The 11 best music books of 2021

Read our Michelle Zauner profile

Crying in H Mart

By Michelle Zauner


In search of 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, Bombay and Calcutta and studied North Indian classical music and American folk. Growing up, he learned the guitar and aspired to be a western pop star 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 slippery nature of his identity. He jumps between continents, years and schools of philosophy, interweaving his personal history with music theory, analyzes of the differences between Western and South Asian music, and general reflections on the act of listening.

The writing is teeming with charming anecdotes – it compares the tone of Bob Dylan’s distant lyricism in “Don’t Think Twice, All is Well” to the longing for devotional poetry of Bhakti, and ruminates on the way the world sounded. differently living on the third story of an apartment rather than the 12, but it can also get exhilarating. Closely following his stream of consciousness, Chaudhuri’s writing is gratifying for its attention to detail – the precision with which he remembers his mother’s singing voice, the care he takes in explaining the linguistic history of the word. “Khayal” – and his insight as someone of two cultures. Find the Raga will make you want to listen in the way of its author: generous while drawing meaning from every element of a song. –Vrinda Jagota

Image may contain: Advertising, Poster and Art

In search of the raga: an improvisation on Indian music

By Amit Chaudhuri


In defense of the Ska

By Aaron Carnes

All roads lead to ska. Or at least, that’s what the editor of the Santa Cruz weekly, Aaron Carnes, disputes In defense of the 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 sketches the vast landscape of ska, from its roots in Jamaican pop music in the late 1950s to its cultural nadir in the fedora-clad ‘third wave’ of the ’90s, recounting the ups and downs. the downs of dozens of bands fight 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 larger narrative on the importance of maintaining local music scenes. The stories Carnes told – musicians who sold their instruments to stay afloat, concerts that became battlegrounds between Nazi skinheads and anti-racist punks, bands that never left their hometown but inspired countless others to form their own groups – not unique to ska, and perhaps that is the point. In defense of the Ska is a lovingly written defense of a vibrant and diverse musical underground that has remained afloat against all odds. Loving Skankin ‘Pickle is hardly enough to appreciate this tenacity, but those with an open mind might find a new favorite band along the way. –Arielle Gordon

In defense of the 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 wanders and repeats itself, tells a story and lodges in your head. The 67-year-old songwriter can go from romantic details of childhood to big reflections on existence that read like aphorisms. “Life is a locomotive,” she writes, “and as long as you look at it from a distance, it takes a long time to pass. »Focusing on his early career, Last Chance Texaco is at its peak when Jones seems to stop time, giving a line-by-line glimpse into his creative process. In other passages, she analyzes her formative years at the Troubadour in the late 1970s and the relationships that formed around her scene with young West Hollywood songwriters like Tom Waits and Lowell George of Little Feat. “Do women have an impact on men or is it just the other way around? She asks, reckoning with the myth of the male genius and the female muse, and repositioning her influence with a generation of artists. With captivating prose and beautifully rendered scenes that will stay in your memory, Last Chance Texaco sets the record straight. –Sam Sodomsky

Image may contain: Helmet, Clothing, Apparel, Human, Person, Rickie Lee Jones, and Machine

Last Chance Texaco

By Rickie Lee Jones


Side Notes for Revolution: The Intellectual Life of the Feminist Noir Sound

By Daphne A. Brooks

The third book by Yale professor Daphne A. Brooks is an in-depth 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 makes a monumental fix to how black women are “too rarely seen as creators of rare sounds deemed worthy of digging and study”, and challenges us to imagine a culture that puts black women at their “full” center of arrest. The recordings of Abbey Lincoln, Lauryn Hill and Janelle Monáe are theorized as critical works. 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 groundbreaking feminist music critic Ellen Willis. Brooks’ goal is to bring black studies into conversation with music journalism, to question how genius notions relate to access to archives, knowledge and power. She draws on the radical archival imagination of Saidiya Hartman as well as the secret history of time-traveling Greil Marcus, and she also interviews her own mother, all in the name of a positively “critical connection”. revolutionary. –Jenn Pelly

Side Notes for Revolution: The Intellectual Life of the Feminist Noir Sound

By Daphne A. Brooks


Major labels: a history of popular music in seven genres

By Kelefa Sanneh

If you’ve been constantly looking on Wikipedia for the difference between hard rock, progressive rock and acid rock, or if you’ve been thinking about switching from pop music (as in popular music in general) to pop music (as in Katy Perry and Madonna), then Kelefa Sanneh Main labels is the book for you. Sanneh, a New Yorker editor, was the New York Times‘pop critic between 2000 and 2008, where he wrote the definitive piece against rockism. In Large labels, he draws on his vast musical expertise 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 might find the genre emphasis silly at a time when streaming platforms promise a ‘genderless’ experience, and young people seamlessly surfing from country-rap to reggaeton, but Spotify hasn’t won so much. the classifications he created his own set. Tracing many of the splits, detours and consolidations that have shaped the musical identity so far, Main labels prepares us for new tidal changes. “Since the 1960s, music has been a means of identification,” observes Sanneh, “a means for young people, in particular, to show that they are not like everyone else. As long as this remains true, we will always have musical tribes. -Cat Zhang

About Dawn Valle

Dawn Valle

Check Also

Dancer who toured with Madonna now teaches at Pound It studio in Red Deer – Red Deer Advocate

Hip-hop dancer Charles Parks, who has toured the world as a support dancer with Madonna, …