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
A New Sound in the South: J Roddy Walston on ‘Destroyers of the Soft Life’

At any moment the band might tear a hole through the speakers with songs bursting at the seams with stadium-sized power.

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25 Sep 2017 // 10:30 AM

TIFF 2017: What Will People Say

The culture clash in What Will People Say is manifest in a life-and-death difference between interpretations of defiance.

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What Is Brought Back in Michel Leiris’ ‘Phantom Africa’ Is Not Tangible

Phantom Africa represents a poignant and beautiful window into something more universal.

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Martial Solal and David Liebman: Masters in Bordeaux

Two modern jazz giants give us an understated duet album. Covers are most welcome here.

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‘Battle of the Sexes’ Whiffs the Serve

This easy-rock dramatization of the 1973 blockbuster match between Billie Jean King and past-his-prime champ Bobby Riggs has its moments but can’t capture the liberating drama of the moment.

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25 Sep 2017 // 8:13 AM

Paul Weller: Mother Ethiopia

Paul Weller offers a homage to Ethiopian music on latest EP, Mother Ethiopia.

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Imitating Aeroplanes: Planet Language

The middle of the album by itself would represent a largely unremarkable debut for the electropop of Imitating Aeroplanes. But the beginning and end of this album are so strong that they lift up the whole record.

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25 Sep 2017 // 7:52 AM

Grave Pleasures: Motherblood

Motherblood is loaded with apocalyptic imagery amidst dark-hearted romanticism.

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Is the Comedy Duo Mitchell and Webb Really ‘Back’?

Mitchell and Webb's created personas culminated in their groundbreaking sitcom, Peep Show. Reuniting for new series Back, will it be more of the same? Does that even matter?

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The Killers: Wonderful Wonderful

It will never go down as anyone's favorite Killers album, but this is easily the most fun the Vegas rockers have had in years.

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Was the Blues Born on a Vaudeville Stage?

Black creative and economic self-determination within the music industry didn’t begin with Chance the Rapper, or Prince, or even Motown.

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Charles Bradley’s Voice Full of Love and Hurt: The Interview

Soul master Charles Bradley talks about the painful changes that shaped his latest album and the way that his raw, powerful music helps him transcend heartache.

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On Memory and Nostalgia: Seth’s ‘Palookaville 23’

A wonderful addition to Seth’s already brilliant body of work, Palookaville 23 is a reminder of how much time he’s dedicated to his art, and how worthwhile that time has been.

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‘Top of the Lake’: Season Two Showcases a Series That Has Found Its Voice

Top of the Lake's second season picks up where the first left off, and makes the series even more compelling.

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Art Garfunkel’s Endearing, Impressionistic, Reflective Thoughts About His Life and Times

In What Is It All but Luminous Garfunkel reveals the soft, lush, probably difficult, and definitely peculiar character that has been taking notes, observing, singing, and remembering for over 50 years.

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STS9 Takes ‘Artifact’ for a Mystical Ride at Red Rocks

Anticipation runs high and there’s a sense of history in the air as fans fill the famed mountain ampitheatre on this balmy Colorado night that kicks off the band’s three-night 20th anniversary run.

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By Defending Ourselves, We’re Limiting Ourselves: Director Ildikó Enyedi ‘On Body and Soul’

"I had a wish for my two characters to risk themselves in order to have a full life -- not to have that miserable and limited life... because they were looking for more safety."

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In ‘Bobbi Jene’, a Dancer’s Artistic Vision Is Rooted in Personal Sacrifice

While Bobbi Jene often veers too closely to melodrama, seeing an emboldened woman artistically express her sexuality and earn effusive praise for it is inspirational.

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22 Sep 2017 // 3:00 AM

The Flipside #7: Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’

With "Look What You Made Me Do" and other songs soon to be plastered over the airwaves, the Flipside boys look back on Taylor Swift's 1989 and whether it lives up to its reputation.

