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
Spirit Music: A Conversation With Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore

Thurston Moore talks with PopMatters about age, experience, musical partnerships, and new album Rock n Roll Consciousness.

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7 Aug 2017 // 2:30 AM

Soccer Mommy: Collection

One of the strongest young songwriters, Soccer Mommy's Sophie Allison, proves on Collection that her early releases stand the test of time versus new offerings and that the latter hasn't lost the vital factor that made her an artist to watch in the first place.

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The Fall: New Facts Emerge

This type of moody Fall finds favor with longtime fans, but it may put off a newcomer expecting pop ditties, memorable chords, and bouncier melodies.

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7 Aug 2017 // 2:15 AM

Monoswezi: A Je

Multicultural Monoswezi brings together acoustic sounds from four continents on gentle, jazzy A Je.

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Lost Chords, Major Chords, Minor Chords, Dissonant Counter-melodies: ‘Dreaming the Beatles’

This biography of the Beatles illustrates how their personality dynamics served as both a necessary elixir and an addictive poison in the creation of their music.

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A Towering Disappointment: ‘The Dark Tower’ Is Brutally Boring

Middling, misguided, and ill-conceived, The Dark Tower captures none of the scope and style of King's popular books.

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‘The Dark Tower’ Is a Pillar of Boredom

Idris Elba is again squandered in this fantasy Western that feels like the sequel to a non-existent movie and the prequel to a movie that will never be made.

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Snark, Sarcasm, and Sobriety Keeps ‘Ghost World’ Relevant

Tales of summer classes, spineless parents, and an eternal curiosity about the wild, weird, and woebegotten in Criterion's edition of Ghost World.

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A Connoisseur of Fine Things: Interim Thoughts on the Life and Career of Chubby Checker

While Bob Dylan was furiously writing “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” Chubby Checker was busy with his Trinidadian dance for the teenybopper diaspora. Dancing one’s ass off is as reasonable a response to impending nuclear annihilation as anything.

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Tyler, The Creator: Flower Boy

All the imperfections and risk-taking of Tyler’s past efforts bloom into fruition now on his most beautiful and open record to date.

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Remembering (and Reliving) the Bombing of Hiroshima With Keiji Nakazawa’s ‘Barefoot Gen’

The seminal manga of Hiroshima's atomic bombing and aftermath remains an essential reminder of the horrors of war and atomic bombs.

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The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers: No Glory

Praise the Lord: On their sophomore album, the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers dive deep into their bag of tricks for an eclectic mix of soul, gospel and Americana.

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VÉRITÉ: Somewhere In Between

With her debut album, Somewhere in Between, VÉRITÉ etches her name into the growing pantheon of alt-pop brooders.

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It’s Anger Across The Ages in ‘Marvel Generations: Banner Hulk & Totally Awesome Hulk #1’

Two Hulks from two eras, Bruce Banner and Amadeus Cho, do a lot of smashing but leave surprisingly little impact.

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‘The Space Between the Stars’ Is a Stellar Debut

Combining meditations on faith and science with a ragtag band of dystopia survivors, The Space Between the Stars entertains and asks important questions.

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Recipients of the Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, Anthologized

The common thread in Pen America Best Debut Stories 2017 is a simple and succinct style and a desire to tell a good story free from the bells and whistles that sometimes scream “MFA”.

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Various Artists: Zaire 74 - The African Artists

Perfectly preserved after 43 years, the legendary Rumble in the Jungle's musical pre-show is a knockout in its own right.

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Various Artists: The Complete Loma Singles Vol. 1

These original R&B 45s are treasured among music collectors, and this anthology is the first in the release of all Loma Records' singles.

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This Is the Kit: Moonshine Freeze

Katie Stables and Co. shimmer and shine in focused and layered fifth full-length LP.

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Celebrating American Film Actress, Producer, Screenwriter, and Philanthropist Marion Davies

Silent star Marion Davies balances romance, comedy and costumes in The Bride's Play, Beauty's Worth and When Knighthood Was in Flower.

