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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.

Friday, November 7 2014

The Flatlanders: Now It’s Now Again

The tale of the musical journey of the Flatlanders—Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock—from a house in Lubbock, Texas to a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall.


‘Maeve’s Times’ Collects Five Decades of Observation by an Astute Irish Writer

Maeve Binchy's good-natured voice challenges Irish prejudice or piety on behalf of those who have been shut out or held down.


Thursday, November 6 2014

The PopMatters Fall Film Preview - November 2014

November 2014 offers up standard award seasons fare, a couple of cool indies, and five horror films that, according to the calendar, are a bit past their celebration sell-by date.


Staring Down the Inevitable Reign of Digital Comics

With comics in particular, I love the ritual of going to the shop each week, sorting every new stack into a reading order, then putting everything away in an organized manner after I’ve read it.


A Wealth of Disturbing Knowledge Awaits You in ‘Flings’

It's rare to find a fresh new voice writing strong realistic fiction about life as it is lived today in America. Justin Taylor's stories will astound you.


The Unintentionally Chaotic, Uninhibited, and Almost Anarchic Force of Film

The language of cinema, The Intervals of Cinema argues, is more indebted to the traditions of literature and theater than is commonly understood.


‘BoJack Horseman’ and a One Trick Pony’s Search for More

Ostensibly a silly, raunchy cartoon sitcom, Netflix's BoJack Horseman actually raises some significant existential questions.


Just Pick Up the Guitar: An Interview with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry

Joe Perry continues to just pick up that guitar and create songs and has no intention of stopping, proudly saying "I might as well put them out because I've got more coming!"


In ‘Joe’, Nicolas Cage Plays a Captivating Tragic Figure

Joe feels neither remarkable nor unremarkable, yet by its conclusion it holds the power to touch your sensibilities.


Ani DiFranco: Allergic to Water

Allergic to Water, Ani DiFranco's 18th album, lacks the political engagement and sharply hewn wit that distinguished her earlier work.


Geoff Dyer Is an Incredible Portraitist

Geoff Dyer has a knack for compelling the reader to stay with him, even when his characters are unlikeable.


Grouper: Ruins

It’s as if she took a previous Grouper album and stripped everything away, down to the bones, down to dust.


Lagwagon: Hang

Nine years after the band's last full-length, Lagwagon returns with Hang, another impressively complex and yet tuneful turn from a band that has long been one of the most surprising punk acts working.


James Yorkston: The Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society

The veteran Scottish folksinger teams up with KT Tunstall and Hot Chip, yet remains his own singularly talented man.


Paul Collins: Feel the Noise

While it’s nowhere near innovative, Feel the Noise is still a fun time for those who want to come along for the ride.


Millie Jackson: On the Soul Country Side

Jackson’s a major talent who doesn’t always get her due because she often performs blue. That was and is her trademark, but there is little of that here.


Wednesday, November 5 2014

An Elegant Hack: “Batman #35”

Batman #35 shows how current writer Scott Snyder manages to subtly subvert the New 52's narrative vector.


From the Rainbow to Shadows: ‘Judy Garland on Judy Garland’

The ultimate Judy Garland encyclopedia told by the person who knew her best: herself.


‘In the Light of What We Know’ Suffers From Sahib Syndrome

While living in Pakistan I often noted how a certain class of subcontinental man was prone to what I called “sahib syndrome” – the need to pontificate, at length.


An Interview With Earth, Wind & Fire Bassist Verdine White

After a comeback album last year, the funkiest group alive, Earth, Wind & Fire, decided to record a holiday album, and also open up about their legacy, performing for the President, and more.


M. R. James’ Horror and the Tricky Business of the Imagination

M. R. James preferred to internalize horror so that the victim had the grotesqueries playing out in his heart and head, rather than in the cemetery across the way.


The Uncertain Fate of College Radio

Artists like OutKast and R.E.M. were first heard on college radio. As corporations take over these stations, what will it mean for artists and students?


‘Ilo Ilo’ Is Too Understated for Its Own Good

The debut feature from director Anthony Chen features strong performances, but its understated quality makes the film struggle to make a lasting impression.


Clark: Clark

“Music is like sculpture. It’s like trying to capture a moment of ultimate momentum, and distill it forever. An invincible, sealed capsule of sound.” -- Clark, August 2014


On ‘Being Miss America’ and Exchanging Ideals

The lyrics to the Miss America theme song say, “There she is, your ideal.” But what does that mean today?


