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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.

Thursday, July 31 2014

‘Literary Miniatures’ Reveals Souls of Giants

This collection of remarkable interviews with some of the world’s greatest writers is as creative and beautiful as the works it analyzes.


When the Man in Black Went to Bat for Native America

A recasting of Johnny Cash's most controversial album, Bitter Tears, raises questions about the inclusiveness of American music.


Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ Interprets the Bible With Intensity

The film retells the story of Noah's Ark filtered through Aronofsky's intensity, rather than the pageantry of the faith-movie industry.


Common: Nobody’s Smiling

The veteran Chicago rapper returns to his troubled hometown on a conscious album for a post-conscious age.


Alvvays: Alvvays

Alvvays is an exciting opening album from a band who bring refinement to a genre that make them sound mature beyond their years.


‘Romany and Tom’, Ben Watt’s Second Memoir, Is a Quiet, Reflective Tale

Watt, best known as a musician, DJ, and one-half of pop duo Everything But the Girl, takes a second foray into memoir with Romany and Tom.


Jim Lauderdale: I’m a Song

A fine, fine record which could do with a little more pep down the stretch, or a slightly stronger editing hand.


Phox: Phox

Epiphanies emerge and fade and come back again. The tempo stays steady and deliberate even when individual players pick up speed when adding baroque touches to the composition; an aural rendition of an optical illusion.


Luther Dickinson: Rock ‘n Roll Blues

By not glossing over the rough patches in a life spent pursuing a childhood dream, Dickinson provides a grounded perspective and lack of hubris on Rock 'n Roll Blues.


Wednesday, July 30 2014

‘Fallen City’ and Life, as It Is, After the Earthquake

None of the answers in Fallen City seem simple, as the film offers three stories of survivors after the 2008 earthquake in Beichuan.


Have Our ‘Hearts and Minds’ Really Changed?

There are lessons aplenty about Vietnam in Hearts and Minds—it's a shame we still haven’t learned them.


The One You See Coming: “Moon Knight #5”

Moon Knight #5 is a testament to the surrealization (not a word, do not use as one) of violence.


Linda Williams on the Melodrama of Black and White in ‘The Wire’

On The Wire is a must-read book for everyone who believes that the HBO series is life-changing fiction of the highest order.


Paul McCartney: 16 July 2014 - Sprint Center, Kansas City, Missouri

Paul McCartney commanded the stage in Kansas City with an astonishing degree of seemingly effortless finesse. A most glorious concert.


The Assassins’ Propaganda

Black Flag isn’t interested in breaking the world into two opposing ideologies. It’s interested in how those ideologies sell themselves to a broken world.


‘I’m Not the Fox I Used to Be’: Wes Anderson’s Changing Seasons

Far from style over substance, Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox fixates over objects to show its protagonist's inability to handle the oncoming winter.


Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens: Cold World

With Cold World, Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens deliver funky throwback gospel-tinged soul music of the highest quality.


Goatwhore: Constricting Rage of the Merciless

Unrelentingly pummeling and brutally oppressive, Constricting Rage of the Merciless is a thrilling ride.


‘Fourth of July Creek’ Doesn’t Live up to Its Janet Maslin Review

This story carries a huge load of ambition, and carries it with intermittent grace and conviction, but its doesn't carry the children well.


Gustavo Santaolalla: Camino

Gustavo Santaolalla may have some Grammys, Oscars, and Global Globes at home, but Camino is for himself.


Claire: The Great Escape

The German synth-pop band pull an unfortunate bait-and-switch.


Matisyahu: Akeda

Akeda seems much less focused on garnering radio hits and more on delving into themes, both lyrically and musically, that Matisyahu has resisted in the past.


SZA: Z

If RZA, GZA, and Smoke DZA weren’t enough for you, we’re now throwing SZA into the mix.


Tuesday, July 29 2014

‘Frontline: Losing Iraq’ Shows a History of Mistakes

By the time Frontline: Losing Iraq arrives at the present moment of ISIS, the long history of US missteps in Iraq seems nearly overwhelming.


Immigrants and Aliens: “Superman #33”

Superman is not an alien. He is an immigrant. There is a difference.


