Library Journal: Metal Dancing With Trevor Jackson

music0601metal Music for the Masses: Metal Dancing with Trevor JacksonBritish producer/musician/designer Trevor Jackson recently compiled a selection of seminal industrial and electro tunes from the early 1980s for tastemaking label Strut Records. It was released as Metal Dance, a two-disc set complete with Jackson-designed packaging and sleevenotes. I chatted with him about the collection and how he sometimes feels like a librarian.

MM: What was the impetus behind Metal Dance?

TJ: A couple of things. I was searching through the attic of my parents’ house and found a bunch of old tapes I had made as a teenager. I thought it was quite bizarre that there were loads of compilations coming out, but many of them didn’t touch on more commercial records, more club records, what we used to call alternative dance. Lots of music from that time was overlooked and deserved to be out there in the public domain again.

For those who might not be familiar with this music, would you tell us about the genres on the album?

That’s the thing! During the 1980s, music wasn’t so genrefied. I suppose the music from this time was outsider music—certainly subversive and alternative. It was mainly made with primitive electronics by people who weren’t always musicians. They just found their way around things they could make sound with. That’s what appeals to me. It’s not music made by professional musicians, which often leads to things that are quite boring.

How did you choose the tracks?

Literally, it was finding that cassette in my parents’ attic. Some of the tracks I wanted—I would have loved a Depeche Mode track or Human League, and there are other bands I would have put on—but you’re quite limited…. Major labels make it very restrictive to license songs without paying a huge amount of money.

It meant that I had to dig deeper and find things that were on smaller independent labels, which probably made the compilation more interesting. But it was 75 percent of what was on that cassette; these were records that were anthems to me and many people going to clubs at the time.

Behind the music

This compilation feels like an accessible entry point to a rather inaccessible type of music. Was that in the back of your head?

That was it 100 percent. I could have done a compilation of the weirdest music that no one had ever heard before, and I would have loved it and gotten a lot of kudos from the people in the right places. Yet in my position now, I see myself more as being, in an odd way, a good librarian, with my knowledge of music and related cultural things going back from when I was a young kid. I like to be able to share that with people.

I picked tracks I loved. I chose the Pete Shelley track because I was a massive fan of producer Martin Rushent. I decided when I made the compilation to forget all the really cool people who are going to think these are obvious tracks. I wanted to make it an introduction for those who might not have heard this music.

And it was vindicating; when I started doing interviews with people in their twenties, they’d never heard any of the songs! Not one of them! It’s really satisfying that it worked that way.

If a library were using this collection as a jumping-off point, are there any albums or artists that you would recommend?

I’d have to say start with Cabaret Voltaire, probably some of the most important electronic music artists of all time. So many artists on Metal Dance are seminal. People talk about Kraftwerk as being the kings of electronic music, but, to me, Yello are equally important. They’re more human than Kraftwerk, there’s more humor, and their records are sexier.

Do you have any other curatorial projects in the works?

I spend my life collecting things: I’ve got 50,000 records, 15,000–20,000 books—tons of stuff. In an ideal world, I’d have a publishing company that would reissue books, records, films…everything. I’m not overtly opposed to downloads and the digital realm, but at the same time I need to hold something in my hands.

I think the physical object is going to become a fetish. The mainstream will become all about the equivalent of renting—you won’t buy anything. But there will be a hard-core group who have a passion for the physical. As I get older, I think that’s what I want to do. I want to try to re­release not just music but all of the things I’m passionate about.

Originally published in Library Journal.

Library Journal: Awesome Tapes From Africa


NaHawa Music for the Masses: Awesome Tapes from AfricaStarting as a humble blog in 2006, Awesome Tapes from Africa (ATFA) has grown into a cottage industry of sorts by combining the best parts of the voracious collector mentality (“I’ve gotta find this!”) with the benevolent DJ mentality (“You’ve gotta hear this!”). The blog was originally an outlet for founder Brian Shimkovitz to share his impressive collection of African musical obscurities, expanded into DJ nights wherein Shimkovitz would take his crates of cassettes on the road, and is now finally a label.

ATFA has thus far released last year’s highly regarded album by Nâ Hawa Doumbia (on LP, CD, and cassette), with a new album by Bola on the way (more on these below). Music for the Masses met with Shimkovitz and discovered a passionate fan who wants to make a continent’s worth of hidden music accessible.

MM: How did you start seriously collecting music from Africa?

Shimkowitz Music for the Masses: Awesome Tapes from AfricaBS: I studied in Ghana during college and came across tons of interesting music while doing ethnomusicology research on the music industry. I went back on a Fulbright grant in 2005 to research the emerging hip-hop scene there and picked up even more recordings. I have always been a big music collector, but the work I was doing on popular music encouraged this obsession even more.

