Marginal Utility
Image: Marginal Utility
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

20 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Rome: Total War

While we can all agree that things like 3D graphics are a good thing, it's difficult to extol the appeal of certain time periods.

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20 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Midway Arcade Treasures 2

The sheer fact that you can compile not only Mortal Kombat II, but Mortal Kombat 3, plus nearly 20 other games on this disc is definitely progress.

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20 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Katamari Damacy

As the industry becomes more mainstream and the costs of development increase with each new hardware cycle, it seems like game creators are beginning to try to follow proven formulas out of fear of poor returns.

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20 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Guilty Gear X2 #Reload

Despite the common stereotypes of gamers hiding out alone in windowless basements to enjoy their hobby, video games have often been as much of a social endeavor as any other activity.

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19 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Rolling Blackouts: Black is Beautiful

There’s no doubt about it, this goddamn war in Iraq is diverting attention away from the fight right here at home. And by at

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19 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Rilo Kiley: More Adventurous

In the sweepstakes for indie darlings who’ve made good in the real world (this album got buzz from Entertainment Weekly, after all), this beats

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	Lalah Hathaway: Outrun the Sky

Audiences can perhaps be forgiven for forgetting about Lalah Hathaway—her last full length recording was 1994’s A Moment—but her surname demands that we

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	Free Moral Agents: Everybody’s Favorite Weapon

Since 1993, the California independent label Gold Standard Laboratories have made a name for themselves releasing some of the biggest names in experimental underground music. From

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	Floydhead: The Floydian Propulsion Project: The Artistic Electronica of Pink Floyd (3rd Edition)

As a know-it-all rock critic, it’s easy to forget that I did not always possess my monumental cache of useless music information. For instance,

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	Julie Doiron: Goodnight Nobody

Folks, it’s time to steel yourself to reality: summer is over. Right now, in locales across the continent, the humidity is clinging desperately to

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	The Dears: No Cities Left

Back in April of 2003, when Montreal indie stalwarts The Dears released their second album, No Cities Left, the Canadian music press fell over themselves in

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	Various Artists: Touch My Heart: A Tribute to Johnny Paycheck

It’s safe to assume that most people are casually acquainted with Johnny Paycheck (if they are at all) for one of two reasons: his 1977

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	The Mighty Imperials: Thunder Chicken

Boy, do I wish I’d been in the studio for the recording of these hot little numbers. This album just glows with the feel

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18 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Guitar Wolf: Loverock

I’m not entirely certain that Loverock, the latest slab of primitive rock and roll from Japan’s venerable Guitar Wolf, is, well, reviewable. I

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18 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Dora Flood: Highlands

San Francisco’s Dora Flood made one giant leap for psych-cum-chamber-pop-listening mankind with its last effort, Welcome. The record garnered strong reviews for its lyrics,

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	Camper Van Beethoven: New Roman Times

The triumphant return of Camper Van Beethoven. Unless you’re one of those weird music geeks who never really fit into the main gist of

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18 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Clutch: Blast Tyrant

Maryland rockers Clutch have always been one of those bands who are known for their great live act, touring relentlessly, and amassing a loyal fanbase,

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18 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Castanets: Cathedral

Asthmatic Kitty, the label founded by Sufjan Stevens, has been quietly assembling a group of artists who produce soft experimental music with intense, often spiritual,

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18 Oct 2004 // 4:00 PM

	Azeem: Show Business

Whereas most indie hip-hop releases have the kind of limp-wristed beats that just wash through your ears like musical Calgon, every beat on this album hits your cerebral cortex like a brillo pad. This is as fine a rap album as you'll hear all year.

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Where Phantoms Stroll

The Goulburn Valley's trees are dying because of the drought: the worst since 1927. Kyabrum is not a fun place to be right now, but it never really was, even when the farmers were thriving. One rare, rainy night, a feeling of hope creeps in from the shadows; but the illusion quickly flees like the ghost that it is.

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18 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

A Place Full of Punks

Bay area punks hold a mock funeral for the recently expired US President, Ronald Reagan. Recalling Reagan's legacy -- El Salvadoran death squads, homelessness, union-busting, and silence in the face of the devastating AIDS epidemic -- Nguyen revists the place of her Reagan-inspired punk youth to see what has changed, and what remains the same.

