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
Nathaniel Rateliff: In Memory of Loss (Reissue)

Put out only seven years after its initial release, this reissue does little to expand its original incarnation.

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12 Jun 2017 // 2:10 AM

Woman: Happy Freedom

Happy Freedom may be the only album to make you think of Marvin Gaye and Kraftwerk at the same time.

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Threefifty: Gently Among the Coals

It's rare to find a band so unbeholden to genre as Threefifty.

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Raul Midón: Bad Ass and Blind

Eclectic singer/songwriter Raul Midón lives up to being a self-proclaimed badass on Bad Ass and Blind.

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‘Megan Leavey’: The Story of a Dog and His Girl

Megan Leavey is not interested in the Iraq war as such. What it offers instead is the story of her journey, heartfelt and well-acted, but never surprising.

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Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2017: ‘Nowhere to Hide’

Zaradasht Ahmed's opening night film is a quiet but searing portrait of an Iraqi family hurled into exile by the chaos that followed the 2011 pullout of American forces.

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Dressing Like Dolls as a Form of Resistance: ‘So Pretty / Very Rotten’

Unlike the western understanding of the word, "Lolitas" engage in a somewhat sexless performance of innocence, fairy tale femininity, and cultural resistance.

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’The Mummy (2017)’ Abandons Campy Fun for Faux Gravitas

Alex Kurtzman’s first chapter in the ‘Dark Universe’ franchise is stuck somewhere between William Castle and William Shakespeare.

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It’s All True!: Weston Magazines and Wrestling’s “Creative Journalism”

Stanley Weston's small pre-WWF line of wrestling magazines featured writing staffs that made up pull-quotes and headlines on the spot. Just what fans were clamoring for.

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Fried Green Tomatoes in the Rubyfruit Jungle

Although their writing styles and life experiences differ greatly, Fannie Flagg and Rita Mae Brown each has illuminated what it means to be a woman -- and a lesbian -- in contemporary American society.

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9 Jun 2017 // 2:30 AM

alt-J: Relaxer

The real gold on Relaxer happens when alt-J reins in the gimmickry a bit and starts writing folk songs.

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There Are Still So Many Barriers to Break: Zoe Lister-Jones On ‘Band Aid’ and Women In Film

Zoe Lister-Jones writes, directs, and stars in her feature debut, Band Aid, a heartfelt relationship comedy that, unlike the epically popular Wonder Woman, boasts an all-female crew.

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9 Jun 2017 // 2:20 AM

Glen Campbell: Adios

The incomparable singer and musician has been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for years, and Adios is a fitting farewell from a multifaceted legend.

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Game Theory: 2 Steps From the Middle Ages

Game Theory’s 1988 release anticipated the alternative music explosion of the early '90s.

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Iceman May Be Out as a Gay Character, But He’s Not Quite Out With the World at Large

His parents don't accept him. The world, as a whole, doesn't accept him. Even other mutants seem more "normal" by comparison.

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‘Pinstripe’ Makes for a Lovely Hell

Thomas Brush's talent is in creating compelling worlds through images that are both whimsical and haunting in equal measure.

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Finally, a Proper Biography of Chrissie Hynde

Despite the analytic difficulties inherently present in Hynde as a subject, Sobsey truly does deliver the goods.

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8 Jun 2017 // 8:30 AM

Dreams Can Be Deadly

The Nightwalker may not make perfect sense once it concludes, but its level of engagement, imagination, and self-reflection makes it unforgettably haunting,

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Trombone Shorty: Parking Lot Symphony

Same old same old from the New Orleans brass phenom, but a pretty good same old blending '70s soul and brass band swagger.

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Digging the Earth: Michael J. Sheehy on Music, Politics and Personal History

Miraculous Mule introduces politics into their poisonous melodrama on their latest album and frontman Michael J. Sheehy shares his greatest musical inspirations.

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Life in the Interzone in Old Shanghai

The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai and Flowers of Shanghai capture a William S. Borroughs-like Interzone in Old Shanghai.

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8 Jun 2017 // 2:30 AM

Bleachers: Gone Now

Gone Now shares the '80s enthusiasm and sincere sentimentalism of Bleachers' debut, but Jack Antonoff's over-the-top flair occasionally sacrifices the music.

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8 Jun 2017 // 2:20 AM

Chuck Berry: Chuck

The good news is that while the man was no longer a groundbreaking creator of a new musical style, he still could rock in creative and energetic ways.

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Oumou Sangaré: Mogoya

With her first new music in eight years, Oumou Sangaré proves she's still the queen of Malian music.

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From Punk Fan to Rising Star: Jade Jackson Delivers Formidable Country Rock

California country-rocker Jade Jackson tells PopMatters her story and talks about her debut album, Gilded, which was produced by Social Distortion's Mike Ness.

