Category Archives: The Onion A.V. Club

Online arts edition of The Onion

Essay: David Bowie and Labyrinth

A kidnapped baby. A Bog Of Eternal Stench. A Goblin King whose stretchy pants leave very little to the imagination. In 1986, director Jim Henson, producer George Lucas, and screenwriter Terry Jones combined these and other elements to make Labyrinth, a movie that depicts the horrors of being a teenager as a bedtime story gone […]

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Album review: American Football (2016)

A few stray guitar notes, some studio chatter, a drummer trying out some fills—these inauspicious sounds begin American Football’s classic self-titled debut from 1999, a landmark album that spawned countless emo bands that paled in comparison. Those offhand noises gave way to “Never Meant,” an unassuming anthem of love gone quietly wrong. The first notes […]

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Album review: Innocence Reaches by Of Montreal

Kevin Barnes’ success as Of Montreal’s figurehead and frontman has depended on his ability to balance extremes; funk and balladry, chaos and order, abstraction and focus. Like his stylistic predecessor David Bowie, Barnes usually threads this needle with ease and efficiency, but when that tension breaks to the abstract side, the results leave little for […]

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Essay: Hour of Bewilderbeast by Badly Drawn Boy

Records typically live or die by consistency, which is to say they could go either way. In music-critic-speak, a consistent album could either have a “unified sound” or be too similar overall. On the other hand, an erratic grab bag of styles and influences can confuse, disorient, and annoy. Badly Drawn Boy’s debut The Hour […]

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Interview: Elvis Costello

Elvis Costello’s new memoir, Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink, is a whirlwind tour of Costello’s life as a rock musician, son, father, television host, and songwriting collaborator with Paul McCartney and Burt Bacharach. Like his music, Costello’s book is equal parts acerbic and heartfelt, giving scope to the many stylistic detours he and his fellow […]

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Book review: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

Calling Sarah Vowell a historian doesn’t seem right. She certainly deserves the title, considering her ability to write beautifully about history and, as the lengthly bibliography at the end of Lafayette In The Somewhat United States proves, research the hell out of her subject. Maybe it’s just hard to picture David McCullough or Doris Kearns […]

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Album review: Poison Season by Destroyer

The press materials for Poison Season, the 11th record Dan Bejar has recorded under the name Destroyer, cite David Bowie’s chamber-pop classic Hunky Dory as an influence this time around. The touchstones—ornate strings, piano flourishes—are certainly there, but Poison Season is a looser, less-constrained affair. With its saxophones, bongos, and violins, it’s more of a […]

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Album review: The Most Lamentable Tragedy by Titus Andronicus

Given the band’s affinity for energy and explosions, Titus Andronicus is often compared to Hüsker Dü and The Clash, but a better corollary might be The Who. Both bands specialize in sudden tonal shifts from bombast to sensitive soul-searching, and like The Who, Titus Andronicus caters in collections of songs that work together for a […]

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Interview: The Sklar Brothers

Twin brothers Randy and Jason Sklar—together known as the Sklar Brothers—began their stand-up comedy career as part of the New York alternative comedy scene in the mid-’90s. Since then, they have hosted the ESPN comedy show Cheap Seats, released four stand-up albums (the most recent of which, 2014’s Sklar Brothers: What Are We Talking About, […]

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Album review: Glean by They Might Be Giants

It’s been 33 years since Johns Linnell and Flansburgh formed They Might Be Giants, and 21 since they converted their two-man accordion-guitar-MIDI operation into a multi-instrument group, meaning they’ve fronted a full-fledged rock band for the majority of their careers. [ Click here for more ]

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Book review: Silver Screen Fiend by Patton Oswalt

Silver Screen Fiend, stand-up comedian and writer Patton Oswalt’s memoir about moviegoing in the ’90s, begins and ends at a revival screening of Sunset Boulevard. It’s a fitting choice: The 1950 noir is essentially about what movies do to us, and what role a film’s viewers—“those wonderful people out there in the dark,” as the […]

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Essay: “Mr. Big Stuff” by Jean Knight

There are two kinds of one-hit wonders: The first is where you hear the famous song and think, Of course they didn’t have another hit. The song is so dumb, so stupidly ephemeral, there’s no way the people responsible could have bothered to try it again. The second is the kind that makes you think […]

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Essay: Glass Houses by Billy Joel

Being a Billy Joel fan is a complicated endeavor. “Fan,” after all, is short for “fanatic,” a word that implies a kind of loyalty that artists like Joel make challenging. At the risk of giving a backhanded compliment, sounding like an apologist, or, perhaps, making a massive understatement, Billy Joel has some shortcomings. [ Click […]

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Album review: Tough Love by Jessie Ware

Jessie Ware proudly wears her influences—Sade, Whitney Houston, Prince, and any number of ’80s and ’90s R&B belters—on her sleeve. But her many strengths as a songwriter and singer outweigh any possible charges of imitation, and her willingness to apply subtlety, make unexpected choices, and take risks are what make Ware such a unique presence. […]

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Essay: Wildflowers by Tom Petty

For Tom Petty, 1994 was a year of transitions. His contract at MCA had just come to a close with the massively successful Greatest Hits (and its blockbuster single, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”) and drummer Stan Lynch acrimoniously left The Heartbreakers. Moreover, Petty’s marriage was steadily crumbling and, after two hit records with Jeff Lynne, […]

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Album review: Sukierae by Tweedy

