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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.

Monday, December 8 2014

The Best Albums of 2014

From Polish black metal to mind-blowing progressive R&B and electronic music, 2014's best albums certainly have something for everyone.


‘Terence Davies’ Is a Perceptive Exploration Into the Filmmaker’s Work

An illuminating, queer theory-influenced study of the work of one of Britain's most distinctive filmmakers.


She & Him: Classics

Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward's fifth album as She & Him, comprised of smooth and languid covers, is decidedly relaxed despite a move to a major label.


Love: Black Beauty

Black Beauty, now on CD for the first time, may have a totally different sonic palate than Forever Changes or Da Capo, but it's similarly built around Arthur Lee's emotionally revealing lyrics and careful pop sensibilities.


Bing & Ruth: Tomorrow Was the Golden Age

Where does minimalism end and ambient begin?


Frazey Ford: Indian Ocean

Former folkie Frazey Ford returns with a set of exceptional Memphis soul.


Rush Midnight: Rush Midnight Deluxe Edition

If you like synth pop colored with the flavor of New Age dance tunes without a hint of passion or the erotic you'll love these sterile shenanigans.


Fred Hersch Trio: Floating

Fred Hersch's apprehensions about taking his trio back into the studio are for naught.


Sunday, December 7 2014

‘Austin City Limits’ On a Pedestal

Austin City Limits has defined how music is experienced through television for 40 years. This is a look back at a cultural institution that has always pushed forward.


‘The Librarians’ Is Packed With Allusions and Wily Behavior

The Librarians combines Willy Wonka with Indiana Jones to create the next Scooby Gang in search of magic, artifacts, and its own places in the universe.


Saturday, December 6 2014

‘Pressed for Time’ Shows That Technology’s Not All That Bad

Pressed for Time suggests new ways of looking at how we fit in as individuals with the rapid evolution of time and technology.


Friday, December 5 2014

PopMatters Film Preview: December 2014

This is it, the final push for the 2014 Awards Season, which includes some big names, some Academy almosts, and subjects as diverse as snipers, orphans, civil rights, and paintings of children with big, sad eyes.


Reese Witherspoon Takes a Trek With a Gigantic Blue Backpack in ‘Wild’

The metaphor of Cheryl's (Reese Witherspoon) giant backpack works in multiple ways, from the personal ordeals she confronts to the social expectations she can't avoid.


Putting a Shot Clock on Racism: Exclusive Preview of MAD’s 20 Dumbest, 2014

This year, Alfred E. Neuman puts his hands up against the pure Dumb of racism, football field not included.


This War of Mine

This War of Mine is a great game about survival, hope, loss, despair, companionship... but oddly enough not about war.


Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man

In this excerpt from his book on legendary soul singer Gil Scott-Heron, Marcus Baram recounts Scott-Heron's crucial time touring with Stevie Wonder.


The Best Metal of 2014

Metal's shining moments in 2014 include a long-awaited reunion, a culmination of a nearly 20-year career, and a sophomore outing that rose to the occasion.


In ‘Magic in the Moonlight’, Ideas Trump Characters

The fundamentalist atheism and myopic intellectualism of Woody Allen's latest depiction of an older man/younger woman dynamic makes it a pale imitation of his best work.


Brian Eno: Nerve Net / Shutov Assembly / Neroli / The Drop Reissues

There’s no possible way you can go wrong with these voluminous reissues of some of Brian Eno's best work.


Elsa Schiaparelli and Fashion Made Sublime

Meryle Secrest’s biography pays homage to Schiaparelli’s unique oeuvre by highlighting the efficiency of form and style in her designs, while framing them as miracles in their own right.


Various Artists: While No One Was Looking: Toasting 20 Years of Bloodshot Records

After 20 years of steady releases and catalog development, the rest of the country has finally caught up to the vision of Bloodshot Records.


ZOM: Flesh Assimilation

This is pretty damn indispensable listening, and somewhere down below the man with the horns and cape is grinning in wild approval.


Stalley: Ohio

Stalley serves up more intelligent trunk music on his major-label debut.


Last Ex: Last Ex

What started as an ambient horror film soundtrack took on a life of its own as Last Ex.


Judah & The Lion - Kids These Days

As with most copies of copies, the quality degenerates with each generation. Kids these days indeed.


Thursday, December 4 2014

Liv Ullman Takes on Strindberg’s Class-Focused Drama in ‘Miss Julie’

Liv Ullmann's take on August Strindberg's classic drama emphasizes the class struggles of its characters, depicting the ways in which power systems drive individuals beyond reason.


