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
Ta-Nehisi Coates Brings a Steady Hand to ‘Black Panther #1’

Acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates has never written a comic book before, but this first issue of Black Panther puts to rest any fears of a vanity project gone bad.

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The Magicians: Season 1, Episode 12 - “Thirty-Nine Graves”

Disjointed and sloppy writing make the first season's ostensible climax feel more like a narrative tug-of-war between two incompatible writers.

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11 Apr 2016 // 3:00 AM

Is There June Cleaver on Mars?

What kind of world-building is NASA’s white, suburban, nuclear family propaganda of exoplanet travel establishing exactly?

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Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop: Love Letter for Fire

Sub Pop label mates Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop create some of their best songs to date on their new collaborative album.

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Romeo + Juliet + Baz Luhrmann: Reconsidered

Baz Luhrmann's films are not subtle. So why do I like Romeo + Juliet so much?

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Henry Threadgill Ensemble Double Up: Old Locks and Irregular Verbs

One of contemporary jazz's most unique voices pays respect to another unique voice.

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11 Apr 2016 // 2:15 AM

Jan St. Werner: Felder

Felder, Jan St. Werner's latest solo record, is impressively expansive. But for all its challenging experimentation, the album is surprising comforting listen.

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The Arrow Must Fall: ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2’

Mockingjay Part 2 is an excellent finalé to the popular film series, but due to its nature as a second (or fourth) part, it can't stand on its own.

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11 Apr 2016 // 2:10 AM

Haxen: Haxen

Providence, Rhode Island grimmers are more set on making "Ceremonial Wounds" than standing on ceremony.

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Language Is an Energy in John Lydon’s ‘Anger Is an Energy’

Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd. frontman John Lydon spills his guts with sloppy but delightful syntax and riddle-like onomatopoeias.

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Cavern of Anti-Matter: Void Beats / Invocation Trex

Stereolab's Tim Gane and a couple of friends try out retro instrumental synth-rock, with catchy, impressive results.

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Mary Lattimore: At the Dam

On At the Dam, Lattimore delivers a haunting, lasting performance, one that feels solitary but never spare, alone but never lonesome.

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How Does a Feminist Deal With a Cheating Husband?

Couple Mechanics is a suspenseful, moving drama about marriage, resilience, and the misogyny of faux feminist men.

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Melissa McCarthy Is Terrific, ‘The Boss’ Not So Much

The comic actress is rapidly becoming the John Candy for a new generation, for all that's good and bad about the comparison.

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Instead of a Thrill Ride, ‘Hardcore Henry’ Is Nauseating Nonsense

Gamers may enjoy this exercise in exasperation. Everyone else needs to keep the Dramamine handy.

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‘Demolition’ Bulldozes Ahead

If you want to build your movie on a metaphor, you don't have to explain everything.

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David Gilmour and Polly Samson Take LA by Musical and Literary Storm

With Gilmour playing his first American shows in a decade, seen here at the Hollywood Bowl, there was a rare opportunity for the couple to appear together to discuss their collaborations.

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iZombie: Season 2, Episode 17 - “Reflections of the Way Liv Used to Be”

The entire season has been steadily building to multiple revelations and their consequences; this episode moved a great deal of story forward in smart and inventive ways.

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Vinyl: Season 1, Episode 8 - “E. A. B.”

Lester Grimes gives a valuable lesson on how to write a pop hit, while Devon Finestra proves that celebrities are just like us in this episode.

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Radicalism & Music: An Introduction to the Music Cultures of al-Qa’ida…

How can music move people to sudden violence that they may later regret or not fully understand?

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Colin Stetson: SORROW - A Reimagining of Górecki’s Third Symphony

Saxophonist Colin Stetson focuses on leading over playing here, assembles a group and building compositions with them to both honor a classic work and render it entirely new.

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The Dandy Warhols: Distortland

Growing up doesn't have to mean growing apart: the Dandies come the closest they ever have to making a hometown album.

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Kilo Kish: Reflections in Real Time

In Reflections in Real Time, Kilo Kish flies through impulsive depictions of her post-adolescent, internet-age anxieties

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Damien Jurado: Visions of Us on the Land

A culmination of his stoner tryptich with fellow merry prankster Richard Swift, a spiritual narrative on getting lost to become found.

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Com Truise: Silicon Tare

The latest EP from Com Truise cements Seth Haley as one of today's most consistent beat makers, for better and worse.

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On Entertaining Terror: Film v Television

While United 93 was released "too soon" for viewers' comfort, a mix of critically derided films and critically acclaimed series continue to depict the age of terror.

