Some recent reading on music:
Retromania, by Simon Reynolds (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011)
An excellent, well researched exploration of the so-called “retroscape,” our current era in popular music where everything is foremost a reference to the past. In it we learn about the profusion of reissues, rerecordings, reenactments, revivals, retrospectives, record collecting, and ask the question: Is originality dead? More essential reading by the author of the also excellent Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. DEFINITELY READ THIS
Every Song Ever, by Ben Ratliff (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016)
With the subtitle “Twenty ways to listen in an age of musical plenty,” this book by the New York Times music critic offers a kind of guide for listening in the age of the Cloud. Sort of a cross between Alex Ross’s Listen to This and Leonard Bernstein’s The Joy of Music, it defines 20 different qualities, or categories, in music – repetition, virtuosity, audio space, quiet etc. – and describes important artists and recordings that embody each quality. Each chapter includes a playlist, albeit often comprising rather esoteric recordings. Definitely an interesting and timely read, but I found the language and style somewhat pretentious and abstract. MAYBE READ THIS
Absolutely on Music, by Haruki Murakami and Seiji Ozawa (Knopf, 2016)
A distillation of over two years worth of conversations about music between these two Japanese cultural icons. While readers of Murakami are well aware of his knowledge of jazz and popular music, it may come as a surprise, as it did for me, that he is also deeply invested in classical music. Their conversations center around Ozawa’s career and recordings and serves if nothing else, as a introductory memoir of sorts. Their conversation also engages, at times deeply, specific canonical works and composers, such as Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, Brahms First Symphony, and the music of Gustav Mahler. An enjoyable and informative read, though I found that Ozawa often came off as pompous and self-congratulatory, which I suppose goes with the territory. MAYBE READ THIS
The Modern Lovers’ The Modern Lovers, by Sean Maloney (Bloomsbury, 2017)
One of the newest titles in the excellent 33 1/3 series from Bloomsbury, this one covers the improbable story of what became, posthumously, one of the greatest American rock albums ever. Equal parts musicology and cultural history, the book traces the brief history of this early 70s Boston band within the broader context of all that was going on cultural in that city and in the country. I’ve read a number of books in this series, and this is by far one of the best, if not THE best so far. If you love this album as I do, DEFINITELY READ THIS.
Records Ruin the Landscape, by David Grubbs (Duke University Press, 2014)
Subtitled “John Cage, the Sixties, and Sound Recording,” this book, which was also Grubbs’s PhD thesis, takes as its starting point the paradox of Cage’s well-known disdain for recordings, and the fact that he made many of them during his lifetime. The book looks ind depth at Cage and other contemporaneous artists whose work was also seemingly antithetical to recording, and explores how recordings influence the reception and transmission of their work in our current era. Though it gets overly abstract at times, this is a fascinating deep dive into the many facets recording and archiving, particularly in the context of avant-garde music. If you are seriously into experimental music, DEFINITELY READ THIS.
The Story of Crass, by George Berger (PM Press/Omnibus Press, 2008)
A nearly 300-page history of the legendary British anarchist punk band Crass. Tracing their emergence in the late 70s out of a communal living environment in Essex, north-east of London, known as Dial House, the book incorporates a great deal of interviews with images, commentary and analysis. A great insider account of one of the essential bands of the punk era, this is essential reading for all enthusiasts and scholars of anarchism, activism, DIY and punk rock. DEFINITELY READ THIS.