Tell me about the evolution of ATFA.

When I started the blog in 2006, I felt like it was a fun thing to do on the weekend. I was working in New York City in music publicity, and over the years people kept asking me if I was thinking of doing something more with the blog. I began DJing the music from Awesome Tapes so much that I needed to quit my [day] job. I had built a strong sense of how to do something streamlined and effective in terms of a ­label.

Shortly before that, the folks at Secretly Canadian Distribution contacted me to see if I would be interested in working with them. So it came together in an organic way.

Why do you feel that these rarities are important and need to be heard?

African music in the Western marketplace is extremely limited. I was astounded by the vibrant diversity of music you can hear everywhere you go in virtually any town in Africa. It felt really important to me as a music listener living in America to make it possible for some of my friends to hear things we can’t find at shops outside the continent.

Most of what I post you’d be hard-pressed to find even just outside the region in which it originates. I had no idea so many other people around the world would be as enthusiastic as I am about some of this music.

Talk about your label’s two physical releases.

One thing that’s always been important with the blog and now with the label is making available complete recordings, i.e., not compilations. Letting an entire artistic statement speak for itself has always been a priority for me, hence the less-than-­encyclopedic presentation of the recordings on the blog.

The first title is Doumbia’s La Grande Cantatrice Malienne Vol. 3, which is an early album by a well-regarded singer from southern Mali. It is very acoustic and soulful and organic-sounding and felt like an excellent first statement for the label. It’s not too out-there, like some of the things I have become known for, yet it’s a rare and fascinating look at music from one part of Mali.

While in Ghana, I became fascinated with the music of ethnic groups hailing from the northern regions, especially their folk music forms. The second release is by an artist from the Upper East Region named Bola, who plays the kologo, a two-stringed lutelike instrument. Kologo music is typically played solo with a couple of dancers. The instrumentalist sings praises and preaches advice while he performs.

Bola’s approach is very 21st century—he is accompanied by drum machine, synthesizer, and heavy bass—so the music is very dance-oriented and modern. I am extremely excited for what’s going to happen with his career…. He already has invitations to perform at festivals in Europe.

What would you recommend for a more substantive African music collection?

I spent a week in France this past summer digging through the music holdings of the musée du quai Branly, and I was blown away by the extensive collection of commercially released field recordings there. In particular, labels including Ocora, ­Lyrichord, and Smithsonian Folkways have released incredible documents of music from all over…. Folkways recordings epitomize the kind of variety a larger library should have available. In terms of popular music, one could focus on releases by labels like World Circuit, Sublime Frequencies, and Finders Keepers.

Who’s the most recent artist you’ve gotten excited about?

This isn’t African, but I have been really into the Iranian musician Kourosh ­Yaghmaei, who released many incredible songs during the prerevolutionary heyday of Persian psychedelic rock.

Library Journal: An Interview With Sarah Houghton

I don’t know about you, but your Music for the Masses columnist views digitaMusic for the Masses: Q&A with Sarah Houghtonl music warily. Triple that for digital music services that vendors are rolling out for libraries. But with ebook mania sweeping the library world, it’s downright irresponsible to clap two 45s over one’s ears and not at least survey the field (which, as of this writing, includes OverDrive, Freegal, Alexander Street, and the emerging Rdio). Someone who has been doing a lot of thinking about this is librarian Sarah Houghton (aka The Librarian in Black); there is a lot of great discussion going on at her blog ( about these and related digital content topics. Taking a break from live-tweeting the State of the Union from Washington DC, Houghton (an LJ 2009 Mover & Shaker) cut right to the chase.

MM: Digital music in libraries—are we on the right or wrong track?

SH: I don’t think a good solution for digital music in libraries has been presented yet. I think the Rdio product from Recorded Books is on the right track in terms of service model, but the pricing is prohibitive for most libraries. So we’re on the wrong track. I’d like to see libraries suggest alternative licensing, ownership, and access models and communicate those to the vendors—instead of the other way around.

There are so many issues at play here—on the library side, the vendor side, the record label side, the artist side, DRM. The music industry still doesn’t have any consistency in approaching digital content. Do you think this tangle will ever get sorted out?

I think we will see copyright law revised, namely the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and see a fair use exemption extended to libraries for digital content. When this happens, libraries will be able to purchase digital content as we always have purchased physical content (or perhaps license it). No more charging libraries extra, putting additional restrictions on library e-copies, or simply refusing to sell to us. When that happens, at least the mess for libraries and library users would be sorted out. In the long term for consumer concerns, we will continue to see [digital rights management] fade away until it is simply a memory that makes us shudder in the dark.

There are a lot of obscure but great albums that are only available to us physically. One of my worries is that as libraries rush to embrace digital music as it currently stands, whole genres will disappear from our collections.