Shield Down, Don’t Shoot: Ferguson, Missouri and the All New Captain America

Captain America is black. Of course he is. Perhaps he always was.


Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell’s ‘Graveyard Books’ Are Deliciously Scary Adaptations

These two graphic novel versions of The Graveyard Book preserve everything good about the original and add the benefit of visual interpretation by a number of fine artists.


Chrissie Hynde: Kansas City - 16 November 2014

Chrissie Hynde’s stout-hearted, superb Kansas City show made a Sunday feel like a wild Saturday night. It’s no mystery as to why Chrissie Hynde still has skin in this rock and roll game.


‘The Red Tent’ Has Regaled Readers for 17 Years, and It Remains as Powerful as Ever

Anita Diamant’s storytelling is exceptional. There’s something here for everyone in a work which is an unquestioned masterpiece of historical fiction.


The Best Americana of 2014

If forced to define Americana, it's the one genre where honest craftsmanship is required, respected, and rewarded, something the best of 2014 lived up to.


Saint Saviour: In the Seams

Saint Saviour explores a sound that effortlessly flits between intimate folk and string-laden chamber pop. Sublime. Gorgeous. Pick a glowing adjective. In The Seams is one of the best albums of the year.


Levellers: Greatest Hits

Behold, the largest compilation of music by UK heavyweights the Levellers or, Just Let the Band Do the Singing.


Comics Are Not Just an American Artform…

Comics: A Global History, 1968 to the Present is an informative and well-written exploration of worldwide comics. Yet it attempts to cover too much, and it will leave you wanting more.


Tarwater: Adrift

You can certainly call Adrift unique, and the title is rather a propos, considering just how laconic the album is, for one, and, for two, just how all compassing and over the map it is.


Nora Guthrie: My Name Is New York: Ramblin’ Around Woody Guthrie’s Town

An engrossing biographical travelogue that provides a unique perspective on both Woody Guthrie and a long lost New York City


The Fall: Live UUROP VIII-XII Places in Sun & Winter, Son

The Fall appear to be enjoying themselves now. But what about the rest of us?


Madlib: Pinata Beats

Pinata Beats is a humble title for an album that can stand alone, as its own experience. It stands out among instrumental versions of non-instrumental hip-hop albums in that regard.


Wednesday, December 3 2014

‘Sexuality’ and Art as a Dynamic Force

This excellent collection, expertly curated by Amelia Jones, brings together the core ideas that inform the relationship between contemporary art and human sexuality.


The Politics of Performance: Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping

Like many avant-gardists before them, Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping view their performances not as an artistic practice or profession, but as an orientation toward life.


The Best Indie Pop of 2014

It's hard to see how any lover of indie pop could find the field of choices lacking in 2014, a year when the top ten albums are just the tip of the iceberg.


Pixies: Doolittle 25

It's been 25 years sinceDoolittle first screamed about slicing up eyeballs and the numerical properties of deities. Now, we live in wake of its seismic impact.


In Anne Rice’s ‘Prince Lestat’, the Vampire Blood Is Thin

If Blood Canticle was meant to be the farewell book to the Vampire Chronicles, Prince Lestat is its funeral.


Mary J. Blige: The London Sessions

Genuine artistic growth or a cheap ploy to adhere to popular culture's latest trend in music?


Skydiggers: Angels

This Christmas album from a veteran Canadian roots rock group is not your standard album of holiday carols, which is a bold and courageous move.


Simple Minds: Big Music

Simple Minds have released their best studio album in possibly three decades, striking a beautiful balance of pop radiance and musical delicacy.


Mykki Blanco: Gay Dog Food

Gay Dog Food is a bold statement without a lot of substance, one that isn't even sure of its own meaning.


The Acid: Liminal

Mute Records continues to surprise with the latest signing of the Acid, a genre-bending super sound.


Tuesday, December 2 2014

‘The Babadook’ Is a Smart Reconsideration of Mothers and Monsters

The Babadook reveals that grief is a lot like a monster: even if you think you've killed it, it's never quite as killed as you would hope.


Marianne Faithfull: London - 29 November 2014

Despite ill health almost curtailing this series of shows, Marianne Faithfull proved to be in funny, fierce, formidable and fascinating form at her Royal Festival Hall concert in London, the only UK stop on her 50th Anniversary World Tour.


The (Lost) Promise of Paradise: “Superman #36”

Superman faces a daunting challenge to his principles and ideals, but he ends up not having to confront it.


