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
Star Wars ‘Rogue One’: The Force Is Weak With This One

Director Gareth Edwards’ disappointing sci-fi actioner has little merit beyond its famous pedigree.

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‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ Shows There’s Life in Star Wars Yet… Barely

If nothing else, Gareth Edwards’ combative, hard-working installment answers why the Death Star was so easy to destroy in the first place.

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Greensky Bluegrass: Shouted, Written Down and Quoted

Greensky Bluegrass' strong new album sticks close enough to bluegrass trappings to satisfy traditionalists while being adventurous enough to attract both jamgrass and progressive fans. That's an achievement in and of itself.

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13 Dec 2016 // 9:50 AM

Goat: Requiem

Although Goat's sense of adventure sometimes results in indulgent and diminished returns, it just as often furnishes the listener with warm, inspired, and exuberant music.

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13 Dec 2016 // 9:39 AM

TOY: Clear Shot

TOY set an ominous mood that ultimately proves superficial. As a result, Clear Shot makes few indentations and leaves few fingerprints behind.

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The Rolling Stones: Blue and Lonesome

On their new album, the Stones return to their origins -- but now with greater authority and skill

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The Music in Brian Wilson’s Mind

Brian Wilson proves himself to be just that in the appropriately titled, I Am Brian Wilson.

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Shirley Clarke’s Films Collected and Restored

Every short film, documentary and home movie here tells you something about this indefatigable dynamo and largely overlooked artist.

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On the Robot Zombies of Angkor Wat in John Burdett’s ‘The Bangkok Asset’

The sixth novel in John Burdett's Bangkok detective series is a dispiriting, dismaying mess. Is there still hope for recovery or is the series in a death spiral?

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Get in the Ring: Mike Watt Talks ‘Ring Spiel ‘95’

In 1995, Mike Watt released his first solo album and embarked on a tour with some talented, famous and supportive friends. He looks back on that time now with fondness but says that, at first, he wasn't sure what the future would bring.

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“Winter” Offers a Solid Launch for ‘Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life’

Despite some hitches, "Winter" offers an great re-introduction into the Gilmore world.

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‘(Another) Party’, Another Episode That Touches Greatness and Frustration in (Almost) Equal Measure

This episode has some of the very best things that the show's capable, with some truly graceful little detours; ultimately, it reveals its fundamental faults.

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Bryan Cranston Struggles With Vulgar Sensibilities in ‘Why Him?’

Director John Hamburg’s holiday comedy is stuck between bawdy farce and syrupy feel-gooder.

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Altering Your Course Through a Song: An Interview With NPR’s Bob Boilen

Co-host of 'All Things Considered' on NPR, Bob Boilen discusses his book, Your Song Changed My Life, and what music has affected him.

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The Surprisingly Entertaining, Eccentric ‘Florence Foster Jenkins’

Screeching her way to another successful performance, Meryl Streep makes Florence Foster Jenkins much more than the traditional historic biopic.

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Home Alone: Laird Koenig’s ‘The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane’

Novelist Laird Koenig managed to capture the world of children with an exactitude that is rare nowadays. His children are often sagacious -- and sometimes they're sociopaths.

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12 Dec 2016 // 2:25 AM

Emanon: Dystopia

DJ Exile and Aloe Blacc cook up a politically infused storm on their first hip-hop release in 10 years.

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Gillian Welch: Boots No. 1

Gillian Welch fans will appreciate hearing the original sounds of the band.

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12 Dec 2016 // 2:10 AM

Scuba: Fabric 90

Hard-hitting house with a sad backstory: the closure of one of the world's most celebrated dance clubs.

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Various Artists: Microcosm: Visionary Music of Continental Europe, 1970-1986

Light in the Attic's lovingly curated collection in an excellent introduction to such a massive influence on modern music.

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High School Angst With an Edge: An Interview With Hailee Steinfeld

In her last few weeks as a teenager, Hailee Steinfeld talks about making The Edge of Seventeen and navigating her young acting career.

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‘Nocturnal Animals’ Is a Riveting Cinematic Mess

Though Tom Ford's follow-up to A Single Man derails at the end, getting there proves to be a thoroughly exhilarating experience.

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Joe Russo and his bandmates are taking an aggressively electrifying approach to the Dead’s music not seen since Phil Lesh was pushing the boundaries with his cutting edge “Quintet” lineup from 2000-03.

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They Don’t Make ‘em Like ‘La La Land’, Anymore

Peppy, smart, and almost intolerably romantic, this is the finest movie musical since John Carney's Once.

