Welcome to this week’s installment of The Week In Music Writing. Every Sunday, we’re gathering an unranked list of five recommended music-related pieces from the past seven days. We’re bound to miss an excellent article from time-to-time, so definitely leave links to others in the comments. This week, check out five pieces from SPIN, Pitchfork, the Nieman Lab, The Guardian, and Slate.
01. “The Top 100 Alternative Albums of the 1960s” by SPIN Editorial Staff
SPIN’s list of “the noisemakers, funkateers, folkies, proto-punks, and freaks who made the truly radical music of the social revolution” is a must-read. It’s a comprehensive history lesson in the most revolutionary records of the 1960s. The list spans countries and genres, covering avant-garde, noise, experimental, psych, drone, garage, folk, and more. The artists covered range from Alan Watts, Os Mutantes, and Sun Ra to Nico, the Velvet Underground, and Pink Floyd to artists like Amon Düül II (“Born from the same radical Munich commune as the founders of the terrorist Baader-Meinhof Gang, Can’s only peers in the earliest days of krautrock”) and Caetano Veloso (a Brazilian singer, composer, and political activist). All throughout, records are shaped through the lens of a social, cultural, and political context.
02. “Rising: Pharmakon” by Brandon Stosuy for Pitchfork
For the most recent installment of Rising, Brandon Stosuy visited Brooklyn’s 538 Johnson to interview 22-year-old New York City noise artist Margaret Chardiet a/k/a Pharmakon, in advance of her forthcoming Sacred Bones release Abandon, out on May 14. The interview covers her new album, growing up in New York, her parents (“I grew up listening to Dead Boys and the Stooges, and going to punk shows literally from the time I was a baby. My dad brought me to a Nausea show and threw my dirty diaper into the pit”), and making music in the male-focused noise scene. “There have been women making noise since the 80s,” she tells Pitchfork. “It’s a male-dominated scene but not more so than any other scene …. If the only thing you can grasp from it is something so superficial as the fact that I’m a woman making noise, that suggests to me that you’re not listening very carefully.”
03. “The Knife: ’Music history is written by privileged white men’” by Sam Richards for The Guardian
Richards interviews The Knife about their new album Shaking The Habitual. “Lyrically, the album takes aim at imperialist governments, phoney cultural constructs and families both royal and nuclear,” writes Richards. “It’s never didactic, always poetic. But in a world where irony has superseded outrage and Carly Rae Jepsen tops critics’ polls, you worry that such an explicitly political record – the inside sleeve features a satirical cartoon about extreme wealth – risks coming across as a little gauche.” The rest of the article finds the Swedish duo discusing how they’ve incorporated what they’ve learned from queer theory into their art. “Well, we are constructed to like certain things … We’ve been teaching a bit at this summer camp for teenage girls who want to make electronic music, and there we often talk about this idea of quality in music and what informs our ideas of what is supposed to be good and bad music. You know that music history is written by privileged white men, so we can ask ourselves how important it is to repeat their ideas.”
04. “Concision and Clarity: The Extended Transcript” Interview by Brett Anderson for the Nieman Reports, via The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard
In the current issue of Nieman Reports is an article titled “Concision and Clarity: Robert Christgau reflects on the art of writing well about music.” For those unfamiliar, Christgau worked at the Village Voice 1974 to 2006. The article explains: “His Rock&Roll& essays read like street dispatches filtered through the mind of an insurgent, slang-spouting academic, setting the agenda for an influential wing of rock criticism that regarded pop music as a portal to provocative intellectual inquiry.” Here, the full transcript is presented.
It’s super lengthy, but ultimately rewarding, covering: editing, advice to young critics, Twitter and business models (this includes his explanation of Pitchfork), online comments, using personal experience in reviews, and the future of criticism.
05. “Boston police catfishing indie rockers: Cops pose as punks on the Internet” by Luke O’Neil for Slate
As we told you yesterday, Boston music writer Luke O’Neil published a piece on Slate this week actually confirming recent instances where Boston cops have posed as punks on Facebook and Gmail in order to bust house shows. O’Neil writes: “Almost everyone in the DIY scene has had an experience with phony police emails, direct messages on Twitter, and interactions on social media,” writes O’Neil. “For some it’s become just another part of the promotion business—a game of spot-the-narc in which the loser gets his show shut down. According to one local musician who asked not to be named, the day before a show this past weekend, police showed up at a house in the Allston neighborhood, home of many of these house shows, claiming that they already knew the bands scheduled to play. The cops told the residents of the house that they found out about the show through email, and they bragged about their phony Facebook accounts.” It’s funny but also pretty sad and frustrating.