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Arcade Fire: Everything Now

Arcade Fire is not old enough for this work as late career orthodoxy nor suave enough to cook these observations into delicious bites.

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The Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli Talks About ‘In Spades’, Prince, and the Critical Beat

Greg Dulli tells PopMatters that "nothing's excluded when it comes time to write a song... I am absolutely omnivorous."

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Oddballs on the Rise: Kyle Mooney and Dave McCary on SNL and ‘Brigsby Bear’

SNL star and writer Kyle Mooney and Dave McCary discuss the jump from live TV to making their first feature film, Brigsby Bear.

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Professor Randall E. Auxier Is My Bass Player—and Philosopher

Metaphysical Graffiti is a greatest hits rock/philosophy compilation that showcases the coolest professor around.

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‘Detour’ Director Christopher Smith Says He Hasn’t Even Started Making Horror Movies, Yet

"I think horror has become utterly boring... (E)verybody has got to pull their socks up a bit and start to dig a bit deeper," says Smith.

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Kevin Abernathy: Family Hour / The PInklets: The Pinklets

Two EPs from Tennessee's rocking Abernathy family (one from dad and one from daughters) that each offer sonic rewards.

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‘Straw Dogs’ Searches for Human Nature but Finds Only Misogyny

The iconic value of Sam Peckinpah's filmic capture of human depravity doesn't outweigh its tired nihilism and especially its misogyny.

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Bad Cop / Bad Cop: Warriors

Catchy, retro pop punk with a current feminist outlook. But a lot more fun than the previous sentence makes it sound.

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Manchester Orchestra: A Black Mile to the Surface

On their latest album, Manchester Orchestra show that gloominess pays off as long as you've got good songs and smart arrangements.

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Hanging Onto the Thin Skin of Space: Why ‘Dark Matter’ Matters

Dark Matter eschews the clichés of lazy sci-fi, so why isn't it more popular?

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Washed Out: Mister Mellow

Mister Mellow is an album of interludes and abstract experimentations as much as it is a pop record.

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2 Aug 2017 // 2:15 AM

Aruán Ortiz: Cub(an)ism

Dense yet rewarding, Ortiz champions the abstract while still honoring his musical roots on his first solo piano record in 20 years.

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Small Beauty, Big Ideas: A Conversation with Lambda Award Winner Jia Qing Wilson-Yang

‘Best Transgender Fiction’ winner’s work challenges Can-Lit and the representation of identity.

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‘Orphan Black’: The Importance of Family and Sacrifice Are the Heart of “Guillotines Decide”

Art and death go hand in hand in one of Orphan Black's final episodes.

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On Lynda Barry’s Exercise in Autobiofictionalography, ‘One! Hundred! Demons!’

“Is it autobiography if parts of it are not true? Is it fiction if parts of it are?”

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What Is Real in the YouTube World of ‘Presenting Princess Shaw’?

Presenting Princess Shaw simultaneously exposes and obscures the process of documentary-making.

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Lil Yachty: Teenage Emotions

Yachty’s loose rudder on Teenage Emotions causes him to lose his bearings as he only half commits to “capturing all aspects of teenagers” while the other half boasts of a life unrelatable to most.

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Detroit Rebellion: The Man

Detroit Rebellion turn up the amps on their latest release.

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Stendhal’s ‘Italian Chronicles’ Is a Sordid, Steamy Saga of Sin and Death

In the papal lands and amid the Vatican's power plays, brigands, seducers, nobles, and nuns battle it out.

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1 Aug 2017 // 2:30 AM

Cornelius: Mellow Waves

Cornelius returns with Mellow Waves, his first album since 2006’s Sensuous.

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1 Aug 2017 // 2:30 AM

‘Dunkirk’ Is an Allegory of Resilience for Our Age

Christopher Nolan’s film is not primarily a patriotic tale of superior character, but rather a celebration simply of the universal ability to endure.

