Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Thursday, June 26 2014

Trip with an Infinite View: Chaos, Order, Good and Evil in ‘Forever People’

Jack Kirby, World War II veteran, was channeling youth when he produced Forever People. He was on the side of change and disorder for the cause of freedom.


‘The Pleasures of Being Out of Step’: Nat Hentoff’s Free Speech

If it's good to believe and to take a stand on it, it's also good to think through beliefs.


‘L’eclisse’ Is Beautifully Made, but Boring as Hell

L’eclisse is a highly regarded work of European modernism that is pretty to look at, interesting to think about, and grueling to watch unfold.


Fleeing the Familiar, Embracing the Abject in ‘Beyond Two Souls’

Within the spaces of darkness or the unknown, Beyond Two Souls asserts that we can exist without being shaped, manipulated, or brutalized by outside forces.


The Truth of Milli Vanilli a Generation Later

This musical duo that never really was a musical duo prepared a nation of adolescents for disappointment -- and the eventual acceptance of Auto-Tune.


The Sophistication, Charm and Murders in ‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’

The mysteries are consistently smart and well done, but it's the relationships between the characters that really make the show.


Various Artists: C86 (Deluxe 3CD Edition)

It was the compilation that has a subgenre named after it, here given no less than 50 bonus tracks. Was that necessary? No. Is it still a blast to get through? Hell yeah.


Jad Fair and Danielson: Solid Gold Heart

Anyone who listens to this record is in for a treat: an uplifting, life-affirming experience.


Steve Gunn & Mike Cooper: FRKWYS 11: Cantos de Lisboa

The latest FRKWYS collaboration is a fascinating musical conversation between musicians from two different generations of experimental music.


William Ryan Fritch: Leave Me Like You Found Me

The second installment of Fritch's "Leave Me Sessions Subscription Series" shows a breathtaking, cinematic composer and post-folk experimenter at the top of his game.


Seun Kuti and Egypt 80: A Long Way to the Beginning

This is a well-oiled, veteran operation, with a fiery leader capable of carrying the torch of Afrobeat to far borders and bringing the music to new heights.


White Hinterland: Baby

White Hinterland's whole existence seems to be balancing conflicting interests: to be abstract/direct, about feelings/ideas, of genre/not tied to any genre.


Wednesday, June 25 2014

‘Freedom Summer’ and What Remains

This critical film underscores both differences and connections between then and now -- now as when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is being dismantled.


After the Invasion: “Trees #2”

The Trees are intelligent life that fail to recognize humans as anything more than parasites, if that. It’s the ultimate nature fights back tale. Except these Trees are invading from space.


Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars

Even calling the seven women of Conception II "heroines" is almost disingenuous, since it's clear from the start of the game who the hero is and who the "help" is.


Kiarostami’s ‘Like Somone in Love’ Is Like Something Beautiful

Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami doubles-down on familiar themes in this film, with varying results.


Dr. McMurtrie and the Gay Kiss

A homophobic doctor, writing in 1914, helped NFL player Michael Sam kiss his boyfriend on TV 100 years later.


The Anti-War Panels: Underground Comix and Vietnam

Although some comix generally avoided the topic, many artists and writers signaled their opposition to the Vietnam War in creative and daring ways.


‘The First World War: The Complete Series’ Is an Outstanding Primer on This Multi-Faceted Conflict

Often overshadowed by the World War II 20 years later, the Great War remains, in many sad ways, the yardstick for futility, pointlessness and waste.


Strand of Oaks: HEAL

With each album, Tim Showalter complicates our understanding of him and, really, of what we should expect from singer-songwriter records.


Stephen King, ‘Mr. Mercedes’, and Our Love of Literary Junk Food

Why can't a reader enjoy both Stephen King and Alice McDermott? Fancy Michelin critics have been known to go wild for Shake Shack, after all.


How to Dress Well: “What Is This Heart?”

The latest album from How to Dress Well sounds similar to his previous work, but doesn't have enough to keep it interesting the third time around.


Tijuana Panthers: Wayne Interest

Tijuana Panthers mix surf, garage, and punk rock to mostly great effect. Except when they rely on the same exact mix for a few too many songs.


Flashlights: Bummer Summer

On the band's sophomore record, Florida's Flashlights peel back on some of their their scrappy, crashing rock sound, exposing the complex pop sensibilities underneath and letting them carry the day. It's a risky shift, but one that paid off.


