Book Review: Murmur by J. Niimi

The book and the enormous list of vocabulary words I amassed reading it.

Note: As an educator, nothing bothers me more than a rating system or rubric that is not clearly explained. Fair and well-crafted assessments are important. Justify your grades, fam. I use a scale of fifteen points, which are evenly divided between the following categories: quality of writing, quality of content/information, and general aesthetics.

Full disclosure: J. is a friend of mine, but I only know who he is because I almost took a customer’s eye out trying to see which 33 1/3 book they were reading while I was bussing their dishes at the Flying Saucer. I posted about how funny it was to be a hungry aspiring music journalist bussing other people’s dishes and nearly injuring them trying to sneakily peek at the music book they were reading, and a friend asked which one it was. I told him it was Murmur, and he tagged J. Now we all get together and nerd out about music once a month or so.

I have never really been very interested in R.E.M., so I probably would not have picked this book up if I had not become friends with its author! Having done so, however, I am so glad that I did.

In addition to being an excellent writer, J. is a highly skilled musician and technician, and that comes through clearly in his discussion of this album. This book is absolutely crammed with information, but most often in a way that is considerate of the reader, e.g. giving advanced audio nerd details in a footnote, or explaining technical musical terms like “arpeggios.” All of the additional details build interest, and he does a fantastic job connecting the album to the living world, culture, and lives of people it has impacted, as well as historical and theoretical texts and sources underpinning overarching themes and ideas relevant to this album. It is a rare example of detailed technical description of music that doesn’t make me irritable or bored, and at the end, I have also learned a lot about audio recording techniques! 5/5 for both quality of writing and being ripe with interesting and useful information.

Since it is part of the 33 1/3 series, it is not really aesthetically outstanding or anything, but the form works for what this is: a compact, affordable volume crammed with very detailed and interesting information. I am giving it a 4/5, because this is an aesthetic I believe in, even if it is not the most beautiful object I have ever held in my hands.

Murmur gets an A-, and comes highly recommended, especially if you are not already an R.E.M. fan!


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