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Jillette Johnson: All I Ever See in You Is Me

All I Ever See in You Is Me bares Johnson’s emotional depths within sonic simplicity, as she taps into self-possession and self-doubt without overburdening her classic sensibilities with the melodramatic.

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Avi Avital and Omer Avital: Avital Meets Avital

Avi and Omer Avital are united by their heritage and acoustic instruments, but separated by their musical background. Nonetheless, their differences fuse to craft intriguing sounds on their premier recording.

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A Lost Highway Revisited: ‘Twin Peaks’ and the Loss of Innocence

While the new Twin Peaks might not be able to reclaim its former innocence, Dale Cooper somehow hangs on to his.

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Kathryn Bigelow’s Intense ‘Detroit’ Finds a Glimmer of Hope Amidst the Hopelessness

This is no one's neighborhood. Detroit doesn’t help anyone to feel at home, least of all viewers.

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World Listening Day Remembers Electronic Pioneer and Deep Listening Creator Pauline Oliveros

Deep Listening opens possibilities for experiencing music in new ways, in effect teaching its pupils how to listen to listening itself.

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‘Heretics!’ Illustrates the Contentiousness Surrounding Philosophy

Heretics! is an original and thoughtful book, sliding somewhere between academic text, layperson’s introduction, and popular philosophy, with a unique, illustrated, twist.

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Hey Violet: From the Outside

From the Outside is a modern masterpiece that declares one’s choices in life are one’s own. That may be self-centered and even purposely self-delusional, but it serves a higher truth,

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Mammút: Kinder Versions

1990s vibes are in no short supply on Reykjavík-based band Mammút’s latest album, atmospheric rocker Kinder Versions.

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Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz: Born a Gangster / Quazarz Vs. The Jealousy Machines

Shabazz Palaces return with a double-album that’s progressive, singular, and utterly unsuccessful.

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On ‘Art Sex Music’ and Working as an Avant-Garde Artist With Genesis P-Orridge

Throbbing Gristle and COUM Transmissions' Cosey Fanni Tutti's autobiography reminds us that the destructive forces of misogyny and exploitation infiltrate even the most admired of forward-thinking movements.

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31 Jul 2017 // 2:30 AM

Meek Mill: Wins & Losses

Meek Mill returns to music after a difficult year. WIns & Losses promises much in offering a mature reflection on these experiences and his evolution as a man and artist.

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Guilt and Exculpation in Roberto Rossellini’s ‘War Trilogy’

“The War Trilogy” is just as propagandistic as any film from the Mussolini period; the difference is most of us want to believe this propaganda.

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Dave Chisholm’s Wildly Imaginative Audio/visual Experience, ‘Instrumental’

An allegorical exploration of the idea of just how far some musicians will go to “make it”, Instrumental takes things to the extreme.

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The Technology in ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Remake Fascinates But the People, Not So Much

The live-action remake of the landmark 1995 philosophical action anime about cyborg humanity wraps the same material in a shiny new package.

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Rev. Sekou: In Times Like These

A blistering batch of gospel blues, In Times Like These offers up social and political sentiments more relevant now perhaps than ever from that rare artist who truly practices what he preaches.

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28 Jul 2017 // 7:26 AM

The Flipside #3: Knight of Cups

Knight of Cups gorgeously captures Los Angeles, but has famed director Terrence Malick fallen too far down the rabbit hole?

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Perennial Underdogs, Dion and Norton Prove a Perfect Pairing

Norton Records co-founder Miriam Linna talks with PopMatters about the origins of their new, until-now unreleased lost Dion album recorded in 1965, which shows Dion to have been at the vanguard of the forthcoming folk rock boom.

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Lana Del Rey: Lust for Life

Lust for Life postures itself above all as Lana Del Rey's most optimistic, political, and globally conscious record to date.

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28 Jul 2017 // 2:20 AM

Can: The Singles

A compilation of singles by legendary German experimentalists Can may seem bizarre at first, but it helps brings their pop-minded tendencies to the forefront like never before.