Large public libraries, university libraries, and music libraries will continue to archive physical music collections. We’ve already seen general public library budgets for CDs and other physical music formats decrease, and that trend will continue. Public libraries have typically provided popular stuff in all the genres but then rotated that collection out as time passes. With a digital collection, we [can] offer an entire catalog of music and let users choose which ones they want to access—what a better model!

Are there any vendor models that are currently workable?

Freegal’s model does not work, period. A pay per use model will never work in libraries, as it creates an unpredictable budget item. The service also fundamentally changes the library’s role from being an entity that buys one copy, then loans it out multiple times, to an entity that buys a copy of something for the patron to keep forever. Fundamentally flawed and unjustifiable to library stakeholders, in my opinion. Recorded Books’ Rdio model can work, but the company needs to alter the pricing structure. If you’re a small to midsize library, the current costs are simply prohibitive.

What are some best-case-scenario solutions we in the field should be thinking about? You’ve mentioned Spotify and Rdio communitywide licenses. What about the Ann Arbor/Magnatune deal where the library pays the vendor a flat fee for unlimited patron access to over 900 albums?

I’d like to see libraries be able to purchase a certain number of streaming concurrent licenses so that users can log in to services like Spotify or Rdio with their library cards and access the premium offerings that way for free. [And it looks like Rdio is making moves in this direction.—Ed.] If the library hits its max, the user would be told what happened, and the library would be notified of turnaways on a weekly basis to evaluate whether to increase its concurrent licenses. We’d have to be careful about implementation, e.g., would users be encouraged to buy tracks, and, if so, how and is that OK with the library? I think that the Ann Arbor/Magnatune example is stellar, and I congratulate them on their work to create another model, one that recognizes the needs of both artists and consumers.

Originally published in Library Journal.

Library Journal: I’m Your Man – Leonard Cohen

OldIdeas150 I’m Your Man: Leonard Cohen | Music for the Masses, February 1, 2012By the time you read this column, 77-year-old Canadian poet/musician Leonard Cohen will have only just released his 12th studio album, the drolly named Old Ideas (Columbia. UPC 886979867123), on ­January 31. Songs that have been leaked so far are stately and hymnlike, as befitting a man who became a Zen monk in 1996 and whose voice has aged from a nasal yelp to low intonations worthy of an Old Testament prophet. It’s been a long, strange road for an unassuming writer who picked up a guitar and put his melancholic, lovelorn, and often bleakly humorous lines into song form at the tail end of the Sixties.

Improbably, Cohen became something of a cult hero, gaining an obsessive coterie of followers—who wanted either to comfort him or read him their poetry—and a (perhaps unfair) reputation as one of the most depressing songwriters ever. But that glib assessment undercuts the magic of his songcraft: precise imagery and minimalist lyrics, coupled to heart-tugging melodies.

It’s this music—11 restless albums over 40 years—that has snagged several generations of devoted fans. (Indeed, when I caught a Leonard Cohen show in 2009, I was sandwiched between a twentysomething girl and a fiftysomething woman, both in tears the whole time!) Cohen shows no signs of slowing down; he’s one of those incredibly rare Sixties acts whose best days may arguably be in the here and now. You can have your Bob Dylans and your Neil Youngs, Leonard Cohen is the monument for me.

Let’s take a quick tour of the highlights of his back catalog to get in the proper mood.

On disc

Songs of Leonard Cohen. Sony Legacy. 1968.

Way too many faux-sensitive singer/songwriters with ruffled hair have waxed foolish about merging poetry and the pop song, but right out of the gate the thirtysomething Cohen arrived with a suite of skeletal songs that did just that.

Songs from a Room. Sony Legacy. 1969.

Cohen decamped to Nashville for his second record, teaming up with Bob Dylan/Arcade Fire(!), producer Bob Johnson, and a cadre of session vets (including a young Charlie Daniels!) to cut another set of intimate songs. Standouts include “Bird on a Wire” and “You Know Who I Am.”

Songs of Love and Hate. Sony Legacy. 1971.

The follow-up to Room was recorded in the same studio with most of the same personnel but was a more raw and gritty collection of music. Perhaps his strongest album, it delivered with songs like “Famous Blue Raincoat” and “Last Year’s Man” and made your skin crawl during “Dress Rehearsal Rag.”

DeathofaLadiesMan150 I’m Your Man: Leonard Cohen | Music for the Masses, February 1, 2012Death of a Ladies’ Man. SBME Special. 1977.

On paper, it seemed like a dream. Leonard Cohen, poet laureate of misery, teamed up with Phil Spector, Mr. Wall of Sound and the man behind the Everly Brothers and the Ronettes. Unfortunately, Spector was pretty damn loopy by this point, and the result is an album that takes many listens to fully digest its grandiose mystery.

