Their Library: Our Favourite Music Books From 2017

From grime to industrial, indie, and more...

The New Year is a period for reflection, for making additional space in our lives.

If you're anything like us, then you may just have resolved to read more – to sit back, relax, and open a book.

With that in mind, we've gathered a few of our favourite music tomes from 2017, the books that kept us gripped as the year progressed.

It's a diverse bunch, too; we've selected offerings from grime pioneers and industrial lynchpins, books that traverse the fissures of classic soul, and offer new analysis on the connections between music and politics.

In compiling this list, though, we've also noted a few faults. Publishing – much like the wider music press, it should be observed – doesn't tend to represent female voices, while writers of colour remain sorely missing.

That said, there's much to champion – so here are the music-related page turners that kept us occupied in 2017…

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Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City – Elizabeth Goodman
If there was a more discussed, more dissected, and more gossiped about music book in 2017 than Elizabeth Goodman’s Meet Me In The Bathroom then we must have missed it somehow.

Managing to secure both a Ryan Adams social media meltdown and a full TV adaptation Elizabeth Goodman’s addictive book spins a terrific tale about New York’s remarkable, incestuous, and frequently inspiring indie underground as the 21st century dawned.

Laden with information, insight, and no small degree of delicious tittle tattle, Meet Me In The Bathroom is virtually the definition of a page-turner. For anyone who fell in love with The Strokes, LCD Soundsystem, Yeah Yeah Yeahs et al this is essential. For anyone who simply enjoys passionate, informed, salacious music writing this is equally essential.

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Eskiboy – Wiley
Wiley’s story has always been patchwork – an album here, a mixtape there, throwing in countless freestyles, live sets, and more along the way. It’s a puzzle we’ve been entranced with for more than a decade now, the gradually unfolding story of one of British music’s most vital, continually creative figures.

Eskiboy emerged alongside the album of the same name, and it proves that Wiley is just as blistering on the page as he is in the studio. Tracing Richard Cowie’s journey from Bow, it expands on his roots and influences while offering unheralded access into the rapper’s life. An essential tome from one of grime’s true pioneers.

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Bjork’s Homogenic – Emily Mackay
The handily pocket-sized 33 1/3 series enjoyed another stellar year in 2017, scattering numerous highlights on bookshelves both physical and digital. Positively bursting at the seams with information and fresh insight, Emily Mackay’s ‘Homogenic’ is perhaps the pick of the bunch, a continually entertaining reading of one of Bjork’s most vital, enduring albums.

Never afraid to step outwith the confines of this 1997 release, Emily Mackay builds a highly personal narrative, one rooted in a long-standing affection for the Icelandic artist’s work. At it’s best, though, this slim tone picks out fresh notes within a much-dissected piece – dipping into Bjork’s love of club culture, the impact her intense rise to international fame had on her life, and her astonishing knack for cultural curation. As Bjork primers go, this is certainly one of the best.

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Sound System: The Political Power Of Music – Dave Randall
The question of pop’s interlinking relationship with politics is well-worn, with countless think pieces and hot takes offering insight on the demise, survival, and resurrection of the protest song. What makes Dave Randall’s Sound System so engrossing, however, it that it throws away those tropes, delivering something that digs a little deeper while retaining that highly personal edge.

Asking questions about the societal systems that engineer pop music, Randall’s book succeeds through its sheer breadth – in a matter of only a few pages he moves from the Arab Spring to Glastonbury, Trinidad Carnivals to Pop Idol. With #grime4Corbyn making headlines and youth culture displaying more explicit signs of politicisation, Sound System arrives with incredible timing, and deadly accuracy.

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Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials, and the Meaning Of Grime – Jeffrey Boakye
One of the creative fulcrums of British music, grime remains poorly represented on the bookshelves. 2017 brought not one but two wonderful additions to this canon, however, with Wiley’s autobiography swiftly followed by Jeffrey Boakye’s magnificent reader on the genre.

Essentially laying bare the story of grime on a song by song basis, Boakye’s readable conclusions offer fresh insight into some of the sound’s key texts. Never afraid to challenge the reader’s preconceptions, Hold Tight displays a deep, abiding love for grime, and it’s myriad of inspirations and frustrations.

Worth picking up in its own right, Hold Tight’s primary achievement is sending us scuttling back to those early grime cuts, seeking out fresh meaning in those inspirational bars.

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Stuart Cosgrove – Memphis ‘68
Scottish journalist and broadcaster Stuart Cosgrove has never shied away from his life-long infatuation with black American music – he even places the occasional Northern Soul reference in his long-running Scottish football show Off The Ball.

Part of a trilogy, Memphis ‘68 traces a tumultuous year in American society, a year dominated by riots, political assassinations, and the Vietnam war. These faultlines, though, are matched by astonishing musical innovation, one that would upend expectations placed on black American art.

As ever, Cosgrove’s lucid, entertaining prose is laden with detail, but never at the expense of the wider narrative. Hinging on that Memphis destination, he traces the savage dichotomy at the city’s heart: it was the site of multi-racial soul imprint Stax, but also the place where Martin Luther King was killed. A heartbreaking but essential read, and one that feels remarkably timely.

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Cosey Fanni Tutti – Art Sex Music
Cosey Fanni Tutti’s legacy would be secured solely through her work with Throbbing Gristle, a group whose seminal work still feels unsettling, and futuristic. What Art Sex Music brings out so clearly, though, is that there is much more to Cosey’s life and work than her stint in any one group.

A frank, entertaining, and challenging memoir, Art Sex Music traces her childhood, her studies in transgressive art, her use of pornography, her continual musical innovations and much, much more. A blunt, rude, and often laugh out loud funny book, Art Sex Music leaves an unforgettable impact.

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