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Fairport Convention: Come All Ye - The First Ten Years

From Leonard Cohen covers to radical re-interpretations of traditional English folk songs, Fairport Convention quietly turned their backs on the psychedelic '60s in favour of 17th-century child ballads.

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‘What She Ate’ Illustrates How Food Can Shift Balances of Power in Surprising Ways

Laura Shapiro’s portraits alternate between a female’s sense of rebelliousness and capitulation in the struggle for food sovereignty.

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Plots, Premonitions, and Pitfalls for an Empire in ‘Secret Empire #7’

The cracks in Hydra's empire widen as drama and losses escalate.

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‘Atomic Blonde’ Melts Down

David Leitch’s spy thriller is an unsuccessful blend of detached irony and detached retinas.

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The Summer of Love Lives on at the High Sierra Music Festival

Four days and nights of near-utopian peace and musical harmony that comes just about as close as modern times can to approximating the “San Francisco scene” of the 1960s.

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Human Potential: Hot Gun Western City

Human Potential's cinematic third record is a thing of power.

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Elvis Presley: A Boy From Tupelo

Hearing Elvis try out different sounds and search for the magic reveal how slippery the development of rock into a distinct genre was in the 1950s.

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Whatever Happened to Indie Rock?

As the recent Lawrence Field Day Festival illustrates, indie rock may be artistically benefiting from an increasingly marginalized status in the music world.

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The Isley Brothers and Santana: Power of Peace

At a time of great political and social upheaval, Power of Peace positions itself as a message of love and unity over hate and division.

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Katie Von Schleicher: Shitty Hits

The past music of Katie Von Schleicher is stark, dark, and just plain weird. Von Schleicher’s new album,Shitty Hits, although a slight shift from her past work, continues this path.

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How to Ruin a University Without Really Trying

As Stefan Collini discusses in Speaking of Universities, none of the things universities aim to do -- from educating people to achieving research breakthroughs -- can be achieved under the conditions they’re increasingly being made to conform to.

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Understanding Formula in Martin Provost’s ‘The Midwife’

Your view of the protagonist's view is not frightening, but heartening. It's good to go off script, especially in a way that adheres to formula.

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Laughter, Tears, Curtain: Nicholas Hytner Recalls His Time Running the National Theatre

Hytner’s account of his time as Artistic Director of the National Theatre, Balancing Act, offers scattered insights but lacks purpose and precision.

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Art Feynman: Blast Off Through the Wicker

Musical enigma, Art Feynman, gets rhythmic on his bold debut.

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26 Jul 2017 // 8:15 AM

Big Thief: Capacity

Big Thief's sophomore release takes on a more reserved sound without sacrificing emotional, quality songwriting.

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26 Jul 2017 // 3:00 AM

The Future of ‘Game of Thrones’ Is Female

An exploration into how the show's violence against its women enforces and strengthens the matriarchy of Game of Thrones' Westeros.

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‘Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country…’ Will Pull Some Clever Twists on You

Chavisa Woods' characters lean on observation but shy away from judgment, leaving her readers to apply their own values to the happenings in the stories.

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26 Jul 2017 // 2:30 AM

Black Grape: Pop Voodoo

They're straight, they're stupid, and they're back.

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26 Jul 2017 // 2:20 AM

Boris: Dear

Legendary Tokyo-based experimental trio, Boris, take a dive into their past in order to discover a new found energy and move forward.

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The Proximity of the Spectral in Mizoguchi’s ‘Ugetsu’

Mizoguchi suggests that we are not so much haunted by ghosts as we project our own specters upon our reality.

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‘The Bonjour Effect’ Bids Au Revoir to French Language and Mores

The Bonjour Effect is too closely tailored to North American sensitivities to properly connect with French conversation culture.