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LGBTQ People at Home, at Ease

Tom Atwood's Kings & Queens in Their Castles celebrates the diversity of the gay, lesbian, and transgender community with a series of beautiful portraits of people in their homes.

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Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Jon Batiste: The Music of John Lewis

The late show band leader and Wynton Marsalis, in concert presenting the surprising prescient music of the leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet.

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8 Take Aways from the 2017 Governors Ball Music Festival

Brief bouts of rain didn't dampen the most vibrant Governors Ball yet. The fest had a lot to offer an all-ages audience. Most importantly: great performances.

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Jazz, Cocktails, and the Overlooked Players of Film Noir

A noir protagonist usually finds himself encountering a new danger around each corner. A jazz musician, in venturing into the throes of an intricate composition, must also anticipate the unknown.

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Jacques Demy’s ‘The Young Girls of Rochefort’ Is Awash With Color—and Influence

How much did La La Land draw from the distinctive look, music, and atmosphere of this 1967 French classic?

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Omar Souleyman: To Syria, With Love

Omar Souleyman's latest collection of Syrian synthpop pays ecstatic tribute to his long-lost homeland.

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The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the Continuing High Cost of Fashion

The poor workplace conditions that led to this tragedy have been outsourced to places like Bangladesh, where similar factory tragedies happened as recently as 2013.

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Halsey: Hopeless Fountain Kingdom

Halsey has, for the most part, abandoned the specificity that was key to her lyrical successes on Badlands.

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7 Jun 2017 // 2:15 AM

Michael Nau: Some Twist

The man behind Page France and Cotton Jones takes a somnambulant approach to his latest collection of sleepy, understated bedroom pop. *Warning: do not listen to while operating heavy machinery.

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When It Comes to Collecting Vinyl, It’s Better to Be a Freak Than a Snob

John Corbett exposes a beautiful and dusty world forgotten but kept alive by that dying medium known as the vinyl record.

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6 Jun 2017 // 9:42 AM

Flamingods: Majesty

Flamingods use a wealth of exotic instruments to make rich, unusual textures. Too bad they don't work nearly as hard on their songwriting.

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13 Must-See Artists at This Week’s Northside Festival

Northside’s unique geographical situation and organizational openness makes it an ideal alternative to what has become the cookie cutter weekend-long concert experience in America.

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From the Superhero Universe of Brute Ego, Wonder Woman Arises, Unsullied

Seventy-five years ago Wonder Woman arose to show what a stagnating comic book medium could achieve; now she does it again, and in so doing, rescues the DC franchise from itself.

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‘A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women’: Siri Hustvedt and the Art of Thinking

Hustvedt reminds us that the making and encountering of art is often embodied, rooted in material and biological and neurological functions.

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‘Bop Apocalypse’: What Happened When the Beats and the Boppers Set Out to Change the World

Fifites' jazz and the Beat Generation are often linked. Aside from the drug use, however, this new book on the history begs to differ.

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6 Jun 2017 // 2:30 AM

Anathema: The Optimist

The Optimist isn’t Anathema’s finest effort yet, but it still exudes the band’s inimitable ability to capture universal sentiments like loss, love, and hope with pristine strength and grace.

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Quantic and Nidia Góngora: Curao

Vibrant traditions of Colombia's Pacific coast don't need much enhancement. Luckily, Quantic knows how to keep it low-key.

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Ricardo Villalobos: Empirical House

Empirical House transfigures lounge and even elevator music through Villalobos's trademark lens of minimal techno, creating a study of interior space and social contexts.

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‘Berlin Syndrome’ and the Struggle of Civilising the Antisocial

Director Cate Shortland assuredly rides along on her protagonist's raw desperation, crafting a nightmarish and visceral experience off-centre of mainstream filmmaking.

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Sometimes, a Budweiser Is Better

Recreating the world's oldest fermented drinks should make for entertaining reading material. It doesn't.

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‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’: Season 3 Embraces Its Sadness Without Losing Its Humor

Kimmy's back and better than ever in an hilarious and heartbreaking third season, as both Kimmy and the series find their feet and their fight.

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Lesley Kernochan: A Calm Sun

Kernochan puts new and old Americana influences into a blender on her national debut.

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Dispatch: America, Location 12

Hopeful and bright, the indie rockers yet again showcase all of what have made them a hot commodity for more than two decades.

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Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell on Creating One of Their Most Uplifting Albums Yet

One of the UK's pioneering dance groups went wild and weird for their homespun new effort, out now as the band celebrates their 27th anniversary.

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Dan Auerbach: Waiting on a Song

The consistently working musician delivers his own version of a vacation on a set of tunes that pays homage to Nashville and opens up a bright road ahead.

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The Hollywood Star as Fetish Object: Joan Crawford in ‘Mildred Pierce’

Joan Crawford embodies the universal cipher: a flat, empty surface that reflects anything but reveals nothing. There was never a more perfect actress.

