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
‘Before the Flood’ Offers Knowledge About and Hope for Stopping Climate Change

A film about deadly environmental practices changing our world may also be changing television distribution practices.

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‘Good Girls Revolt’, “Nasty Women” and the Politics of Recognition

Amazon's Good Girls Revolt may be set in the past, but it resonates loudly with the electoral present.

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This Sporting Life: A Brit Learns to Love the Basket

At first, I didn’t have a clue what was going on at this Celtics game. By the end, I still didn’t have much more of a clue -- but I was hooked, anyway.

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15 Nov 2016 // 2:25 AM

Wolf People: Ruins

Britain's Wolf People get back to the earth with a heavy, fuzzy wallop of an album reaches into the past while carving out a sound of its own.

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15 Nov 2016 // 2:20 AM

Katie Gately: Color

Coming from an artist who outwardly flirts the obnoxious, Color is surprisingly tasteful.

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15 Nov 2016 // 2:15 AM

Helmet: Dead to the World

Dead to the World finds Page Hamilton holding old Helmet and new Helmet together in perfect balance.

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With Great Sound Comes Great Responsibility

Cheng's Just Vibrations poses the only essential question left unanswered by the academy and the secret of its truly massive failure: an absence of any instinct to repair.

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Luísa Maita: Fio da Memória

Luísa Maita's sophomore album is effortlessly cool, a lush contemporary fantasy under neon lights.

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Gene & Eddie: True Enough: Gene & Eddie with Sir Joe at Ru-Jac

True Enough collects the Maryland-based soul duo’s complete recordings for the Sir Joe Quarterman-owned Ru-Jac label.

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Steve Vai Brings Passion and Warfare to the Fillmore

The album cover features a quintet of fairies flying around Vai, suggesting a shamanic ability to traverse alternate dimensions. The album does exactly that, with Vai exploring bold sonic territory in a compelling manner.

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Season Three of ‘Black Mirror’ Maintains Its Tone of Grim Absurdity

Season three of Black Mirror doesn't always hit the mark, but it remains endlessly interesting.

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Wonder Woman Embraces Men’s World. Men’s World Embraces Her Back

Wonder Woman fights in a crowded mall after drinking a margarita with men.

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Frances and Robert Can’t Put Their Feelings Into Boxes in a Punishing Episode of ‘Divorce’

In "Gustav", Divorce can't seem find its feet as Frances and Robert lose both the battle and the war.

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Star Trek’s Utopia: Dilemmas of the Early 21st and Late 24th Centuries

How do you challenge utopia in utopian ways when the utopia itself seems flawed?

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Private Goes Public in Miklós Janscó‘s ‘Private Vices, Public Virtues’

With this highly contentious erotic drama, Miklós Janscó fashions a most insular story of sexual freedom with an impenitent degree of self-indulgence.

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There’s This Little Bar Down in New Orleans… Interview With Chris Hannah

Bartender Chris Hannah is an old soul who's perfectly suited for Arnaud's French 75.

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14 Nov 2016 // 2:24 AM

Super Unison: Auto

Poetic justice at once ferocious and dreamy, Auto sees Super Unison as a voice that takes you and grabs your attention.

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14 Nov 2016 // 2:20 AM

Body Language: Mythos

Seasoned though they may be, Body Language maintain the youthfulness and vigor of a band just starting out, and this album still has the charm and promise of a debut.

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With the Holiday Shopping Season Rapidly Approaching, Is the Ancient Virtue of Frugality Possible?

Contemporary "frugalists" are only playing at a virtue that previous generations practiced, willingly or not, to an unenviable degree.

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The Griswolds: High Times For Low Lives

A desperate plea for radio recognition, the Griswolds' High Times For Low Lives is a step back for a band known for tentpole hooks and untempered kinetic dynamism.

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Soundwalk Collective: Killer Road

Atmospheric soundscape architects Soundwalk Collective team up with proto-punk legend Patti Smith to breathe new life into the work of Nico.

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14 Nov 2016 // 2:05 AM

U.G.: Portals

Delivered through a mastery of dark spell, Portals finds rapper U.G. ensuring that his telesthetic rhymes are grounded in the loping swings of granite-heavy beats.

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14 Nov 2016 // 2:02 AM

Lubomyr Melnyk: Illirion

When Lubomyr Melnyk takes the bench, the notes coming raining down.

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‘Arrival’ Insists on Conversation, on Communication, on Sharing Experience

If we're thinking in circles, maybe this arrival was always in motion.

