August 31, 2006

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Da Capo Best Music Writing 2006 edited by Mary Gaitskill & Daphne Carr (De Capo Press, 2006, 288 pages)

Apparently, Da Capo's year ends in August.

One can only hope that the next Nirvana or Beatles will be discovered and then martyr-esquely shot before December for ultimate smite-tacularness. But so far, 2006 hasn't been a totally terrible year for the music journalism world, considering the stagnating music industry as its backdrop and all.

As the Best Music Writing series continues, it's good to see the editors branching out further every year to include more obscure publications like No Depression and the Web sites PopMatters and SomethingAwful.com. At this rate, maybe one day we'll actually see one of Pitchforkmedia.com's monster record reviews get some recognition! But the series editor, Daphne Carr, has done well sifting through the journalistic desert of Lester Bangs and Chuck Klosterman wannabees and has delivered a few installments of soul and edge.

Right off the bat, your musical integrity is threatened with Greil Marcus' in-depth deconstruction of Bob Dylan's war-time favorite, "Masters of War." He takes the wind right out of the cultural gut of Dylan's second generational rediscovery, citing "Masters of War" as his ugliest musical fallacy (bigger than his "Jesus, save me!" days?). And sadly... Marcus' "Stories of a Bad Song" is quite convincing.

Robert Wheaton paints an intimate portrait of Britain's latest hip-hop super hero, M.I.A., in his "London Calling-For Congo, Columbo, Sri Lanka..." and Jon Caramancia's "Ghetto Gospel" about Ol' Dirty Bastard's death serves to be the best musical obituary since Kurt Cobain put a gun to his head. Not to mention, Caramancia's portrayel of ODB's funeral is quite vivid and haunting.

But the one installment that cuts through the usual mumbo jumbo, is the shining brilliance of rising satirical writer David Thorpe (a.k.a Dr. David Thorpe) from SomethingAwful.com. With encouragable snar-casm and snobbery, he writes what would be the equivalent of Cliff notes to R. Kelly's six-part "Trapped In The Closet" series, complete with a character list and sex map. He gives pop music the desperate slap in the face it needs, with out sounding like a jabbering, idiot blogger.

Of course, there are several pit-falls through out, actually about every 20 pages or so. Mike McGuirk's micro reviews on everything from Rush to Kylie Minogue serve as nothing more than filler and Alex Ross' fetishistic "Doctor Atomic 'Countdown'" is easily skippable.

The lows are low and the highs are high but the Best Music Writing series continues as snapshot of the year's musical highlights and idiosyncrasies, and in 2006 not a lot has happened. No one has saved rock 'n roll or pop music, there have been no crazy movements or comebacks and Bono and Thom Yorke are still alive! It's going to be quiet until one of those things happens. Odd-numbered years are the best anyway. B-

— Dan Brian