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A World Made of War: On Oriana Fallaci’s Fearless Journalism

Cristina de Stefano’s discusses her perceptive insight into the fascinating Italian journalist with Oriana Fallaci, a book delivered in a riveting and engaging narrative style that’s evocative of Fallaci herself.

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The Rolling Stones: Their Satanic Majesties Request (50th Anniversary)

Despite (or perhaps because of) the outside pressures the Rolling Stones faced in recording Satanic Majesties, it stands 50 years later as arguably the most experimental, tongue-in-cheek, and underappreciated album of their long history.

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Chris Bell: I Am the Cosmos (Deluxe Edition)

With Big Star, Chris Bell helped invent power pop as we know it. I Am the Cosmos is his brilliant posthumous solo masterpiece, and the definitive edition is out now.

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Van Morrison: Roll with the Punches

Calling Morrison enigmatic is like calling candy sweet: it’s the defining characteristic. Morrison’s best music has always been complex and mysterious.

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22 Sep 2017 // 2:10 AM

Fred Hersch: Open Book

Built around a long, wholly-improvised concert performance, this solo piano recital from Fred Hersch is stunning evidence that he is one of the few great solo jazz pianists currently alive.

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Bettany Hughes’ ‘Istanbul’ Evokes the Past and Compels the Future

This learned and lively book by award-winning historian, author, and broadcaster Bettany Hughes offers a riveting biography of a city that has remained relevant for well over two millennia.

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Idols, Ideals, and Reminders in ‘Generations: Captain Marvel & Ms. Marvel #1’

Ms. Marvel reconnects with her idol, but a choppy narrative limits the impact.

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‘Goodnight, L.A.’ and Hello, Hollywood

Unsung heroes of classic rock get their due in this cinematic book.

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The Pottery Barn Principle of ‘Fear the Walking Dead’

Season three's exploration of the politics of survival is fascinating, even with the series' over-reliance on coincidence.

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On Discovering the In-your-face Glory of the Slits’ Album, ‘Cut’

The iconic cover plus hybrid punky-reggae establishes the Slits' Cut as a significant variation on the British late '70s DIY ethos.

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21 Sep 2017 // 2:30 AM

The Horrors: V

The Horrors get their mojo back with songs to match the swagger.

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21 Sep 2017 // 2:20 AM

Metz: Strange Peace

On the band's third album, there is a constant search for a frequency that is thrilling and a commitment to it.

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Stills & Collins: Everybody Knows

Their voices blend together well, especially on the title song. The roughness of Stephen Stills’ leathery vocals meshes well with Judy Collins’ velvety crooning and fits the black humor of Cohen’s lyrics.

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Randy Newman: Dark Matter

Randy Newman puts together a variety show with comedy, tragedy, and romance (and, yeah, some farce).

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Joe Henderson and Alice Coltrane: The Elements

The Elements represents Joe Henderson’s sole full immersion into the avant-garde, with help from a few seasoned veterans, including Alice Coltrane, Charlie Haden, and Michael White.

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Norse Code: The Rise of Nordic Literature

Nordisk Books, a small, UK-based press, is behind the push of a Nordic literature revival. PopMatters talks with Duncan Lewis about taking the genre beyond the usual crime novels.

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The Tale of a Screenwriter, ‘Rewrite Man’ Is an Ode to Professionalism, Not Virtuosity

The life and times of forgotten screenwriter Warren Skaaren double as an education on the convoluted beast that was New Hollywood.

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‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle’ Is Comically Bad

Matthew Vaughn’s hyper-kinetic spy comedy can’t decide if it’s a lighthearted spoof of the Bond films it obviously loves, or a smug and ironic takedown of espionage thrillers.

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There Is Power in ‘Curry’

Naban Ruthnum’s provocative intellectual journey traces the complex roots of curry and its diasporic colonization of the West.

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Sam Raimi’s ‘Spider-Man’ Signaled That Comic Book Films Had Become a Pillar of Blockbuster Cinema

A faithful adaptation of Marvel's flagship character was inescapable in the spring of 2002.

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Amadou & Mariam: La Confusion

A euphoric swirl of nostalgic synths and warm Afropop, La Confusion is a breath of fresh air from the ever-masterful duo of Amadou & Mariam.