Tony Allen: Film of Life

As Tony Allen and Afrobeat continue to influence the music world at large, the master drummer lets the music world at large continue to influence him.


Cold War Kids: Hold My Home

Upbeat performances and pop-rock confidence can't hide a severe lack of creativity on the Californian band's fifth album.


John Coltrane: Offering: Live at Temple University

This set, performed just nine months before Coltrane's death, shows both the impressive openness of his late-era band and the limitations of its sound.


Spencer Burton: Don’t Let the World See Your Love

Don’t Let the World See Your Love may have a bitter undertone, but it goes down fairly sweet.


Midge Ure: Fragile

Midge Ure deserves respect for his illustrious musical history. This pleasant '80s throwback shows he can still make decent music, even if his voice these days disappointingly lets him down.


Tuesday, November 4 2014

‘Hoax_Canular’ and the End of the World on the Internet

For all the stories about how isolated and asocial internet users can be, Hoax_Canular offers stories of imagining community, sharing truths and more.


What Makes a House a Home: “Justice League Dark Annual #2”

Through all of the noise and overstuffed panels in this issue, through all the clatter and the clutter, DeMatteis manages to tell a story worth telling. I wish he had taken more time with it.


‘The Underground Girls of Kabul’ Highlights the Learned Nature of Gender Assumptions

This is an outstanding work of journalism, full of riveting stories about the real lives of girls and women in Afghanistan today.


‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ Places Seth MacFarlane’s Ego Front and Center

Perhaps MacFarlane will learn from his experiences, but with any luck, he'll learn the biggest lesson of all: his talents are required behind the camera, not in front of it.


‘Brood’ May Keep You Up at Night

Brood serves up a richly imagined, hideous, surprising world.


‘A Bigger Sonic Palette’ for a Weird Party: An Interview with Jukebox the Ghost

Jukebox the Ghost talk about their most collaborative album to date, how Rolling Stone begged to hang out in the studio with them, and their lack of knowledge about classic ghosts.


Sequels, Monsters, Robots, Heroes and Apes (Oh My!): Year Two of ‘The Next Reel’

What does Tom Petty think of Cylons? What does the Polar Bear from LOST know about CPR? Why does everyone think this author is a produce clerk?


“Music Will Be Your Friend When No One Else Can”: An Interview With Mike Farris

PopMatters caught up with Mike Farris at the 2014 Americana Music Festival. His work places him firmly in the legacy of soul greats like Sam Moore and Otis Redding.


In ‘Maleficent’, Angelina Jolie Channels Shakespeare’s Richard III

Like the great antiheroes of history, Angelina Jolie's seductive performance as Maleficent gets you to root for her even as she commits acts of evil.


Bob Dylan: The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11

This massive set works as an outlier in Dylan's Bootleg Series. It lets us see Dylan exploring his relationship with music.


Les Sins: Michael

Toro Y Moi's Chaz Bundick steps away from his main project to try his hand at a plethora of European electronic styles on his first album as Les Sins.


On Running Face First Into the Walls of the Ivory Tower

An epistolary novel set within a literally crumbling ivory tower, Dear Committee Members is a smart, wry, and all-too-realistic look into contemporary academic life.


Matt Brevner: Eclectricity

This album shows that Canadian hip-hop is certainly eye-opening and something to take seriously.


John Mellencamp: Plain Spoken

Plain Spoken's by-the-numbers approach to Americana kowtows to the idyllic Everyman version of Middle-American values.


Lenny Kravitz: Strut

Lenny Kravitz returns to form with an excellent new set of songs that make you dance as much as they make you think.


DragonForce: Maximum Overload

DragonForce doesn’t perform. It executes. It makes metal songs that sound like metal objects.


Monday, November 3 2014

‘A Poet in New York’: The Last Days of Dylan Thomas

As A Poet in New York observes the poet's decline, it also examines the cult of celebrity and its ramifications.


‘Love Streams’ Is a Masterful Swan Song From One of America’s Great Artists

The once widely unavailable Love Streams gets a thorough Criterion reissue, a well-deserved feat for John Cassavetes' final masterpiece.


Godhood, Womanhood, and Humanity: “Wonder Woman #35”

The culmination of so many battles brings out Wonder Woman's greatest strengths, but not much else.


If Only All of History Were Told as Well as Jonathan Beckman’s ‘How to Ruin a Queen’

Regardless of the melodramatic, almost operatic overtones of the plot, this telling is at its best when it contextualizes the sociopolitical setting in which the story is unfolding.