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‘Justice League: Darkseid War Special #1’ Attempts to Shed Light on Its Villain’s Motivations

Insight into Darkseid's daughter reveals an atypical daddy's girl.

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7 Apr 2016 // 10:00 AM

‘Louder Than Bombs’ Is Rich With Visual Poetry

Joachim Trier’s English language debut plays with time and multiple perspectives to offer a lyrical meditation on the nature of grief.

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Vinyl: Season 1, Episode 7 - “The King and I”

Wise men may say only fools rush in, but when Richie and Zak get the opportunity of a lifetime, it's a rush to Viva Las Vegas.

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Holding on to Hag: Remembering Merle Haggard 1937-2016

Merle Haggard died at age 79, leaving behind a legacy of authentic country music.

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‘Living on Paper’ Illuminates the Intimacies That Influenced Iris Murdoch’s Work

Active love: this fine collection proves richer and more rewarding than some of the strangely reductive and moralising responses that it’s received would suggest.

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‘Shardlight’ Offers a Different Take on the Apocalypse

In Shardlight survival as not an all encompassing good, but an activity that must be accomplished alongside other equally important aspects of life.

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Let’s Play at Kentucky Fried Chicken, America

In this game we consumers are reduced to plastic playthings, happy to be fingered. This and other thoughts on American culture.

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Not a Common Man: Duncan Sheik and the Crafting of an American (and London) Pyscho

After winning a Tony for his work on Spring Awakening, pop craftsman Sheik now tackles bringing American Psycho to the stage.

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7 Apr 2016 // 2:29 AM

Ash Koosha: I AKA I

Ash Koosha's latest album is ambitious, creative, and overall an exciting showcase of his musical skills.

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Mike and the Melvins: Three Men and a Baby

20th century sludge metal finally emerges from a decades-long morass. Was it worth it? Don’t believe the hype.

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Ronnie Spector: English Heart

Yes, there are backup singers and playing, but Ronnie’s vocals are front and center. There are many times when it is just her soloing, or just a few quiet instruments behind her. The results are surprising.

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Various Artists: Looking Stateside: 80 U.S. R&B, Mod, Soul & Garage Nuggets

A copious collection of '60s deep cuts pulled from the vaults of a diverse and exciting catalog

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In the Excellent ‘Sweetgirl’, Home Is Just Another Storm

Sweetgirl wonders about home, and about what happens when you're born into the wrong one.

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7 Apr 2016 // 2:05 AM

Aparat: Aparat

Achingly fragile and beautiful, Aparat's self-titled debut captures the wide scope of cinematic arrangements in closed and personal spaces.

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7 Apr 2016 // 2:02 AM

Colours: Ivory

Ivory, the debut release from the synth duo Colours, is a sonically sex-drenched affair.

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Better Call Saul: Season 2, Episode 8 - “Fifi”

Jimmy makes a bold move that promises to come back to haunt both his friends and enemies.

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Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 3, Episode 14 - “Watchdogs”

The last two episodes showcase a series that's coming into its own, rather than just a placeholder in the MCU.

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Vinyl: Season 1, Episode 5 - “He in Racist Fire”

Kip struggles to find the balance between image and music, while Richie whores out his wife to sign an act in an episode that highlights the age-old battle between genitals and brains.

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Wrestling With the Replacements’ Legacy in ‘Trouble Boys’

Based on Mehr's plethora of interviews, it seems that most of what seemed grist for the rumor mill about the Replacements was, if anything, understated.

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On the Fatal Inertia in ‘ADR1FT’

After an intriguing opening, I found myself frustrated with how strong the concept of the game is compared to the game itself.

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6 Apr 2016 // 2:30 AM

The Field: The Follower

The Field's new album is not a case of diminishing returns, but a work about refining electronic music which was, by definition, already perfect.

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Stewart/Colbert Effect: Jon Stewart’s ‘The Daily Show’ and the Rise of Media Accountability

It took 16 years of hard work, but Jon Stewart's The Daily Show finally began to restore something like truth to political and social discourse.

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Parquet Courts: Human Performance

The Brooklyn quartet's latest album is incredibly broad in its sonic palette and focused in its approach.

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Matt Elliott: The Calm Before

British fingerstyle guitarist Matt Elliott may not change up his formula much on The Calm Before, but the changes he makes are significant.

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‘Paris Belongs to Us’ Sets the Blueprint for Things to Come

Jacques Rivette's engaging debut sees the New Wave master experimenting with the ingredients he perfected in later films.

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Graves at Sea: The Curse That Is

Graves at Sea have been around for over a decade and sound like they have spent most of it surviving a prolonged bar fight with the actual sea in their band name.

