This collection of essays from the music critic for the New Yorker is a delightful grab bag of his best work (outside his contemporary classic The Rest Is Noise). The initial essay charts his personal musical growth from classical music to pop via the lunatic fringe of the experimental ends of both bleed into one another and where genre demarcations aren’t helpful. From there he covers Bach to Björk, Radiohead to John Luther Adams, Kurt Cobain to John Cage, with great stops on the way like the multifaceted effects of recording on music. — Dafydd Wood
One of The Telegraph's Best Music Books 2011
Alex Ross's award-winning international bestseller, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, has become a contemporary classic, establishing Ross as one of our most popular and acclaimed cultural historians. Listen to This, which takes its title from a beloved 2004 essay in which Ross describes his late-blooming discovery of pop music, showcases the best of his writing from more than a decade at The New Yorker. These pieces, dedicated to classical and popular artists alike, are at once erudite and lively. In a previously unpublished essay, Ross brilliantly retells hundreds of years of music history—from Renaissance dances to Led Zeppelin—through a few iconic bass lines of celebration and lament. He vibrantly sketches canonical composers such as Schubert, Verdi, and Brahms; gives us in-depth interviews with modern pop masters such as Björk and Radiohead; and introduces us to music students at a Newark high school and indie-rock hipsters in Beijing.
Whether his subject is Mozart or Bob Dylan, Ross shows how music expresses the full complexity of the human condition. Witty, passionate, and brimming with insight, Listen to This teaches us how to listen more closely.
“An indispensable, erudite collection.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Ross veers effortlessly from Mozart to Radiohead, and from Kurt Cobain to Brahms, bringing a pop fan's enthusiasm to the composers and treating the rock stars seriously as musicians.…A joy for a pop fan or a classical aficionado.” —The New York Times Book Review
“So graceful, so pithy, so thoughtful, and full of insight…one cannot believe that anyone who loves music would not love Listen to This.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“No matter how complex his thinking, Ross renders it in lucid, approachable language: as you read Ross's writing, you hear him talking to you.” —Fred Cohn, Opera News
“[Ross] reminds me of my other favorite music critic, Bernard Shaw.” —Roger Ebert
“Even at his most cerebral, Ross deftly draws in the ears of the seasoned and the uninitiated alike, demystifying the traditions of music while celebrating its ability to transform. . . Listen to This is undeniably essential.” —Time Out (Chicago)
“A collection of supremely eloquent essays, addressing a range of subjects from Bach to Björk.” —The Boston Globe
“Every page of this collection is rich with vivid analysis and evocative vigor...Listen to This deserves to stand next to the best-written modern books on music: the collected works of Whitney Balliett, say, and Ross' own recent history of 20th century sounds, The Rest Is Noise.” —Tom Nolan, San Francisco Chronicle
“Vibrant . . . A celebration of what it means to be alive in a world of great music.” —Kirkus Reviews
“In this brilliant collection, music critic Ross utilizes a wide musical scale--classical music in China; opera as popular art; sketches of Schubert, Bjork, Kiki and Herb--as a way of understanding the world. Featuring mostly revised essays published in the span of his 12-year career at the New Yorker, Ross offers timeless portraits that probe the ways that the powerful personalities of composers and musicians stamp an inherently abstract medium so that certain notes, songs, or choruses become instantly recognizable as the work of a certain artist. The virtuoso performance comes in the one previously unpublished essay, Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues, where Ross isolates three different bass lines as they wind through music history from the 16th-century chacona, a dance that promised the upending of the social order, through the laments of Bach, opera, and finally the blues. Ross nimbly finds the common ground on which 16th-century Spanish musicians, Bach, players from Ellington' s 1940 band and Led Zeppelin' s bassist John Paul Jones can stand, at least momentarily.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)