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The 10 Best Music Books of 2023

todayNovember 20, 2023 4

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It’s an archival endeavor structured through individual album reviews, each of which transcends mere formal description. The chapters are meticulously contextualized, immersing readers into the musical and sociopolitical milieu from which these albums sprouted. But they also explore how these artists speak to shared experiences across the Spanish-speaking diaspora—regardless of the “zip code of their residence, their accents, or their stylistic influences.” The book is packed with delightful easter eggs, too, like playlist recommendations from guest contributors. Its creative direction is vividly inspired by the blogs and streaming platforms that revolutionized the decade, with tracklists, sidebars, and credits surrounding each review as though you can click on them. Whether you’re reading up on culture-shifting artists like Arca, or discovering Puerto Rican trap pioneers like Füete Billëte, Testigos del fin del mundo is an illuminating compendium that documents scenes and sounds that have lived in the shadows for too long. —Isabelia Herrera


Wayward: Just Another Life to Live

By Vashti Bunyan

Those drawn to Vashti Bunyan’s memoir likely know her story already: a ’70s British singer-songwriter whose freak-folk debut Just Another Diamond Day developed a cult following—thanks in part to fans like Animal Collective and Devendra Banhart—that inspired her to return in the 2000s with a long-awaited follow-up. Originally released in the UK last year, Wayward delivers far more than that familiar redemption arc.

Bunyan’s life story is one of striking defiance and quiet beauty, the combination of which moves the heart in unexpected ways. She recounts wearing the fragile shellac of her father’s 78s so thin that her parents removed the needle as punishment; skipping class to play guitar and fraternize with soon-to-be Monty Python co-founders Michael Palin and Terry Jones; and recording her debut single with Jimmy Page while Mick Jagger facetiously imitated her voice. “I was quietly delighting in being a small part of the big fuck-you,” she writes.

Perpetually drawn to the outdoors, from searching for bones amid post-WW2 rubble as a kid, to voyaging to Donovan’s Scottish commune by horse and carriage in her 20s, Bunyan long rooted her music’s roving spirit in a desire for physicality that’s muddy and crestfallen. For a figure that’s been upheld as fragile and innocent, the true story of Bunyan the musician is that of a woman-turned-nomad fueled by an awareness that the more people and places you meet, the more your perception of the world grows. –Nina Corcoran

White Rabbit

Wayward: Just Another Life to Live

By Vashti Bunyan


World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music

By Jeff Tweedy

Jeff Tweedy admits in the introduction to his third book, World Within a Song, that he would have started here, with brief love letters to important songs throughout his life, had he been more confident as a writer. Instead, the Wilco frontman felt the pressure to pen a more conventional memoir in 2018’s Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), then followed that up with How to Write One Song, his down-to-earth approach to the guru-littered gutters of the “creativity guide” genre. Both books are excellent—warm, funny, unflinchingly honest, and clearly the work of a true music fan. But World Within a Song allows Tweedy to go full nerd, not as a tangent to a story but as the story itself. The effect is something like a book-length version of Pitchfork’s own 5-10-15-20 interview series, where stray memories become reflexively intertwined with certain lyrics or melodies.

Tweedy writes like he talks—direct, enthusiastic, relatable, self-aware when he’s corny—and it’s a quick and enjoyable read even when he opines on well-worn hits like “Smoke on the Water.” The best parts are when he focuses on specific moments with family members that shifted his view of things: his mom connecting to Lene Lovich’s “Lucky Number” while watching the “New Wave” episode of The Midnight Special with him, her own “you live alone, you die alone” worldview reflected back; discovering, after many years of assuming otherwise, that his cousin did not write Bachman–Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business.” It’s not all classic rock and vintage alternative, though—I gotta hand it to Tweedy, I didn’t expect to be so moved by his take on Rosalía’s “Bizcochito.” He writes, upon Googling lyric translations and realizing he’d understood the emotion even though he doesn’t speak Spanish, “I could actually hear the look on her face. I could see the man she was singing to—pinpoint the heartache to a specific moment in her life.” –Jill Mapes

Dutton

World Within a Song: Music That Changed My Life and Life That Changed My Music

By Jeff Tweedy



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Written by: Soft FM Radio Staff

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