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18 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

The Last Housing Edition on the Left

There is the environment that we find ourselves in, and that which we create. After two millennia or so of having to be nice to your neighbors because they were the only people you saw on a regular basis, we've reached a point where a neighborhood, a community, doesn't necessarily have to be simply where you are. Instead, it can be what you make it, and with whom you wish to include.

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Leaving Home and Wide Awake

There are things about going out to the movies that home video will never capture: the hugeness of even the dinkiest movie screens; sharing space with strangers in even the near-emptiest of theaters (although New York theaters are rarely actually empty); and the immediacy of seeing a movie during its (ever-briefer) big screen life. It's all worth it, even if it takes 45 minutes to get to a movie theater from the quiet borough of Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

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18 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

The Last of the Perugians

In the wee hours of the morning, in a plaza set in humble Perugia, a lovely little slice of Italy, a drunken 20-something party boy kicks at the empty beer bottles at his feet and curses into his mobile in crude, raw dialect. Modern man, as embodied in this raging fashion case, hardly compares to the historial and architectural grandeur that surrounds him.

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PopMatters takes to the streets of New York once again for the annual CMJ Music Marathon.

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Bruce Springsteen Theorists understand that all music is political. As the French economist Jacques Attali has noted, the arrangement of sound helps fashion societies and

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18 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Ten years ago a hairy, mirthful trio of teeth and textured tunes appeared on the musical radar of every fan of post-punk-pop in the form

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18 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Clyde Stubblefield It is no revelation to say nowadays that hip hop dominates the world of commercial music. But where would hip-hop be without the

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18 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

I’m not cool, but I thought that was the point—you know, of that whole subcultural identity thing. Of course, there is the obligatory

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18 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Tess (Special Edition) (1979)

It is the emphasis, in both Hardy's novel and Polanski's skillful adaptation, on Tess as an individual that makes her story timeless.

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18 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

The investigation into issues of patriotism and accountability in Judgment at Nuremberg resonates strongly with contemporary American politics.

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18 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Io non ho paura (2003)

Michele also loses faith in the adults who are supposed to look after him.

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18 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Intermission (2003)

Intermission repeatedly frustrates audience expectations.

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18 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Vol. 02 (2004)

The story can be read as an oblique critique of mass media: brain-hacking literalizes the process by which our experiences are constructed by the powers that be.

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18 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Conquest of Space (1955)

Merritt's protests actually date pretty well -- contemporary liberal sensibilities often subscribe to the view that space travel is a continuation or extension of the colonial impulse.

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18 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Buried in the Sand: The Deception of America (2004)

Buried's real value is not as conservative propaganda, but rather, as a distilled example of conservative political spin.

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17 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Various Artists: Poor Boy: Songs of Nick Drake

The same intricate acoustic guitar figure opens Poor Boy: Songs of Nick Drake as does 1994’s Way to Blue: An Introduction to Nick Drake. And

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	Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble: Live at Montreux 1982 & 1985 [DVD]

What a difference a few years can make in the life of a musician. In 1982, Stevie Ray Vaughan and bandmates Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon

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17 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	R.E.M.: Around the Sun

Kick me out of the cult. To be a true-blue, diehard member of a rock band’s cult following there are certain unspoken rules. Perhaps

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	North Mississippi Allstars: Hill Country Revue

Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson have always had somewhat of an ambitious plan for their band, the North Mississippi Allstars. Over the past five years,

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	Teedra Moses: Complex Simplicity

I wasn’t feeling this record until my homey Julianne Shepherd convinced me that it was genius. Now I think I like it better than

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17 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Maplewood: self-titled

Sadly, my mirrors have been free from coke trails and spilt liquor for years. The palms still sway and there’s still sand in my

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	Le Fly Pan Am: N’Ecoutez Pas

Le Fly Pan Am has been with Constellation, a label noted for its arty instrumental music, since its inception. On N’Ecoutez Pas, its third

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	Atomic 7: ...En Hillbilly Caliente

Best known—if at all—from his days with surf rock weirdos Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (and then probably best known for providing

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PopMatters takes to the streets of New York once again for the annual CMJ Music Marathon.

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PopMatters takes to the streets of New York once again for the annual CMJ Music Marathon.

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PopMatters takes to the streets of New York once again for the annual CMJ Music Marathon.

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Reeve's Kent was an essentially tragic figure, a man set apart from the masses by dint of a powerful secret.

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Team America: World Police (2004)

The much-ballyhooed parody of Jerry Bruckheimer-style action pictures is aptly violent, delirious, and outsized (in its miniature-puppet way).