Manufacturing Victory: ‘The Arsenal of Democracy’

The story of how Ford Motor Company's assembly-line techniques helped America win WWII, and the behind-the-scenes battles waged in order to get it done.


Philadelphia Cartoonist Box Brown Explores the Man Who Lived the Myth of Andre the Giant

In telling his story in such an accessible and sympathetic way, Box Brown helps even non-wrestling fans understand what made Andre "the Giant" Roussimoff so unforgettable.


Living and Dying for Silent Film

Home video companies such as Kino Lorber, the Criterion Collection, and Flicker Alley have been instrumental in meeting the changing methods of distributing silent film.


An Honest Liar: An Interview with Nickel Creek’s Sean Watkins

PopMatters catches up with Sean Watkins during one of his busiest years as a musician yet, which finds him touring with Nickel Creek, recording with Tom Brosseau, and releasing his new solo record, All I Do Is Lie.


In ‘The Big Chill’, Cynicism is the Illusion

Never heavy-handed in its response to Reagan's "Morning in America", The Big Chill shows loss, defeat and grief while still being funny.


Shabazz Palaces: Lese Majesty

The innovative hip-hop duo from Seattle is back with another genre bending album.


The Muffs: Whoop Dee Doo

Fresh off a short, aborted stint with the Pixies, Kim Shattuck reforms the Muffs and puts out a very solid album.


Ian McLagan: United States

McLagan has a pleasantly conversational voice. He’s a tasteful keyboard player. While he may not rock out, there’s a nice sashaying quality to the music.


Jennifer Lopez: A.K.A.

Jennifer Lopez has lost her steam since Rebirth. On her eighth album, she's never sounded so boring or flimsy.


PRISM Quartet: People’s Emergency Center

Long known for performing commissioned works, PRISM Quartet release a double album of original material. It is staggeringly wonderful.


Banner Pilot: Souvenir

There's nothing groundbreaking from Minnesota punk rockers Banner Pilot on their fourth album, but it's a solid release from a solid bunch of dudes.


Monday, July 28 2014

‘Love Child’ Crosses the Line Between Real Life and Virtual Life

The parents of the dead child declared that online gaming impaired their judgment, their comprehension, their fundamental life skills.


The Wolf Among Us: Episodes 4 & 5

Noir isn't about deduction or reasoning. It's about shaking the trees and seeing what falls out. That's what these episodes are about.


Worthy of Worship: ‘Storm #1’

Ororo Munroe is considered a goddess by many, but it's how she earns that title that makes her divine.


Cinema Sabbath: On ‘Heavy Metal Movies’

If metal is music’s loudest voice against oppression, then surely Mike "McBeardo" McPadden's is the loudest for obsession.


Storm in a Teacup: An Interview with Bedouin Soundclash’s Jay Malinowski

Canadian artist Jay Malinowski takes to the high seas for his lushly sprawling sophomore effort Martel.


‘Shutter’, ‘Saga’ and ‘The Private Eye’ Showcase the Best of What Comics Can Do

The best creators will find ways to make the best use of whatever medium they are working in.


The 18 Ways of Beginning and Ending an Album

Whether by chance or by careful planning, there is an observable pattern to intros and outros in albums. PopMatters breaks down 18 of them.


‘Maidentrip’ Is a Journey Across the Sea and Into Adulthood

Laura Dekker was born to be a sailor, a fact she proves in her successful solo sail around the world in Maidentrip.


Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: Hypnotic Eye

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers provide a blistering reminder of rock 'n' roll's subversive nature with Hypnotic Eye.


Are Karl Marx and Adam Smith as Inviolable as Atoms or DNA?

Utopia or Bust is only a book about utopia if you believe Marxism, in its purest and most evolved form, is a utopian answer to the ills of capitalism.


Braid: No Coast

Late-'90s emo heroes Braid return with their first record in almost two decades.


Ed Sheeran: x

Ed Sheeran certainly doesn't exceed expectations, but he delivers something that resembles a solid mish mash of genres and often cliche lyrics about romance and breakups.


50 Cent: Animal Ambition

50 Cent's latest album is more of the same old 50.


John Escreet: Sounds, Space and Structures

On his sixth recording, this young UK pianist based in New York brings his trio into a fully improvised encounter with British avant-garde saxophone legend Evan Parker.


