Five Years of PopMatters: Music

For five years now, PopMatters has endeavored to expand the critical perspective on music. Taking full advantage of the Internet as a medium, PopMatters treats artist features, album reviews, and interviews as equally deserving of in-depth analysis.

As a cultural form, the role of music in people's lives is undeniably important. Regardless of individual tastes for genres and styles, it is a rare person who does not have some personal and deep-seated love for some form of music. And like the individuals who listen to and absorb music's forms, there is an incredible array of types of music, with broad categories giving way to sub-genres and sub-sub-genres. In spite of this, many publications treat music as something easy to qualify, a form that can be quickly summed up in subjective likes and dislikes and graded accordingly.

For five years now, PopMatters has endeavored to expand the critical perspective on music. Taking full advantage of the Internet as a medium, PopMatters treats artist features, album reviews, and interviews as equally deserving of in-depth analysis. PopMatters music reviews help place albums and artists in context, analyze their features, and attempt to expound on music's continuing relevance. As a tool for aiding music consumers in making their choices, PopMatters music reviews seek to give more than a summary opinion; they offer insight into what a release is (or isn't), and this treatment is extended to those acts enjoying critical buzz and those that aren't. As Associate Music Editor Justin Cober-Lake puts it, "Covering over 150 albums a month, we get it all, and we don't limit ourselves to any genre. It's not just our quantity that sets us apart; our reviewers write with style and intelligence and bring an incredible array of backgrounds and perspectives. Since we run long reviews, our writers have the opportunity to engage their albums in a deeper way. With breadth, depth, and smarts, our music coverage is as good as it gets."

When it comes to features, the PopMatters music section offers more than fluff pieces and commercially motivated write-ups. Instead, we offer hard-hitting, critical insight into meaning and cultural relevance. Our writers use their diverse backgrounds to bring music's various voices into the light for detailed examination. PopMatters pieces invite readers to think about music and the artists they love, as well as learn about those they've yet to hear about. When we cut loose and do fun pieces like lists, we do so while maintaining our commitment to style and substance.

With dozens of unique and talented voices offering their takes, we've published an incredible number of quality reviews and headline articles in the last five years. The following picks offer a look back, but they're also meant to keep you excited about what's ahead as we continue to bring you the best in music analysis.

� Patrick Schabe, PopMatters Music Reviews Editor

PopMatters Editors' Picks

100 from 1977 - 2003: The Best Songs Since Johnny Rotten Roared
Feature by PopMatters Music Critics
Starting this list off in a big way, this fun feature proved that PopMatters can do the list thing. Our variety of writers helps keep our perspective broad, providing a fine compilation of song preferences from a slice of music history by PopMattters' entire music crew.

Best Music of 2002
Feature by Sarah Zupko and PopMatters Music Critics
The annual rite of passage for music critics, year-end collections offer members of the music staff a grueling but rewarding chance to strut their stuff. The 2002 collection of "Best of" particularly illustrates a broad understanding of music and music history, told in tight, snappy phrasing.

...And Bless the Mic for the Gods: Rakim Allah
Feature by Mark Anthony Neal
An excellent historical and theoretical overview of Allah's work. Neal examines individual works, but also fits Allah into the past and current hip-hop scenes. This is both a good introduction to the artist as well as a good analysis for long-time fans

The Clash � London Calling
Review by Adrien Begrand
Not only one of the best albums of all time, London Calling is also one of the most written-about albums of all time. Yet Begrand finds a way of making it as fascinating as ever in this review, foregoing all that has been previously established to renew the case for the album's place in history on the eve of its silver anniversary through a combination of knowledge, insight, and well-crafted writing.

Missy Elliot � This is Not a Test
Review by Terry Sawyer
Sawyer's investigation here is a favorite example of affection and objectivity in reviewing works by favorite artists. Plus, his phrasing's killer.