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15 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Shall We Dance? (2004)

Paulina is not only gorgeous, athletic, and lithe, she's also in need of solace.

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15 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Primer (2004)

Even in sparse, low-budgeted, minimalism, time travel brings problems of causality, embodiedness, and ethics.

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15 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Bright Young Things (2004)

Stephen Fry can't throw us any curveballs because he's got to stick close to Waugh, so he subjects us to formulaic depravity for three-quarters of the film, with minor variations.

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14 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

Green Day: American Idiot

American Idiot is a work of staggering ambition, made all the more impressive by the fact that they make it all look so damn effortless.

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	Various Artists: Rarities & B-Sides

As is the case with so many music phenomenons, the heyday of Chicago’s legendary Trax Records was neither as cut-and-dry nor as glamorous as

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	Yohimbe Brothers: The Tao of Yo

“This album is a remarkable audio journey that begs for a change of consciousness, both on the creative and political forefront.” Sounds elegant, articulate, intelligent,

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14 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Elliott Smith: From a Basement on the Hill

By the time of his passing last October, Elliott Smith had all but evaporated from my musical worldview. I have a fuzzy memory of seeing

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	Branford Marsalis Quartet: Eternal

I am not au fait with every detail of the in-the-past row between Branford Marsalis and his younger, even more famous trumpeter brother. It seemed

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	Killradio: Raised on Whipped-Cream

As the saying goes, we have all been cursed to live in very interesting times. I can remember a period not too long ago when

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14 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Graves: Yes Yes Okay Okay

Graves, which consists of singer-songwriter Greg Olin and assorted guests, are a thoroughly pleasant band. Yes Yes Okay Okay is full of pretty, low-key melodies

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	The Fairways: This is Farewell

Joni Mitchell once remarked, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”. That’s certainly the case with San Francisco indie

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	Burrito Deluxe: The Whole Enchilada

Burrito Deluxe was born two years ago when Tommy Spurlock put together a group to record a tribute project to Gram Parsons, founder of the

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14 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Issa Bagayogo: Tassoumakan

Some people want their African music to sound really “authentically African”, whatever that means. Others want their African music to sound like other forms of

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14 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

When you look deeper, subtle aspects of the artwork come to life, making you wonder how you didn't see it at first glance.

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14 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Audiences are more and more content to laugh at mindless buffoonery without any real punchline, and lazy writers and directors are more than happy to give it to them.

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14 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Whether mockery, parody, homage, or something else entirely, Marvel is reinventing their own number one competitor, and doing it in brilliant fashion.

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14 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Tomine questions traditional sexual values, asking us the readers to engage this question and to answer individually.

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14 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

The Rose Tattoo (1955)

All this overacting hardly dampens the film's efforts to grant weighty meaning to the rose tattoo.

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	Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers: Believe

Like a devil-horned rooster spitting fire from atop a decrepit barn, Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers exult with hellacious abandon. Baptized in flames, they sermonize like

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13 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	n.Lannon: Chemical Friends

A recent New York Times article about the compiling and editing of Elliott Smith’s final, posthumous album claimed that even during its preparation, a

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13 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Junior Boys: Last Exit

The vast, seemingly infinite world of web journals on the Internet (otherwise known, unfortunately, as the “blogosphere”) has been going strong for the past four

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13 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	The Go! Team: Thunder, Lightning, Strike

One of my favorite shows growing up was Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock. Quirkier than Sesame Street, the program followed the lives of amazing underground

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	Giant Sand: Is All Over the Map

Despite the title of this album, desert denizen Howe Gelb’s musical collective has remained remarkably consistent over the years, sounding pretty much the same

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	The Flower Machine: Chalk Dust Dream of the Tea Cozy Mitten Company

There is probably a small group of people that really enjoy this album. I say small because the sound of The Flower Machine is so

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	Flogging Molly: Within a Mile of Home

Flogging Molly has been often compared to the likes of the Pogues and the Dropkick Murphys. The only problem with comparisons to those Celtic punk/

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If the word fierce had retained its original, animal meaning -- without any inkling of irony or camp -- it would be the perfect descriptor for Metric's lead singer, Emily Haines.

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Like a latter-day Alan Ladd as Shane, Chicago-based independent label, Bloodshot Records, has taken upon itself the role of savior of the sagebrush, mixing it up in the robber-baron world of corporate Country.

