What’s better than record-store recommendations from a music critic? Find out three all-time favorites and more from Amanda Petrusich, contributor to The New York Times, Pitchfork, and Spin (among others) and author of It Still Moves and Pink Moon.
What do you listen to while you work? I spend so much time writing about music that my assignments tend to dictate the day’s soundtrack, but when I’m working on a longer project or something not tied to a specific artist or record, I typically like really rhythmic, almost mesmeric things—that can be hip-hop, or pop, or old hill country blues songs. I think as writers, we’re all aspiring to get music on the page, in a way—that sounds so stupid and pretentious, but it’s also true! There’s an elusive rhythm to good prose.
How do you listen? Like all music nerds, I like vinyl, I like headphones. I like closing the curtains and having an all-encompassing, stupidly dramatic listening experience. If I’m listening for pleasure, I’m almost always listening to an LP. That’s not practical, work-wise—these days, it’s fairly common for critics to only get a watermarked stream of a high-profile record in advance, and then I have to listen through my computer, usually on headphones (I’ve also had to review records that I was only allowed to listen to in a conference room at the label’s office, with the door closed). If I get something on CD, I’ll play it on my stereo (we have an old vintage Marantz receiver that’s a little temperamental) or put it on my iPod and go for a run or ride around on the subway with it. I like to get it out of my office, if I can—let it breathe, let it move.
I’ve been writing a lot about record collectors lately—specifically, the guys hunting down old, pre-war blues 78s. For Christmas last year, my parents bought me this stunning, four-foot tall Edison phonograph, probably from the 1910s—it’s the most beautiful thing in our home (besides, obviously, our cat Dominic). 78s only contain about 3 minutes (or less) of music per side, so I wind it up and just let it blow—honestly, it’s incredible.
Do you have any favorite music websites/providers? I’m terrifically biased, since I’ve been writing for Pitchfork since (yikes!) 2003. But I will happily tell you my top three, all-time favorite record stores: the Princeton Record Exchange in Princeton, NJ; Shangri-La in Memphis, TN; and Bop Street Records in Seattle, WA.
Does music influence your work? All of the writing that I do is shaped by music in some way. For me, it’s about trying to clarify or capture a feeling—that visceral, arresting, addicting thing that happens when you listen to your favorite song. I spend all day just trying to get some approximation of that experience down on the page, and most of the time, I totally fail.
Where do you find music recommendations? Who influences your musical taste? I get so much from other critics—you’d think I’d be sick of it, but I read an embarrassing amount of music criticism. Occasionally, one of my students will mention some mind-blowing thing I’ve never heard of. But I’m probably most influenced by my husband and friends. Sitting in a bar, arguing about records—that’s where I learn everything, really.
If your work was a song or a musician, what or who would it be? This is a great question, but I don’t know how to answer it without sounding like a giant moron. I love music too much to think that anything I can do with a notebook and pen even comes close. Sad but true!
New Wonder, Bonnie Prince Billy
Helplessness Blues, Fleet Foxes
Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground, Blind Willie Johnson
The Letter, The Box Tops
Little By Little, Radiohead
None of Your Business, Salt-N-Pepa
Light Emerges, Akron/Family
Dancing On My Own, Robyn
Let England Shake, PJ Harvey
I Follow Rivers, Lykke Li
I Can Change, LCD Soundsystem
Devil Got My Woman, Skip James