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
New Order: Presents Be Music

A comprehensive, if scattershot, compendium or Sumner, Hook, and the Other Two's production work -- and then some.

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The Residents: The Ghost of Hope

The Residents are still weird and they still exist on the extreme ends of the left side of the dial. Their latest is a concept album about train wrecks.

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Jake Xerxes Fussell: What in the Natural World

Some things are eternal. Beauty is one. Strangeness another. Brutality a third. The songs here reflect all of those, through the harshness and beauty of the natural world, the generosity and brutality of humankind.

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‘Electri_City’ Is Missing the Spark

It took a lot of work in the '70s to make music that sounded like it was created entirely by robots. The same could be said for Electri_City.

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Lana Del Rey’s “Love” in the Era of Trump

"Love" makes me wonder if we've misheard Del Rey's use of nostalgia, mistaking it for the rose-colored (and heart-shaped) variety when instead it produces a fog.

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In Film as in War, There’s What Remains in Its Wake: ‘Apocalypse Child’

Apocalypse Child is a wonderful slice-of-life drama that thrives in the space between truth and fiction.

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The New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions

Whiteout Conditions continues the New Pornographers' traditions of great hooks and vocals while increasing the band's use of synths even more than on their last album.

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Mainstream Darko: Director Richard Kelly on Building His Own Sandbox

Much as Donnie Darko claimed widespread fame by defying both convention and expectation, Kelly is fighting to bring the mainstream to him on his own terms.

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Imagine a World of Trees—Without Us

Bloomsbury's Object Lessons' installment, Tree, brings to the fore our complicated relationship with this life form.

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Between Comfort and Threat, Thriving and Despair: Stories From Iceland

The affluence enjoyed by many in these pages pales before the ultimate mysteries suffusing the island.

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Sci-fi Rewind: An Interview With Ghost in the Shell’s Chin Han

Chin Han gives his take on the Ghost in the Shell casting controversy and the real key to fixing minority representation in film.

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31 Mar 2017 // 8:11 AM

Soulwax: From Deewee

Soulwax return after their soundtrack excursion Belgica with From Deewee which was recorded live in one take.

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The 100 Best Classic Progressive Rock Songs: Part 5, 20-1

Welcome back, my friends to the show that never ends. It's the 100 best classic progressive rock songs.

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‘X-men Prime #1’ Takes a Breather, Then Prepares for More Conflict

From sterilization and decimation to hope and promise, the X-men move forward.

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‘The Good Fight’: A Fast Resolution Saps Some Energy from “Not So Grand Jury”

A too tidy and convenient resolution this week can only mean that the Kings come back with chaos and discord next week, right?

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Animal Liberation Orchestra and Twiddle Join Together for Bay Area Harmonic Convergence

It’s always a treat when bands jam together on this stage and the pairing leads to some great twin riffage from ALO's Lebo and Twiddle’s Savoulidis.

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Love Is (Sort of) in the Air in ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XXXVIII’

Can poverty or flaming meteors stop the course of true love? Sometimes.

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Hire More of Us, Please: Niki Caro Talks ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ and the Hollywood Gender Gap

Director Niki Caro shares her perspective on the film industry gender gap and the extraordinary story that inspired The Zookeeper's Wife.

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J.D. Wilkes Puts the American South’s Contradictions Up for Reconsideration

A novel that believes monsters are “as much a part of us as our penchant for fried chicken and turnip greens.”

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High Plains: Cinderland

High Plains take their name from a geographic area of the United States, an area known for its barren landscape and low population. Their debut album Cinderland evokes this isolated feeling.

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David Olney: Don’t Try to Fight It

The 10 tracks gathered here on Don’t Try to Fight It are among folk singer-songwriter David Olney's best.

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Goldfrapp on Their New Album ‘Silver Eye’ and Why “Art Is Freedom”

It's been over three years since Goldfrapp put out their latest set of lush electro, and with a polarized world, their new music has a fascinating new voice.

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The Not-so-delicate ‘Delinquents’

This is what happens when suburban kids won't behave.

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British Sea Power: Let the Dancers Inherit the Party

The band's classic windswept style is executed cleanly but feels emotionally remote.

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30 Mar 2017 // 2:20 AM

Teengirl Fantasy: 8AM

Teengirl Fantasy gesture plenty at dark, intense, minimal electronic music on 8AM, but too often the duo fails to commit.

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The 100 Best Classic Progressive Rock Songs: Part 4, 40-21

Welcome back, my friends to the show that never ends. It's the 100 best classic progressive rock songs.

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Jessica Chastain Is Radiant in Hit-and-miss WWII Drama, ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’

Good-hearted but artistically uninspired, Niki Caro's WWII drama fails to milk its source material for all its dramatic potential.

