The Sound of Music

Article by corby

Houston is the epicenter of American music. Okay, that may not be exactly true, but can it just be a coincidence that pop-divinity Beyonce was born here, and her mom used to run the salon just a few doors down from us on Bissonnet? Okay, yes, that may just be coincidence. But what is indubitably true is that most of us on staff are infected with an irrepressible case of musicophilia, and at least one of us has already subjected his poor spouse to multiple listenings of Kanye’s The Life of Pablo. And another of us put together a recent book list with suggested death-metal pairings. For this week’s Brazos Book List, we’ve brought together the latest and greatest of rock ‘n’ roll writing, books that run that gamut from classic music histories to up-to-the-minute snapshots of our current musical culture. Have a listen.

Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374277901
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - February 9th, 2016

The internet and digital music allow the possibility of listening to virtually whatever whenever, and this superabundance of sonic options can be alternately thrilling and numbing. In this brilliant new book, Ratliff—a music critic for the New York Times—presents twenty short chapters with twenty ways to listen, twenty themes that cut across time and genre. The themes he chooses are structural (like “repetition”) and semantic (like “sadness”), and taken together they create a map for navigating the modern ocean of music, as well as an amiable, thumb-nail sketch of music history.

The History of Rock 'n' Roll in Ten Songs Cover Image
ISBN: 9780300216929
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Yale University Press - September 15th, 2015

Greil Marcus is arguably the best music critic alive (thus his appearance twice on this list), but he’s more than that: he’s a historian, a philosopher, a cultural critic who uses music as a lens to read the story of America. This 2014 volume is perhaps the best introduction to Marcus’ style and way of thinking: it will rock your world (pun, sadly, intended). Why? Because he is able to construct wormholes across the spacetime of American music which illuminate seemingly distant and disparate artists, genres, and cultural moments. And he does it by choosing less well known songs. Just read the chapter on Etta James, Beyonce, and their versions of All I Could Do Was Cry—you’ll be hooked.

Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music: Sixth Edition Cover Image
ISBN: 9780142181584
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Plume Books - April 28th, 2015

This is the book; simple as that. It’s been called the best book on American music, the best book on rock ‘n’ roll, and even, by one national critic, “the best book on being alive.” Alive is the best word for Marcus’ writing—it is ragged, ranging, resilient, rapturous—you read it and you can feel his perceptiveness and his sensitivity coursing through you. The most amazing part about MYSTERY TRAIN is the “Notes and Discographies” section, which runs to about 200 pages in this sixth edition, a section that Marcus has been expanding and updating since 1975 when the first edition was published. The ultimate guide to the history and experience of American music. A must-have.

The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393241921
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - October 5th, 2015

Modern pop music is expertly engineered like fast food, with just the right balance of salty beats and sugary hooks to poke the brain’s pleasure sensors and keep you coming back for more (whether or not it’s good for you). This book from New Yorker staff writer Seabrook has been a big seller for us, and it’s no mystery why; there’s no other book out there like it, combining fine-grained musical appreciation with big-picture economic and social analysis of the contemporary music industry. Whereas Greil Marcus’ classics have the exploratory scent of an anthropologist or ethnographer, Seabrook writes with a streamlined, modern style perfectly suited to the digital landscape of the iTunes revolution.

The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic Cover Image
ISBN: 9780983186335
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 1-5 Days
Published: Featherproof Books - May 12th, 2015

I love the provocative title of this wide-ranging, smart, and deeply-engaged collection of interviews, think-pieces, and reviews of contemporary music by Hopper, Senior Editor at Pitchfork and Editor-in-Chief of The Pitchfork Review. The book is not, technically, the first of its kind, but Hopper points up an obvious phallocentric orientation in contemporary music criticism (note the gender of the other authors in this list; not unrepresentative). She is SO smart, and SO aware of the state of contemporary American music, and she writes with such an infectious overabundance of energy that you can’t help but get carried along with her stream of consciousness.

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