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Greg Barker's new documentary The Final Year — which briskly charts the Obama Administration's final six months of diplomatic engagements in 21 countries — is a sharp departure from the rash of embittered political documentaries and scandalous news cycles currently dominating Pennsylvania Avenue. At once wistful and undoubtedly prescient, The Final Year is not only a paean to a President who eschewed combustible rhetoric and rash militaristic alternatives, but an emotional plea to consider the same diplomatic approach beyond his eight -year term.

There are noteworthy objections to such a generally uncritical approach. Set to Philip Sheppard's rousing orchestral score, The Final Year's admiring focus on key members of the Obama team — primarily U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, and Secretary of State John Kerry — is far too often a glossy homage with a The West Wing flavor, which doesn't readily blend in with today's increasingly grave political climates across the globe.

Through staged office interviews with Rhodes, Barker provides a one-sided interpretation of Obama's foreign policy accomplishments. Rhodes provides well rehearsed explanations about the Paris Climate Change Accord, the Iran Nuclear Deal,...

Julie Maroh's Blue is the Warmest Color (Arsenal Pulp 2015) was originally published in French in 2010 and English in 2013, the same year as the English film adaptation. Maroh sets the coming-of-age story within the homophobia of the '90s, compounding the lesbian love plot with political reverberations that offset its otherwise intimate focus. While the Abdellatif Kechiche adaptation won the Cannes' Palme d'Or award, its source material may be the more compelling work of art—one intricately crafted with features unique to the comics form.

Morah's use of color is its most immediately striking feature. As established by the title, blue is the central visual motif, one suggesting pleasure, usually romantic, often erotic—though a child's balloon or a diary can possess the same glow. Initially Clementine's adolescent world is a wash of browns and grays—until punctuated by her first glimpses of desire: first a boy's blue shirt, then a girl's blue hair.

Unclothed though, Thomas, Clementine's first boyfriend and almost lover, returns to his undifferentiated dank shades. Emma, however, literally haunts her dreams, her blue hands exploring Clementine's white body.

The simple color binary breaks down in the framing story when the adult Emma is visiting Clementine's now elderly parents. The contemporary world is a colorful one. Emma's turtleneck is blue, but her hair has grown back blonde, Emma's mother wears a red sweater, and...

Australian/Iranian dark electronic pop duo VOWWS unleashes its new full-length, Under the World on 2 March via Anti-Language Records. To tide fans over until that the time, the hypnotic, dark-minded outfit has issued the single "Esseff", a song that is heavy, mysterious, sinister but inviting, brimming with dark sexuality that'll have you scrambling for your leather jacket and vintage black light before the first chorus.

Of the track, VOWWS offers this: "It's like James Bond spy music updated for the modern world. We wanted to create a sound that felt like you were being chased by something scary, but enticing like a tornado, or drugs." They continue, "We embrace menacing intent in our music, but that's not everything - even the bleakest shit has light in it... so we turn up the contrast and make both sides of the coin shine. "

The duo will visit the U.S. this spring with a string of dates in support of Under the World , a collection that follows 2015's The Great Sun . The new record, the group is quick to point out, distances itself from obvious nods to industrial or post-punk, opting for...

Born in Houston, transplanted to Brooklyn, Reigen soaks his latest single in cool, synth-driven R&B that will call to mind Years & Years, Sam Smith and Troye Sivan. Throughout, his voice remains a beacon of bare emotionalism, a reminder that we can find strength in times of doubt if only we ask the right questions.

The track is offered in the form of a free download and its remarkable lyrics speak to the vexing questions of the day as the world grapples with difference of many stripes and global political instability. A love song? Yes. A typical love song? No way.

Discover more of Reigen's music on Soundcloud:

"What would Norman Mailer do?" "How would Saul Bellow write this bit?" "I'm almost as funny as Philip Roth!" These are thoughts that, one suspects, certain male writers of fiction have had in the past. Perhaps it still goes on: similar thoughts about Alan Bennett, say, or even Martin Amis -- just not as sexy. Eastman Was Here , the second novel by Staten Island-born Alex Gilvarry, features a hot-headed, fading writer in his 50s in '70s-era New York. Eastman rages at the dying of his literary light, and everything he does seems to be at once intense and half-hearted. He finds himself raising his hand for a writing assignment in war-torn Vietnam, mainly to try to win back his wife, Penny, who has left him and taken their children with her.