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5 Jun 2017 // 2:20 AM

Bobby Osborne: Original

Bluegrass legend Bobby Osborne teams with an intergenerational contingent of admirers to produce a fine set of traditional country and bluegrass.

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Jesu and Sun Kil Moon: 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth

Jesu and Sun Kil Moon's latest 30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth is at times tedious and frustrating, but ultimately worth consideration.

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5 Jun 2017 // 2:10 AM

Coco Hames: Coco Hames

Imagine Dusty Springfield joining a country-fried indie garage band and you’ve got the general idea what you’re in for on Coco Hames’ beautiful, soaring debut solo album.

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The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir

50 Song Memoir might not quite capture the magic of Merritt’s landmark work, but it’s the best collection to come from the Magnetic Fields project in at least a decade.

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A Clean-up Worker’s View Inside Fukushima’s Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

Ichi-F is rich in detail and strikingly perceptive in analysis, and yet it oddly supports the nuclear industry even as the radiation continues to take its toll.

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Thi Bui Asks Readers to Reconsider Their Assumptions About the Vietnam War

Bui’s powers as a documentarian and oral historian make The Best We Could Do a thought-provoking take on Vietnam and immigrant experiences in general.

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‘The Sisters Chase’ Gives Us a Protagonist Worth Taking the Journey With

Sarah Healy's The Sisters Chase introduces a flawed heroine for the ages in its breezy, affecting narrative.

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2 Jun 2017 // 8:52 AM

Joni Void: Selfless

At heart, Selfless is an interesting exercise in intentional dissociation.

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Daniel Romano: Modern Pressure

Daniel Romano continues to confound expectations with yet another stylistic shift, this time into widescreen indie rock cut through with a cluttered, ramshackle charm.

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Swet Shop Boys: Sufi La EP

Swet Shop Boys’ new EP Sufi LA is a showcase for MC Himanshu Suri and is altogether stronger than their debut Cashmere.

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White by Northwest: ‘Twin Peaks’ and American Mortality

"White" and "weird" series such as Twin Peaks and Wayward Pines speak to an American history haunted by colonialism and racism.

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Making Their Mark in Early Film: An Excellent Anthology of Women Directors

First they survived an unpredictable male-dominated industry, and then their films survived the passage of time. Early Women Filmmakers: An International Anthology.

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2 Jun 2017 // 2:30 AM

The Mountain Goats: Goths

Goths, like the Mountain Goats' music in general, is based on a deep understanding of what it feels to be out of step with the world, and of the sort-of communities built around that feeling.

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Caught Between Two Worlds and Hanging on a String: Wurlitzer’s ‘The Drop Edge of Yonder’

Be repelled by this lunatic if you must, but do so at your own risk.

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‘iZombie’: “Twenty-Sided, Die” Is a Near-Perfect Balance of Plot and Humor

"Twenty-Sided, Die" is an episode that manages to balance its mix of long-term and short-term plots perfectly; the episode flies by in a blur of hilarity and new twists.

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‘Cable #1’ Brings on a Time Traveler Who Won’t Make You Roll Your Eyes

Part Terminator, part Marty McFly, and part Rocky Balboa, Cable sticks to the basics, but not much else.

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The Tense Tale of ‘Black Butterfly’ Almost Twists Itself Apart

Imagination and violence collide in this story within a story.

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‘Paterson’ and the Role of the Silent Artist

Paterson uses poetry as an outlet of expression that can be pursued in the confines of his small boat upon the ocean.

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As Mysterious As They Wanna Be: An Interview with Dungen

Dungen founder Gustav Ejstes talks about his band's international success, scoring a classic silent film, and the creative mystery.

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Yoshio Aramaki’s ‘The Sacred Era’ Is Anything But a Heavenly Read

As much as I had hoped, Cloud Atlas, The Bone Clocks, or even 1Q84, The Sacred Era is not.

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1 Jun 2017 // 9:05 AM

Sexmob: Cultural Capital

The longstanding quartet, led by slide trumpet maestro Steven Bernstein, makes a mosaic of a record: short bits of original composition that add up.

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Wizz Jones / Pete Berryman / Simeon Jones: Come What May

Jones, Berryman, and Jones make it sound easy and make wonderful sounds on this inspired collection of British folk.

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“You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby”: Patronizing Feminism in ‘Woman of the Year’

Woman of the Year suggests that a woman’s public success is predicated on her lack of femininity.

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1 Jun 2017 // 8:22 AM

ESG: Step Off

Legendary post-punk/no wave group’s 2002 album gets the reissue treatment and continues to sound as timeless as ever.

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1 Jun 2017 // 8:12 AM

Dauwd: Theory of Colours

Dauwd offers a consummate lesson in taking one's time on masterful debut techno album.