The Touré-Raichel Collective: New York - 18 November 2014

The audience hears wonderfully evocative global music between Idan Raichel and Vieux Farka Touré as they collaborate unrehearsed on stage.


Why Didn’t Alice McDermott’s ‘Someone’ Win the Pulitzer?

Someone is among this risk-taking writer's very best books.


20 Questions: Jen Wood

Jen Wood did a duet with the Postal Service, but has an amazing solo career all her own -- as well as an invisible Lasso of Truth, we're told.


Creepypasta Gaming: Where the Internet “Learns Our Fears”

When knowledge falls outside of that which is found on the Internet, it falls outside of modern understanding. Thus, games like these, which fall outside of the norm, become intensely compelling.


The Best Indie Rock of 2014

Some of the heavy hitters may not have made the cut for the best indie rock of 2014, but newer acts did more than just fill the vacuum left by the usual suspects.


‘The Conformist’ Is a Political Thriller Washed in the Hues of a Thousand Psychosexual Dreams

Bernardo Bertolucci’s magnificent drama The Conformist bridges the supreme elegance of the jazz age with Euro mod-chic.


AC/DC: Rock or Bust

More hard rock from those kings of heavy riffs, AC/DC; big on chorus, short on verse.


‘The Man From Essence’ Is the Inside Story of What Would Become the Pre-Eminent Black Women’s Brand

Essence magazine proved its founders’ bets were right: black women comprised a significant market with money to spend, and the right product with the right approach could virtually own it.


Two Inch Astronaut: Foulbrood

Foulbrood adeptly welds together Two Inch Astronaut's DC influences into ingenious structures.


Bette Midler: It’s the Girls!

With her latest release, the Divine Miss M takes on girl groups from the Andrews Sisters to TLC and a little bit of everything in between.


Jon Hopkins: Asleep Versions EP

Jon Hopkins' quasi-companion EP to last year's Mercury Prize-nominated Immunity is the audio equivalent of a warm blanket. Just in time for the Polar Vortex.


Peaking Lights: Cosmic Logic

The San Francisco duo imbue their lo-fi, psychedelic tendencies with pop songwriting and clearer production on the follow-up to 2012's Lucifer.


Haerts: Haerts

Haerts is an album, that although not awful, will have to find a way to stray a little bit from their tiresome formula to keep listeners interested.


Monday, December 1 2014

A Golden Wake

I kept expecting a villain to pop up or hints of a conspiracy or some outside force that connected all the various vignettes of the story together. In A Golden Wake, there are a bunch of short term goals, but ultimately this is a character-driven narrative.


Bill Nighy Returns to Television in ‘Worricker’

When Worricker is on screen, paying attention is consistently rewarding.


Mars Is Heaven: “All New Invaders #12”

H.G. Wells' invading menace is back, this time to be met by a different sort of Invaders.


Clarence Page Provides a Stable Treatise on the Most Hot-Button Issues

In Culture Worrier, Pulitzer Prize Winner Clarence Page tackles a multitude of issues in his intelligent newspaper columns from 1984-2014.


‘Venus in Fur’ Blurs the Lines Between Character, Actor, and Director

Roman Polanksi's adaptation of David Ives' play is a layered film where the true identity of its characters, including Polanski himself, is constantly being interrogated.


The 75 Best Songs of 2014

From electro to Americana... from R&B to metal... from hip-hop to rockin' and poppin' indie... 2014 had something great for everyone.


Leonard Cohen: Live in Dublin

So if you want the Leonard Cohen experience, but cannot afford the $100-plus tab for the ticket, this is the next best thing


Do College Classrooms Really Need to Be More Like Video Games?

Research suggests that RTTP games provide historical education, create a sense of community, foster long-term friendships, aid in memory retention, and help create moral leaders.


David Foster Wallace and the Work That Made the Man

The posthumous The Pale King finally gets its day in court.


Wayfarer: Children of the Iron Age

Children of the Iron Age is a sturdy, dependable release that weaves a tapestry of dark magic across its eight songs.


Paul McCartney and Wings: Wings at the Speed of Sound

The Wings album on which each member of the band sings and it really doesn't matter.


Greylag: Greylag

Like the band's namesake bird, Greylag follows rather than leads, traversing domesticated grounds and tested sounds of bands that have come before.


Winterpills: Echolalia

Echolalia, a covers record, finds the band revealing its influences while still shifting them into a Winterpills' sound. Songs here become both tributes and spaces for exploration.