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The Saint Johns: Dead of Night

The Saint Johns might not reinvent any wheels or blaze any trails, but there’s nothing wrong with making solid, country-inflected indie rock. Especially when this much talent and emotion goes into it.

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Straddling the Divide Between Karen Silkwood and Edward Snowden in ‘The Whistleblower’s Dilemma’

While the Snowden chapters are often, at best, worthy of a cursory skim, virtually every word about Silkwood here is captivating,

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We Are the Hope: An Interview With Jazz Master Wynton Marsalis

Marsalis speaks to PopMatters about The Absynnian Mass, his inspirations, compositional techniques, and the reason he plays music.

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11.22.63: Season 1, Episode 8 - “The Day in Question”

In the end, the most important question ends up being the choice between grand gestures and quiet heroism.

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‘Dreams Rewired’ Makes Valuable Connections to the Past

Spoken in the language of our time, weaved in visual poetry, and deep in its reach, this film documents a world barreling towards a technological revolution.

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Once Upon a Time: Season 5, Episode 15 - “The Brothers Jones”

Killian reunites with his brother Liam; David considers his brother James; complications ensue.

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Outsiders and Marxists and Nazis ‘At the Existentialist Cafe’

When it comes to reconstructing the lived experience of historical figures and philosophers, the devil is in the details, and the devil is probably a Nazi.

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The Walking Dead: Season 6, Episode 15 - “East”

As Carol departs, Morgan and Rick seek her, and Daryl seeks revenge in a visually rich and resonant episode.

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A Brief Lesson on Poetry for Physicists

Praise for Carlo Rovelli's international bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics has been near universal. Can the reviewers all be wrong? Yes, they can.

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Lenny Abrahamson’s ‘Room’ Could Change Our Perceptions of Mental Illness

Few films explore abuse, mental illness, and post traumatic stress disorder as realistically and poignantly as Room.

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5 Apr 2016 // 2:30 AM

Maturing at Their Own Pace: An Interview with the Thermals

"We want the songs to be joyous, or like a celebration, even if what were singing about is not a happy thing. We want our songs to be fun even if it's a dark subject or a sad subject."

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Tim Hecker: Love Streams

Tim Hecker and his accomplice Ben Frost are cooking up some of the most striking, beautiful, and genre-defying music of our time.

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5 Apr 2016 // 2:20 AM

Black Mountain: IV

Black Mountain blends the best of its heavy and progressive tendencies on a record that proves that space can also be sexy.

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Anthony Hamilton: What I’m Feelin’

A reflective record for a man much more conflicted than one might guess, What I'm Feelin' turns out to be somewhat of a fascinating listen.

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Frank Solivan: Family, Friends and Heroes

The thematic connections between "Pretty Woman" and "Day Tripper" are probably accidental, but they work serendipitously as both are streetwalkers

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5 Apr 2016 // 2:05 AM

Nevermen: Nevermen

Mike Patton, Doseone (Adam Drucker), and TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe create a weird and fun collaboration that avoids the twin supergroup traps of lazy songwriting and forcing chemistry.

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‘Sleep of the Righteous’ Underlines Why Hilbig Had Won Almost Every German Literary Prize

Life within East Germany is exposed in all its repressive, absurd horror in a recently translated collection of short stories by Wolfgang Hilbig.

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‘Miles Ahead’ Ponders Miles Davis’ Lost Years

Ponder this reality for a moment: Don Cheadle needs a white co-star in order to make a movie about Miles Davis.

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Words Aren’t Minced in Thomas Piketty’s ‘Why Save the Bankers?’

The bestselling French economist offers new advice on saving democracy from capitalism. The whole world needs to listen.

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Daredevil: Season 2, Episode 3 - “New York’s Finest”

Daredevil's latest episode carefully examines the varying heroes of Hell's Kitchen.

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Japanese Breakfast: Psychopomp

If we're to believe this album, Japanese Breakfast sounds tasty.

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‘The Art of Perspective’ Is a Little Gem of a Book Filled With Wit and Wisdom

Castellani does an excellent job guiding readers through numerous literary texts, but some of the most compelling parts are when he tells his own story.

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Lorraine Hansberry’s ‘Les Blancs’ Gets Extraordinary Production at National Theatre

The personal and the political are so interlinked in this play as to be inextricable, and Yaël Farber’s staging offers a dynamic mingling of the intimate and the epic.

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O.J. Still Holds Allure in ‘American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson’

American Crime Story reveals more about the audience than the already well-known elements of the O.J. Simpson trial.