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Where There’s a Will, There’s a Whalebone: An Interview with Islands

In celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Islands debut album, bandleader Nick Thorburn contemplates what he's getting out of the project and if this might just be the band's last hurrah.

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The 25 Best Album Re-Issues of 2016

The music world saw amazing reissues from all over the genre map, spanning rock titans to indie upstarts and soul to folk.

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Peter Doherty: Hamburg Demonstrations

Hamburg Demonstrations is exactly what we've come to expect from Doherty: tongue-in-cheek Brit-rock bristling with vernacular attitude and guitars reeking of booze and windowless bedrooms

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9 Dec 2016 // 2:20 AM

Garth Brooks: Gunslinger

Former king of country music returns with an album reminiscent of the Garth Brooks of old.

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9 Dec 2016 // 2:15 AM

Lil Durk: They Forgot

They Forgot highlights Lil Durk’s gift for creating momentum.

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Hans Christian Andersen Would Be Delighted With Sanna Annukka’s Illustrations

Annukka enhances the reading experience of The Snow Queen and The Fir Tree with her distinctive artistic approach.

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9 Dec 2016 // 2:10 AM

Aziza: Aziza

Aziza, a jazz supergroup featuring Dave Holland, Chris Potter, Lionel Loueke, and Eric Harland, mostly avoids supergroup pitfalls and plays strong on its eponymous new LP.

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Ramones: Ramones (40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

Divided we stand four decades since this legendary masterpiece was born. Even from their graves, the Ramones’ timing remains impeccable.

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How About Some Noah Baumbach, Paul Thomas Anderson, Robert Altman & Akira Kurosawa for the Holidays?

If you ever wonder why certain elements get tossed into a movie, remember: beauty never needs to be justified. These and other thoughts on recent Blu-ray releases.

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In ‘Abattoir’, There’s No Place Like Home, Thankfully

Abattoir warns us of the mad terrors that lie at the borders of human company, that lurk on the verge of wilderness.

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“Church” Is the Most Awkward and Odd Episode of ‘Divorce’ Yet

Divorce suffers from an identity crisis as it shuffles towards its finale.

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Sun Ra: Astro Black, Cosmic Dark

Youngquist brings considerable skills to the life and work of the legendary but underappreciated and often misunderstood composer, keyboardist, and poet Sun Ra.

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At Long Last ‘Luna’, or, a Boy’s Worst Friend Is His Mother

Long missing in action, Bertolucci's alleged "incest" movie is gloriously restored.

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Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’ Trumps Reality TV

Shakespeare's As You Like It employed every signature reality show convention three and a half centuries before television even existed.

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John Legend: Darkness and Light

John Legend's latest proves the adage that in soul music, darkness is always better than light.

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Burial: Young Death / Nightmarket

Burial experiments with his genre-defining sound to challenge expectations.

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Teddy Wayne Gives Readers a Disturbing Glimpse Into the Predatory Side of a Social Outcast

Thrilling, engrossing, and infuriating, Loner harks back -- in a completely contemporary timbre -- to literary classics that create compelling portraits of repellant characters.

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Fleetwood Mac: Mirage (Deluxe)

The album that kicked off the '80s for the soft-rock icons has, for the most part, aged like a fine wine, despite the inherently fractured relationship of its main creative minds.

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To the Sound of Music: Interview With ‘La La Land’s Damien Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz

In the thick of Awards season, director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz talk about their dazzling film, La La Land.

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The Best Indie Pop of 2016

In 2016, indie pop's highlights often went hand-in-hand with a general feeling of fading away, falling apart, saying goodbye.

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Convoluted “Weaponized Soul” Does Not Play Fair With the Viewer

No, Max Landis! You can't do that!

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Rage Plus Time Equals Prophecy: ‘I Am Not Your Negro’

James Baldwin’s requiem for three Civil Rights martyrs is also a letter addressed to future America and its “vast, unthinking, cruel white majority.”

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Tim Buckley: Lady, Give Me Your Key

These previously unheard demos reveal the legendary cult artist searching for, and, for the most part, finding his voice.

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7 Dec 2016 // 9:07 AM

Papa M: Highway Songs

Considering the circumstances, Papa M’s latest is an unexpectedly unburdened record.

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Miranda Lambert: The Weight of These Wings

After a prolonged silence in the wake of her very public divorce, Miranda Lambert opens up, takes the high road and harnesses her heartbreak to create one of the best country albums of 2016.

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Was George Carlin Right About Everything?

What the F explores the colorful, sophisticated science of cursing and why it feels so #$@&%* good to swear.