Live in London. Sony. 2009.

The old man’s still got it! A 70-plus-year-old Cohen hit the road, wowing crowds all over the world with marathon sets (two hours plus, Bruce Springsteen style) and ridiculously spry performances (often literally skipping offstage), as this document of one night in London proves.

I’m Your Man. SBME Special. 1988.

At the tail end of the Eighties, Cohen casually picked up a synthesizer and found a whole new world of musical textures. It was a new beginning for him creatively and featured the classic treatise on aging and writer’s block, “Tower of Song.”

On film

Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man. Lions Gate. 2005.

Musicians both new (Rufus Wainwright) and old (U2; the McGarrigle sisters) line up to give Cohen’s songbook a whirl onstage, intercut with new interviews with Cohen wryly reflecting on his life, art, and Buddhist ­dalliance.

Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire. Tony Palmer Films. 2010.

An indispensable (and long-buried) live document from 1972 wherein a small film crew follows Cohen and band all over in a mirror-cracked version of Don’t Look Back . Whereas Bob Dylan was icy, Cohen was patient and overwhelmed with emotions, carried away by the power of music.

Originally published in Library Journal.

Library Journal: Nineties Flashback

“Culturally, we have pushed firmly into full-on 1990s revival. Be ready for it,” Courtney E. Smith sagely claimed during our recent interview (LJ 11/1/11, p. 54). Techno, grunge, vocal groups, shoegaze, everything that’s old is new again. Smith was good enough to provide some pointers to get us started in our acquisitions time-traveling. Here are 16 albums that (subjectively) fit her criteria.

Bikini Kill. The Singles. Kill Rock Stars. 1998.
Revolution girl style! Kathleen Hanna’s Bikini Kill threw down a gauntlet to a generation of female musicians; their sound was a mix of freewheeling punk DIY and deadly serious feminist activism.

Chemical Brothers. Dig Your Own Hole. Astralwerks. 1997.
The Chemicals brought dance music out of the warehouses and nightclubs and into rock venues with this crossover smash.

Daft Punk. Homework. Virgin. 1997.
Dance music for the masses, cleverly made, presented with bombastic showmanship. The French duo Daft Punk is still the first name on the lips of every would-be DJ and Deadmaus when it comes to inspiration.

Lauryn Hill. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Sony. 1998.
In the aftermath of the Fugees best seller The Score, Hill emerged with a solo album grander in musical ambition than anything her previous band had attempted, melding hip-hop, R&B, and jazz into ambitious autobiography.

Hole. Live Through This. Geffen. 1994.
Courtney Love herself may be unable to recapture the passion and inspiration that culminated in Hole’s finest moment, but young women still are being galvanized by this record to grab guitars and form bands.

The Melvins. Bullhead. Boner. 1993.
The Melvins are like a patient zero for underground music. Not only did they inspire Kurt Cobain and company to grunge it up, but an infinite number of metal weirdos decided to sloooooow it down after hearing their sludgy snarl.

Nirvana. In Utero. Geffen. 1993.
Nirvana defined much of the 1990s popular music landscape, and though Nevermind is their best-known album, it’s this follow-up, recorded as the band began to crumble, that would be their true masterpiece.

Pulp. Different Class. Island. 1996.
When Pulp crashed the Britpop party, it was like Revenge of the Nerds meets Oscar Wilde. Gloriously affected, eminently hummable outsider anthems.

Ride. Nowhere. Reprise/WEA. 1990.
Oxford quartet Ride produced the finest example of the “shoegazer” sound herein—roaring guitar feedback crossed with little-boy-lost fragility. It’s a template that’s proving irresistible to today’s young guitar-abusers.

Skinny Puppy. Last Rights. Nettwerk. 1992.
Nine Inch Nails and Ministry took Skinny Puppy’s sound (distorted vocals, shattered synths, unearthly samples) all the way to the bank. SP responded with their most accessible and experimental album, had a hit, and then duly fell to pieces.

Slayer. Seasons in the Abyss.
Def American. 1990.

Mayhem. De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Century Media. 1994.
Metal became exactly what your parents warned you about when Slayer hit the scene in the late 1980s. At the same time as Seasons—their most accessible album—was released, over in Norway, young misanthropes including groups like Mayhem, Emperor, and Barzum took Slayer’s music to its most (il)logical extreme, stripping metal to cold minimalism and delving into its darkest ideological corners to ride the crest of black metal’s second wave.

TLC. Crazysexycool. Arista. 1994.
TLC’s hip-hop/R&B crossover has set the tone for female vocal groups not in the mood to suffer fools gladly or play the blank sex kitten. Sassy and self-assured.

