpism and the Messianic Impulse

Mario Cuomo once said that candidates campaign in poetry then govern in prose; Trump’s utterances, however, might better be characterized as speaking in tongues.

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Ben Foster: The Strange, Exhilarating Prince of the Sacrificial Lamb Role

Foster has provided the most valuable service a co-star can to actors like Chris Pine, Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg: He’s made these leading men and their hard jawlines interesting.

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Conscience of Congress John Lewis Hopes You’ll ‘Get in the Way’ of Things

Lewis’s lifelong philosophy on civil disobedience is admirable and urgent. Interview with Get in the Way Director, Kathleen Dowdey.

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‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ Is Therapy for the Caped Crusader

Chris McKay’s blast of comic-geek humor tweaks the Dark Knight’s gothic pretensions while teaching him the importance of that old Sesame Street standby: teamwork.

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‘This Is Us’ Offers the Viewer Many Gifts In Its First Christmas Episode

"Last Christmas" understands that the holidays are a time of both great joy and not-so-great family dynamics.

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Out of the Living Room: An Interview With the Generations Frontman, Petie Ronstadt

Ronstadt sees his band at the precipice of a major shift on the promise of festivals and national tours, but he's never forgotten his roots.

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Caravaggio May Be the Least Documented Yet Most Constructed Renaissance Artist

Caravaggio and the Creation of Modernity draws attention to both the skill of the historian and the enduring and towering genius of the artist.

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10 Feb 2017 // 3:00 AM

On Wandering the Paths of a Spotify Analyst’s Mad Music Map

Every Noise's curious constellation will fascinate even the casual listener, but its data madness is a puzzle.

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Bunuel’s ‘Exterminating Angel’ Is a Source of Surrealist Satisfaction

By using obscure symbols and obtuse references, the filmmaker finds a way to turn a specific political problem into a universal pronouncement on people in general.

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Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears: Backlash

On Backlash, Lewis and his Honeybears are finished retreading genre tropes of the past and set their sights on targeting their own musical identity.

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10 Feb 2017 // 2:20 AM

P.O.S: Chill, Dummy

P.O.S was taken out of commission by kidney failure. Almost five years after his previous album, he's back with a fresh perspective and a renewed energy.

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Ralph Towner: My Foolish Heart

Solo classical guitar from the ECM stalwart whose music is so beautiful that it can seem vanilla. But it isn't.

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Fun Fact: Jane Austen Wasn’t the Only Female Author of Note During Her Time

Shelley DeWees' sardonic humor buoys the reader through infuriating examples of the misogyny, double standards, and injustice British women authors had to contend with.

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A Hardened Villain Crafts a New Narrative in ‘Kingpin #1’

Wilson Fisk, the original Kingpin, is the crime lord by which all others are measured.

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All the Gilmore Girls Come Full Circle in “Fall”

New life, in many forms, is in the offing for all the Gilmores as A Year in the Life draws to a close.

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‘Oklahoma City’ Shows That Timothy McVeigh’s Terrorism Has Contemporary Reach

Oklahoma City documents the complex events and individuals that lead to America's largest domestic terrorist attack.

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‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ Kills It

Chad Stahelski’s master class in operatic violence gives you everything you expect in thrillingly unexpected ways.

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‘You Say You Want a Revolution’? Hell, Yeah!

The images in You Say You Want a Revolution inspire, and the ideas behind them offer spark to ignite another, much needed cultural revolution.

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‘Youtubers Life’ Asks: Can You Have Much of a Life as a Content Creator?

What The Sims as a dollhouse game has over Youtubers Life is a more robust Soap Opera generator. A little comedy, a little tragedy goes a long way in enjoying a simulated life.

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The Spoiled Little Man-Child They Made King: Celebrity, Richard II, and Donald Trump

Did Shakespeare predict Trump? No. That's ridiculous. He just wrote a play about a thin-skinned, petty, self-aggrandising narcissist whose poor leadership drove an empire to ruin. Totally different.

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The Sex Pistols’ Steve Jones’ Memoir ‘Lonely Boy’ Leaves One Wondering

If punk died the day the Clash signed to CBS, what were Rotten, Jones, Cook, and Matlock doing reforming the Sex Pistols in 1996?

