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
Young Fathers Want to Change What’s Normal

With their new album White Men Are Black Men Too, Young Fathers look to shake people from complacency and change their understanding of pop.

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‘Pitch Perfect 2’ Is a Nonsensical Copy-and-Paste Job

Pitch Perfect 2 is not very new, seeming awfully like a combination cover and mash-up of the first movie.

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Charlize Theron Brings the War Rig in ‘Mad Max - Fury Road’

Like the titular Max, Charlize Theron's Furiosa is trying to survive in a world made of beauty and bruising violence, a hallmark of all the Mad Max movies. But she has a mission, too.

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Rhett Miller: The Traveler

Rhett Miller has spent much of his songwriting in tunnels. With The Traveler, he also has the sense to have light shine into them.

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Róisín Murphy: Hairless Toys

If Hairless Toys is the sound of an artist with absolutely nothing to lose, it's also the sound of an audience with little to gain.

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Ryan Adams: Live at Carnegie Hall

Live release of 2014 solo shows at Carnegie Hall bring Adams’ poetic flair into focus. Interesting and varied set lists, excellent sound, and good humour.

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15 May 2015 // 2:15 AM

Curiosity

As far as literary companions go, Dante and Montaigne are some of the finest ones to have when in pursuit of one's own curiosity.

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Ivan & Alyosha: It’s All Just Pretend

With only one previous LP and a pair of EPs paving the way, It’s All Just Pretend finds Ivan & Alyosha accelerating their momentum, making the case that they’re well deserving of being labeled the next big buzz band.

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‘Still Alice’ Tells the Story of Alzheimer’s From the Patient’s Perspective

Still Alice is a perceptive film about the tragic ways illness impacts identity, and Julianne Moore is the sole reason for its success.

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‘Rocky IV’ Is a Cold War Montage With a Robotic Heart

Rocky IV is a Cold War-themed fairy tale, with a hero who overcomes monumental trials and defeats evil monsters so that we can all live happily ever after.

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15 May 2015 // 2:05 AM

Michael Price: Entanglement

Entanglement is a very personal expression of my obsessions: music, love, physics and the inter-connectedness of things.

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‘Apple Tree Yard’s Protagonist is a Wife, Mother, Ph.D. and… Murderer?

Louis Doughty often describes things with a blunt gracefulness; she is an author that can take the simplest or smallest turn of phrase and make it memorable and powerful.

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Anne McCue: Blue Sky Thinkin’

Despite the fact McCue had a hand in writing every one of its dozen songs, any one of the selections might just as easily be mistaken for a standard tune that originated in the ‘20s, ‘30s or ‘40s.

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Why They Fight: A Brief History of Batman Battling Superman

Over the course of any relationship, especially ones that last three quarters of a century, there's bound to be some friction, some tension and some overall sour times.

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In ‘Mad Max - Fury Road’, the Devil and Delights Are in the Details

This Mad Max is an amazing accomplishment, a throwback that actually finds a way to return to the present day with its brilliance intact.

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Life on Tour Is Exactly What You Might Expect

The vibrance of A Million Miles is hindered by the unnecessary facade of fiction.

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14 May 2015 // 2:30 AM

Torres: Sprinter

The foreboding sonic weather systems that Mackenzie Scott summons in her songs give dimension to the complex topics she explores.

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A Tale of Two Ill-Fated Hollywood Stars

As Hollywood hopefuls Gig Young and Inger Stevens would learn, Hollywood is a dream factory; but it produces nightmares, as well.

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14 May 2015 // 2:20 AM

Tyondai Braxton: HIVE1

As a look into Braxton's mind, HIVE1 is as fascinating as it is unsettling.

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And So I Watch You From Afar: Heirs

The reverb-drenched Heirs is a solidly fun and frantic album, a rarity for the stuffy, overserious post-rock genre.

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Taraf de Haïdouks: Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts

Taraf de Haïdouks mix the old and the new on their 25th anniversary set.

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The Cathedral and the Shrink’s Office: ‘All Things Must Pass’ vs. ‘Plastic Ono Band’

All Things Must Pass and Plastic Ono Band are the best of the post-Beatles albums because they demonstrate the opposing modes in the ways we exist.

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In His Fourth Novel, Paul Beatty Aims to Get Under Your Skin

The Sellout is a blistering satire from a gifted poet and novelist. Just prepare to be uneasy!

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14 May 2015 // 2:05 AM

Buxton: Half a Native

Houston-based Buxton alters the alt-country dynamic established with their first two albums.

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Schizophonia: Cantorial Recordings Reimagined

Schizophonia set a new bar for ways we can imagine intersections between the old school, the spiritual, and the evanescent.