Tribe Called Quest. Low End Theory. Jive. 1991.
Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Phife Dawg single-handedly created so-called “conscious hip-hop” with this album: music to soundtrack Afrocentrism, enlightenment, and plain ol’ messin’ around.

Various Artists. William Shakespeare’s Romeo+Juliet. Capitol. 1996.
The soundtrack to Baz Luhrman’s bombastic recasting of Shakespeare’s doomed lovers for the MTV generation featured everyone from Radiohead to Butthole Surfers and Des’ree.

Wu-Tang Clan. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). RCA. 1993.
A hip-hop collective where every member had the potential to be a solo star, Wu-Tang Clan in this record is at their hungriest, grittiest, and most unified.

Originally published in Library Journal.

Library Journal: Best Music 2011

ljx120101webBMmusic Best Media 2011: Music

Even as the record industry crumbles and digital music is either saving or ruining music depending on who you ask, great music in 2011 was plentiful, as my empty wallet attests. Here are ten albums that aren’t going to be on the best-of lists currently making the virtual rounds, but they’re ones by artists whom people will be talking about for years to come.

ASVA. Presences Of Absences. Important.
Doom metal pioneer Stuart Dahlquist (Burning Witch; Sunn0)))) leaves the Sturm und Drang of the past behind with these lush, sprawling, organ-fueled hymns for nonbelievers.

The Babies. The Babies. Shrimper.
Trying desperately to escape their day job’s buzzband ubiquity and return to the garage, the Babies is a supergroup of sorts made up of members of the Vivian Girls and Woods. The result is a collection of gloriously ragged songs that recall a young X.

Dirty Beaches. Badlands. Zoo Music.
Taiwanese/Canadian greaser badass Alex Zhang Hungtai makes heartbreak/noir music all by his lonesome that evokes Nick Cave, Suicide, Link Wray, and the Cramps in equal measures. Live, he breaks hearts and bursts eardrums under a blood-red light.

Jeff & Jane Hudson. Flesh. Captured Tracks/Dark Entries.
Scene: couple makes arty synthpunk in early 1980s New York City, opens for Suicide, and is completely overlooked. Flash-forward: The goth enthusiasts at Dark Entries dug up everything they recorded, gave it a proper reissue, and now their music is getting long-overdue critical plaudits.

The Jesus and Mary Chain. Psychocandy: Expanded Edition. Darklands: Expanded Edition. Edsel.
The DNA of so much music today originated in these two classic 1980s albums by sunglasses-and-leather-wearing brothers Jim and William Reid. An arrogant mix of girl group sweetness and white noise; come for the albums, stay for the generous servings of rare bonus material.

John Maus. We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves. Domino.
Philosophy Ph.D. candidate Maus (no foolin’!) first surfaced as a confederate of the equally loopy Ariel Pink, but his own music is a ridiculously icy, catchy, danceable love letter to Joy Division and roller-rink-ready new wave.

Prince Rama. Trust Now. Paw Tracks.
Sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson impressed listeners with the 2010 Animal Collective–assisted album Shadow Temple, but it’s Trust Now that really seals the deal—a witchy mix of torch songs and tribal drumming that suggests an update of the Creatures and Dead Can Dance at their most ecstatic.

Various Artists. Local Customs: Pressed at Boddie. Numero.
In the 1960s, Cleveland couple Thomas and Boddie recorded and pressed records by hundreds of acts in gospel, soul, funk, and rock. No one was turned away. The sound archaeologists at Numero have assembled a starter kit of some of the best bits, and it’s jaw-dropping in scope and sheer joie de vivre.

Willie Evans Jr. Introducin’. High Water.
Permit me a moment of local pride. Jacksonville, FL, group Asamov should have been the next big thing in underground hip-hop around 2005, but it was not to be. Asamov alum Evans’s newest solo album stands up with the best hip-hop of 2011—imaginative beats and lyrics unafraid to big up Watchmen and You Can’t Do That on Television.

Wolves in the Throne Room. Celestial Lineage. Southern Lord.
This Olympia, WA–based black metal troupe fuse their feral, dizzying thrash with a dose of environmental activism and counterculture conscience. Remember when American black metal used to be a joke? Me neither.

Originally published in Library Journal.

Library Journal: Interview With Courtney E. Smith

Music biz insider, new music booster, and first-time author Courtney E. Smith is generating a pretty deafening level of buzz (turn it up, mannnnnnnn) with her new book, Record Collecting for Girls: Unleashing Your Inner Music Nerd, One Album at a Time (Xpress Reviews, 8/19/11). She recently spared a moment to sit down with me virtually to discuss writing and the future of record collecting and to give us librarians a passel of hot tips for collection development.

What was your initial inspiration?