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Chuck Prophet: Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins

Chuck Prophet is a novelist in a Nudie suit composing sun-splashed California gothic snippets.

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Jesca Hoop: Memories Are Now

Assertive and eloquent, Jesca Hoop’s Memories Are Now should have no trouble retaining fans that know her for her previous work with Sam Beam.

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9 Feb 2017 // 2:15 AM

Brian Eno: Reflection

The ambient wizard returns with a singularly ambitious project: an album designed to tailor itself in perpetuity to the listener's mood.

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Crushed Stars: Displaced Sleepers

After a four-year absence, Todd Gautreau's moody indie-outfit returns, pitting world-weariness against sonic beauty.

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9 Feb 2017 // 2:00 AM

Bragging Rights: An Interview With Kool Keith

The alien MC speaks about where he's come from, where he's going, and how many of his verses may never see the light of day.

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‘Santa Clarita Diet’ Poses the Question: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Zombie-ism?

Sheila's desire for fresh human flesh throws the Hammond's lives into disarray in the solid, surprising second episode, "We Can't Kill People".

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Led Bib: Umbrella Weather

The group knows how to chase each other into new territory, and the horizon stays perpetually distant.

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8 Feb 2017 // 8:52 AM

Lowland Hum: Thin

Lowland Hum operate across their debut much like a quiet tempest.

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Rose Cousins: Natural Conclusion

Years collaborating and exploring creative outlets result in a collection of tight, focused songs from folk artist Rose Cousins.

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Pickett Was Wicked Good and Wicked Bad: ‘In the Midnight Hour’

Tony Fletcher's biography of the great soul singer is a vivid, detailed, and insightful portrait of a complex, talented, and often deplorable man.

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8 Feb 2017 // 8:25 AM

Surfer Blood: Snowdonia

Surfer Blood's first LP since the passing of Thomas Fekete, the group's longtime guitarist, Snowdonia is laden with the same power pop-meets-surf rock that put these melodically-minded Floridians on the map.

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8 Feb 2017 // 3:00 AM

‘The Witness’: A Game of Wandering and Wondering

This game's core themes -- attentiveness, curiosity, the value of Zen -- are conveyed intuitively through gameplay, allowing them to be internalized in a way that's personally meaningful.

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‘Ben-Hur’: Once More Around the Circus Maximus

This Ben-Hur remake wants to teach against the rift that drives Ben-Hur and Messala to extreme lengths while still glorying in bloody revenge.

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8 Feb 2017 // 2:30 AM

Lowly: Heba

On debut album Heba, Lowly is skilled at communicating new ideas about the shape of pop to come.

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8 Feb 2017 // 2:15 AM

When Does an Object Become a Historical Artifact?

Dispatches from Dystopia seeks out and is drawn to tell stories of places that are often left open to interpretation.

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From Hot Rods to Heartbreak: Bruce Springsteen and ‘Baby It’s You’

Baby It’s You pushes past high school’s safe spaces to confront the audience with an imperfect world.

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An Overcrowded Episode Shows ‘The Blacklist’ Is Exhausted

"Natalie Luca (No. 184)" suffers from too many twists that don't compel viewers, and Red prepares himself for death -- or just practices for a poetry slam.

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‘Akron’: Sometimes the Simpler, the Better

Had Akron went all-in on its simpler, piercingly authentic premise, it could have elevated itself into a truly singular film.

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‘Jack Reacher: Never Go Back’: Watch Out for the Little Guy

Tom Cruise's Jack may be smaller and older than Lee Child's Jack, but that just adds to the character's remarkability.

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‘Santa Clarita Diet’: Barrymore and Olyphant Have Bloody Fun in “So Then a Monkey or a Bat”

Santa Clarita Diet offers a kind of Eat (People), Pray, Love, but this show has more bark -- and more bite.

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This New Translation of Yusuf Atılgan’s Work Shows a Mind Unraveling

Motherland Hotel is an astounding work by a master who makes it look easy.

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7 Feb 2017 // 3:00 AM

Chicago’s Chance

Chance the Rapper’s prideful ambition is reshaping Chicago’s cultural narrative.

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7 Feb 2017 // 2:30 AM

Syd: Fin

The Internet's Syd embarks on her solo career with a solid, sensual debut album, and keeps it casual from start to finish.