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Jean Pierre Melville’s ‘La silence de la mer’ Is the French Resistance in Microcosm

Austere even by Jean-Pierre Melville's later standards, La silence de la mer is a powerful testament to nonviolent resistance.

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‘Wayward Pines’ Tinkers With Familiar Strangeness

Mixing together the perfection of Wisteria Lane, the damp environs of Twilight, and Twin Peaks, Wayward Pines is an intriguing collection of the familiar.

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A Stiff Drink of Humility in ‘Superman #40’

A drunk Superman is both entertaining and insightful.

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Acting Connects Us All, Which Is ‘Why Acting Matters’

Through memorable, entertaining stories about actors and a brief history of acting in Britain and the United States, David Thomson reveals why acting matters so much to us all.

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Looking Into the Future of Cinema with Director John Boorman

The iconic Academy Award-winning director John Boorman discusses what may very well be his final masterwork, Queen & Country.

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The Story of Billie Holiday’s Life Shouldn’t Overshadow the Power of Her Music

To say that Billie Holiday's songs remain memorable because we know she lived a hard life does her artistry a most insulting disservice.

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13 May 2015 // 2:30 AM

The Weather Station: Loyalty

Taking up the mantle of great Canadian singer-songwriters, the Weather Station’s Tamara Lindeman delivers her masterpiece.

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13 May 2015 // 2:20 AM

Sóley: Ask the Deep

As murky as the waters of Ask the Deep can get, the saving grace is always Sóley’s unique and arresting voice, which can conjure fairy worlds all on its own.

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The Increasingly Political, Ever Lulzy, Richly Cultural World of Hackers

Gabriella Coleman, ethnographer of Anonymous, is on a mission to dispel stereotypes and acknowledge the cultural contributions of hackers.

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Max Richter: The Blue Notebooks

If The Blue Notebooks was ever in danger of not being considered a classic, let this re-visitation be a way to cover our bases.

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13 May 2015 // 2:10 AM

The Revelers: Get Ready

The party rolls on with this Louisiana supergroup’s second independent release, where mastery of Cajun, zydeco, and swamp rock is on full display.

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Tony Barrell’s Banging on About Drumming

Born to Drum is most engaging when it gets away from worrying so specifically about what draws people to the instrument.

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Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys: Ionia

Michigan-based four-piece Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys routinely mix roots, bluegrass and Americana influences into their own distinct sound on new album Ionia.

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13 May 2015 // 2:00 AM

HOLY: Stabs

Stabs is too conservative a psychedelic album to stand out but provides some easy fun while it lasts.

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‘Mr. Turner’ Is a Film as a Canvas

Mr. Turner, the biopic of the famous painter J.M.W. Turner, speaks to the inherent difficulties of navigating the art world.

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‘The Multiversity #2’ Is More Than an Empty Hand

At the beginning of this series, Grant Morrison's ambiguities looked like strengths. Here, at the end, they are clearly weaknesses.

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‘It’s the Pictures That Got Small’ Tells of Hollywood’s Golden Age Like Only a Diary Can

Charles Backett's diaries provide readers with a close and very personal look at the genius of Billy Wilder and a glance at nearly every other Hollywood big-wig of the Golden Age.

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Watching the Verbs Take Action!

Meegan Voss and Steve Jordan are dynamite musicians on their own, but when together as the Verbs, their years of studio mastery truly come into the fore.

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12 May 2015 // 2:30 AM

Blanck Mass: Dumb Flesh

Like a shiny penny left submerged in Coca-Cola, the elements of dance music corrode here in Benjamin John Power’s hands.

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Hollywood Creative Accounting, or, How to Hide a Hit and Still Profit From It

From Batsuits to Lawsuits, Hollywood Studios have a long history of hiding profits to claim that enormous hits were actually flops. How do they do this, and why?

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Surfer Blood: 1000 Palms

Surfer Blood's dreamy beach pop returns, more melancholic and sentimental than ever.

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12 May 2015 // 2:15 AM

Psychic Reality: Chassis

Chassis succeeds the most when Leyna Noel bares her voice opposing the music that back her.

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The Pine Hill Project: Tomorrow You’re Going

Two master songwriters flaunt their performance skills on a collection of well- and lesser-known covers.

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Color Therapy: Mr. Wolf Is Dead

If you're looking for mood-music and a soporific, look no further! Color Therapy's here to put you to sleep and exercise any of those unwanted emotions!

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Everclear’s Art Alexakis Is the Man Who Broke His Own Heart

Everclear's Art Alexakis reflects on his career in music as well as his band's "best-sounding" new album.