Ingrid Michaelson: Lights Out

Less a record than a highly calculated means to a bigger end, Lights Out is an attenuated statement of purpose to further develop the Michaelson brand.


Divine Fits: Live at Third Man Records

While still one of the best “supergroups” out there, Divine Fits' latest release seems a bit forced and perhaps unnecessary.


Tuesday, June 24 2014

Excessively Bad Days and Bad Moods: “Batgirl #32”

An insight into the worst days of Barbara Gordon's life.


‘Whitey: United States v. James J. Bulger’: Lies, Files, and Silences

Whether officials' lying and covering up in order to crack cases are a matter of necessity, ambition, or ineptitude, the lack of investigation in this case is just that, a lack.


In ‘300: Rise of Empire’ We See How Xerxes Became That Bald, Pierced Badass

If 300 is the cinematic equivalent of a video game, then 300: Rise of an Empire, is at water level: murky, awkward and not nearly as fun.


(The Limits of) Football, Samba, and Commonality

The 2014 FIFA World Cup theme song highlights one of the worst trends in a global society: culture boiled down to a sort of triumphant universal human-ness.


At the Core:  An Interview with The Antlers

The Antlers' multi-instrumentalist Darby Cicci and singer/lyricist Peter Silberman speak with us about the process of creation, keeping your emotions genuine, and why their music is good for cooking to.


‘Winter’s Tale’ Is Blinded by the Light

The love story should be at the heart of this film, but it instead gets caught up in the supernatural elements.


Mastodon: Once More ‘Round the Sun

Mastodon's Once More 'Round the Sun condenses the prog of Crack the Skye into the structures and trademarks of hard rock.


Black Bananas: Electric Brick Wall

Black Bananas carries enough high voltage for most stadium acts, and Electric Brick Wall is chock full of fretboard acrobatics and thrasher-chick swagger.


The Rock*A*Teens: Sweet Bird of Youth (Reissue)

Released 14 years ago, the final album from Atlanta's Rock*A*Teens' failed to find an audience its first time around. Merge's reissue gives it a much-deserved second chance.


Fennesz: Bécs

This is not easy music, but at the same time it is experimentalism made accessible through the artist’s cunning methods


Split Single: Fragmented World

These muscled, lush rock songs put Jason Narducy's honeyed voice, tight hooks, and pop sensibilities front and the trio bolsters them with serious power.


OK Go: Upside Out EP

Four tracks. Two hits, one middling song, and a miss. OK Go keeps making great videos but musically they're still trying to live up to their excellent first album.


Monday, June 23 2014

Mirror’s Edge: “The City on the Edge of Forever #1”

You’d think that retracing the fertile ground of Harlan Ellison’s original teleplay for “City of the Edge of Forever,” would bring that primal creativity into sharp focus…


AFI Docs 2014: ‘The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz’

The case against Reddit's Aaron Swartz, as upsetting and disproportionate as it was, was also part of a longstanding and ongoing pattern.


‘The Nutty Professor’, or, The Strange Case of Dr. Kelp and Mr. Love

Jerry Lewis' update of the Jekyll and Hyde story into the case of a nerd and his stallion alter-ego is still excellent after 50 years.


Bring Back the Beat! What’s Up with Hip-Hop Reissues?

The record industry makes huge efforts to reissue rock CDs, but nowhere near as much effort for hip-hop CDs.


Optical Illusions: The Problem with OK Go’s Accidental Legacy

They started out with great songs. Then they made amazing music videos. Now, their songs serve as soundtracks to viral meme-fodder and little else.


‘Brazil With Monty Python’s Michael Palin’ Isn’t the Brazil You’re Thinking of

This BBC series is a nice way to learn some things about the world's fifth largest country, which is hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.


GusGus: Mexico

Mexico wants to show us how GusGus has changed and matured while still clinging to things that seem distant and remote.


White Lung: Deep Fantasy

Deep Fantasy flies by with ten tracks in 22 minutes, but there's plenty to White Lung's punk-pop that stays with you.


‘K-Pop Now!’ Is the Literary Equivalent of a K-Pop Disco Night

Gangnam Style is only the tip of the iceberg, as this handy, lavishly illustrated introduction to Korean pop reveals.


Los Pacaminos: A Fistful of Statins

Despite high cholesterol levels, Los Pacaminos deliver excellent results.


William Orbit: Strange Cargo 5

William Orbit self-releases a career and genre high point.


