Even if you’re a huge fan of music writing, it’s hard to get jazzed about the state of music criticism these days. The smart, carefully crafted album reviews and “Eureka!”-inducing behind the music pieces are too often drowned in a deluge of blurbs, highly-calibrated ratings charts, and shouting Amazon commenters. But Continuum’s 33 1/3 series of satisfyingly-sized mini-books, each devoted to a single critical consideration of a favorite album, is something to get excited about. Each installation offers a nuanced look at an album from the popular (or unpopular) canon through everything from memoir to history to fiction.
This week, Radiohead scholar and Tiny Mix Tapes editor-in-chief Marvin Lin releases his contribution to the series, on Kid A. It begins with a confession: “I FELL ASLEEP TWICE DURING MY FIRST LISTEN TO KID A.” Lin moves on to consider the making and critical reception of the album, focusing on music’s relationship with time and the politics behind listening. It’s a fantastic addition to a great collection of books. Below, a reading list of even more essential 33 1/3 offerings to date.
The challenge of 33 1/3 is to go beyond the common knowledge about an already obsessed-over album. Dayal takes the task in stride, packing in more information about Eno’s transition from glam rocker to ambient music maven than you might think possible in so short a space. The prose is elegant, the sheer scope of the work impressive, and the meditation on the source of creativity is both well done and light-handed.