Henry Butler / Steven Bernstein and the Hot 9: Viper’s Drag

Jazz’s post-modern “little big band”, fronted by trumpeter Steven Bernstein, gets together with a great New Orleans pianist to bring you back in time and up to the present.


Sunday, November 30 2014

Literary History’s Best Celebrated Failures

Whether you entertain delusions of grandeur or merely write to justify alcoholism, The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure is a book for you.


Saturday, November 29 2014

Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof

From Jerome Robbins to an all-black school production, Solomon cherishes the Fiddler's legacy.


Friday, November 28 2014

‘Horrible Bosses 2’ Goes for the Laughs, Not the Anger

The sequel skips the original’s workers' fury and lets its comedy all-star trio play to their strengths, with mixed results.


Wednesday, November 26 2014

The Demonic Force in ‘The Whale: Revenge From the Deep’

As in its previous literary and screen incarnations, the whale here is a demonic force, producing fear in the whalers (and the audience) even when it is not visible.


John Cleese Tells Some of It in ‘So, Anyway…’

The Monty Python legend offers something completely different: a look back on what led him to his storied career in comedy.


‘The Imitation Game’ Doesn’t Pretend to Solve the Enigma That Is Alan Turing and His Machine

As visible as the Turing machine may be on screen -- and it is gorgeous, strange, and haunting, as well as sublimely mechanical and daunting -- it remains unfathomable.


David Bowie’s Affective Relationship With the Remarkable, Schizophrenic City of Berlin

Tobias Rüther’s exploration of Bowie’s artistic and personal development in mid-'70s Berlin offers few cogent insights and a confusing timeline of an artist in a city.


The Noir Traveler Returns: The Evolving Sound of Alvarius B.

The Invisible Hands have given us a glimpse of Alvarius B.'s (Alan Bishop) view of the world from the center of Cairo. It's not a happy perspective, but there's a hint of hope.


The Jesus and Mary Chain: Barbed Wire Kisses

Zoë Howe's biography of the Jesus and Mary Chain opens with a look at the band's hometown of East Kilbride, Scotland, a "dull" and "antiseptic" place that wasn't the worst place in the world.


‘Mystery Science Theater 3000: Turkey Day Collection (XXXI)’ Is Comedy Worth Being Thankful For

Featuring episodes from both Comedy Central and the Sci-Fi Channel, this Turkey Day Collection is a feast for comedy fans.


The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground - 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition

Few bands ever had a year like the Velvet Underground did in 1969. Even fewer have a set that documents a year like that as beautifully as this one.


Alex Capus’ Latest Book Is a Wild Ride Through the Wild West

Filled with six charming tales about the American West in the 19th Century, Skidoo is an off-the-wall history lesson about the American Frontier most of us were never taught in school.


Pink Floyd: The Endless River

On The Endless River, Pink Floyd sounds as strong as it did during some of its best years. On this almost entirely instrumental album, however, the lyrics are sorely missed.


Foreigner: The Complete Atlantic Studio Albums 1977-1991

No more head games: there are some true pop gems worth uncovering on Foreigner's first few albums, but a single-disc best-of would just as well satisfy anyone else.


Swans: Oxygen EP

Revealing the true horsepower behind the Swans’ "Oxygen", this four-song collection should be handled by a professional driver on a closed course.


Locust: After the Rain

Mark Van Hoen is not one-offing his Locust resurrection. Not by a long shot.


Game Theory: Blaze of Glory

Game Theory's nervy debut album gets to baffle another generation of listeners with this bulky reissue.


Tuesday, November 25 2014

It’s Hard to Love the Pieces: “The Multiversity: Pax Americana #1”

This is a complex and, perhaps, technically perfect comicbook. So why is it, I wonder, that I am unmoved?


The ‘Penguins of Madagascar’ Is Terminally Cute and Cuddly

It seems right that Werner Herzog narrates the start of Penguins of Madagascar, concerning the overwhelming cuddly cuteness of penguins and the absurd value humans attribute to them.


In an Underground Bar With America’s First Bohemians

Rebel Souls tells how Walt Whitman and a cast of colorful characters helped define American culture from a dark, 19th century basement bar in Manhattan.


‘The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth’: More Grotesque, More Fun

Grotesque, strange, and difficult, Rebirth offers a fantastic vision of what might be the ideal roguelike.


The Adventures of Two Boys and an Elephant

At its best, Maya serves as a window into an era of kids' adventure series with unusually authentic production values and undercurrents of thoughtful attention to cultural differences.


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