Ex-Cult: Midnight Passenger

On Ex-Cult's new album, more refined recording makes the chords and hooks sharper, the tracks sinewy and hard-muscled as Iggy Pop's arms, but it also affords the Memphis band space to explore.


Friday, June 20 2014

‘Jersey Boys’ Heavy-Handed Mama’s Meatballs Nostalgia

Clint Eastwood’s bland band biopic approach drains the energy from the stage version of this blockbuster razzmatazz jukebox musical.


A Bit More Collected: Down the Pop Culture Rabbit Hole with “Death Sentence”

To understand Death Sentence you'd need to understand why 1986's Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns were both roaring successes, and a dismal failures.


Home Video - ‘Here in Weightless Fall’ (album stream) (Premiere)

The inviting melancholy of Home Video's Here in Weightless Fall, a document of a group that knows exactly how to write moody electronic music, is available to stream here exclusively at PopMatters.


‘Noir Syndrome’: Style and Simplicity

Noir Syndrome is simplistic enough to pick up and play and clever enough to keep you coming back for more.


‘Cry Danger’ Is Simple Noir Elegance

Olive Films' reissue of the 1951 Cry Danger is as no-frills as the old school film itself.


The Fascination with Fundamentalism in Hardcore Punk

Some bands echoed the Dead Kennedys' anti-Moral Majority messages; others embodied right-wing religion.


On Finding Arab Gulf Identity in ‘the Space Between’

Tribal Modern neither wallows in nostalgia for a lost past, nor is fundamentally critical of processes of globalization and modernization.


‘The Monkey’s Paw’ Is Not a Bad Little Film

This low-budget thriller manages a few creepy moments.


The Soft Pink Truth: Why Do the Heathen Rage?

Judged by concept alone, Drew Daniel has made one of 2014's most innovative releases.


Sam Smith: In the Lonely Hour

For once the hype is entirely justified, and if Sam Smith's debut album is any indication, the success he has experienced in the UK will easily be replicated stateside.


Lone: Reality Testing

Lone's most laid back work yet pokes at the space between dreams and reality.


The Roots: ...and Then You Shoot Your Cousin

It may surprise someone who has never listened to the Roots before, but for anyone else this will be slightly troubling.


Steven Wilson: Cover Version

A collection of covers and originals that are as remarkable and unique as anything else Wilson has done.


Thursday, June 19 2014

Where Do They Come From? What Do They Want?

In the long pop culture heyday of UFOs that stretched from the late '40s to the mid-'70s, it seemed that flying saucers were everywhere. UFOs swept the nation.


‘Out in the Night’: The Case of the New Jersey 4

First, the women are black and second, they're lesbians, and once the term "gang" is applied by media and used by prosecutors, their legal charges become felonies.


‘Lone Survivor’ Is a Formidable Piece of Storytelling

Both a visceral and heartbreaking experience, Lone Survivor honors truth through fiction in a way that is both rare and haunting.


A Wheel Inside a Wheel: Gillian Welch’s ‘Time (The Revelator)’

Time (The Revelator) conjures a hazy post-millennial American dream of disappointment and ambition that's disturbed by what it sees and hears.


A Poet Perfectly at Ease: ‘The Letters of Robert Frost’

Known for his evocative use of place, Robert Frost's work, once out of fashion, is enjoying a renaissance, as seen in this impressive volume.


20 Questions: Say Hi

Eric Elbogen is a music critic turned indie rock icon. His latest, Endless Wonder, just released. And he wants to name his kid after a cracker company.


There is One Clever Moment in ‘Bushido Man: Seven Deadly Battles’

This kung fu film is all over the place with food, nunchucks, guns and a lot of scratch your head moments.


Nightmares on Wax: N.O.W. Is the Time

Career-spanning retrospective from Nightmares on Wax takes in black music from jazz and blues to funk and hip-hop, and then some more.


NRBQ: Brass Tacks

The reconstituted smarty-pants rock band, in the studio, still wonderful, still weird and tuneful and a delight.


Miniature Tigers: Cruel Runnings

On their fourth album, it seems like Miniature Tigers are heading towards the rest of the power- and synth-pop crowd and away from the niche they carved for themselves early on.


Eyedress: Hearing Colors

Eyedress’ first born Hearing Colors offers a pretty persuasive invitation for living life after dark.


The Flaming Lips: 7 Skies H3

7 Skies H3, like the majority of The Flaming Lips albums, ‘beats to its own drum’.


Wednesday, June 18 2014

The Shroud of Going Public: “Daredevil #3”

Mystical mayhem in Daredevil. Daredevil is being stalked by The Shroud, a Batman-style vigilante. Except for the part where he trades his eyes to some sorcerers for the ability to command shadows.


