Current Books

Nothing Has Been Done Before: Seeking the New in 21st Century American Popular Music (published November 2017)

by Robert Loss


About the book:

Is there such a thing today as music that’s meaningfully new? In our contemporary era of remixing and retro styles, cynics and romantics alike cry “It’s all been done before” while record labels and media outlets proclaim that everything is new. Coded into our daily conversations about popular music, newness as an artistic and cultural value is too often taken for granted.

Nothing Has Been Done Before instigates a fresh debate about newness in American pop, rock ‘n’ roll, rap, folk, and R&B made since the turn of the millennium. Utilizing an interdisciplinary approach that combines music criticism, philosophy, and the literary essay, Robert Loss follows the stories of a diverse cast of musicians who seek the new by wrestling with the past, navigating the market, and speaking politically. The transgressions of Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft. The pop spectacle of Katy Perry’s 2015 Super Bowl halftime show. Protest songs against the war in Iraq. Nothing Has Been Done Before argues that performance heard in a historical context always creates a possibility for newness, whether it’s Kendrick Lamar’s multi-layered To Pimp a Butterfly, the Afrofuturist visions of Janelle Monáe, or even a Guided By Voices tribute concert in a local dive bar.

Provocative and engaging, Nothing Has Been Done Before challenges nothing less than how we hear and think about popular music-its power and its potential.

Reviews for the book:

“Robert Loss’s writing is characterized by unstoppable historical curiosity, true storytelling, and the unusual combination of intellectual ambition and modesty–all qualities that play out with incisive strength in Nothing Has Been Done Before.” – GREIL MARCUS, author of Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music

“The ever prized prospect of the ‘new’ excites and nourishes the commercial music industry as much as it does the desire of musicians to shape their own space within its leaky borders. In Nothing Has Been Done Before Robert Loss cuts an idiosyncratic path through late 20th and 21st century popular music, tipping its hat to the renowned and the obscure along the way. Wearing his musical proclivities and political beliefs on his sleeve, Loss visits amongst others the familiar subjects of race, gender, protest song, and the role of technology to frame his hunt for the elusive signs of newness in popular music. His witty, characterful, and occasionally provocative style simultaneously draws you into the conversation of newness and invites critical response.” – JACK HARBORD, Senior Lecturer, Leeds College of Music, UK

“Utterly original and erudite, Loss has written a book for music lovers that will inspire and instigate in equal measure.” – ED WHITELOCK, co-author of Apocalypse Jukebox: The End of the World in American Popular Music

Copies of Nothing Has Been Done Before may be ordered from the Bloomsbury website.



When Genres Collide: Down Beat, Rolling Stone, and the Struggle Between Jazz and Rock  (published February 2017)

by Matt Brennan


About the book:

When Genres Collide is a provocative history that rethinks the relationship between jazz and rock through the lens of the two oldest surviving and most influential American popular music periodicals: Down Beat and Rolling Stone. Writing in 1955, Duke Ellington argued that the new music called rock ‘n’ roll “is the most raucous form of jazz, beyond a doubt.” So why did jazz and rock subsequently become treated as separate genres?

The rift between jazz and rock (and jazz and rock scholarship) is based on a set of received assumptions about their fundamental differences, but there are other ways popular music history could have been written. By offering a fresh examination of key historical moments when the trajectories and meanings of jazz and rock intersected, overlapped, or collided, it reveals how music critics constructed an ideological divide between jazz and rock that would be replicated in American musical discourse for decades to follow.

Awards for the book:

Named as one of Pitchfork’s favourite music books of 2017

Honorable Mention in the Association of American Publishers’ 2018 PROSE Awards for Best “Music and Performing Arts” book


Reviews for the book:

When Genres Collide isn’t just the most music-crit nerd book on this list, it’s the most music-crit nerd book on any list. But if you love learning not just about music and the lives of its creators, but also the framework in which music is discussed and understood (and I’m guessing that describes many Pitchfork readers), this book is for you.” –  Pitchfork

“Matt Brennan looks to the music press of the 1950s and 60s, … [in doing so] revealing a tangled relationship between jazz and what would become rock.” –  The Wire

“Based on Brennan’s doctoral research, the tone is learned but not turgid. This man has read serious truckloads of music magazines. Helluva job and he’s the man to do it.” –  Jazzwise

“The narrative and tone are those of a competent music historian, one who is respectful of the story, its cast of characters, and their voices … [Brennan] paints a picture of the scene by staying faithful to those scenes. What we are left with is a realization that genre did and still does matter a great deal.” – Music & Letters

“This book is a must read for both students and boffins of criticism, popular music and the social politics that accompanied it.” – London Jazz News

“The themes and arguments of this publication are thought-provoking, inviting the reader to take another look at the notions of music genre he or she might have already taken for granted … This publication also has a subtle political edge that makes it an especially gripping read.” – IASPM@Journal

“A book that goes beyond accepted wisdom about jazz-rock ‘fusion’ to trace a long, twisted history of interrelationships between two of the twentieth century’s defining musical forms. A game-changing study of popular music genres and the social function of music criticism.” – STEVE WAKSMAN, author of This Ain’t the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk

“An intelligent and engaging book. Brennan challenges established assumptions about jazz and rock music and makes us think differently about the way in which history is constructed and understood. A must for anyone interested in popular music, criticism and the politics of genres.” – TONY WHYTON, author of Beyond A Love Supreme: John Coltrane And The Legacy Of An Album

‘‘Focusing on Down Beat and Rolling Stone magazines as well as the separate formation of jazz and popular music studies, Brennan argues convincingly that the combined efforts of scholars and writers during the period have given us a world in which jazz and rock remain incommensurable genres.’’ – KEVIN FELLEZS, author of Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk, and the Creation of Fusion

‘‘This book challenges the powerful but dangerously misleading assumption that jazz is somehow not a ‘popular’ music . . . Here at last is a full length study of the way the discourses of jazz and rock faced off and circled each other, sometimes as adversaries, sometimes embracing.’’ – BRUCE JOHNSON, author of The Inaudible Music: Jazz, Gender and Australian Modernity

Copies of When Genres Collide may be ordered from the Bloomsbury website.