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The Clientele: Music for the Age of Miracles

England's favorite pop dreamers awake from a seven-year slumber, giving us more of what made us like them so much in the first place.

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Mount Kimbie: Love What Survives

Mount Kimbie returns with Love What Survives, introducing post-punk elements to its electronic core, and in the process producing its finest record to date.

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Hype Williams: Rainbow Edition

To listen to Rainbow Edition is to constantly be waiting for the next thing.

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Are You Experiencing Any Difficulties?: An Interview with Graham Reynolds

Celebrating the release of Richard Linklater's landmark sci-fi film A Scanner Darkly, composer Graham Reynolds guides us through the soundtrack's casually thrilling creation.

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‘Mr. Robot and Philosophy’ Tries to Grasp an Elusive Subject

How do you dive into philosophy with a show that so deeply relies on style? For many of the essays contained within Mr. Robot and Philosophy, the answer is to ape that style.

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The Characters in ‘Every Kind of Wanting’ Are Caught in a Messy Web

How three unique families and assorted loved ones deal with modern love, desire, and family.

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The Slits: Return of the Giant Slits

The post-punk pioneers' second album gets a reissue/remaster, but its anarchy and tumult still sounds one step too beyond (just as it did in 1981).

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Paul Weller’s Impossible Idea

One of the UK's most revolutionary rock figures isn't showing any signs of slowing down. His insatiable thirst for the new leads to the creation of A Kind Revolution. Weller talks with PopMatters about his new music and career.

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Gary Numan: Savage (Songs From a Broken World)

In the age of climate science denial, synth legend Gary Numan offers up a bleak dystopian landscape as a cautionary tale.

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The Western and Melancholy: On Arturo Ripstein’s ‘Time to Die’

Time to Die suggests that love and values are the existential gambits of the melancholic attempt to reconcile oneself with the irreconcilable indifference of the world.

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Wolves in the Throne Room: Thrice Woven

Wolves in the Throne Room return in blazing fashion with Thrice Woven, a work that defines the very substance of the black metal band.

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Eilen Jewell: Down Hearted Blues

Jewell and company offer pristine versions of wonderful blues tunes from America’s past.

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‘Eye Chart’ Is About Much More Than Just Identifying Objects Near and Far

The "Object Lessons" series continues with this brief but rich exploration into why we see, when we see, how clearly we see, and what we understand about the things we see.

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‘Gotham’ Season Three’s Unique Take on Batman’s Origin Continues to Ramp Up the Crazy

Gotham relies on its fast pace and embrace of the insane to work as the diverse and bizarre show it wants to be, but occasionally the show is too surreal for its own good.

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‘The Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature’ Opens Doors Hitherto Closed to Us

Yunte Huang grapples with some monumental subject matter, and the results are spellbinding.

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Jack Kirby’s Influence Is Felt on Nearly Every Page of ‘Marvel Year By Year’

All of the important in-continuity events are here: the death of Gwen Stacy, the Kree-Skull War, the death of Jean Grey, Civil War.

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‘Band Aid’ Serves as a Plaster for What Ails the Jaded Movie Lover

This winning indie comedy-drama splits those two genres as neatly as an atom but gets the most energy out of the comedy side.

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18 Sep 2017 // 2:30 AM

Boombox = Life

Woofers on blast up the jam block rock: A fragmentary history of ghettoblasting.

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Foo Fighters: Concrete and Gold

Veteran rockers Foo Fighters join forces with pop producer Greg Kurstin, and the unexpected result is the finest album of their long recording career.

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Luna: A Sentimental Education / A Place of Greater Safety

True to his predilections, Dean Wareham moves the band and song, in covers and instrumentals, and usually away from too much volume.

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Chris Hillman: Bidin’ My Time

The former Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers member revisits classic musical pathways on the sturdy Americana release Bidin’ My Time, his first effort in more than ten years.