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‘Come and Find Me’ Is Good at Playing With Our Expectations

We are challenged to recalibrate our preconceptions of where this plot is going and to rethink the dynamics of the relationship between the two leads.

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Uri Caine: Calibrated Thickness

The incredibly eclectic jazz pianist offers a series of short songs that consistently dazzle.

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“Lost & Found” Shows a Series Still Finding Its Way

Some answers lead to even more questions that need to be addressed as Dirk Gently moves forward.

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11 Nov 2016 // 8:30 AM

How to Insult Jack White

The only biography of the mysterious genius pulls no punches.

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11 Nov 2016 // 7:41 AM

Norah Jones: Day Breaks

Norah Jones returns to her roots on her latest album with mixed results.

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Nadja: The Stone Is Not Hit By the Sun, Nor Carved With a Knife

Experimental noise duo Nadja lays it on thick for their Gizeh debut.

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Sting Finds Path Back to Rock Music with ‘57th & 9th’ + Celebrates at Irving Plaza

After years of diverse projects, including a musical based on his home town, a holiday album and a classical album, Sting has returned to rock.

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‘The Birth of a Nation’ Is a Lose-Lose for the Academy

Nate Parker's sexual assault acquittal forces the Academy to either support underrepresented black artists or stand against the sexism of which it has been accused -- but not both.

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11 Nov 2016 // 2:25 AM

Alicia Keys: Here

Right when you were ready to forget about Alicia Keys, she comes back with the rawest -- and best -- album of her career.

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Rainbow Arabia: L.A. Heartbreak

Married electropop duo rejuvenate their relationship on hook-filled, gleaming pop album.

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Gayle Forman’s ‘Leave Me’ Reminded Me of Erma Bombeck’s Work

Everyone who has ever been married might see some of themselves in this story.

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Old Ideas and New Generations: What Leonard Cohen Means to Us

Leonard Cohen endures and conquers. But does he mean something different to Millenial audiences than he did to their parents? Can the legend of Cohen escape its own clichés?

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A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen

This is a portrait of an artist attuned to notions of justice, lust, longing, loneliness, and redemption, and possessing the sort of voice and vision commonly reserved for the prophets.

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Thomas Dolby: The Artist and the Intellect

Pop music's most accomplished and misunderstood one-hit wonder tells his compelling story of the rock star who became a Silicon Valley pioneer.

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Two Very Different Responses to ‘Easy Rider’: ‘Gas-s-s-s’ and ‘Little Fauss and Big Halsy’

American drifters aim for the vanishing point in these films.

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‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ Season 4: Putting the Marvel Universe Through a Blender

I still love the Marvel universe, and the characters in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but I can't help but find myself imagining Weird Al Yankovic turning this season into a spoof sung to Alanis Morissette's "Isn't It Ironic".

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10 Nov 2016 // 9:12 AM

Preoccupations: Preoccupations

Preoccupations offers a multilayered synthesis of some of the finer moments of rock music’s past.

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Ryan Allen and His Extra Arms: Basement Punk

Detroit songwriter crafts 11 personal, DIY songs rooted in power pop tradition and delivered with punkish fervor.

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Ennio Morricone: Morricone 60

Ennio Morricone stops to take stock in his career, though only for a brief moment.

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10 Nov 2016 // 8:42 AM

Oval: Popp

Popp goes beyond the cerebral and scattered surface that it first projects to become something far more affirming, revelatory, and perhaps even joyful.

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Queen: Queen on Air - The Complete BBC Radio Sessions

An early collection of BBC radio sessions show Britain's glam rock kings taking their painstaking technique to a looser environment, with often winning results.

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‘The Blacklist’ Continues Its Slow Decline Into Mediocrity

In "Dr. Adrian Shaw (No. 98)", creator Jon Bokenkamp seems dedicated to throwing ice water on our suspension of disbelief.

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All Acoustic Instruments and Kitchen Utensils: Nitty Gritty Dirt Band History With Jeff Hanna

With half a century of music and friendship, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band continues forward with Circlin' Back.

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9 Nov 2016 // 8:30 AM

Spam, Burns, and Bourdain

The Ramones are dead. Black Sabbath is playing their farewell tour. Anthony Bourdain is a doting father. We're getting old. But not too old to cook a great meal.

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9 Nov 2016 // 3:00 AM

National Sweeps: The Merger of TV and Presidential Elections

Beyond reality stars and dynasties, TV can influence what we accept in our political leaders.

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Romare: Love Songs: Part Two

“Love” is a wide word, having many different meanings in many different contexts, so these song collages take inspiration from all over the spectrum of audio love.