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‘No Quarter’ Neither Galvanises Nor Destroys Jimmy Page’s Mythic Persona

Jimmy Page's mythic reputation is preserved with grace and pathos in Martin Power's biography.

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Tina Turner Got It Right: We Don’t Need More Heroes

Jordan Flaherty's No More Heroes argues that the greatest danger to progressive movements often comes from within.

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The Semblance Structure of Cruelty in Felipe Cazals’s ‘Canoa’

Canoa teeters between an overriding aestheticization of violence and a perverse registering of the real.

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29 Mar 2017 // 2:30 AM

Wire: Silver/Lead

On their 16th album, Wire sound more like themselves than ever, yet refuse to become complacent.

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R. Stevie Moore and Jason Falkner: Make It Be

Lo-fi legend and power pop genius collaborate on a one-of-a-kind LP that tickles the brain as often as it tickles the funny bone.

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The Mavericks: Brand New Day

The music evokes the broad empty landscapes, sleepy cantinas, and heavy-eyed senoritas of the mythical past where the differences between bad hombres and honest men were not always clear.

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Lecherous Gaze: One Fifteen

Lecherous Gaze continues earning its genre-jumping wings, one hyphen at a time.

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The 100 Best Classic Progressive Rock Songs: Part 3, 60-41

Welcome back, my friends to the show that never ends. It's the 100 best classic progressive rock songs.

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Like Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, ‘Z: The Beginning of Everything’ Is Flawed But Unconventional

Christina Ricci plays Zelda as a woman walking willingly and half-knowingly into disaster.

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Martin Scorsese Gives His Own Voice to ‘Silence’

Martin Scorsese's quiet religious epic gives a definitive take on a book that thrives in its ambiguity.

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Caitlyn Jenner, Rachel Dolezal, and the Shifting Boundaries of Identity

Transracialism may and may not be as legitimate as transgenderism in the modern push for fluidity of identity categories.

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Mind-Melding Meetings Between Jesters and Kings: Elvis and Nixon, West and Trump

Where Elvis meets Nixon is the narrative of a poor boy smothered by the star-making machinery, Kanye meets Trump is a mixture of bi-polar manic depression, hubris, and misdirected energies.

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Aimee Mann: Mental Illness

Happily, all is not melancholy here. The songs’ characters may be unloved and disturbed, but aren’t we all?

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Rodney Crowell: Close Ties

On Close Ties, Crowell sees his own failures and acknowledges that he may not have changed as much as he should have.

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Sebastian Barry Balances Beauty With Horror in ‘Days Without End’

Dramatizing an omnipresent American imperial force, this picaresque yarn speaks for its perpetrators and victims.

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Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng

Orchestra Baobab celebrates life and embraces change on a joyful tribute to a late lead singer.

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The 100 Best Classic Progressive Rock Songs: Part 2, 80-61

Welcome back, my friends to the show that never ends. It's the 100 best classic progressive rock songs.

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‘T2 Trainspotting’ Is a Transcendent Blend of Nostalgia and Reality

T2 Trainspotting knows its roots in the Angry Young Men movement and acknowledges its sentimentality. But it has something more important to say.

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‘The Good Fight’ Offers Jarring Developments in “Social Media and Its Discontents”

In this episode ambiguity ramps up to 11, Maia doesn't know who to trust, and hate-speech is amplified, and confronted.

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‘Hokusai x Manga’ Explores the Roots of Manga

'Hokusai x Manga' traces the influence of popular Japanese visual art, from the 17th century forward, on contemporary manga.

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The 100 Best Classic Progressive Rock Songs: Part 1, 100-81

After gamely attempting to track the 25 best old-school progressive albums of all time, it's inevitable we turn our attention to the best songs of the genre.

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‘The White King’ Boldly Embraces Film as an Incomplete Form

Here are two storytellers that seemingly trust and embrace the cinéliterate audience to extrapolate, to understand, of their own volition.

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Evoking Kerouac: Dumbsaint’s Cinematic Opus ‘Panorama, in Ten Pieces’

Guided by Kerouac's philosophy of life, Australian post-metal band Dumbsaint's film conveys a residential underbelly present in David Lynch's films.

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27 Mar 2017 // 2:30 AM

Pharmakon: Contact

Contact is the rare noise album that strives for connection rather than just confrontation.

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Mathew Lee Cothran: Judas Hung Himself in America

Mathew Lee Cothran’s Judas Hung Himself in America is a worthy addition to the electro freak-out canon, and a vital album for our time.

