The 11 Best Music Books of 2021

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Crying at H Mart

By Michelle Zauner


Finding the Raga: An Improvisation on Indian Music

By Amit Chaudhuri

Amit Chaudhuri has led many lives. The novelist, essayist, teacher, and musician has spent time in London, Mumbai, and Calcutta, and has studied North Indian classical music and American folklore alike. Growing up, he learned to play the guitar and aspired to western pop stardom until he met his mother’s Indian classical music teacher. Chaudhuri’s last book, Find the Raga, uses non-linear writing techniques to reflect the elusiveness of his identity. He jumps between continents, years and schools of philosophy, weaving his personal history with music theory, analysis of the differences between Western and South Asian music, and general reflections on the act of listening.

The writing is full of charming anecdotes. He compares the tone of Bob Dylan’s distant lyricism in “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” to the longing for Bhakti devotional poetry, and reflects on how the world sounded different living in the third story. of an apartment instead of 12, but it can also be intoxicating. Closely following his stream of consciousness, Chaudhuri’s writing is rewarding for its attention to detail, the precision with which he remembers his mother’s voice when singing, the care he takes to explain the linguistic history of the word “khayal.” , and his perception as someone from two cultures. Find the Raga it will leave you eager to hear as its author does: generous while extracting the meaning of each element of a song. –Vrinda Jagota

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Finding the Raga: An Improvisation on Indian Music

By Amit Chaudhuri


In defense of Ska

By Aaron Carnes

All roads lead to ska. Or at least that’s what the editor of the alternative weekly of Santa Cruz, Aaron Carnes, argues. In defense of Ska, an oral history that connects everyone from Dan Deacon to Danny Elfman to the much-maligned musical movement. Through more than 150 interviews, Carnes outlines the vast panorama of ska, from its roots in Jamaican pop music in the late 1950s to its cultural low point in the fedora-clad “third wave” of the 90s. , counting the ups and downs of dozens of bands. Fighting to be more than a punchline

For fans of the genre, the book contains intimate information from ska legends like original Specials member Jerry Dammers and Operation Ivy drummer Dave Mello. But for the uninitiated (or ska skeptics), it offers a broader narrative on the importance of maintaining local music scenes. The stories that Carnes tells – musicians who sold their instruments to stay afloat, concerts that became battlegrounds between Nazi skinheads and anti-racist punks, groups that never left their hometown but inspired many others to form their bands themselves) are not exclusive to ska. And maybe that’s the point In defense of Ska is a lovingly written defense of a vibrant and diverse musical underground that floated through thick and thin. It hardly takes a love for Skankin ‘Pickle to appreciate this tenacity, but those who keep an open mind may find a new favorite band along the way. –Arielle Gordon

In defense of Ska

By Aaron Carnes


Last Chance Texaco: Chronicles of an American Troubadour

By Rickie Lee Jones

Like a good folk song, Rickie Lee Jones’ autobiography rambles and repeats itself, tells a story, and lodges in your head. The 67-year-old composer can go from childhood novelistic details to grand reflections on existence that are read as aphorisms. “Life is a locomotive,” he writes, “and as long as you look at it from a distance, it takes a long time to pass.” With a focus on his early career, Last chance Texaco it’s most fascinating when Jones seems to stop time, giving a line-by-line view of his creative process. Elsewhere, he discusses his formative years at the Troubadour in the late 1970s and the relationships that formed around his scene from young West Hollywood songwriters like Tom Waits and Lowell George from Little Feat. impact on men or is it just the other way around? ” he asks, taking into account the myth of the male genius and the female muse, and repositioning their influence among a generation of artists. With captivating prose and exquisitely rendered scenes etched into your memory, Last chance Texaco clarifies things. –Sam Sodomsky

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Last chance Texaco

By Rickie Lee Jones


Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound

By Daphne A. Brooks

The third book by Yale professor Daphne A. Brooks is a comprehensive study of the contributions of black women to the history of music and a rigorous mapping of their lives as intellectuals. From Bessie Smith to Beyoncé, Brooks issues a monumental corrective on how black women are “seldom viewed as creators of rare sounds that are deemed worthy of prolonged digging and study,” and challenges us to imagine a culture that places women black women at their center stop. “The recordings of Abbey Lincoln, Lauryn Hill, and Janelle Monáe are theorized as works of criticism. The early black feminist cultural writings of Pauline Hopkins and author Zora Neale Hurston are meticulously contextualized, and one chapter explores the possible influence of playwright Lorraine Hansberry on the groundbreaking feminist music critic Ellen Willis. Brooks’s goal is to put black studies in conversation with music journalism, to interrogate how notions of genius are intertwined with access to archives, knowledge and power. She draws influence from Saidiya Hartman’s radical archival imagination, as well as from the secret story of Greil Marcus, who travels back in time, and also interviews his own mother, all in the name of a positively revolutionary “critical readjustment.” –Jenn Pelly

Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound

By Daphne A. Brooks


Top Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres

By Kelefa Sanneh

If you are constantly reading Wikipedia the difference between hard rock, prog rock, and acid rock, or have pondered the shift from pop music (as in popular music in general) to pop music (as in Katy Perry and Madonna), then Kelefa Sanneh’s Main Tags is the book for you. Sanneh, a New Yorker staff writer, was the New York Times‘pop critic between 2000 and 2008, where he wrote the definitive piece against rockism. On Main tags, He draws on his vast musical experience and personal history to trace the last half century of American and British music through the development of seven genres: rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance, and pop. Some may find the focus on genre silly at a time when streaming platforms promise a “genderless” experience, and youngsters seamlessly navigate from country-rap to reggaeton, but Spotify has not topped the rankings instead. he has created his own set. By mapping out many of the divisions, detours, and consolidations that have shaped musical identity thus far, Main Tags prepares us to navigate new tidal changes. “Since the 1960s, music has been a means of self-identification,” observes Sanneh, “a way for young people, in particular, to show that they are not like everyone else.” As long as that remains true, we will always have musical tribes. –Cat Zhang

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