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4 Apr 2016 // 2:30 AM

Pet Shop Boys: SUPER

Thirty years since "West End Girls" launched their career, Pet Shop Boys are back with a thrilling new album produced by Stuart Price, SUPER.

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4 Apr 2016 // 2:20 AM

Ihsahn: Arktis

Ihsahn's sense of adventure is all over the place on Arktis, but fortunately that doesn't prevent the music from unifying into a compelling whole.

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They Might Be Giants: Phone Power

They Might Be Giants' third album of the past year contains some real gems. It also has a lot of material that doesn't quite make the grade, making it feel like a leftovers record.

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4 Apr 2016 // 2:10 AM

Låpsley: Long Way Home

In Long Way Home, Låpsley weaves a rich, multi-layered sonic fabric from sound bites of errant longing

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How the US Government Spins ‘The War on Leakers’

Lloyd C. Gardner makes an alarming case for the elusiveness of American democracy and the astounding ignorance in which it operates.

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Time of Absence: Documenting Kanye West’s ‘Life of Pablo’

The Life of Pablo is an ideological attack against the pop institutions that continually try to mystify art and control the artist's identity for profit.

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The Extraordinarily Advanced Basics in ‘X-men 92 #1’

The golden era of X-men injects fresh energy into a current era of uncertainty.

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The Flash: Season 2, Episode 17 - “Flash Back”

"Flash Back" is a reminder of just how good The Flash was and continues to be.

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iZombie: Season 2, Episode 16 - “Pour Some Sugar, Zombie”

iZombie maintains a level of tension and momentum week to week that’s difficult to achieve; the series makes it look easy.

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1 Apr 2016 // 3:00 AM

The Banjo: America’s African Instrument

Laurent Dubois' biography of one of America’s iconic folk instruments spans continents and cultures. In this excerpt, we explore the banjo's humble origins.

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‘The Graduate’ Still Seduces

As energetic as it ever was, sharp jokes and even sharper edges aren't lost in the transition from hit film to cultural touchstone.

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Gasoline & Mirrors: An Interview With Bibio

He's considered the folktronica producer du jour, but Stephen Wilkinson's art runs much deeper than that. His latest unleashes his inner pop instincts.

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Andrew Bird: Are You Serious

Andrew Bird returns with the same sinuous, gypsy-folk style, but introduces a newfound thematic interest in love's complexities

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Young Thug: Slime Season 3

Slime Season 3 succeeds on multiple levels, none more exciting than his ongoing exercise in seeing just how elastic syllables are.

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Marco Benevento: The Story of Fred Short

Benevento has shown us how he can do as a keyboardist and composer, and it's disappointing to hear less than that on a new album.

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Prins Thomas: Principe del Norte

Forgoing more rhythm-based music, Prins Thomas explores sound and texture for the sake of itself rather than that of the dance floor.

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‘Freaks and Geeks’ Reels in High School Misery

Social awkwardness, uncomfortable dates, unrequited crushes, embarrassing conversations with adults, peer pressure, academic failure -- it's all here.

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Willie Nile: World War Willie

Willie Nile is part of dying breed of rockers and demonstrates once more how much we and rock 'n' roll need him around.

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Country Comes to Town: The Music Industry and the Transformation of Nashville

While some might think of country music as a repository of nostalgia, Hill argues that the genre is successful because its songs and its people address social and cultural issues as well as geographic change.

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Hank Williams Is Alive in ‘I Saw The Light’, But the Movie Itself Is D.O.A.

Not even game performances by its two leads can salvage a slapdash biopic that offers little insight and far too much superficial sentiment.

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Supergirl: Season 1, Episode 18 - “Worlds Finest”

The Flash runs so fast that he not only jumps between worlds but also networks, arriving in National City (and CBS), just in time to help Supergirl shine.

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11.22.63: Season 1, Episode 7 – “Soldier Boy”

Time and identity are the main antagonists as the series counts down to the day in question.

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Mona Awad’s Anti-Hero Lizzie Exists in a World of Mirrors

In 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, Lizzie confronts two sides of seeing -- how she sees herself, and how others see her -- and how neither gets it right.

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31 Mar 2016 // 2:30 AM

Moderat: III

After a shaky start, Moderat follow through with some of their best songs to date on their latest album.

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More Recent Features
//Mixed media
//Blogs

The Moving Pixels Podcast Looks at the Scenic Vistas and Human Drama of 'Firewatch'

// Moving Pixels

"This week we consider the beautiful world that Campo Santo has built for us to explore and the way that the game explores human relationships through its protagonist's own explorations within that world.

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