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Alejandro Escovedo: Burn Something Beautiful

Alejandro Escovedo's latest release is easy on the ears and surprising in-between them.

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Sun Ra and His Arkestra: The Space Age Is Here To Stay

Sun Ra soars into space on his latest album.

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Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ Is No Less Shocking in This Graphic Adaptation

Miles Hyman implicitly connects Jackson's stoning ritual and the reaping of grain; illuminating, perhaps, the interconnection of life and death in both.

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The Wedding Present: Going, Going…

More than 30 years on, David Gedge and the Wedding Present remain a vital voice in the world of noisy indie pop.

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Daniil Trifonov: Transcendental: Daniil Trifonov Plays Franz Liszt

Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov plays the part of the Transcendental-Liszt with alarming ease.

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Mia Dai Todd: Songbook, Vol. 1

As understandable as it might be for some to feel tired of a revered songwriter performing other people’s songs for the second consecutive album in a row, she does deliver the goods.

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The Yin and Yang of the Universe: Conversations With Max Bemis and Chris Conley

Max Bemis and Chris Conley discuss the new Two Tongues record, family matters, and connecting to the rock and roll muse.

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‘Songs My Brothers Taught Me’: Coming of Age on the Reservation

Chloé Zhao and her team have created an emotionally compelling neo-realist portrait of a family and their community experiencing the stresses and pressures of post-colonial life.

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The Strength of “Anatomy of a Song” Is Found in Its diverse and Impressive Group of Interviewees

A self-described “oral history jukebox” gives behind-the-scenes details about popular songs and the historical circumstances that shaped pop culture as we know it.

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An Unwitting Anthem: How Fergie Moves the Cultural Needle With “M.I.L.F. $”

As a piece of pop culture "M.I.L.F.$" alludes deftly, cheekily, and authentically to three aspects of one’s induction into the club of mothering.

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Are Vikings Even Real?: A Conversation With Sadie Dupuis

While many know Dupuis as the bandleader of Speedy Ortiz, the angles of her new project, Sad13, are provocative, unexpected, and maybe just what we need right now.

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8 Nov 2016 // 2:25 AM

The Pretenders: Alone

Chrissie Hynde returns with the Pretenders and a renewed collaboration with Dan Auerbach to reflect and rebel with confidence and loss.

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STRFKR: Being No One, Going Nowhere

Being No One, Going Nowhere attempts to explore intellectual themes while still retaining the band’s vivacious dance pop.

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8 Nov 2016 // 2:15 AM

Slaves: Take Control

The English punk duo's bark lacks bite on this sophomore effort.

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8 Nov 2016 // 2:10 AM

Darkher: Realms

Darkher is neither metal nor folk, post-rock, or gothic. It's a single cohesive vision, dark music with shading and light.

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David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp: Live in Sant’Anna Arresi 2004

David S. Ware and Matthew Shipp have made beautiful music together for 17 years, but chose this occasion to make a lovely racket.

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‘Remaking the Rust Belt’, Remaking Society

This well-researched historical study examines how the Rust Belt cities of Pittsburgh and Hamilton, Ontario made the transition from the industrial to the postindustrial economy.

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The FAQ On Frank Zappa Gives It To Us Quick and Dirty

If you don't have time to scour every corner of the internet seeking the answers to these questions, Joe Corcelli will do it for you.

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‘Harmonies From Heaven’ Gives a Breakneck View of the Everly Brothers

A little too fast at times for the viewer to fully absorb, this BBC4 doc nevertheless reminds us of the power the Everlys wielded in their heyday.

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Communication Becomes a Lifeline and a Death Knell in the Newest Episode of ‘Divorce’

Just as things seem on track for an amicable divorce, the specter of money threatens to throw everything off the rails.

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Worth Within Unworthiness in ‘The Unworthy Thor #1’

An overdue insight into Odinson's unworthiness sends him down a refreshing new path.

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John Bullard: Classical Banjo: The Perfect Southern Art

John Bullard is not out to make classical music sound different. He just wants the banjo to enjoy a rightful place in the genre.

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King Creosote: Astronaut Meets Appleman

Kenny Anderson, the mad pop genius behind the King Creosote moniker, begins his sixth decade of existence with this loosely cohesive, moderately trippy, and deeply enjoyable record.

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John Scofield: Country For Old Men

The guitarist serves up some country tunes with a quartet of old friends. But he is reliably swinging on everything.

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‘The Contender’: The Last Film of the First Clinton Era

Sex, lies, and red tape: Should private lives matter in politics?