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Craig Brown Band: The Lucky Ones Forget

If good songwriting and twangy songs are your wheelhouse and you don’t mind some off-kilter singing, Craig Brown Band might be worth your time.

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Jazz, Loss, and Understanding in ‘I Called Him Morgan’

While exposing the fragments and fault lines of memories, I Called Him Morgan tells the stories of Helen and Lee Morgan. It's also a story of storytelling.

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‘Frantz’ Unfolds Elegantly Into a Haunting Meditation on Xenophobia and Acceptance

Franz Ozon again proves to be a most singular voice in world cinema with this deceptively haunting romance mystery.

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‘Life’: A Mainstream Action Fare or a Ridiculous Monster Movie?

Stylistically, Life owes more of its inspiration to David Cronenberg than Ridley Scott.

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All Hail the King: Chuck Berry Reinvented Music, and America

After Chuck Berry, rock music would forever be a gumbo of competing and complimentary source points, but his first-person flights of fancy still represent its most undiluted potential.

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Peter Silberman: Impermanence

Antlers' frontman Peter Silberman releases the solo LP Impermanence which works wonderfully as a peaceful protest among louder glitchier new releases.

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Daniel Brandt: Eternal Something

Daniel Brandt commits himself to his vision and challenges the expectations behind typical song composition to produce a sound all of his own.

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‘Life’: Wait, Haven’t We Seen This Before?

Life disregards its genre predecessor, Alien to the detriment of the film.

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24 Mar 2017 // 8:24 AM

Mastodon: Emperor of Sand

Emperor of Sand is by no means a bad album, but there's little here that the band hasn't already explored.

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The Microscopic Septet: Pioneers Across Jazz Boundaries

In the '80s, "The Micros" mixed tradition and avant-garde jazz with impunity and almost got famous doing it. Today they're just playing the blues.

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Identity Is a Provocative Spectre Throughout Noel Malcolm’s ‘Agents of Empire’

In Noel Malcolm's important microhistory, we encounter complex individuals who appear resistant to simple categories, generalizations, or identifications.

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Capping Off a (Somewhat) Extraordinary Journey: ‘Extraordinary X-men #20’

To go from the brink of extinction to a friendly baseball game is a journey that requires a lot more than 20 issues and a crossover event.

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Will Johnson: Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm

Complex and incongruent, the songs of Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm linger like a West Texas wind, proving us all saints.

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A Breezy Visit With Arthur Conan Doyle and His Most Famous Creation

With Arthur and Sherlock, Michael Sims seeks to answer how Arthur Conan Doyle went from modestly successful physician to world-famous writer of detective stories.

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23 Mar 2017 // 2:59 AM

The Show Must Go Wrong

From Janet Jackson's wardrobe malfunction to the 2017 Academy Awards, the gaffe reveals that the system is not just broken; breaking is the system.

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‘Allied’ and the Tired Fumes of Nostalgia

Despite an appealing cast, Robert Zemeckis' WWII romance relies too heavily on its influences and too little on engaging drama.

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Chuck Berry’s Defiant, Ground-Shaking Rock

The late Chuck Berry's biggest hit may have undermined one of his greatest talents: his gift for storytelling.

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Anthrax: For All Kings (7-Inch Box Set)

A set like this is less about the music and more about having something that says, "I am a fan, and this is the proof".

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Red Baraat: Bhangra Pirates

Stripped-down production and intricate arrangements let Red Baraat get the party started on Bhangra Pirates.

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Samantha Fish: Chills & Fever

Chills & Fever finds Samantha Fish injecting a dose of Detroit-bred garage rock into her paradigm of Memphis soul, Delta blues, and Motown R&B.

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What Is It About Teens Behind Closed Doors That Scares Us So?

Jason Reid’s Get Out of My Room! takes us inside the private enclaves of the adolescent being, revealing both individual and collective anxieties and expectations.

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‘Dirk Gently’ Season One Violates the Spirit of Its Source Material

Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently books were popular with fans, but this new BBC series strays too far from the spirit of the material to be considered a true adaptation.

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‘Song to Song’: Malick On Repeat

Terrence Malick retreads familiar motifs and themes in yet another nebulous navel-gazer.

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‘Song to Song’ Revels in the Chaos of the Austin Music Scene

With layered character development to accompany his typically arresting visuals, auteur Terrence Malick may have finally found a palatable balance between his visual and narrative poeticism.

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‘A Little History of Economics’ Provides a Charming Overview of the Dismal Science

Niall Kishtainy, writing for a general audience, provides a breezy stroll through economic thought, from Plato to Thomas Piketty.

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Green Day’s ‘Revolution Radio’ Tour Wallops Audience at Barclays Center

Billie Joe and co. are on the road for a supercharged tour -- and Trump is only stoking their fire further.