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Save Ferris: Checkered Past

Save Ferris' first release in 18 years is enjoyable but not exactly a triumphant return for the third wave ska act.

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7 Feb 2017 // 2:15 AM

Communions: Blue

Communions started as an audacious and loud rock band, but they have settled into something entirely different. With Blue Communions have created triumphant power pop cheese.

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‘Reading the Silver Screen’ Is a Jocular Romp Through the Components of Film

Thomas C. Foster exudes a colloquial passion for movies of all shapes and sizes.

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7 Feb 2017 // 2:10 AM

Ab-Soul: Do What Thou Wilt

Top Dawg's Ab-Soul approaches a lot of interesting thoughts with his newest release, but doesn't explore them fully enough to make them stick.

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‘The Watermelon Woman’, or, Whatever Happened to New Queer Cinema?

A disturbing trend is arising; if you want your film to be nominated for the Academy Awards, it cannot potentially offend the sensibilities of the most narrow-minded “gay friendly” viewer.

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‘This Is Us’ “The Trip” Explores the Past to Cast Light on the Present

A cabin in the woods becomes a place for revelation, recriminations, and reconfiguration in "The Trip".

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The Mavericks: All Night Live, Vol. 1

All Night Live, Vol. 1 offers a wildly eclectic, highly enjoyable set of songs performed by the legendary group.

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‘24 - Legacy’ Is Fox’s Post-Super Bowl Post-Truth Bomb

24: Legacy and the dilemma of mediating a xenophobic aesthetic resurgence.

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‘Dark Money’ Shines Light on the Billionaires Waging Secret War on Democracy

Jane Mayer’s riveting and frightening book tells how wealthy conservatives spent decades building an alternate universe of think tanks and owned politicians to make their dreams reality.

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They Still Believe in Love: An Interview With Elbow

Elbow producer and keyboardist Craig Potter talks about the band's new album, the importance of writing simply, and the departure of long-time drummer Richard Jupp.

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On the Glories of Mardi Gras and Trump’s Inaugural Just Desserts

I suppose sometimes a cake is just a cake, but more often than not, it’s not.

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6 Feb 2017 // 2:30 AM

Migos: C U L T U R E

By being made into a meme, Migos have ensured their lasting presence; even without it, however, C U L T U R E will stand as a worthy artifact.

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6 Feb 2017 // 2:20 AM

Fufanu: Sports

The foreground of Fufanu's Sports lingers like a bad feeling, one that could have been more frightening by pulling closer more elements within the background.

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6 Feb 2017 // 2:15 AM

Lee Hazlewood: 13

Lee Hazlewood's 13 is an excellent -- if uncanny -- addition to his eclectic body of work, a fascinating document for devoted fans and curious newcomers alike.

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Feminism Pauses and Laughs: Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron's interviews are full of timeless and hilarious truths.

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6 Feb 2017 // 2:10 AM

Black Anvil: As Was

American black metal outfit returns with a smart, snappy collection that will give air guitarists carpal tunnel and purists plenty to chew on.

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Ex-Cult: Negative Growth

Negative Growth is the crown jewel of Ex-Cult's trifecta of LPs on In the Red Records.

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Maeve Ascends as More ‘Westworld’ Secrets are Revealed in “The Adversary”

Despite the ubiquity of corporate intrigue and maze imagery, "The Adversary" delivers another fascinating episode.

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‘The Grace of Jake’ Is Awfully Caught Up in Southern-style Christianity

Because The Grace of Jake has a plain agenda -- it means to proselytize -- it occasionally offends.

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‘The Space Between Us’ Almost Works

Ultimately, Peter Chelsom’s sci-fi romance is just a bad movie about a Martian and his girlfriend playing hide-and-seek from some space cops.

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3 Feb 2017 // 3:00 AM

“Be a Woman”: Joanna Newsom, the Selkie, and the Sea

Newsom uses the sea as a lawless mirror of our present social world.

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3 Feb 2017 // 2:30 AM

Sampha: Process

Sampha's gorgeous debut brings physicality and immediacy to internal experiences like memory and fear.

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Annie Anxiety: Soul Possession

A reissue of the 1984 debut long player from a forgotten punk poet operating at the intersection of Crass, On-U Sound, and Throbbing Gristle.