In ‘The Lego Movie’ We All Happily Exceed the Recommended Age Limit

There’s a dualist philosophy here between following instructions and letting creativity reign.


Talent Will Out: Singer-Songwriter Nicky Schrire on Making It in New York

South African jazz singer Nicky Schrire has made three tremendous records, but she isn't well known. That ought to change.


‘China Dolls’ Is Elegant, Lively, and for Some, Educational

Lisa See draws the difficulties of friendship among three women, complicated by impending world war and a racist society.


Religion and Biological Limits in Post-Humanity: ‘Her’ and ‘Transcendence’

Post-humanism, transhumanism, and the stakes of religion in the digital age intersect in Her and Transcendence, hinting at radical societal change to come.


Wes Anderson and His Weird Ways Are Quite Apparent in ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’

Wes Anderson's strange and surreal film, now in a Criterion Blu-ray, has never looked or sounded better. But is this just another Anderson weird?


Horse Meat Disco: Horse Meat Disco IV

Who knows what kind of soul-searching the Horse Meat Disco guys did during their hiatus, but whatever they did, it worked: Horse Meat Disco IV is disco at its very finest.


Mike Cooper: Trout Steel, Places I Know / The Machine Gun Co.

Paradise of Bachelors offers reissues of Cooper's early '70s albums and reveals a time in which the ever-shifting, ever-experimental musician was at his creative peak.


Hank Williams: The Garden Spot Programs, 1950

Recorded live in the same Nashville studio where Williams made his records, these tracks separate the singer’s mournful vocals just enough from their backing to echo the eerie, unmoored loneliness of the lyrics.


Wovenhand: Refractory Obdurate

Wovenhand's central sound remains, but it's expressed through something heavier and, if not more manic, maybe a little broader.


Dan Weiss: Fourteen

A jazz drummer creates elaborate compositional structures that pulse with rhythm, yes, but also generate thrills through arrangement, layering, and the sheer power of sound.


Hidden Cameras: Age

A melancholy estrangement from previous work, suggesting a kind of collapse.


Tuesday, June 17 2014

Highwater Everywhere: “Detective Comics #32”

In Detective #32, there is water on nearly every page. And blood.


‘Northern Light’: Snowmobiles and Survival in the Upper Peninsula

As you contemplate this stunning, lyrical, transporting film, you can see, with its hardworking subjects, that the road ahead may be different.


‘Bettie Page Reveals All’ Is Touching, Not Exploitative

This is an excellent, engrossing amalgamation of the history of Bettie Page.


You’re in Love (With Betty Who): The PopMatters Interview

"All those 'oh I'm so famous and it's so hard' songs are bullshit." Dance-pop zeitgeist Betty Who speaks her mind and her heart as she breaks into the mainstream.


In Defense Of ... Ann Hornaday, No Matter What Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen Say

The Washington Post film critic wasn't wrong in wondering aloud about the impact Hollywood can have on the typical young male.


Does Fan Service Ruin Television?

Too often fan service, not inspiration, becomes the end goal of creative work.


‘Canyon Passage’ Is Not Your Usual Western

Martin Scorcese calls Canyon Passage "one of the most mysterious and exquisite examples of the western genre ever made."


The Antlers: Familiars

Familiars is perhaps the Antlers’ most affirmative release, but it's also their most complex to date, filled with moments of profundity and reflection.


R.E.M.: Complete Rarities - Warner Bros. 1988-2011

R.E.M. finally follow up Dead Letter Office with the orphaned Warner Bros. tracks. Prepared to be overwhelmed.


So a Police Officer and a Cosmopolitan Liberal Walk into a Bar…

Like it or not, cops are agents of social change.The Streets of San Francisco explores their lasting and far-reaching role in shaping liberal politics and attitudes.


Lower: Seek Warmer Climes

There is room for growth on Seek Warmer Climes, but Copenhagen's Lower still presents itself here as an exciting and volatile act on its debut.


House of Hats: This Love

With cross-cutting vocal harmonies and menacing purity, This Love is a cohesive statement by a band that is a welcomed voice in a genre of acoustic clutter.


The Whigs: Modern Creation

This is the kind of record, if not to take in the car with you, then to listen to on a Friday afternoon, knocking back a few beers after a long week’s worth of work.


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