I love reading editorial music books. When I realized that no women had written any, I decided to write the book I wanted to read instead of waiting for someone else to do it. Specifically, though, the “Beatles or Stones?” pickup line in the book was the first thing I was inspired to write about.

Tell me about writing this book. It’s really the first of its kind in that it deals with record collecting geekdom from a feminist perspective.

This book turned out to be an exercise in nerdiness above and beyond what I expected. I was constantly reading other books to inform my opinions (shout out to the L.A. city library system, specifically the Los Feliz and Downtown branches—I couldn’t have done it without you). I enjoy getting lost in music history research so much it’s almost absurd.

Did you have a particular audience in mind? What feedback have you gotten from music obsessives?

It’s really difficult to write for a broad audience. I kept specific people in mind as I wrote each essay, and then my lovely editor would tell me if I was too far off for a normal person to follow along.

I went into this book understanding that writing an editorial book about music is taking your life into your hands. Having a strong point of view means you are bound to write something bad about someone’s favorite band, or the opposite, which is equally bad: write something good about a band someone hates. Music is so personal and subjective that those two things can ruin the book for some people.

The tone of your writing is a fascinating mix of memoir and guidebook, kind of like what really good music journalism (or even music curating) is.

One of the things I am trying to express in my tone and with the title is the idea that record collecting as we know it is going to be a thing of the past soon. Pragmatically, that is just where technology is going…. Technology has dictated how we’ve listened to music for the last 100 years. Now, as we venture into a world where everyone has equal and unfettered access to music via services like Spotify, Rdio, Grooveshark, or Rhapsody, music curation will become the new record collecting.

I wanted to be able to hold the attention of music nerds and laypeople. That’s tough to do. There are guide elements here for people who don’t know as much about music, historical elements for anyone who might be interested, and conversational memoir bits for the soft touches like me.

Do you think libraries have a place in nurturing musical interest (and education) for girls and women?

I think libraries have a place curating musical interest and education for women, by taking care to showcase female artists, critics, and commentators. The best way to do that is not only to take care to stock product by females but advertising them with features and recommendations. The male voice, in all those arenas, is still considered universal. The only way to even things up is to give women the room to talk and shine a spotlight when they do.

You made playlists in every chapter.What albums would you recommend for libraries?

Make sure your collections of albums from the 1990s are full, embracing grunge, Brit Pop, classic 1990s movie soundtracks, industrial (like Nine Inch Nails), electronic, riot grrl, new jack R&B, and the cheesy nostalgic stuff like the Spice Girls and the Backstreet Boys. Culturally, we have pushed firmly into full-on 1990s revival. Be ready for it.

What resources can librarians use to stay current on new music?

My favorite tool is Twitter, and I use it like an RSS feed. Make yourself a Twitter list of music websites, record labels, artists, and music writers. Check it as often as you like to see who has something new out and what people think of it.

Originally published in Library Journal.

Library Journal: Rock’s Backpages

There will be much duckwalking and air drumming in the halls of academia tonight! For the serious student of music history and popular culture, primary source writing on rock’n’roll music is available but not exactly plentiful. Databases and periodical collections in libraries offer the expected fare—Rolling Stone, the Village Voice, and metropolitan newspapers—but the meaty reportage of street-level publications like Creem or Trouser Press is either sparsely anthologized or completely absent.

Critical knowledge gap

This leaves us with a critical knowledge gap. Barney Hoskyns, editor of the music journalism archive Rock’s Backpages (RBP), concurred: “The knowledge gap was the pronounced lack of contemporaneous articles online about acts, events, scenes, movements, and genres. There seemed to be a danger of pop history being whittled down to diluted, bite-size, consensus half-truths about what really happened back in the day. Plus, obviously there was the awareness of growing academic demand for content that enabled students to go deeper than wiki-level ­research.”

Enter Rock’s Backpages, initially conceived by Hoskyns, himself a veteran music journalist, almost as a happy accident: “Rock’s Backpages was born in 2000 when a press officer emailed me to ask if I could recommend someone to write some Roy Harper sleeve notes. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be good if I could quickly see online who had written the best stuff on Roy?’

“I had an instant vision of a long list of Roy Harper articles spanning his career, and RBP was conceived in that moment.” Since that initial brainstorm, the dedicated team of writers and researchers who run the site have created an impressive online archive of music journalism: over 18,000 articles strong (from more than 500 writers) as this article went to press.

Though UK periodicals make up the bulk of the indexed material (not a bad thing at all, as a typical issue of rock weekly Melody Maker in the early 1990s would have given equal space to Public Enemy, Stone Roses, Napalm Death, and Neil Young), iconic American writers like Greil Marcus and Lester Bangs are well represented, and U.S. publications from Creem to Crawdaddy to Rolling Stone are well archived. (The listing of magazines is colossal; I was personally staggered to see U.S. hair metal bible RIP and leftist journal ­Ramparts rubbing shoulders.)