Otto A Totland: Pinô

Fans of Nils Frahm must be introduced to Otto A Totland, whose delicate piano melodies will forever feel like home.


Sunday, July 27 2014

The Elemental Appeal of ‘The Choking Game’

A paean to the virtue of arrested development lurks at the core, here, which may be predictable. After all, we’re talking about a Lifetime original movie.


Friday, July 25 2014

Scarlett Johansson Gets Goopy in ‘Lucy’

This might be as close to a point as Lucy can get, the essential illogic of movies, of illusion, of delusion.


The Glory of ‘Hercules’ and the Glory of Dwayne Johnson

Sweating and bleeding, swinging maces and destroying architecture, Hercules imposes his will by way of his body, the legend becoming a truth in spite of itself.


Woody Allen’s ‘Magic in the Moonlight’ Considers the Value of Illusion

Stanley rejects the very notion of an afterlife, bitterly noting, like so many Woody Allen characters before him, that our current existence is all we get.


Chalice California (featuring STS9 + Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang

Chalice provided the grooviest kicks seen along old Route 66 in some time.


The Music Playground Presents: The Two Man Gentlemen Band Live on PopMatters

Two Men. Eight Strings. Those are the base ingredients in a party when we’re discussing Andy Bean and Fuller Condon, aka The Two Man Gentlemen Band.


On Those Who Must Work as Whores, and Those Who Can Afford to Just Play at It

The debate about sex work is usually about the spectacle that accompanies “sex”, rather than about the sex workers and the work of sex. That needs to change.


Just Hate Nostalgia: Revisiting the Misanthropic Genius of Luke Haines

The Auteurs transcend the music of their time and place and subvert the notion of Britpop, Britishness, and the whole darkness of humanity.


Bob Marley and the Wailers: Legend (30th Anniversary Edition)

Legend presents Bob Marley at his most unthreatening, and most anodyne. And that was intentional.


Dave Douglas and Uri Caine: Present Joys

Frequent collaborators (trumpet and piano) make their first duet album, interpreting the “shape-note singing” tradition. Simple, different, delightful.


Kitten: Kitten

Kitten may be a young band, but it has an old style. That it partially misses the mark is just an example of music being way too regressive for its own good.


Nerina Pallot: Grand Union / When I Grow Up

Nerina Pallot’s fifth and sixth EPs of 2014 are both challenging and ambitious with big ideas, from pop to disco to funk to electro.


Pigeon John: Encino Man

As a title, Encino Man works both as a shout-out to John's beloved L.A. and a wink toward vintage coolness -- the album is a virtual love letter to '70s and '80s pop radio.


Stanton Moore: Conversations

With Conversations, drummer Stanton Moore moves away from the groove-infused work of his previous albums and work with Galactic and into straight ahead jazz territory.


Thursday, July 24 2014

The Pursuit of ComicCon: Comics, Fans and the Ideology of Choice

OK, I’m going to sound a little G.O.P., but ComicCon is a public good and must be defended. And you’d never guess from what…


The Who’s Pomp and Bombast, Egos and Flaws

The Who FAQ brings some entertaining insight into who the hell those guys are.


‘The Newburgh Sting’ Has Us Wondering, Is the FBI Thwarting or Conjuring Terrorism?

The plot these would-be terrorists conjure is as preposterous as any you'd find in a bad action movie.


Sun-Drenched ‘90s Nostalgia at Forecastle Day Three

Forecastle rounded out its 2014 installment with aplomb, proving that it is only going to get bigger and better from here on out.


Ripe with Rich Attainments: Jethro Tull’s ‘A Passion Play’, Reassessed

A Passion Play tends to draw the most resistance from even prog-rock aficionados; it obliges time and attention to let it work its charms.


“I Never Believed in Background Music”: Rich Robinson of the Black Crowes

Rich Robinson was half of the Black Crowes, but as a solo artist, he's finally flown into his most distinct, powerful effort to date.


Tatiana Maslany Continues to Astound in ‘Orphan Black: Season Two’

The second season of BBC America’s Orphan Black continues its breakneck pace of twists and turns, all the while showcasing the best performance on television.