Alan Eastman belongs firmly to the chest-thumping, self-aggrandizing, tree-swinging school of male author, and it sees him ending up in many tangles of thorns that other people seem to avoid. Gilvarry is a scholar, of sorts, of Norman Mailer. He went to the Mailer Writers Colony in Provincetown where he was, fairly reluctantly, introduced properly to Mailer's work. Like many things in...

When Blaze Foley first released "Oval Room" in the 1980s, he was voicing his unease with the policies of the Reagan administration. It quickly became a classic protest song to all those slighted by political decisions. It set the theme for revolutionaries during the Reagan era as well as through both Bush presidencies, and now a band of roots mainstays is rebooting the song in light of the disastrous Trump administration.

Whether in Foley's hands or in the Hackensaw Boys ' collective grip, the song still has all of the scorching ardor, restlessness, and wit that it did when it was first released. The boys incorporate plenty of blues sentiment into their track, as well, giving it a swing and a swagger befitting of this string band's politically-charged new release. It's a wonder that this song is still as relevant as it is today as when Foley first recorded it, and in this case, that wonder isn't such a blessing. What the Hackensaw Boys are doing here are taking on the torch from Foley and respecting his work by embodying every bit of the passion that he had for justice in their performance.

The Hackensaw Boys tell PopMatters that "Ferd showed us 'Oval Room' while we...

"When I was a child in the north New Jersey suburbs, circa 2003, I remember being terrified by the sight of two dragonflies mating," says Eric Benoit . "I've always hated insects, and here I had found two giant ones fused together in some sort of nightmarish flying catastrophe."

He continues, "I couldn't have realized at the time how it would foreshadow my own sexual experiences. There's passion in this song and sex, but not in the way you're probably accustomed to."

The NYC artist is delving into an immersive new sound on his sophomore album, Heartrender , set to be released on 26 January. Across its seven tracks, Benoit will captivate listeners with his blend of experimental dance, indie folk, and alternative styles. As is seen and heard with Heartrender's lead single, "Dragonfly", he also aims to unveil some uncomfortable truths on the record.

With a matter-of-fact dive into Benoit's views on sex, love, and the human body, the record won't be an album for the timid. It also relates to truth in all of us as he bluntly tells his story of a volatile relationship. In a way, it feels like an attempt for the artist to liberate himself as he comes to terms with...

PopMatters readers are a bright bunch, so I'm sure you'll be able to wrap your brains around this analogy. Imagine all the genres of pop music are made out of Lego – there's a 500-piece kit for rock, 500 pieces for soul, 300 for disco et cetera and a helpful set of instructions included in the box. Well, in the Residents household, all the bricks have been tipped in the middle of the room, and no one can find the paperwork. To make matters worse, someone has tossed the 1,000-piece Millennium Falcon set into the pile as well. Also, everyone is drunk, so the constructions that emerge from these conditions have some of the elements of straight-ahead pop/rock/soul, but with weird, twisty bits stuck on for no real reason. Some of them are recognizable, some are mutated almost beyond recognition, but they're all sort of beautiful.

Originally released in 1976, Third Reich 'n Roll was the second Residents album. Cherry Red Records have got hold of the master tapes and assembled a package which will have every Residents aficionado frothing at the mouth. Over two CDs, you get the original album plus a stack of unreleased and live performances and a well-written set of sleeve notes. It's a classy package. The liner notes hint at the incredible mythology of the Residents –...

Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction (1994) wasn't the first movie to be named after pulp fiction. That distinction belongs to writer-director Mike Hodges' Pulp (1972), a movie he made right after the British gangster picture Get Carter (1971) with that film's main collaborators: star Michael Caine and producer Michael Klinger. They were "the three Michaels", as somebody calls them in an extra, having founded a company together for this purpose.

