Lester Bangs

Rock Criticism with Jonathan Lethem, Mavis Staples & Björk

Jim and Greg indulge this week in a deep look at their own profession: rock criticism. They're joined by novelist Jonathan Lethem, co-editor of a new anthology of rock criticism, who makes the case for music journalism as great American writing. Plus, they look at the life and career of legendary critic Lester Bangs and review new albums from Chicago gospel legend Mavis Staples and Icelandic multimedia artist Björk.

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Jonathan Lethem

This week, Jim and Greg take a close look at a topic very close to their hearts: rock criticism. They talk to author Jonathan Lethem to make the case for rock journalism as great American writing. Lethem is an award-winning novelist and MacArthur Genius grant recipient. Along with Kevin Detmar, Lethem co-edited an anthology of rock criticism called Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay-Z.

Jim and Greg also discuss the life and impact of Lester Bangs, one rock critic who, in many ways, made Jim the critic he is today. We also get a glimpse of some of the critics that deeply influenced Greg, from Greil Marcus to Nelson George.

reviewIf All I Was Was BlackIf All I Was Was Black available on iTunes

Mavis Staples If All I Was Was Black

Mavis Staples is a national treasure and gospel legend, but has only recently blossomed into a successful solo artist. She recently released If All I Was Was Black, a record she collaborated on with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. Greg, who literally wrote the book on Mavis, is loving this new record. He loves that Mavis is getting mad and speaking out against racial injustices in the United States in her most political album yet. He also loves Tweedy's guitar and arrangements on the record, as they give Mavis room to improvise and shine. He gives it an enthusiastic Buy It. Jim couldn‘t agree more, and he points out that while Mavis is certainly more angry on this album, she shows through her lyrics and singing that she still has her tender, golden heart. Jim thinks this is the best record of Mavis’s career on the Anti- label and her strongest collaboration with Tweedy. Jim gives If All I Was Was Black a Buy It.

reviewUtopiaUtopia available on iTunes

Björk Utopia

Björk has been on top of the world of pop and experimental music for decades, yet she's still regarded as an independent, avant-garde, cult artist. But Jim says that her new album, Utopia, gave him no joy for the first time in her career. He calls her collaboration with Venezuelan electronic artist Arca a collection of tuneless, wandering dirges filled with flutes and bird sounds. Although he's always loved Björk, Jim says the album is a Trash It. Greg concedes that Utopia is hard to pin down and lacks the pop accessibility of her previous work. But he gets lost in Björk's world, a combination of avant-garde classical influences that evokes the soundscapes of the Icelandic wilderness. Greg cites her recent albums in this vein as the inspiration for a new generation of artists like FKA Twigs and Solange. It took him a while to figure it out, but Greg feels Utopia is a Buy It.


Featured Songs

  1. Mavis Staples, Ain't No Doubt About It, If All I Was Was Black, Anti-, 2017
  2. Cream, Tale of Brave Ulysses, Disraeli Gears, Reaction, 1967
  3. Neu!, Hallogallo, Neu!, Brain, 1972
  4. Hackamore Brick, Peace Has Come, One Kiss Leads to Another, Kama Sutra, 1970
  5. Led Zeppelin, Thank You, Led Zeppelin II, Atlantic, 1969
  6. Prince & The New Power Generation, My Name is Prince, Love Symbol Album, Paisey Park, 1992
  7. Prince & The New Power Generation, Blue Light, Love Symbol Album, Paisey Park, 1992
  8. The Ramones, Blitzkrieg Bop (Live), It's Alive, Warner Brothers, 1979
  9. Charles Mingus, II BS, Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, Impulse, 1963
  10. The Velvet Underground, Rock and Roll, Loaded, Cotillion, 1970
  11. The Ramones, It's Not My Place (In the 9 to 5 World), Pleasant Dreams, Sire, 1981
  12. R.E.M., It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine), Document, I.R.S., 1987
  13. Blondie, Rip Her to Shreds, Blondie, Chrysalis, 1976
  14. Ritchie Valens, La Bamba, La Bamba (single), Del-Fi, 1958
  15. The Kingsmen, Louie Louie, Louie Louie (single), Flip, 1963
  16. The Stooges, No Fun, The Stooges, Elektra, 1969
  17. The Ramones, Blitzkrieg Bop, Blitzkrieg Bop (single), Sire, 1976
  18. Björk, Claimstaker, Utopia, One Little Indian, 2017
  19. Mavis Staples, Little Bit, If All I Was Was Black, Anti-, 2017
  20. Mavis Staples, Who Told You That, If All I Was Was Black, Anti-, 2017
  21. Mavis Staples, We Go High, If All I Was Was Black, Anti-, 2017
  22. Mavis Staples, If All I Was Was Black, If All I Was Was Black, Anti-, 2017
  23. Björk, Losss, Utopia, One Little Indian, 2017
  24. Björk, The Gate, Utopia, One Little Indian, 2017
  25. Björk, Features Creatures, Utopia, One Little Indian, 2017
  26. Björk, Body Memory, Utopia, One Little Indian, 2017
  27. Jimmy McGriff, Jingle Bells, Christmas with McGriff, Sue, 1963
  28. Drake, Hotline Bling, Views, Cash Money, 2016
  29. Johnny Horton, Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor, Honky-Tonk Man, Columbia, 1958
  30. Miguel, Pineapple Skies, War & Leisure, RCA, 2017
  31. Chris Stapleton, Up to No Good Livin', From A Room: Volume 1, Mercury Nashville, 2017
  32. Roger Waters, Déjà Vu, Is This the Life We Really Want?, Columbia, 2017