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Common: Black America Again

Chicago veteran returns with his 11th album, a record that sees Common reinvigorated and at his most potent and inspired, marking another entry into one of the most consistent discographies in hip-hop history.

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Moby and the Void Pacific Choir: These Systems Are Failing

Moby crafts an electropunk dystopian manifesto, but struggles to convey his vision of reality convincingly.

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Jacuzzi Boys: Ping Pong

Jacuzzi Boys' new album, Ping Pong, enters swinging. This little garage rock band of boys might have matured a bit.

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Harry Belafonte Fights Racism in ‘Odds Against Tomorrow’

By the late '50s, some Hollywood filmmakers were producing films that reflected changes in public attitudes and addressed the concerns of the nascent Civil Rights movement.

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7 Nov 2016 // 1:30 AM

Are We Gon’ Be Alright?

Crises abound in America, but while complacency won the day before, these times feel different.

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‘Doctor Strange’ Stakes a Claim as Marvel’s Best

Long on imagination, fun, and interpersonal drama, director Scott Derrickson’s ethereal adventure also warps enough space-time to terrify Stephen Hawking.

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“Horizons” Is a Cluttered But Charming Introduction to ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’

There's a lot of a lot in the first episode of BBC America's crack at Douglas Adam's Dirk Gently.

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Enthusiastic Dispassion in Eve Babitz’s ‘Slow Days, Fast Company’

Whether these tales are intentionally remote or the projection and appropriations of Babitz’s own afflicted desires, her ability for sagacious detail is never obscured.

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Jim James: Eternally Even

My Morning Jacket's enigmatic leader releases his sophomore effort, which is a less formal, more groove-oriented effort than anything he's attempted before.

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‘Star Trek’ and the Evolution of “The Kiss” Controversy

From its first interracial kiss on TV in 1968 to the interspecies relationship in the reboot, Star Trek wants viewers to understand what it means to be mixed race and have interracial relationships.

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‘Hacksaw Ridge’ Is All Guts, No Glory

Mel Gibson’s directorial return is a celebration of violence and viscera that will leave you in serious need of a shower.

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4 Nov 2016 // 1:30 AM

No Quarter: The Three Lives of Jimmy Page

In this excerpt of Martin Power's biography, Jimmy Page learns guitar, thanks to the skiffle, and makes his first television appearance as a young teen.

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L’Orange and Mr. Lif: The Life and Death of Scenery

North Carolina and Boston team up to save the world from overlords set to rid the world of art and culture, Star Wars meets Style Wars.

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Jamie Lidell: Building a Beginning

Like most of Lidell's discography, Building a Beginning seems simultaneously old and new, retro-minded and attuned to contemporary R&B trends.

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Van Morrison: Keep Me Singing

The Irish singer draws on a variety of vocal traditions from Celtic folk to contemporary jazz, and he combines them through the sheer force of his being.

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The Radio Dept.: Running Out of Love

Running Out of Love is an exceptional political document that takes on the current state of the world.

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Adam Torres: Pearls to Swine

This world-traveled, organic music has the potential to be as gorgeous as the prettiest places on Earth.

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“They’re All Just Fantastic”: An Interview With Jade Eshete of ‘Dirk Gently’

Dirk Gently's Farah Black talks being a bad-ass and heading to Comic-Con for the first time

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Mitch Hedberg’s Legacy Shines at New York Comedy Festival

In advance of the limited vinyl collection of Hedberg's work, friends and loved ones honored the late comedian with anecdotes and tributes.

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‘13th’ Is a Powerful Entreaty for Americans to Get to Work on Fighting Racism

"We have more African Americans under criminal supervision than all the slaves back in the 1850s."

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‘Village Atheists’ Engagingly Explores a Persecuted American Minority

Nonbelief in America has enjoyed a certain amount of social progress, thanks to the three men and one woman profiled in Village Atheists.

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I’ve Waited Ages: An Interview with Wire’s Colin Newman

With the influence of rock group Wire still ringing large, Colin Newman talks about the haphazard, almost casual way that his first three solo albums emerged (now finally re-released).

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The Voice of the Demagogue and American So-Called Democracy

Gabriel Over the White House seriously asks a question that should only be asked as satire or farce: what if the best solution for the US is to have a fascist dictator in charge?

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3 Nov 2016 // 1:30 AM

Illum Sphere: Glass

Illum Sphere makes his boldest statement yet with a restless, uneasy album allowed the space and time to slowly unravel.

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More Recent Features
//Mixed media
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Exposition Dumps Don't Need Dialogue in 'Virginia'

// Moving Pixels

"Virginia manages to have an exposition dump without wordy exposition.

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