The two films show a remarkable contrast. Get Carter is a lean, mean story whose anti-hero plunges through it as brutal and concentrated as a crossbow. The hero of Pulp , however, drifts and darts through a sun-dazed labyrinth in a state of confusion that hasn't quite lifted by the end.

Caine narrates the film as Mickey King, the busy paperback writer who toils under various pseudonyms and cranks out sexy, hardboiled, sub-Spillane fiction with titles such as My Gun Is Long. His narration is appropriately overheated -- now clipped, now purple -- and as we discover, his description of events doesn't always exactly match what we see.

Lionel Stander, looking every inch the sinister hitman in his latter-day gravel-voiced grotesquery, enters the scene as Ben Dinuccio, a...

There has always been a strong sense of playfulness in the globally focused music of Banda Magda. Led by Greek-born singer and bandleader Magda Giannikou, the group has members from four continents and, like so many of today's leading transcontinental bands, has links to Snarky Puppy. While debut album Amour, t'es là went retro with cheeky chansons and sophomore work Yerakina brought us tight covers of international classics, though, new album Tigre has a timeless, reality-transcending vibe to it. Theatrical and multilingual, Tigre uses Banda Magda's unique sense of over-the-top color, broad set of cultural influences, and knack for aural fantasy to escape into vibrant melodrama.

From the opening harp flourishes of "Tam Tam", Banda Magda's collective energy soars, buoyed rather than weighted down by layers of urgent strings and a backing vocal ensemble. Giannikou herself has a distinctive voice, one that often teeters on the edge of saccharine but never loses the sincerity that anchors it firmly in the realm of sweet. It's a sincerity the whole group shares, and they take themselves just seriously enough to pull off nearly every fanciful track on the album. (The exception to this is a minute...

Children play a game called "Opposite Day" where one does and says the opposite of the expected. One wakes up and offers a goodnight greeting, then has dinner for breakfast, and such. Neil Finn would be great at it. The pop musician constantly does the reverse of what he says he's going to do in his songs and lyrics. His new album's title, Out of Silence , alludes to this strategy. Seriously, what comes out of silence is just more silence. Finn fills the silence with songs.

There's one track called "Alone" that features the collaboration of his brother Tim and another called "Independence Day" that celebrates the need we all have for others. The New Zealand native complains that "The Law Is Always on Your Side" one minute and then offers a frightening vision of the stateless on "Terrorise Me" the next. Finn literally says, "I Know Different" as if he has achieved wisdom but also admits he's unsure and always changing on "Chameleon Days". Finn's conflicting narratives reveal he's battling with himself. He doesn't know the answers to the questions of life. These songs don't achieve some sort of mythical balance, but instead offer shared situational narratives that show you how fucked up things really are.

There's an immediacy to the recording, no doubt intensified by the fact that the music was initially workshopped in front of an...

"We will remember the academic years between 2014 and 2017 as times of turmoil on our campuses," writes John Palfrey, an American college administrator. His book tackles the debate between free expression on the one hand and efforts to promote diversity and equity on the other. His basic argument is that the notion that one must support one or the other principle is a false choice; diversity and free expression can co-exist on college campuses.

Palfrey wades into an enormous debate, and one that crosses borders. In Canada, like the US, university campuses have witnessed confrontations between diversity and free expression on issues such as reproductive rights, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, colonialism, and trans rights. On the one hand are advocates who encourage greater sensitivity and respect for others -- using peoples' preferred pronouns or gender identities; establishing identity-based 'safe spaces'; acknowledging one's own privilege when it comes to race and other identity vectors; removing statues of slave-owners from public spaces. On the other hand are those who resist such initiatives, often claiming the right to freedom of speech or freedom of expression. Palfrey's over-arching argument -- that we can all get along -- is a laudable one. But his book provides very little practical advice on how to make that happen.

The liberal perspective is well represented by Palfrey's book: a sort of dazed confusion at all the fuss, followed by a 'why can't we...

With its mix of 1960s influenced psychedelic guitars, skewed, jerky rhythms and avant-garde electronic flourishes, Django Django's debut album, accompanied by the huge single, "Default", resonated with a whole lot of people. Like many of the other more arty indie bands that found fame in the early part of the decade such as Alt-J, Wild Beasts, and Everything Everything, the band came across as instantly relatable, plucky outsiders. Kooks rather than emergent indie heroes, seemingly as shocked as anyone that their music had struck a chord with so many people.