By the Numbers?: An Interview with Kasabian

Following the release of their new album 48:13, Kasbian guitarist and producer Serge Pizzorno discusses ripping off the Silver Apples and ponders why, even now, people still aren't getting the joke.


What Would Jessica Fletcher Tweet?

The preternaturally smart heroine of Angela Lansbury's Murder, She Wrote sets a positive example for how writers have to promote themselves in our Twitter-centric world.


This Is How It’s Gonna Be Now: Beyoncé, U2, Thom Yorke, and Surprise Album Releases

For artists a big as Beyonce, U2, and Thom Yorke, the surprise album release model offers minimal risk and maximal reward. It's a paradigm that's sure to be replicated by others going forward.


In ‘Child of God’, the Evil is Banal

James Franco's attempt to adapt Cormac McCarthy's novel Child of God for the screen confuses merely depicting horrendous evil with saying something interesting about it.


Neil Young: Storytone

Neil Young spins us ten fraternal twins, a crisis in search of an identity.


Inspiral Carpets: Inspiral Carpets

"Madchester" veterans return after 20 years and manage not to embarrass themselves too much. Cue the sound of one hand clapping.


Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Blue

The antic modern band courts controversy, and philosophy, by recreating the most famous jazz album precisely, exactly, note for note for nuance. Can you tell the difference? You should be able to, and that’s the point.


o’death: Out of Hands We Go

o'death's scrappy new record isn't a return to some past sound so much as it's another impressive deviation for a band that, four albums in, has made inconsistency and exploration the only consistencies of its sound.


Luis Coronel: Quiero Ser Tu Dueño

Teen heartthrob makes terrible music, tops Latin Albums chart, threatens to cross over.


Comet Gain: Paperback Ghosts

As melodic, jangly and occasionally crunchy as this is, there’s a persistent sense of the fading glow of daytime, the feeling that life is slipping away.


Reading ‘The Hospital Suite’ Is Rather Like Watching a Play Adapted from the Dairies of a Dying Man

If the unprepared reader gives the man and his book a chance, that reader will learn to appreciate, and possibly even love, John Porcellino's storytelling.


‘The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street’ Is Sweet Where It Could Have Been Corny

With a picaresque tone and first person narration reminiscent of Charles Dickens, Gilman’s novel is a delightful chronicle of New York history.


Friday, October 31 2014

150 Battleborn Halloweens Later

It’s the strangest of strange troikas; Nevadan statehood, Halloween and comics. But this Halloween, marking the 150th anniversary of Nevadan statehood, might just be the most elegant comment on the current state of comics.


‘The Boy Who Drew Monsters’ Is a Terrifying Treatise on Raising a Difficult Child

This novel will give you chills, make the hairs on your body stand at end, and, yes, even give you bad dreams.


Tamil Horror Films: Madness, Modernity and of Course, Misogyny

While Hollywood horror thrives on the anxieties over the persistence of evil, emanating from a malevolent source, Tamil horror films deal with the prevalence of social injustice.


Listening Ahead: Upcoming Music Releases for November and December 2014

In the last installment of "Listening Ahead" of 2014, read up on new albums by Marianne Faithfull and Andy Stott, as well as comprehensive boxsets of the third Velvet Underground album and the Bedhead catalog.


‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ Hides Serious Themes Behind Comedic Fluff

Alfonso Cuarón's highly sexualized film is deceptively serious, hiding weighty themes behind comic banter and, yes, plenty of sex.


Taylor Swift: 1989

A 40-foot Taylor Swift stomps through Manhattan in chelsea boots and a pencil skirt, bodegas and halal carts crumbling under her heels, waving one enormous pinky finger to Jay and Beyoncé as they cower in their Tribeca penthouse.


Another Kind of Horror: ‘When Paris Went Dark’

When Paris Went Dark is a penetrating history of the anxiety, confusion, claustrophobia, and uncertainty experienced by a city in the grip of an unpredictable menace.


Various Artists: The Soul of Designer Records

This is a compilation of ‘70s gospel and soul singles that appropriately honors the musicians who made them while offering a crucial glance at the stylistic elements of the American musical tradition.


Absolutely Free: Absolutely Free.

This is an album that works best when you sit down and think about it afterward, so the appeal is not necessarily apparent upon casual listening.


Louis Sclavis Quartet: Silk and Salt Melodies

No matter what category you pigeonhole him into, jazz clarinetist Louis Sclavis turns his sounds into a miniature miracle.


