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David Brackett. 2016. Categorizing Sound: Genre and Twentieth-Century Popular Music. Berkeley: University of California Press

Johnson, Thomas

In Categorizing Sound, David Brackett presents a broad and richly detailed “history of the practice of categorizing” popular music in the twentieth century (331), asking when, how, and why stylistic labels and classification schemes become legible across communities of musicians, fans, journalists, and music industry personnel. This is no simple task, as Brackett can attest, having jousted with the “chimera of genre” for over twenty years (xiii). To grapple with as slippery and cumbersome a topic as popular music categories, the book deftly moves from sharply focused comparative analyses of songs to grand narratives of popular music history in the United States, investigating the ways musical groupings intertwine with their technological, social, and cultural contexts. Brackett’s book is a nuanced and far-reaching addition to recent musicological publications on genre—including works about genre and gender in popular music (Burns 2000), social mediation of genres and identities (Born 2011), genre in twentieth-century art musics (Drott 2013), metal (Smialek 2015), twenty-first century “new music” scenes (Robin 2016), and recent popular music (James 2017a, 2017b).

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November 13, 2019