It's little wonder then that the music defied any easy categorization. Their sound was as refreshing as it was satisfying - divorced from any current trends. However, it isn't easy to repeat the alchemy of a debut album and expectation can do funny things to a band. Although 2015's Born Under Saturn was, at times, an excellent, follow-up, there was an overriding feeling that the band felt they were under pressure to keep innovating rather than always crashing the same car. While it is understandable that the band would fight hard against repeating themselves, the reality was that too many of the songs, came across as experiments in sound at the expense of the catchy, hummable hooks that flowed over the brim of their debut.

Thankfully, there is has been no...

Picture Joel Gion for a second.

The image you have is probably the hip, perma-cool, sharp-dressed tambourinista, front and center with the ever-changing, ever-volatile Brian Jones Massacre. Well, scratch that and replace it with that of a camera-wielding tourist with a corn dog in one hand and a bag of cotton candy in the other, sporting a Dolly Parton T-Shirt while he waits to jump on the "Smoky Mountain River Rampage" ride. "I'm going to Dollywood!" says Gion excitedly, at the start of our conversation. "I'm feeling a fine mixture of excitement and dread. It's all about the gift shop. I'm gonna get me a big ol' T-Shirt ..."

When he's not visiting country music related theme parks or playing with the BJM, Gion is a recording artist in his own right, with a new, self-titled record full-length. His previous releases (2011's Extended Play and Apple Bonkers from 2014) were kind of what you'd expect: reverb drenched, psych-drone rock. The new one goes slightly off-piste. "The first song was actually started about a year and a half ago," says Gion, taking time out from a family get together in Gatlinburg, Tennessee to talk to PopMatters. "It kind of began as side three of the previous record, sonically and I didn't want to go there, so I stopped and rebooted where I...

Jean Rouch is among the most important filmmakers whose work has been devilishly hard to track down. As far as Region 1 viewers are concerned, only his Parisian experiment in cinéma vérité , Chronicle of a Summer (1961) , has been made available, and that only as recently as 2013. So it's with surprise bordering on wonder that we're confronted with a four-disc set of beautiful 2017 restorations from Icarus Films.

Rouch spent most of his long professional life in Africa as an ethnographer with a particular interest in religion, animism and magic -- in other words, what some call superstition. His films essentially turn their backs on the modern world, except to perceive the post-colonial world as a problem that his African subjects navigate as best they can while clinging to their memories and folkways.

Rouch's films are firmly on the side of his subjects, who become collaborators in ways we'll discuss, yet such a project can leave Rouch open to the type of criticism that Zora Neale Hurston, for example, faced from Langston Hughes when she explored myths and folkways and dialects of Southern African-Americans that embarrassed forward-thinking urban strivers, who didn't want to be reminded of such things and didn't think it made a good progressive image for the white folks.

To the...

Formed in 1978, in the first blast of Texas punk, Terminal Mind sounds remarkably fresh and prescient today, more than three decades since the group splintered in the heat of the Lone Star sun. In its short, happy life, Terminal Mind recorded a series of catchy but aggressive songs that earned the group opening slots with Iggy Pop and drew comparisons to John Cale, Wire and Pere Ubu. A new collection, Recordings , features a rare four-song seven-inch single as well as previously unreleased studio ventures and material previously heard on the underground classic Live at Raul's .

Listening to the clang and clamor of “Zombieland", one can hear the skeleton of R.E.M. and other bands that crawled from the Athens scene. In “Sense of Rhythm" one can detect influences similar to the unsung Kansas punks the Embarrassment, a burst of energy that's somewhere between the garage and the Silver Factory. “Black" predicts much of Steve Albini's bleakest sonic explorations while casting an ear to Manchester and the sounds of Joy Division and its ilk.

The group initially existed as a trio with Steve Marsh joining brothers Doug and Greg Murray, then added synthesizer maestro Jack Crow. Across the years, Marsh would be involved in Miracle Room and Evil Triplet while Doug Murray would become a member of the Skunks and his brother...