The collection isn’t static either. According to Hoskyns, compilers add “50 new pieces and one audio interview each week.” The writing collected runs the gamut of the rock-crit spectrum—from brief record reviews and concert reviews to sprawling interviews, from the wonkier tones of a Simon Reynolds to the un­restrained enthusiasms of a Steven Wells. There are some holes in coverage, as can be expected in a venture of this size.

Key features

Besides the article archives, the site offers several other interesting features, including blogs by many of the writers involved and, most intriguing, the raw audio of some of the interviews (250 of them at present) as a streaming MP3. I listened to a Leonard Cohen interview from the mid-Eighties, and the fidelity was good, to say nothing of the delight of hearing Cohen hold forth in his subterranean baritone with no editorial filters.

From large-scale to obscure

As with most databases and library OPACs, you are offered the option of searching by artist, writer, date, or keyword (or even genre!), with an Advanced Search capability for digging deeper. There are also A–Z lists of artists and writers for seemingly endless hours of click-throughs.

As a test, I queried obscure bands Whitehouse and Bratmobile and came up empty-handed. However, the holdings are vast on large-scale acts like the Beatles and Prince; even cult faves like the Slits, Throbbing Gristle, and Megadeth are ­represented.

A number of U.S. universities and libraries—e.g., New York University and Berklee College of Music—already make use of this service, and it’s only a matter of time, with this much unique content, before it makes even further inroads. Hoskyns even sees the site being put to good use outside of academia: “Beyond teachers and students, our user base includes journalists, filmmakers, and, of course, serious fans.” I know, I know, it’s only rock’n’roll, but, sometimes, that’s good enough

Originally published in Library Journal.

Library Journal: Creating An Online MA Service

Ever notice how readers’ advisory (RA) gets all the love? Training classes abound, resources like EBSCO’s NoveList and NextReads offer a wealth of information to library users, and increasingly more librarians are running their own in-house RA services, with nifty innovations like reading maps.

I recently found myself wondering why libraries don’t similarly offer “music advisory” (MA) services to their patrons, and, further, whether such services would even be viable. Sure, established websites already exist offering “listening advice,” like Allmusic and Pandora. But librarians shouldn’t have to leave MA up to commercial services based on search algorithms. Instead, they should be able to provide personalized expertise on and direct recommendations for items within the library catalog.

Personalized playlists
So, late last year, wanting to take general music reference at Jacksonville Public Library (JPL) a step beyond one-on-one assistance in the stacks, and taking a cue from JPL’s existing online “Personalized Booklist” RA offering, I decided to create a stand-alone MA service called, naturally, “Personalized Playlist.” The tag line: “Need something to listen to? Looking for a new favorite band? Simply fill out the form and our staff will search out the music you love.”

A colleague who has historically always said The teen, who turns 17 on Sunday, was partying with celebrity pals including , Chris Brown, and The Game, as well as older sister Kendall. yes to my schemes, ILS librarian Andrew Coulon, helped me to design and implement a two-part online questionnaire. The first part contains specific, targeted MA questions (e.g., “Is there a particular musician or group whose albums you are looking for?”), while the second part poses questions aimed at eliciting more general, conceptual listening advice (e.g., “Do you want to find some music by artists who are similar to your personal favorites?”).

More in-depth questions enable us to delve further into users’ particular tastes and needs. They include, “Are there any types of music that you DO NOT like at all?” and “Please list a few musicians/bands that you have enjoyed listening to recently.” We also present a checklist of music genres—among them children’s, classical, gospel, metal, hip-hop, jazz, punk, reggae, and soundtracks—asking users to select their favorites from among them. The final checkbox, “Matthew’s Wild Card Albums,” allows for the suggestion of a great lost or cult album, luck-of-the-draw style.

Keeping a record
To play it safe, at least initially, we decided on a turnaround time of three to four days, at which point users receive an email from us containing a listing of five or more suggested albums along with links to those albums in the library catalog. Email is the most straightforward and expedient way to get individual playlists to our users, but it lacks visual flair and context.

So Andrew suggested we additionally start a WordPress blog. In addition to saving us from having to suggest the same albums over and over again, the blog serves as an interactive, searchable public archive, also affording users the opportunity to discover new music by perusing others’ playlists.

Each playlist is treated as a separate post, with users’ identifying information (except for first name) omitted. For every album we recommend, we include the artist’s name, the record label, and the year of release; a direct link to the catalog record; an image of the album cover; a pull-quote from Allmusic or a similar site describing the record; and a list of the user’s keywords/preferences corresponding to that particular album.