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Lyal Strickland: Balanced on Barbed Wire

Before long, Strickland may not be just the Ozarks’ storyteller, but America’s. Balanced on Barbed Wire, both in its production and moxie, represents a strong step in that direction.

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In 1987, ‘Hollywood Shuffle’ Satirized Hollywood’s Race Problem That Still Exists Today

Hollywood Shuffle sends up Hollywood's stereotype treatment of black actors.

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11 May 2015 // 8:50 AM

Coming Out Honestly in ‘All-New X-Men #40’

Bobby Drake, the X-Men known as Iceman, is outed by a close friend. But could the situation have been handled better?

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‘Hot Pursuit’ Substitutes Hate for Humor

Hot Pursuit is a sexist screed in which women are reduced to ridiculous gender stereotypes all for the sake of laughs -- which are nonexistent.

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‘Trigger Warning’ Proves Once Again That Neil Gaiman Rarely Fails to Be Entertaining

Trigger Warning collects 23 of Gaiman's recent stories and poems, and serves as a reminder of how he became such a phenomenon in the fantasy field.

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‘Nirbhaya’ Bellows For Women’s Rights

Using the horrific crimes against Jyoti Singh Pandey as a jumping-off point, Nirbhaya is an outstanding call for further cultural awakening on women's rights.

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Various Artists: Tease Torment Tantalize: A 30th Anniversary Tribute to the Smiths’ Debut

A cast of mostly unfamiliar names recreate the Smiths' first album song by song, rendering some surprisingly satisfying results.

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Parker McCollum: The Limestone Kid

Parker McCollum’s Americana debut The Limestone Kid is an ambitious, portentous start to a career in music.

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11 May 2015 // 4:00 AM

Too Many Things on Josh Rouse’s Mind

"Exercise, don't drink too much, and call your parents. I don't practice these as often as I should but they are good ideas!"

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Jeremiah Jae and L’Orange: The Night Took Us in Like Family

Rapper Jeremiah Jae and producer L’Orange’s cinematic The Night Took Us in Like Family brings to life the hip-hop Western.

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11 May 2015 // 3:00 AM

Mew: + -

Although it’s less innovative than Mew's prior releases, + - ("Plus Minus") makes up for it by being the most poised and commercially tempting album Mew have ever done.

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Where Did All the (Action Figure) Girls Go?

The scarcity of the Black Widow action figure on toy shelves has me thinking about what we think we know about gender identity in play, be that play with toys or play in video games.

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11 May 2015 // 2:29 AM

Grounders: Grounders

The Toronto band’s first album is both assured and willing to roll with the waves.

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Ecologizing the Political: Scapegoating, the Naturalistic Metaphor, and Propaganda

Metaphors reliant on "phobias" and "plagues" pass the buck to future generations, as if we have no control over our situations, when we in fact do.

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Peter Brown’s ‘The Ransom of the Soul’ Is a Minor Work by a Magesterial Voice

Brown's first book after his magnum opus The Eye of the Needle is a subtle and relevant study about the material problems of money and the body.

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The Tallest Man on Earth: Dark Bird Is Home

What do you do when “the new Dylan” starts to sound like the old Don Henley? If you're wise, you'll dive in and listen more deeply.

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‘Rigor Mortis’ Doesn’t Have the Decency to Scare Its Audience

It wouldn't seem possible to make a dour movie about China's famous "hopping vampires", but somehow Juno Mak has done it.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger Deals With a New Kind of Zombie in ‘Maggie’

Maggie's excavation of the process of becoming a zombie is emotionally complicated and, for that, remarkable.

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8 May 2015 // 9:30 AM

War, Motherhood and Dancing in ‘Bravetown’

While Footloose clones duly follow an escapist aesthetic, Bravetown begins with a grimmer look.

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Cars That Will Kill You, An ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ Triptych Finalé

Thus far, we've seen director Joss Whedon leverage the history of comics fandom and of Hollywood film in a grand and postmodern experiment. Here's why.

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Cannibal Ox: Blade of the Ronin

With their long-anticipated sophomore release, Cannibal Ox try to put out the flames of their beloved debut while hoping to prove that they can still make something spectacular.

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Translator: Sometimes People Forget

However much Translator came to represent the new vitality of the '80s, the shining embrace of the '60s and early '70s was never far behind.

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8 May 2015 // 3:30 AM

The Weepies: Sirens

Captivating folk-pop tracks that will please fans of the band.

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Super Furry Animals: Mwng (2015 Reissue)

While Mwng isn't the Super Furry Animals' finest hour, it is a valuable and essential addition to their discography.