Curiously, some of the most era-defining landmarks in the history of feminism tend to take place during times of intense political or social resistance to feminist ideals. Since 2010, for example, we witnessed Malala Yousafzai defy the Taliban's prohibition against educating girls; we heard Chimamanda Adichie's spine-tingling manifesto "We Should All Be Feminists"; we witnessed global superstars Beyoncé and Taylor Swift openly endorse the word "feminist". At the same time, however, a self-confessed sexual predator presides over the White House (Trump wouldn't be the first, lest we forget Bill Clinton or Thomas Jefferson, who maintained a sexual relationship with Sally Hemmings, a 16-year-old slave; Harvey Weinstein's empire of abuse and depravity has only now begun to come crashing down; and Brock Turner has just walked out of jail after completing a pitiful three months from his six-month jail sentence for rape (and is now trying to avoid having to register as a sex offender for life). Indeed, those who follow the trajectory of feminism since its inception have become accustomed to the contradictions that both surround it and define it.

Consequently, books that purport to provide overviews of this history face the daunting task of accurately representing the movement at each of its stages without oversimplifying its complexities. Antje Schrupp's A Brief History of Feminism (translated from German to English by Sophie Lewis) provides an energetic overview of feminist thought, from...

With a sound as catchy and clean as the Naked Sun 's, it wouldn't be surprising to see these up-and-comers in the roots rock industry one day climb their way to the top. The Philly-based Americana sextet has become something of a staple in their city since first coming together in 2010. Their new single, "Holdin' Back the Heart", has a lot to do with that formative year. It was the first song that the band had ever written. Now, eight years later, it's finally been recorded for their new record, War with Shadows .

Immediately, the collective "band" sound the Naked Sun on their track shines through. There's a certain ease and groove to their music that is as clean-cut with rock 'n' roll as you can get. It's in the vocal delivery across that chorus paired with a conscious lyricism that evokes pop and folk elements. Altogether, it's heartland Americana reminiscent of Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen, wrapped in a finely-polished bow by producer Brian McTear (the War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, Joan Osbourne).

<a href="">Holdin' Back the Heart by The Naked Sun</a>

"'Holdin'' is the very first...

Los Angeles garage rocker Kat Meoz has been building an appreciative following since 2012, garnering the attention of none other than legendary tastemaker Rodney Bingenheimer who took a shine to Meoz 's music, especially the track “Christmas in Hollywood". Meoz focuses on another California legend in her latest video, “Here I Wait", San Francisco-based writer Richard Brautigan ( Trout Fishing in America , The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 ).

Meoz and friends (including director Kansas Bowling) traveled to the Bay Area in late 2017 to shoot the clip, searching for an important artifact in the late author's legacy. Set to a noisy, angry slab of guitar-driven rock that summons comparisons to PJ Harvey in her earliest, nastiest era, the film is whimsical, cynical and filled with the blood and guts appropriate to its subject matter and the tune which it accompanies.

The artifact in question is Willard, papier-mâché bird that resides in Petaluma, California and is central to the 1975 novel Willard and His Bowling Trophies: A Perverse Mystery . After Brautigan's suicide in 1984, the author's friend, voice-over actor Terry McGovern, was awarded guardianship of the mysterious creature.

Meoz, provides some insights into...

While traditional roots music may evoke images of the Midwest for many, Ismay draws inspiration from the seaside hills of her home in Northern California. Leaving college in light of following her soul, the artist became a rambler. Traveling from California to New Mexico, she found herself among the banks of the Klamath River. It was there where she originally recorded the songs on a cassette machine before finishing them up in a studio overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This is how her debut EP, aptly titled Songs From a River , came to be.

Prior to Songs From a River's release slated for sometime this year, Ismay is sharing another of its five tracks with PopMatters. The song in question is "Oh Precious Light". It frames the ethereal songwriting that Ismay is becoming known for into just under three minutes of blissful indie folk. Her vocals dance in relaxed fashion across the track, captivating from the moment it begins with its offbeat melody and instrumentation.

There's an innocence and mysticism to the tune as well as how the artist delivers it. In her music, Ismay is intent on emanating...