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How Britain Won the War: Two Propaganda Classics on Blu-ray

Leslie Howard's Pimpernel Smith and Michael Powell / Emeric Pressburger's One of Our Aircraft Is Missing take opposite approaches to credibility

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Critical Shortcomings in Cynthia Ozick’s ‘Critics, Monsters, Fanatics & Other Literary Essays’

It's so easy to be distracted by the powerful writing and insightful analysis that one misses Ozick's inability to deliver on the larger thematic promises of her latest collection.

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7 Dec 2016 // 2:00 AM

The Best Songs of 2016

From electronic to soul... from American to rock... from hip-hop to rockin' and poppin' indie... 2016 was a stellar year in popular music.

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Best Foreign Language Film Nominee ‘Sand Storm’ Swirls Around a Contentious International Debate

First time director Elite Zexer explores the tensions among what Bedouin women want, what they think they should be, and what restrictions they face.

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‘Scurvy’: Chronicling the Etiology of an Affliction

Jonathan Lamb's authoritative study affords an interesting perspective on one of history's most unpleasant afflictions.

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6 Dec 2016 // 3:00 AM

Robert Altman, the Blackguard of American Elections

At times it feels as if Altman is forcing us to drink drain cleaner in order for us to feel the gut wrenching pain of the farce that American democracy has become.

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Kate Bush: Before the Dawn

Kate Bush presents her Before the Dawn performances on a lavish new box set that should thrill fans.

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The Eye of Time: MYTH I: A Last Dance for the Things We Love

Marc Euvrie, aka the Eye of Time, bends all musical elements to his disquieting will on MYTH I: A Last Dance for the Things We Love.

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6 Dec 2016 // 2:15 AM

The Answer: Solas

Irish rockers return with a varied, resolute record meant to carry us out of the darkness and into the light.

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‘The End of Ownership’: The Digital Industry Wants You to Just Let It Go, Already

Millions of consumers are caught up in the streaming revolution, but what price are we paying in the realm of ownership?

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6 Dec 2016 // 2:10 AM

Eri Yamamoto Trio: Life

This long-standing piano trio is not breaking ground, but their sound is charming, skipping, and Guaraldi-esque.

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Muuy Biien: Age of Uncertainty

Looks like we have a contender for most prescient album title of the year.

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The Best Pop Albums of 2016

In a year when we lost too many music icons (and maybe even our minds in the process), the escapist power of pop music is needed more than ever.

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‘Miss Sloane’ Presents DC Corruption Lite

Lobbyists can only win or lose, no in-betweens, no moral victories.

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Various Artists: Boogie Breakdown: South African Synth Disco 1980-1984

Not much music got out of South Africa in the late apartheid era, but Hot Chocolate and Keith Sweat must have gotten in.

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Paul Kelly and Charlie Owen: Death’s Dateless Night

Two of Australia's most gifted musicians team up for a daring concept album

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‘This Is Us’: New Life, New Opportunities, and Loss are All Part of “The Game Plan”

You could try to resist This Is Us's particular brand of drama and schmaltz, but it's a pretty irresistible mix.

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Wayne Hancock: Slingin’ Rhythm

When it comes to a new Wayne Hancock record, you know exactly what you’re getting -- and that in itself can be a damn comforting notion.

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Dizzy Gillespie and Friends: Concert of the Century - A Tribute to Charlie Parker

This may not be the greatest performance of its time, but it's bristling with improvisatory energy and instrumental play that should leave jazz devotees more than satisfied.

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‘Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive Mixtapes’, or, Music criticism, Minnesota-style

Jim Walsh’s writing combines heartfelt personal stories with knowledgeable music criticism. Reading this collection feels like having a conversation with an old friend.

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Pete Townshend Expands His Musical Explorations for All the World to See

Any time Townshend dances, which happens frequently and enthusiastically here, the preposterousness comes out.

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The Best Jazz of 2016

These are the 20 "best" jazz records of 2016 identified in stylistic diads, ranked loosely from most sublime to merely breathtaking.

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Telefon Tel Aviv: Fahrenheit Fair Enough

With a bonus disc of unreleased electronic experimentations, the reissue of Fahrenheit Fair Enough is a document of forward-thinking genre wars that will fascinate one's faculties and promote a still, meditative awareness.

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‘The Subsidiary’ Is a Chilling Experimental and Fragmented Tale About the Evils of Corporate Power

The lights go off in a subsidiary office; the phone lines go down and the exits are closed off. What happens next is told by an employee keeping records via rubber stamps.

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George Harrison’s “Savoy Truffle”: Holiday Reflections on Sweets and the Beatles

George Harrison knew that in the time and space that get between us and our food, there's a sense of longing.