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F.J. McMahon: Spirit of the Golden Juice

Available once more, F.J. McMahon’s stark and sobering assessment of the decline of ‘60s idealism and impending introspective ‘70s is the rarest of rarities: a true lost masterpiece.

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Never Settle, Never Rest on Your Laurels: Activist Catherine Hernandez on Her Book, ‘Scarborough’

Theatre practitioner Catherine Hernandez reveals the complexity of representation and responsibility in writing fiction.

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‘The Violins of Saint-Jacques’ Is a Lush Portrait of a Lost World

This only novel from Patrick Leigh Fermor, a master of travel writing, is a culturally astute depiction of a Caribbean island's lavish, last Mardi Gras.

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‘mother!’ Is Poignant and Powerful, and Not At All Pleasant

This is a grotesque, two-horned beast of a marital drama, a nightmarish vision of emotional abandonment and psychological abuse, all for the sake of art.

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The Trials, Battles, and Victories of a Pussy Rioter

Maria Alyokhina, one of the imprisoned members of Pussy Riot, relates her saga of protest, imprisonment, and advocation for human rights in Riot Days.

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Aronofsky’s ‘mother!’ of All Head Trips

Bold, pretentious, and divisive, Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller is an exhilarating (and exhausting) cinematic experience.

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We Good: An Interview with The JuJu Exchange

Dropping his stage name of Donnie Trumpet, Nico Segal is moving from being one of Chance the Rapper's chief artistic collaborators to exploring the way we communicate through jazz.

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Back to Blue Bayou: An Interview With Linda Ronstadt

In her exclusive interview with PopMatters, Linda Ronstadt revisits Simple Dreams just in time for Rhino's 40th anniversary edition of her classic number one album.

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Hundred Waters: Communicating

Hundred Waters' third album has many appealing parts, but a core that feels unstable or even nonexistent.

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Nothing But Thieves: Broken Machine

On Broken Machine, Nothing But Thieves have crafted a hook filled modern rock album that matches the ambition and intensity of any guitar band around today.

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Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton: Choir of the Mind

Emily Haines’ sophomore effort is a bold, if somewhat depressing, feminist statement.

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The Waterboys: Out of All This Blue

Yeats? Dylan? Cohen? Kanye? The Waterboys embrace hip-hop and things get... interesting

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Walter White, Heisenberg, and Time Out of Mind: The Legacy of ‘Breaking Bad’

An examination of how AMC's Breaking Bad played with the conventions of time, character, and attitude.

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Titles, Legacies, and Basics in ‘Generations: Captain Marvel & Captain Mar-Vell #1’

Carol Danvers gets back to basics on what it means to be Captain Marvel.

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‘How I Became a North Korean’ Is Not Just About Borders and Identity

Author Krys Lee's novel about three characters escaping North Korea resonates with pain, longing, and possibilities.

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14 Sep 2017 // 10:00 AM

TIFF 2017: mother!

While Aronofsky’s artistry is at an all-time-low, it's his misogyny that makes this film abhorrent.

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Good, Bad Place: Season One of ‘The Good Place’ Upended Expectations

Michael Schur's sinister community design used the ideals of the American Dream to fool its characters and its audience; what sort of critique will be built into season two?

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Sci-Fi Author Ursula LeGuin’s Stories of Class War, Religious Dissension, Identity Politics and More

No matter what ignites the dynamic fusion of thought and action in her Hainish fictions, Le Guin generates provocative and intelligent considerations of complex forces.

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Such an Internal World: Matthew Sweet Discusses Kickstarter and Collaborations

Power pop icon Matthew Sweet's latest album, Tomorrow Forever involved some hard labor -- but he'd probably say that, like all his projects, it brought some powerful lessons.

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The New Jazz of the 21st Century: A Case Study in Kate Gentile and ‘Mannequins’

Drummer and composer Kate Gentile's debut recording is making a New Jazz splash. PopMatters interviews her to get behind this new direction in improvised music.

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14 Sep 2017 // 2:30 AM

Mike Gordon: OGOGO

The Phish bassist unleashes another solo album and, to no one's surprise, it's an odd, idiosyncratic slice of catchy rock and funk.

