The Week In Music: What To Read Now, Back To School Edition
Wave bye-bye to summer. It's gone. Everybody's all hard-eyed on the sidewalks these days, facing down the fall. We too got down to business right after Labor Day, talking about Gotye's road to the riches, asking the importance of being John Cage and working Queen Latifah quotes into headlines. But we stopped everything to listen to Alt.Latino's show with Junot Diaz: dating, jokes, his new book, machismo and Le1f.
Below, five more music stories you'd be a fool to let pass you by.
We lost a great poet of the everyday when Hal David died this week at 91. What's great about this appreciation from his longtime collaborator Burt Bacharach is that it's so matter-of-fact: The team's relationship involved more meat-and-potatoes songcrafting than flights of lyrical fancy, and like any longtime couple, this one went through some rough spots. Bacharach-David songs always include those mundane details that make the deep emotions expressed hit that much harder. So does this very real remembrance. --Ann Powers
Saxophonist Tim Berne makes music that takes awhile to unwind, straddling the line between intricate plotting and improvisation sans frontieres. You could call it avant-garde jazz — the sort of thing that is hard to make a living on. Berne has, running his own record label, booking his own gigs, doing his own publicity and generally having learned from New York's school of hard knocks. And in 2011, he actually put out an album on ECM, a major label. So in this wide-ranging interview with Brad Cohan in the Village Voice, you hear the candor and kinda-hilarious voice of someone who's improvised his own career as ferociously as he does in his music. --Patrick Jarenwattananon
Two weeks ago Zadie Smith told the Edinburgh Book Festival that since On Beauty, set in a fictionalized town outside Boston, was published in 2005, "You've no idea how much email I get telling me how wrong every single thing in the book is." She says she'll never set another novel in the U.S. She will, however, interview the quintessentially American rapper Jay-Z in the middle of Little Italy in New York City. "There are a lot of very specific things that Americans don't say and English people don't realise," she said during her panel in Scotland. And in T Magazine, while she gets Tupac wrong, she also publishes a few of those things Americans don't say, my favorite being, "There have always been these people for whom rap language is more scandalous than the urban deprivation rap describes." --Frannie Kelley
Ranking an artist's discography is a nerdy, no-one-wins kind of situation. There's yelling, hair-pulling, comically defensive handwringing, fans who were "there from the beginning," the bleating of a thousand completists — and that's just the comments section. In his second contribution to Stereogum's Counting Down series (here's his first, on Fugazi), prolific musician James Jackson Toth (a.k.a. Wooden Wand) has really taken pains to put Sonic Youth in context as a band to which indie rock owes a life debt. Whether you agree with his personal rankings or not — his top five is somewhat contrarian — it's hard not to see the heart and fanboy-like devotion Toth puts into these records with a certain amount of critical hindsight. Besides, his smart descriptions of less-canonized records like Sonic Nurse and Washing Machine are just a reminder of how great they are. --Lars Gotrich
Right off the bat, if you've never seen Nardwuar interview a hip-hop artist before, then you're in for a treat. The Vancouver, B.C.-based journalist usually charms his interviewees (not always) with an encyclopedic musical knowledge, as well as insightful (sometimes bordering on creepy) minutiae about their friends, hangout spots and favorite foods. In this episode, we get to hear excellent wordsmith E-40 wax nostalgic about the best of the Bay Area rap scene, and who really invented "-izzle." Watch this interview, then go through the archives and watch them all. (We especially recommend Odd Future.) --Eleanor Kagan
*Bonus track: Jens Lekman, I Know What Love Isn't
Lindsay Zoladz's review gets right to what's so eyebrow-raising about Lekman's new release. It's a record full of contradictions, the greatest of which is its title: Lekman has spent a lot of his career defining love by example, moment by tiny moment. Zoladz frames her take on I Know What Love Isn't with a reminder of what Lekman excels at: scene-setting, often by way of extremely specific anecdotes that nonetheless conjure a relatable feeling. The new album, she argues, has plenty of that; what's new is a narrowed focus. I Know What Love Isn't is essentially a concept album about a real breakup, from an artist whose previous work reveled in hodgepodge. The review shines a light on why the gambit mostly works, but still acknowledges the tension, speculation and letdown that always arise when an artist goes out on a limb. --Daoud Tyler-Ameen