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John McCutcheon: Trolling for Dreams

A storyteller with a painter’s eye and a musician with an ancient troubadour’s soul, John McCutcheon’s 38th release reminds us why he’s a modern master.

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Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane Adventures Artfully Take You to Other Worlds

These books create a visually mesmerizing mix of sci-fi and fantasy, where rocket ships cause men to stumble upon gods and monsters that occupy the distant corners of the universe.

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The Visual Aesthetic of ‘Don’t Knock Twice’, Like Its Moral Agenda, is Dark

The film delivers on two levels. Savor its clever annotations of feminist horror film theory. Or just enjoy the more visceral pleasures of fear.

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The Uncanny Truth Hurts (and Astonishes) in ‘All-New X-men #18’

This is not just another tie-in where a teenaged Cyclops whines at feeling so overwhelmed.

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Albert Goldbarth’s Adventures of Frustration and Cleverness

The Adventures of Form of Content is filled with exceptional essays for a specific crowd.

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Albert Goldbarth’s Delightful Adventures

In his new collection of essays, Albert Goldbarth takes on the interconnection of random aspects of life, revealing a synergy present among all things.

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The Sanctity of Endings in ‘Dark Souls III’

The Sable Church tells us to work towards the Darkness, yet it also tells us not to let the First Flame go out; it tells us to take the flame for ourselves.

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Murder She Sang: Stardom and Psychosis in Eckhart Schmidt’s ‘The Fan’

A close-cutting examination on fame and the persuasive power of celebrity, The Fan is rife with tension and controversy.

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Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau: Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau

Thile and Mehldau make a pretty great duo, but it’s also an idiosyncratic one. For the most part this album feels like Thile is playing around in Mehldau’s jazz-oriented world.

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The Menzingers: After the Party

The Menzingers enjoy the ride on another dazzling punk rock album.

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Run the Jewels: Run the Jewels 3

Run the Jewels 3 is the sound of one hip-hop's most significant groups channeling their feelings of frustration, alienation, and rage into a radical call to arms.

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Rush: 2112 (40th Anniversary Super Deluxe)

Rush's 2112 is reissued with bonus material and powerful reminders of the trio's full prowess.

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Mr. Tophat feat. Robyn: Trust Me

This is as fine an introduction as any to the electronic stylings of Mr. Tophat.

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The Translators of ‘Thousand and One Nights’ Were Unquestionably Thieves

Marvellous Thieves notes that each interpreter's acts of plagiarism, theft, and recreation are nearly as interesting as the tales themselves.

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Heartache Is an Uphill Climb: An Interview With Tift Merritt

Tift Merritt opens up on the joys of motherhood, life on the road with her new daughter in tow, and what the future might hold for them both.

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1 Feb 2017 // 2:30 AM

Elbow: Little Fictions

Over seven studio albums and 20 years as a band later, Elbow hasn't lost an ounce of skill, charm, or joie de vivre.

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Moon Duo: Occult Architecture, Vol. 1

Moon Duo link kaleidoscopic, magnetic, and driving post-punk inflected psychedelia with hermetic overtones. Their best passages are not cryptic but recursive, often forceful, and occasionally mundane.

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PnB Rock: GTTM: Goin’ Thru the Motions

Maybe the album title isn’t such a bad thing after all; when you know what you’re in store for, can you really be disappointed?

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‘Sounds of the Underground’, Excavated

Stephen Graham manages to distil the essence of underground and fringe music into identifiable and recognizable components of a larger, global movement.

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Jimmy Scott: I Go Back Home

As the story goes, German producer Ralf Kemper wanted to make one last great album with Jimmy Scott before he passed from this earth. But is this it?

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‘Split’ the Difference: An Interview With Actor Betty Buckley

The Tony-winning actress is the emotional center of M. Night Shyamalan's new film Split, and like the movie, there's more beneath the surface.

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‘Riverdale’ Has Yet to Justify Its Continued Existence

Despite a keen visual flair and an intriguing performance from Camila Mendes as Veronica Lodge, Riverdale has some work to do.

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More Recent Features
//Mixed media
//Blogs

'Fire Emblem Heroes' Is a Bad Crossover

// Moving Pixels

"Fire Emblem Heroes desperately and shamelessly wants to monetize our love for these characters, yet it has no idea why we came to love them in the first place.

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