New Yorker music editor Ross (Listen to This, 2010, etc.) curates the year’s finest scribbling about sound.
The latest entry in the annual anthology of music journalism draws on a breadth of sources, from metro dailies and national magazines to websites, blogs and even Twitter. Ross brings in lively pieces from his primary discipline, classical music: Justin Davidson offers a measured contemplation of Beethoven’s contemporary interpreters, and online contest winners risibly summarize opera librettos in 140-character tweets. Befitting the times, pop mega-stars are the focus of several penetrating profiles: Vanessa Grigoriadis on Lady Gaga, Chris Norris on Will.i.am, Caryn Ganz on Nicki Minaj. Jonathan Bogart’s critical take on Ke$ha tells you more than you may ever want to know about pop’s trollop of the moment, but does it hilariously. Rock gets comparatively short shrift, and the top selections are backward-looking: James Wood on the Who’s maniacal drummer Keith Moon, Evelyn McDonnell on ’70s femme rockers the Runaways, Nate Chinen on the unlikely yet apt onstage confluence in 1970 of Miles Davis and Neil Young. The writing about contemporary rock—Titus Andronicus bassist Amy Klein’s hyper-feminist tour diary entry, blogger Mike Turbé’s review of a metal show in a Brooklyn basement—never rises above the jejune. The most startling stuff drives boldly into new territory: Lauren Wilcox Puchowski’s profile of a Washington, D.C., wedding band at work, Jason Cherkis on a Baltimore record collector’s life-changing obsession with an early-20th-century Greek vocalist, Chris Richards’ search for Parliament-Funkadelic’s Mothership stage prop and Joe Hagan on the profound darkness revealed in Nina Simone’s hitherto unpublished diaries. There is also a dizzying chapter from Dave Tompkins’ book How to Wreck a Nice Beach, excerpted by NPR.org, about the vocoder’s passage from cryptography to music. Though country and various roots styles are half-heartedly represented and a handful of solipsistic pieces tax the reader’s patience, this edition mainly sidesteps the usual suspects while maintaining the series’ high standard.
A great incentive to fire up Spotify, or even the old stereo.