Miles Davis: the Complete Jack Johnson Sessions
Feature by Marshall Bowden
This article examines how so many different historic trends found expression in the music of one very well known jazz musician. It examines the political and historic ramifications of Miles' music, which came at a fascinating crossroads of the burgeoning Civil Rights movement, the rising popularity of rock (to the detriment of jazz's popularity), and found a unique avatar in the figure of Jack Johnson. This review is a truly fascinating study of a great work of art.

Dani Siciliano � Likes...
Review by Matt Cibula
This is a stellar example of good music reviewing for PopMatters. Cibula has a smart take on the album and contextualizes it. His personality is in the piece, but only to add flavor. The article is well structured and well written.

Sunday Singing: The Black Gospel Quartet
Feature by Mark Anthony Neal
Launched from a personal memory of broad ramifications, this piece is a fine example of writing that tells readers about a period of cultural and musical history and its reaches into contemporary sound.

Jolie Holland � Escondida
Review by Zeth Lundy
One of the most difficult aspects of describing music is translating the auditory experience into words. When a PopMatters CD review really hits home, it often invokes a language of imagery brought up by the music, allowing the reader to experience it viscerally, and Lundy's review here is a fine example of this type of writing.

How Hip-hop Music is Slowly Transcending its Circular Culture
Feature by Stefan Braidwood
One of the best things about PopMatters is that it treats sometimes-overlooked subjects with the respect that they deserve but seldom get. While wildly popular, hip-hop culture rarely gets the kind of intellectual yet affectionate criticism that Braidwood provides here. This is an in-depth look at the history of a genre and an intelligent speculation of where it's heading.

Joe Strummer 1952-2002
Feature by Various PopMatters Music Critics
Occasionally, PopMatters has the sad task of eulogizing cultural icons when they've passed away. This special tribute to Joe Strummer was so well received that people from the music industry sat up and took notice. What other publication has covered Strummer's work so well? None!

Jill Scott � Who Is Jill Scott?
Review by Colin Ross
Ross's review of Scott's disc is a shining example of PopMatters at the intersection of analytic and reader-friendly. He manages to unpack much of the album's meaning-rich layers in clear, concise language, making the album all the more compelling for the nuanced writing.

Working the Borders: The Tijuana and Monterrey Scenes
Feature by Matt Cibula
One of the aspects of music that PopMatters continually tries to highlight is context. Here, Cibula provides a thorough, expressive study in region and cultural expression in music.

Illogic � Celestial Clockwork
Review by Dominic Umile
A publication of diverse writing styles, PopMatters writers run the gamut from introspective and personal, to conversational, to meticulously crafted. Umile's piece reflects the latter side of PopMatters. Lyrical yet fluid, it's among the many, many examples that show our writers do more than "just review", they write.

Banned in the USA?
Feature by Patrick Schabe
This piece questions how music works in the greater society as an expression of emotion and historical moment. The US touts "democracy in action" and "free speech". Looking at music banned post 9/11, Schabe thinks otherwise.

TV on the Radio � Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes
Review by Justin Cober-Lake
All too often, a reviewer is forced to voice disappointment. While PopMatters has featured its fair share of delightful, viciously clever scathing reviews, it's even more of an accomplishment when a writer manages to express an album's lacking features while remaining objective and analytical. Cober-Lake's piece is one such example.

Shadow of a Gunman: Brit-Punk and Northern Irish Terrorism
Feature by Michael Stephens
Among PopMatters' earliest feature sections was a celebration of punk rock's silver jubilee, dissecting the environment that led to 1977's musical revolution. In this piece from that series, Stephens argues that real revolution is forged through the blast of a guitar, not the blast of a gun.

Aesthetic Anesthetic: Liberating the Punk Canon
Feature by Mark Desrosiers
Another piece from the Silver Jubilee feature, this essay offers an example of PopMatters at its most self-reflexive: aware of the often strange juncture of music and writing about music. The punk revolution is tyrannized by academia, Desrosiers writes, and he provides a look at how music history is written � and what is lost in the process.




By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.


Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.


L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.


Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.


Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.


Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.


West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".


PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".


Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".


Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.


Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.


The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.


Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.


For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?


Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.