The big reveal
With seemingly all bases covered, we made the pages live in early February. And with that—and a few well-placed mentions via the library’s Facebook and Twitter accounts—we were ready to go.

Originally published in Library Journal.

Library Journal: The Class of 2011

Still not fired? How can this be?

ljx110201webmusicMasses.1(Original Import)

If you thought 2010 was a good year for music, then, baby, you’re going to love 2011. To the relief of major label rec­ord execs stressing over their bottom line, heavy hitters like Lil’ Wayne, Lady Gaga, U2, R.E.M., and The Cars all have new releases slated for this year.

Those less commercially minded, meanwhile, are frothing at the mouth over imminent releases from Noah “Panda Bear” Lennox (of Animal Collective), indie pop band The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, and Seattle folk band Fleet Foxes. And your faithful LJ correspondent’s heart is all aflutter at the thought of a new album from Brooklyn metal band Liturgy.

Here is a selection of recent and forthcoming album releases, both popular and eclectic, that deserve consideration for your library’s collection. Where UPCs do not appear, they were unavailable at the time of publication.

Beastie Boys. Hot Sauce Committee. Pt. 2. Capitol. Spring 2011.
The long-awaited new Beastie Boys album, delayed by rapper Adam “MCA” Yauch’s diagnosis of cancer, is, oddly, full of all 16 of the songs written for the “indefinitely delayed” Part 1, in exactly the same intended order. Makes sense in Beastie-land.

Chain & the Gang. Music’s Not for Everyone. K. Feb. 2011.
Ian Svenonius—eternal teenage revolutionary—continues his run of musical insurrection with this new outfit. Expect plenty of funky testifyin’ in these 14 tracks, in the mold of previous endeavors like The Makeup or The Nation of Ulysses.

The Dirtbombs. Party Store. In the Red. Feb. 2011. UPC 759718520026.
Detroit garage-rock godfather Mick Collins emerges after a lengthy absence to lead his hard-rockin’ Dirtbombs through a set of live band covers of nine classic house and techno tracks.

Ducktails. Ducktails III: Arcade Dynamics. Woodsist. Jan. 2011. UPC 655035044828.
Ducktails was lumped in with chillwave (see “Chillwave: The Genre That Isn’t?,” LJ 6/1/10), but the music that Matthew Mondanile makes is miles away from that sonic beach party; these 11 tracks are all woodsy drones and rambles filled with faded photographs and wordless regret.

Earth. Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light 1. Southern Lord. Feb. 2011.
Guitarist Dylan Carlson’s pioneering doom/drone outfit follows up The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull (2008) with a new lineup including Nirvana cellist Lori Goldstein, stripping away the distortion and noise in favor of liquid, contemplative instrumental suites in five tracks.

East River Pipe. We Live in Rented Rooms. Merge. Feb. 2011.
Loner FM Cornog’s East River Pipe, a critical favorite in the early 1990s, burst out with a clutch of melancholy lo-fi gems before disappearing into the everyday world of work and family. This album marks his unexpected and welcome return.

Electric Wizard. Black Masses. Rise Above/Metal Blade. Jan. 2011. UPC 039841496826.
Perhaps the band closest to inheriting Black Sabbath’s doomy cloak, Electric Wizard has promised that the follow-up to its Lovecraft-referencing Witchcult Today (2007) will be “the oblivion and ecstasy of 10,000 watts of doom!”

Jay-Z & Kanye West. Watch the Throne. Def Jam. TBA 2011.
This much-ballyhooed and long-in-the-works collaboration between the two biggest egos in hip-hop (see “Hip-Hop Must-Haves,” LJ 9/1/09) will either be a game changer or a very entertaining train wreck. Either way, we win!

PJ Harvey. Let England Shake. Island. Feb. 2011.
The mercurial Polly Jean Harvey decamped to an abandoned church with collaborators Mick Harvey and John Parish to record this eighth studio album, the follow-up to White Chalk (2007). The resulting sounds are stark, dark, and all hers.

Toro Y Moi. Underneath the Pine. Car Park. Feb. 2011.
Chillwave godfather Chaz Bundick radically reconceptualizes Toro Y Moi’s hazy electronica with live instrumentation; the result is a funky, head-nodding immediacy that straddles the 1970s…and the future.

Weedeater. Jason the Dragon. Southern Lord. Mar. 2011.
The fourth album—following the excellent God Luck and Good Speed (2007)—from this scuzzy, sociopathic sludge metal group (see “Metal: Headbang for Your Buck,” LJ 12/08) will feature former members of the mighty Buzzov*en; recorded with Nirvana/Pixies producer Steve Albini.

From the January edition of  Library Journal’s Music For the Masses column.