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22 Mar 2017 // 9:01 AM

Béla Fleck: Juno Concerto

For his second foray into classical composing, banjo virtuoso Béla Fleck enlists the help of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra to bring to life the concerto inspired by his son, the titular Juno.

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Formation: Look at the Powerful People

South London quintet, Formation, release a debut packed album with rich grooves tailor made for the dancefloor, but their socio-political ambitions fall disappointingly short.

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22 Mar 2017 // 8:38 AM

Pallbearer: Heartless

Pallbearer’s third album Heartless exists outside of easy genre signifiers. This band is in a league all their own.

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The Old Dominion in Song: Clipse and the Virginia Schism

Though the trappings may be different, the rhetoric layered beneath Lord Willin’ is a borrowed form of dubious justification that reeks of the Virginia slave system.

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Spending the Night: Three Old Dark Houses Give Up Their Secrets

Chamber of Horrors, A Game of Death and Invisible Ghost bring '40s black and white thrillers to Blu-ray.

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‘Welcome to Night Vale’ Is a “Welcome” Introduction to a Strange New World

Although it takes a while for the heart of Welcome to Night Vale to be revealed, it's ultimately worth the journey.

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Born Anew: An Interview with Bombay Bicycle Club’s Ed Nash

Once a member of the mighty, shifting Bombay Bicycle Club, Ed Nash now branches out on his own in gloriously unexpected ways.

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Speed Bumps Are Dumb, and Other Thoughts on ‘Traffic’

Everybody hates traffic, but what should we do about it?

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21 Mar 2017 // 9:30 AM

It’s Not Easy to Love Netflix’s ‘Love’

A hip, East L.A. backdrop, an indie soundtrack, fashionable faces -- yet Love is shockingly archaic in its depictions of heterosexual relationships.

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21 Mar 2017 // 9:29 AM

Ed Sheeran Is Essentially the English Ginger Drake Now

÷ is the final step in Sheeran’s shift from baby-faced ginger kid whispering about class A’s over acoustic guitar to England’s version of a man who constantly refers to himself as "The Boy".

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The Most Hated Woman in America: An Interview With Filmmakers Irene Turner and Tommy O’Haver

PopMatters spoke with writer Irene Turner and director Tommy O'Haver during SXSW 2017 about the remarkable life and death of Madalyn Murray O'Hair.

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Craig Finn: We All Want the Same Things

Craig Finn's new album continues to differentiate his solo material from the Hold Steady, but without Tad Kubler's guitar heroics as a buffer, his lyrics can be pretty harrowing.

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21 Mar 2017 // 2:20 AM

Anjou: Epithymía

Epithymía is ambient music at its grandest scale, molding a sense of sublime wonder through its six tracks.

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Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Loafer’s Hollow

For their latest avant rendering of jazz and culture in a broader sense, MOPDTK take on trad jazz in a decidedly non-traditional manner, using literary titans from Pynchon to Joyce to Vonnegut as source material.

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This Will Be the Last Time You Hear from Me: John Darnielle’s Universal Harvester

Universal Harvester won’t shock you or stay with you for a long time, but like most found footage movies, it’ll keep you on the edge of your seat along the way.

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Los Campesinos!: Sick Scenes

The British indie pop collective are still going strong ten years after their debut album. Their latest shows the remarkable consistency of their songcraft.

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21 Mar 2017 // 2:02 AM

Natalie Hemby: Puxico

In the case of Natalie Hemby, she takes an old trope in dedicating an album to a small town and making it new again, all by her own means.

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‘The Good Fight’ Goes Meta in “Stoppable: Requiem for an Airdate”

The return on Elsbeth Tascioni marks the best The Good Fight episode yet, even if that means Maia might be getting played by her father.

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Sting Wraps up North American Leg of ‘57th & 9th’ Tour on Winteriest of Nights

Sting went back to rock on his latest album. His enjoyable tour covers the entirety of a phenomenal musical career.

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20 Mar 2017 // 9:00 AM

Chuck Berry, O.G.

Chuck Berry was a black man who spent the majority of his career entertaining white audiences with music more deeply rooted in black culture than they ever thought to ponder.

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There Is Only One Reality, and It’s Analog

Digital dystopians beware: the analog counterrevolution is here.

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DeadPhish Orchestra Soars Over the Hills and Far Away in the Bay

There’s only band that actively seeks to mix Phish and the Grateful Dead together like Reese's Pieces and that’s the DeadPhish Orchestra.

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More Recent Features

//Mixed media
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Players Lose Control in ‘Tales from the Borderlands’

// Moving Pixels

"This is an interactive story in which players don’t craft the characters, we just control them.

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