Jeff Tweedy is a remarkably versatile songwriter, even when only considering the output of his main gig, Wilco. For every delicate ballad like “Far, Far Away,” there’s a noise-rock storm like “Kicking Television”; for every Tin Pan Alley pastiche like “Hummingbird,” there’s a hazy fever dream like “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.” Jeff […]

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Essay: Why MTV Unplugged matters

During R.E.M.’s Unplugged set in 2001, Michael Stipe glanced at himself in a nearby monitor that was playing a video of the band’s first Unplugged show in 1991. He cringed, laughed, and remarked about how “earnest” he looked. He urged the show’s producers to turn the damn thing off, though not before remarking coyly, “What […]

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Album review: Nikki Nack by Tune-Yards

In some respects, Merrill Garbus has come a long way since 2009, when she released her debut as Tune-Yards. That record, the eclectic Bird-Brains, was a homemade delight full of tape loops, faraway vocals, and found-recording snippets. In contrast, Nikki Nack, Garbus’ third effort, is polished, meticulously produced, and very much a studio effort. [ […]

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Interview: The Both

At first, the combination of Ted Leo and Aimee Mann seems incongruous. Leo got his beginnings in the New York hardcore scene, and he founded the mod-punk band Chisel before branching out to pop-punk with the Pharmacists. Mann, meanwhile, is primarily known for ballads, waltzes, and slow-burning pop songs. Excepting their respective beats-per-minute ratios, however, […]

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Album review: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (reissue) by Elton John

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’s title track is a gorgeous lament about fame, a celebrity’s dream of normalcy. The song addresses Elton John’s popularity in lyricist Bernie Taupin’s opening words: “When are you gonna come down? When are you going to land?” The rocket man was anxious about his trajectory. [ Click here for more ]

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Album review: Lost In The Dream by The War on Drugs

The band and its fans are undoubtedly sick of the comparison, but there’s no denying it: The War On Drugs sounds like Bruce Springsteen and Dire Straits. Instead of imitating those and other FM mainstays, however, The War On Drugs aims for listeners’ feelings about them, and for our collective radio unconscious. On Lost In […]

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Album review: Atlas by Real Estate

On Real Estate’s previous albums—an endearingly woolly self-titled debut; the excellent, vibrant follow-up Days—the balance between offhand and methodical was delicately maintained. Atlas, the New Jersey band’s newest effort, too often tips to the “offhand” side of the scale. Despite some strong material, the album is ultimately too light to stay grounded, too loose to […]

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Essay: Paul Simon’s “Thelma”

Just as Hearts And Bones is unfairly dismissed as Paul Simon’s misstep before Graceland, The Rhythm Of The Saints is too often described as the lackluster follow-up to the 1986 masterpiece. Though it’s understandable that the records are considered companion pieces—both Graceland and Saints find Simon taking cues from other cultures, and the records share […]

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Album review: All Hail West Texas by the Mountain Goats

A split-second of silence, followed by the whirring of gears. For many years, this is how most Mountain Goats songs began. John Darnielle’s Panasonic RX-FT500 boombox is almost as famous as the man who pressed record to document songs that, whether fictional or autobiographical, seemed intensely personal. The fact that the boombox recordings sound like […]

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Essay: Longpigs’ “On and On”

The “alternative” boom of the ’90s produced all kinds of bands. Some pushed themselves through MTV Buzz Bin territory to great artistic rewards; others burned bright and quickly flamed out, not even reaching a sophomore slump. Then there were bands like Longpigs, who were somewhere in between. [ Click here for more ]

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Album review: Major Arcana by Speedy Ortiz

Major Arcana, the first full-length from Massachusetts indie-rock outfit Speedy Ortiz, proudly bears its influences—the clean guitars of Liz Phair, the dirty ones of Sonic Youth and Pavement—but dwelling on those touchstones distracts from the record’s fervent drive to unsettle and have fun in novel ways. [ Click here for more ]

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TV review: John Hodgman: Ragnarok

Those who have followed John Hodgman’s career—from his beginnings as a self-appointed expert of world knowledge and Daily Show regular through his side gig as a Mac pitchman and podcast judge—will not be surprised that his first comedy special, produced by Netflix, is unconventional. [ Click here for more ]

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Album review: Partygoing by Future Bible Heroes

The primary question of Partygoing, the new album from the Stephin Merritt side project Future Bible Heroes, is nestled in the wonderfully titled “Satan, Your Way Is A Hard One”: “Who would believe that I was naive? / Who would believe I was once young?” [ Click here for more ]

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Album review: Volume 3 by She & Him

The new record by M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel, a.k.a. She & Him, isn’t likely to change anybody’s opinions about the duo. Deschanel’s voice is still rough and imprecise, and the songs, buffed to a folk-pop sheen, are anything but. However, skeptics may want to give it a listen: Volume 3 is a step forward […]

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Interview: Brother Ali

Brother Ali hit the national radar with 2007’s The Undisputed Truth, on which the Minneapolis rapper tossed out barbed, perceptive, and often deeply personal lyrics like bombs, from his joy at being a father on “Ear To Ear” to incisive and controversial political critiques like “Uncle Sam Goddamn.” He’s gained even more recognition for the […]

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Interview: Brother Ali

Brother Ali burst onto the Minneapolis hip-hop scene in 2000, when he released his cassette-only demo Rites Of Passage. He soon signed to Twin Cities label Rhymesayers Entertainment, which has released his two acclaimed records, Shadows On The Sun and the Champion EP. It’s been three long years since hip-hop fans heard from Brother Ali, […]

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