Various Artists: Dear Jean - Artists Celebrate Jean Ritchie

A tribute to a singer, her songs and her legacy, and a collection of very special music in itself.


EndAnd: Fun Times With Shitty People

EndAnd call themselves a punk band, but the power trio bring a distorted grunge rock sound to the party as well.


Thursday, October 30 2014

‘Showrunners: The Art of Running a TV Show’ Is a Man’s World

Showrunners misses the opportunity to explore why creating fictional worlds continues to be gendered as masculine in our cultural imagination.


‘30 for 30: Brian and the Boz’ Captures the Conflicting Incarnations of the NCAA

Brian and the Boz allows viewers to understand the contexts of star Sooner Brian Bosworth's life, including how the NCAA treats its players.


Fear, Inc.: Beyond the Shadows of the American Haunt Industry

Haunted houses. Extreme haunts. Big scares. Big money. Maybe even big health benefits (when used with caution, of course). Step inside, if you dare.


Halloween ‘75: Dracula, the Spider and the Pompatous of Love

I remember that Halloween, Halloween 1975. I wanted to dress as Spider-Man…


What a Difference a Hair Makes

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil feels timeless, because it contains truths you’ve known all along.


Six Little Horror Games That Would Like to Play With You This Halloween

Here are a few little games to put you in the spirit of the spooky season. How you will come out of the other side is up to you.


Four of a Kind: A Breakdown of Sloan’s ‘Commonwealth’

Sloan's jaw-dropping double album Commonwealth strikes a perfect synergy between the band's identity and the collective identities of its members.


‘The Honourable Woman’ Is a Thriller With Emotional Resonance

The Honourable Woman is smart, taut, and consistently suspenseful, without ever sacrificing character for plot, which is no easy feat.


Daniel Lanois: Flesh and Machine

Daniel Lanois has upped the ante with Flesh and the Machine by pledging to search "for something that’s never been heard before".


‘The Art of the English Murder’: It’s Not all Good Clean Fun

The second half of the19th century saw the murder rate drop precisely when "the activity of enjoying a murder became increasingly acceptable."


Medicine: Home Everywhere

Home Everywhere is a brave record, one that you have to be patient with.


Betty Who: Take Me When You Go

Betty Who's debut album is not the standout debut that this charismatic pop star deserves.


Otis Brown III: The Thought of You

An ideal fusion of old school hard blowing jazz and new generation rhythms and attitude, this disc feels like the path forward.


George Harrison: The Apple Years 1968-75

Listening to the entire production on offer here means delving inside an artist's trajectory. Naivety, genius and clever pop.


Harmonie Ensemble New York with Steven Richman: Henry Mancini: Music for Peter Gunn

What was it like to hear the Peter Gunn music for the first time? Some of us will never know for sure. But with this release, you're likely to have fun trying to recapture the moment.


Wednesday, October 29 2014

Standalone, Complex: “B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth #124”

How do you take an image as powerful as Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks", and turn it into a tale about inherent social collapse? If you're Mike Mignola, John Arcudi and Tyler Crooks, the answer is, "quite easily".


The Walking Dead Season Two, Episode 5

The episodic format is a holdover from a time when it was necessary for Telltale to be able to continue making games and no longer seems like an inherent part of the stories they tell.


Long Live the Old Flesh: David Cronenberg’s ‘Consumed’

Cronenberg's Consumed feels similar to that of fellow Canadian sci-fi writer William Gibson, in that the narrative is globe-hopping in nature and both writers share a fetish for technology.


‘Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut’ Fully Realizes the Director’s Vision

This is the release Nightbreed fans have been waiting for.


Power to the People: An Interview with Basement Jaxx

Many Jaxx fans were surprised by the relatively-straightforward nature of the duo's latest effort, Junto, but the way Felix tells it, it's a deliberately unexpected move from the Grammy-nominated duo.


One Chord to Another: A Retrospective on the Records of Sloan

We look through the varied and vivacious 20-year discography of Sloan album by album, charting this underrated group's significant achievements.


‘Snowpiercer’ Encapsulates Class Warfare In a High-Speed Train

By compressing its revolutionary struggle into such a tightly compressed and void-encircled space, Bong Joon-Ho’s evocative post-apocalyptic actioner becomes furiously kinetic but metaphorically overburdened.


Lily & Madeleine: Fumes

Lily & Madeleine may not shout or scream, or even cry, but they still want to be heard.


Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock & Roll Time

The Killer makes an album worthy of his reputation, aided by an all-star cast and co-producer (and fellow music legend) Jim Keltner.


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