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“Dissonance Theory” Both Reveals and Conceals Westworld’s Purpose

Westworld goes beyond HBO's usual visual spectacle and raunchy window dressing to offer philosophical meditations on both narrative and character.

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‘Loving’, An Urgent Work of Compelling Quietude

Loving is particularly resonant at a time when many in America may feel as if their own inherent rights are on shaky ground.

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‘Man Down’ Has the Dubious Distinction of Going Nowhere in Three Different Directions

Director Dito Montiel’s lack of subtlety cheapens a subject that calls for thoughtful examination.

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‘Dirk Gently’ Picks Up Steam in the Best Episode Yet

"Fix Everything" highlights The Big Showdown, captivity and a fired detective to great effect.

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Ted Rall’s Bernie Bio Has Extra Relevance in the Wake of the Democrats’ Presidential Defeat

While clearly endorsing Bernie Sanders’ politics, Rall offers an interesting and balanced portrait of the man behind the politics.

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Confronting Evil, Determinism, and Death in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

Exploring the darker core of a Christmas classic reveals just what is so wonderful about life.

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2 Dec 2016 // 2:25 AM

Justice: Woman

Justice's third album finally finds them picking a solid theme, but it doesn't conjure as much magic as expected.

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Queen: Queen on Air - The Complete BBC Radio Sessions (Deluxe 6-CD Edition)

These leaner versions of well-known tracks showcase a version of Queen with less pomp but plenty of circumstance.

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2 Dec 2016 // 2:15 AM

Tove Lo: Lady Wood

The sophomore effort from Swedish pop artist Tove Lo immediately announced itself as a much darker, more sinister version of its hit 2014 predecessor Queen of the Clouds.

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‘Nietzsche’s Journey to Sorrento’: Wherein Nietzsche Finds His Voice

Paolo D'Iorio writes of the costs and rewards of a man in the midst of transformation.

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Soundgarden: Badmotorfinger (Deluxe Edition)

Twenty-five years on, the populace gets a renewed look at Soundgarden’s contribution to the year punk broke with a fully loaded reissue of their career-changing Badmotorfinger.

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Hedvig Mollestad Trio: Black Stabat Mater / Evil in Oslo

On a pair of recent releases, Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad Thomassen continues to evolve into a thrilling modern guitarist informed equally by jazz and hard rock.

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The Best Metal of 2016

Adrien Begrand celebrates the best heavy metal of the year in all of its thrilling diversity.

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“The Pool” Pulls at Some of the Dramatic Threads in ‘This Is Us’

As an encapsulation of what's great about the show "The Pool" is representative of the complex, challenging, smart, and lovely things This Is Us has to offer.

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‘A Wild Swan and Other Tales’: A Twist on Fairy Tales for a More Sober Time

Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cunningham gives a compelling demonstration of how to reimagine magic while retaining a literary legacy.

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Ready For “Change”: Cindy Wilson Talks Upcoming Album, Stage Show, and New Collaborators

Ryan Monahan had no idea that taking a birthday party gig would change his musical life. Neither did the B-52's Cindy Wilson, who tapped the musician to help her create her first-ever solo release.

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Queering the Sponge: The Transcendent Queerness of ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’

Despite being rooted in nostalgia, the reemergence of SpongeBob could very well be linked to a longing for a yet-to-be-realized queer future.

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Minutia Fuels the Masterful ‘Boyhood’

Richard Linklater's bold cinematic experiment pays off in ways that the more brash family dramas fail to.

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An Italian in New York: Mondo Marcio Gets Fresh

Italy's favourite rapper mines the crates of American '90s hip-hop on his latest work.

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Tad: God’s Balls / Salt Lick / 8-Way Santa

Heavier than heavy, Tad is back with a trio of deluxe editions of their first three Sub Pop releases.

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Mary Halvorson Octet: Away With You

The quirky guitarist expands her septet to include pedal steel and creates landscapes that push the players to real invention.

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‘Reading the Silver Screen’ From a Man Who Really Knows How to Teach

Thomas C. Foster’s little narrative method is a smart bit of teaching in a book that’s filled with great teaching techniques.

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1 Dec 2016 // 2:15 AM

E: E

This noisy rocker opens in the midst of doom and fights its way forward.

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Avenged Sevenfold: The Stage

Does Avenged Sevenfold's first concept album find the band going all prog-metal? Nope.

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More Recent Features
//Mixed media
//Blogs

That Ribbon of Highway: Sharon Jones Re-shapes Woody Guthrie's Song

// Sound Affects

"Sharon Jones and Woodie Guthrie knew: great songs belong to everybody.

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