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Feel and Form: A New Font Inspired by Miles Davis’ ‘Masqualero’

Like Miles Davis, the Masqualero typeface has a strong duality; there are two ways of looking at it, outside and in.

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‘Sense8’ Season Two Brings It All Back to Family

Sense8 expands, twists, and turns over the course of its second season, but never loses sight of what's most important.

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Cannes 2017: Recognizing Unjust Official Authority in ‘Lerd’ and ‘Tesnota’

The Un Certain Regard program presents films more diverse in aesthetics and geography than the main competition at Cannes. Lerd and Tesnota show why those criteria for selection are rewarding.

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‘Jawbone’ Challenges its Viewers: Should a Film Be Judged By Our Gut or Mind?

This is a film to be felt, to be lived, and it should be remembered and written about as such -- a film pulled up from the guts of its storytellers.

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31 May 2017 // 8:41 AM

Krokofant: Krokofant III

Although Krokofant's stylistic choices do not result in surprises for fans of progressive rock or jazz, the music is often exciting in its own right.

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Joyce Carol Oates’ ‘Dis Mem Ber’ Paces the Blurred Line Between Horror and Reality

For all the horror, the blood and ugliness, nothing in these pages is all that unthinkable.

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Russ: There’s Really a Wolf

One of the most prolific figures in recent rap history has finally dropped his major label debut.

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Land of Talk: Life After Youth

After a seven-year hiatus, Land of Talk return with a rock album obsessed with mortality.

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31 May 2017 // 8:10 AM

Evan Dando: Baby I’m Bored

Overdue and unexpected in 2003, the solo return from the former alt rock pin-up still has secrets tucked between its confessions.

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Through The Eyes of Children: The Politics of Isolation in Shane Meadows’ Two Coming-of-Age Films

This Is England and A Room for Romeo Brass compassionately articulate the theme of accelerated childhood that pervades so much of Meadows’ work.

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Dangerous: Son Lux Face the New America

In the fallout of the 2016 US presidential election results, Son Lux took their experimental compositions and shaped them into something decisively political.

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Chuck Berry Made Americans Surrender to the Rhythm

Chuck Berry was not only the true king of rock 'n' roll, the architect and originator -- he was also an astute anthropologist of American culture.

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30 May 2017 // 10:00 AM

Bobby Watson: Made in America

The master alto saxophonist makes his best record in at least a decade with the Curtis Lundy Trio, each tune a tribute to a great African-American leader or creator.

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The Visual Storytelling of Black Life in America

Graphic novels The Souls of Black Folk, Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story and Six Days in Cincinnati suggest the visual storytelling of black life is almost as vast as black life itself.

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Drawing From Experience: Comedian-Director Demetri Martin on ‘Dean’

After a successful career as a stand-up comedian, Demetri Martin finds himself marching down a new path as a director, albeit with a few doubts in mind.

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30 May 2017 // 9:14 AM

BNQT: Volume 1

Volume 1 is a pleasant love letter to '70s rock, but rarely does it transcend its constituent members and feel like a true "super group" album.

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30 May 2017 // 9:05 AM

Juana Molina: Halo

Shadows and electronics simmer on Juana Molina's breathtakingly empty new release.

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Something Borowczyk, Something Blue: A Cinema of Sex and Power

Walerian Borowczyk is a filmmaker of glimpses and ellipses. Long neglected and obscure, his films are now emerging on Blu-ray.

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By Wonka, for Wonka, Against Wonka: The Eugene J. Candy Co.

Fickelgrubers, Prodnoses, and Slugworths: modern candy "freak" Eugene J. reflects on the science behind the literary legend, Willy Wonka.

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‘Abacus’ Questions the Virtues of the American Legal System

When director Steve James captures Chinatown's denizens during their lived-in moments, Abacus improves from a trial procedural to a cinematic vision of the American Dream under siege.

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‘War Machine’ Is a Schizophrenic Blend of Tone and Genre

David Michôd’s war satire is neither smart enough to be a think piece nor visceral enough to evoke anger.

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A Dreamer on a Different Scale: Michaël Dudok de Wit on Creating ‘The Red Turtle’

de Wit emphasizes respect for the audience in his animated works, and feels he's succeeded "...when the spectator is carried clearly and explicitly in a story, and then it's suddenly open to interpretation."

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‘Boundless’ Captures the Alienating Effects of Media Consumption

Explorations of consumer alienation by an emerging master of graphic storytelling.

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26 May 2017 // 8:56 AM

Pumarosa: The Witch

London quintet craft stunning, entrancing debut by confidently splicing a variety of genres.

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More Recent Features

//Mixed media
//Blogs

The Thoughtful Absurdity of 'Spaceplan'

// Moving Pixels

"Spaceplan is a goofy game that still manages to pack a potent emotional punch.

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