“Weird Al” Yankovic: Mandatory Fun

Yankovic's release-week overexposure lead him to having his first #1 album, but the parodies prove to be way better than the originals this go-round. #Accordions


Got a Girl: I Love You But I Must Drive Off This Cliff Now

These are faithfully recreated jet-setting sounds from the golden age of air travel, and the highs hit quite high.


Unkle Bob: Embers

Reformed British band Unkle Bob reform and return with characteristic charm on third album Embers.


Devon Williams: Gilding the Lily

LA-based tunesmith Devon Williams decides to join his peers and craft a musical exploration of that trendiest of decades, the 1980s.


Aisles: 4.45 AM

The real variance between a band of sophisticated copycats and this bunch is indeed intelligence.


Shawn Lee: Golden Age Against the Machine

The man who never met a genre he couldn't master tackle old-school hip-hop, delivering a solid effort that is more hits than misses.


Wednesday, July 23 2014

New Orleans Artists Headline the DC Jazz Festival

Festival organizers won the day by pulling in some top talent from the nation’s jazz capital (New Orleans, of course) to mark the occasion.


The Victor Belongs to the Spoils: 75 Summers of the Batman

Just a single thought about what Batman has come to mean over the last 75 years.


Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Landline’ Is Part Magic, Part Soap Opera, and All Popcorn

This novel plays hopscotch with different genres, and that’s part of its appeal.


The Music That Sprouts Between Empires: Ukrainian Culture Amidst Conflict

Ukraine was once considered the musical heartland of the Russian Empire, its culture thriving between the cracks of various powerful and competing empires.


A Tragedy Wanting to Happen: Death and Lana Del Rey

Lana Del Rey is both sculpted by pain and feels creatively defined by it. Her recent feud with the Guardian, however, reveals that she is not entirely lost.


Disney and Spike Lee Unite in ‘The Spike Lee Joint Collection’

Even with some dips in quality, these four movies represent part of a remarkable run; you can feel all of them strive for masterpiece status.


PS I Love You: For Those Who Stay

Some might be enamoured by the nods to classic rock, and some might not, but what you get in the end is an album of little significance.


David Gray: Mutineers

Deliverance. This being the singer's 10th album, David Gray presents himself as a complete man with these 11 songs.


Uri Caine: Callithump

Solo piano from the idiosyncratic and omnivorous jazz pianist.


Cardinal: Cardinal (reissue)

Reissue of the overlooked indie classic by pop oddballs Eric Matthews and Richard Davies.


K. Leimer: A Period of Review (Original Recordings: 1975-1983)

The songs on A Period of Review were essential to Leimer developing his own style. Whether or not they're essential to your music library is another matter.


Tuesday, July 22 2014

‘30 for 30: Slaying the Badger’: Shenanigans at the 1986 Tour de France

Slaying the Badger constructs an exciting, sometimes troubling story of competition and deceit, focused on the 1986 Tour de France.


Savage Fun: “Savage Hulk #2”

This isn't a perfect Hulk story. It doesn't break new ground or raise important issues. But, frankly, who cares? It's fun.


Smells and Bells, Halls and Hells: ‘The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London’

The mud, rain, smoke, fog, and excrement that abounded meant whatever one's rank, the weather and the smells took their toll on one's health, one's clothing, and one's nerves.


Jack White Rocks the Audience at Forecastle Day Two

Day two of Forecastle concluded with the audience being rocked to muscle weakness.


The Caging of an American Revolutionary

American Revolutionary wants to offer the appearance of revolution while anesthetizing any deeper understanding of the forces involved.


Merge’s Silver Age: 25 Essential Albums Over 25 Years

To mark Merge Records' silver anniversary, PopMatters picked 25 memorable albums that help tell the label's remarkable history.


‘Scanners’ Still Has the Power to Blow Your Mind

Three decades later, Scanners is still a head-popping good time.


White Fence: For the Recently Found Innocent

For the Recently Found Innocent, Tim Presley's first studio-made record as White Fence ups the ante over his previous work.


Marvin Gaye and Mos Def: Yasiin Gaye: The Return (Side Two)

Yasiin Gaye swings back around for round two of the long-playing soul/hip-hop mashups. Nice.


Unicycle Loves You: The Dead Age

This is a pretty dull record that doesn’t excite the listener – you’ve heard this all done before on Psychocandy or Darklands or elsewhere.


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