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Pulitzer Prize Winner Jorie Graham’s Collection of Poetry, ‘Fast’, Will Haunt You, Beautifully

These poems are replete with thoughts and images that haunt me, that shake the tendrils of my nervous system and appear to me in unbidden moments.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017: Day One

Creative musical talents, nice weather, and friendly people combined with long, long lines, some minor technical issues, and a few lackluster performances.

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The Ed Palermo Big Band: The Great Un-American Songbook: Volumes I & II

Zappa-indebted big band leader Ed Palermo carries his singular vision across the pond, taking on the British Invasion and more in strikingly original fashion.

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Silverstein: Dead Reflection

Dead Reflection shows the band’s development in a subtle manner, carrying tropes and images with crowd-pleasing lines rather than intense guitar riffs.

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Sabrina Malheiros: Clareia

A feel-good blend of samba and soul, Clareia is the perfect album to put on with your morning coffee.

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The Teddy Charles/Teddy Cohen Jazz Map of Random Finds and Significant Directions

I take a chance on the unknown used records of Shenzhen and Los Angeles and unwittingly connect the dots, opening up the wide but previously obscured vistas of post-bebop history.

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Laibach: Also Sprach Zarathustra

Intended as a score for a theatrical version of Friedrich Nietzsche's famous novel, Also Sprach Zarathrustra could also just as easily be the next David Fincher soundtrack.

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Arthur Alexander: Arthur Alexander

Alexander's music shares an affinity with the gospel-turned-secular R&B that made Sam Cooke, Bobby Womack, and others so damn good. These songs express heart and soul.

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Why It’s Too Late to Let Spider-Man Into the Marvel Cinematic Universe

The Peter Parker of Homecoming doesn't resemble a superhero so much as an approval-starved, attention-seeking child.

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‘Orphan Black’: Rachel Makes a Brutal Choice in “Gag or Throttle”

"Gag or Throttle" exemplifies how well the series combines plot, character payoff, and great pacing with the consistently outstanding acting of Maslany and company.

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‘Dunkirk’: “The Bodies Come Back”

Dunkirk turns war movie tropes inside out to articulate a broader theme, not only the truism that war is excruciating, but more profoundly, that war is always the same, that it repeats, that it cannot be won.

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Thin Lizzy / Philip Lynott Bio ‘Cowboy Song’ Is Like Reading the Best Liner Notes, Ever

Cowboy Song is not the first biography of Thin Lizzy and/or Lynott, but it is profoundly well-researched and may be the best.

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The Ongoing Struggle With Society in ‘The Savage Innocents’

Nicholas Ray's personal frustrations inform his fable of the far north, now on Blu-ray by Olive Films.

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Deep Soul Diving: Jahshua Smith Deconstructs ‘The 4th Wall’

Smith's music is balanced on a sagacious tip, where he examines the rigmaroles of daily life through the Afrocentric prism of dialogue and debate.

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Harry Taussig and Max Ochs: The Music of Harry Taussig and Max Ochs

A pair of overlooked solo acoustic guitarists reunites 50 years after appearing together on John Fahey’s legendary 1967 Takoma sampler LP for a fine, succinct program of that for which they are each best known.

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24 Jul 2017 // 7:46 AM

Goatwhore: Vengeful Ascension

Extreme metal overlords Goatwhore celebrate 20 years of with their most mature outing to date.

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The Society of the ‘Fight Club’ Is the Society of the Spectacle

All work and no play make Fight Club's Jack deconstruct life, Cinema, and his own sanity.

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Waltzing With a City in ‘Stockholm, My Love’

Spend an intimate hour and a half with a living, breathing city. Journeying Through the Soul of a City, and the Self

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Nick Lowe: Reissues, 1982-1990

Six vital releases from one of the most underappreciated titans of power pop are finally back in print.

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More Recent Features
//Mixed media
//Blogs

How It Slips Away: 'The Breaking Point' Crosses Hemingway With Noir

// Short Ends and Leader

"Whether we've seen or read the story before, we ache for these sympathetic, floundering people presented to us gravely and without cynicism, even when cynical themselves.

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