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13 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

The best literature on the world's great cities becomes massive solidifications of cities as enlarged physical characterisations; maps of the full gamut of human expression and suffering. Breebaart sees much-overlooked Brussels as next up for such great literary work.

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13 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

To this day, with all that history behind us, black folks are accused of jumping to the other side whenever their music veers off the beaten track. Keep on jumping.

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Homicide: Life on the Street: The Complete Season 5

It frequently expanded cop-show boundaries, occasionally gave in to suits in search or ratings, and most often, surprised fans and detractors alike.

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13 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Valentín (2002)

Agresti says, 'It's challenging, from such a little situation, to elaborate with details, without sensationalistic tricks and pyrotechnics.'"

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13 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Raising Helen (2004)

'Raising Helen's a happy, peppy picture, with Kate Hudson and her legs,' says Garry Marshall.

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Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time (2002)

According to Goldsworthy, we must re-examine the mundane in order to break through our habitual and clichéd perceptions.

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13 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Nothing But a Man (1964)

Nothing But a Man remains a fascinating and uplifting document because its makers understood that, as worldviews, candor and hope are not mutually exclusive.

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The Lost Boys: Special Edition (1987)

While director Joel Schumacher may not have made a perfectly genre-breaking, horror-comedy mix, he got the 'hip' part right.

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13 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

If Fahrenheit 9/11 is occasionally glib or unfocused, it is always angry and unafraid, and that makes it quite unlike the typically complacent news media and official bodies it targets.

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13 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Dead Leaves (2004)

Beyond the gross-out factor, Dead Leaves is also a self-consciously stylish orgy of animation aesthetics and techniques.

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The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Even as it lays down a scary geopolitical scenario and a few partisan gauntlets, The Day After Tomorrow aims to please.

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12 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Brian Wilson: Smile

Thirty-eight years. That’s how long it has taken for the album Smile to be completed. Conceptualized at the peak of the Beach Boys’ popularity

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	Keren Ann: Not Going Anywhere

Keren Ann Zeidel was born in Caesaria, an Israeli town not far from Tel Aviv. Her father was a Russian Israeli, and her mother was

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12 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

	Angie Heaton: Let It Ride

You’d think Angie Heaton’s music would have more of a flannel-shirted, mud-in-yer-boots redolence to it, considering the names of her former bands: Corndolly,

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	A Girl Called Eddy: self-titled

Over the past decade, there’s certainly been no shortage of female singer-songwriters in pop music, the type of sincere, headstrong, (sometimes) heavy-handed, sensitive songstresses

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	The Great Jazz Trio: Someday My Prince Will Come

The world lost a formidable music giant this past May with the passing of Elvin Jones, who succumbed to heart failure at 76. Jones took the

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	The Frenchmen: Sorry We Ruined Your Party

The very existence of this band (who aren’t French, but are actually from the rather un-Gallic Sacramento) is reassuring for several reasons. First of

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	Bloodthirsty Lovers: The Delicate Seam

David Shouse spent some eight years as guitarist/vocalist of the Grifters, from ‘89 onwards. Unfortunately I have yet to get my hands on any Grifters

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12 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Anyone who's ever been serious about listening to or collecting the Beach Boys' music will have heard about Smile. Often called the greatest unfinished, unreleased record of all time, it was begun in 1966, but was abandoned before completion due to a mysterious concatenation of forces.

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Men and Cartoons: Stories by Jonathan Lethem

Sometimes, you realize that the artist who once changed your life is no longer speaking about you in the way you thought they once did.

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12 Oct 2004 // 1:00 AM

Drug Wars: The Political Economy of Narcotics by Curtis Marez

You don't always have to agree with Marez's rigid Neo-Marxist critical methods to appreciate the value of this detailed historic-cultural study of the blatantly racist, imperialist roots of today's 'war on drugs'.

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Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hija

Kennedy details the extraordinarily close ties between Bush's environmental policies and the energy interests which have helped him raise unprecedented amounts of money for his campaigns.

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And It Don’t Stop!: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years by Raquel Cepeda

A much more interesting anthology might have scrapped the omnibus approach in favor of a different overarching idea.

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11 Oct 2004 // 11:00 PM

Björk: Medulla

With all of Medulla‘s faults (and it has its faults), there are enough moments of jaw-dropping inventiveness that a single review is limited in how effective its critique can be.

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More Recent Features

//Mixed media
//Blogs

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.

READ the article