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8 May 2015 // 2:30 AM

Lyrics Born: Real People

Real People is an exercise in passion that carries with it the weight of New Orleans' heritage and atmosphere.

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Jóhann Jóhannsson on Composing as Storytelling

PopMatters talks with Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson about his role in the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, for which he won a Golden Globe.

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So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead

In 1970, the Grateful Dead's repertoire made them the most eclectic, fearsome, and versatile American rock band of their time.

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Life on Earth Has Suffered Five Known Mass Extinction Events. Has Mankind Triggered the Sixth?

Elizabeth Kolbert's warm, engaging clarity and use of anecdotes amid the data humanises her argument without softening the science of The Sixth Extinction.

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‘Mudbird Shivers’ Is the Ex’s Propaganda of the Deed

The Ex confer elegance onto a wall of sound that often comes close to the sound of bombing raid alarms and the subsequent bombs themselves.

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8 May 2015 // 2:00 AM

Mikal Cronin: MCIII

It's easy to assume that an artist will keep developing each time out, but Mikal Cronin shows that he doesn't take his evolution for granted on MCIII.

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‘Paddington’ Will Delight Children and Adults Alike

Paddington offers a good-hearted story with enough silly pleasures to please children, and sufficient good spirits and innocent fun to charm adults as well.

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Kristen Wiig Becomes a New Oprah in ‘Welcome to Me’

Welcome to Me is hard to watch, but even more difficult to ignore.

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Brother Against Brother: The Drawing of the Sword

The game doesn't portray brothers fighting brothers. It shows pieces on a map easing into firing range of one another with the objective of causing more casualties than they suffer.

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Inferior Superiority in Marvel’s ‘Superior Iron Man #8’

A high-tech concept downgrades to a low-tech, but serviceable narrative.

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‘The Long March of Pop’ Offers a Fresh Experience of Pop Art

This new and provocative survey of Pop Art widens the scope of its subject while keeping the focus on the artists.

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‘Dick’ Is an NC-17 Pixar Movie

Brian Fender's attempt to demystify penises is rather touching and revealing -- in nearly every sense of the words.

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Melisande [electrotrad]: Les Metamorphoses

If Les Metamorphoses is the future of folk, we’re in good hands.

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7 May 2015 // 4:00 AM

Föllakzoid: III

From moment to moment, III has trouble distinguishing itself.

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Tristan Perich: Parallels

Minimalism, purism, discipline are the three components that make up Tristan Perich's music and this album in particular.

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Dwight Yoakam: Second Hand Heart

No one does celebratory heartache by the numbers better than Dwight Yoakam.

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Mac McCaughan: Non-Believers

Ultimately, Non-Believers is the kind of album that needs no backstory to endear it or Mac McCaughan to the masses.

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Calling Mr. Aldrich: The ‘50s-era Fisticuffs of ‘World for Ransom’ and ‘Ten Seconds to Hell’

Robert Aldrich favors the classical presentation of angry cynical characters given to violence and grotesquery, which means he's often "tasteless" and discomfitting.

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With ‘Gates of Heaven/Vernon, Florida’, Errol Morris Flexed His Filmmaking Muscles

Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida both offer hints of the Errol Morris films to come, but are not essential on their own.

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‘This Idea Must Die’ Puts Speculative Self-correction Back in the Driver’s Seat

This collection from 175 scientific luminaries is something between a Faustian romp and a dilettante’s bedside companion.

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30 Musical, Literary and Cultural Reasons to Celebrate 30 More Years of Phish - Part Three

Far from just a quirky jam band, Phish pays tribute to the great legacy of mythology in culture.

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Django Django: Born Under Saturn

Django Django embrace more traditional influences for their sophomore album, reshaping their music into a more conventional rock sound.

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The PopMatters Summer Movie Preview - May 2015

The popcorn movie season starts in earnest with efforts from the Avengers, Mad Max, the ladies of Pitch Perfect 2, and Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, among many others.

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The Superhero Film Bubble Continues to Grow With ‘The Avengers - Age of Ultron’

As deft in its dialogue as it is predictable with its action sequences, Age of Ultron is a frustrating experience, forever hinting at depths that it can’t be bothered to explore.

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6 May 2015 // 7:38 AM

The Percussions and Repercussions of Falling in Love

Alex and Ada begin to fall in love. This does not go without repercussions though. Sentient androids are illegal, and the vitriol towards them, is growing.

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War Changes People, Though Not Necessarily for the Better

Predating Suite Française in time and tone The Fires of Autumn is an amazingly prescient look at war and greed.

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More Recent Features
//Mixed media
//Blogs

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

// Notes from the Road

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

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