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14 Sep 2017 // 2:20 AM

Big ‡ Brave: Ardor

The Montreal-based experimental rock outfit Big ‡ Brave presents the next chapter of its sonic evolution, further diving into a realm of abstract compositions and free form drone rock.

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Various Artists: Sweet As Broken Dates - Lost Somali Tapes from the Horn of Africa

Sweet As Broken Dates showcases a golden age of pre-civil war Somali pop music -- and it's a new kind of groovy.

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The Electric Grandmother: Cancelled

The Washington, D.C.-based sitcom-core outfit throw their fans a stimulating if somewhat troubling curveball with Cancelled.

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Lose Yourself: Dir. Benjamin Barfoot and Writer Danny Morgan on Comedy-Horror Flick, ‘Double Date’

"...[My] theory is people do their best stuff when they lose themselves. So I hold on really tight and then let go because that’s when an interesting chemistry starts to happen."

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It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature: ‘Against the Anthropocene’

Scientists have been arguing for a new period in Earth's geological history, the Anthropocene. Cultural critic T.J. Demos offers a critical take on the concept, pro and con.

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Garbage Biography Captures One of the Best Science Experiments of the Alt-rock Era

This beautiful combination of coffee table/art book and band biography is as much a hodgepodge of styles as the band Garbage itself, among the best cut-and-paste experiments of '90s alt-rock.

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LCD Soundsystem’s ‘American Dream’ Live: James Murphy Assures You It Is OK Not to Be There

A decade and a half on, James Murphy hasn’t lost his edge one bit, just like the greats never do. However, not only is he more mature and less concerned with all of us -- he is also successful in his own eyes, on his own terms

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‘All Eyez On Me’ Suffers From Near-sighted Hero-worship

This long-awaited biopic focuses too much on the minutiae and too little on Tupac Shakur's riveting life.

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13 Sep 2017 // 8:29 AM

Wild Cub: Closer

On Closer, Wild Cub emphasize their ear candy qualities on a collection of emotional arena anthems, but get caught following many of the clichés of modern indie rock.

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Expect the Unexpected: A Conversation with Sparks

For nearly half a century (and a new album to boot), the Mael brothers Ron and Russell have been confounding listeners' expectations with their ever-changing, stylistically broad brand of artfully rendered pop.

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13 Sep 2017 // 2:30 AM

Alvvays: Antisocialites

Antisocialites is chock full of sly, honest assessments of the misery -- or, at best, the ambivalence -- inherent in so much of dating, especially when toxic masculinity enters the frame.

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Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet: Ladilikan

Trio Da Kali and the Kronos Quartet are musical soulmates on collaborative album Ladilikan.

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‘Soul Survivor’: On Al Green, Coming to Terms With His Powers

This book is a compelling and exhaustively detailed account of a man at peace with his life, a man who may... be pleased with a final exit that sees him keeling over dead in mid-sermon.

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‘Caca Dolce’, or, Self-indulgent Solipsism for the Facebook Generation

A collection of 18 personal essays charting the writer's sexual, delinquent, family, and substance abuse journeys.

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TIFF 2017: ‘Faces Places’ (Visages Villages)

Agnès Varda's usual cinematic beauty and charm come through, with her subjective experience creating a wonderfully delightful film about art.

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‘I’m Not Here’ Is One of the Richest and Gently Disturbing Graphic Novels I’ve Read in Years

We travel with the protagonist, suffering the same confusions that define her life.

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‘The Gang’s All Queer’ Challenges Simplistic Assumptions About Gang Members

Vanessa Panfil seeks to complicate the popular narratives surrounding gang members and the hypermasculine, hyper-heterosexual lives they lead.

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Twang to Trombones: Top 20 Picks for AmericanaFest 2017

When Wynonna and Lee Ann Womack drag queen impersonators are NOT the highlight of the night, you know you need to be at these shows. AmericanaFest has something for every music fan.

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More Recent Features
//Mixed media
//Blogs

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

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