New Music Books

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Think you know everything about music? Three new book series prove you've still got a lot to learn...

1. 33 1/3 Series
If you've ever loved one single album so much that you'd stop at nothing to discover more about its creation and its lasting effect on the course of musical history, then let editor David Barker's 33 1/3 series (Continuum; paperback, $9.99 each) be your trusty guide. Early entries in the set–among them Joe Pernice's fiction inspired by The Smiths' Meat is Murder and Erik Davis' mystical search for signs and signifiers in Zeppelin's fourth album–focused on LPs from rock's tried-and-true canon.

But the latest batch of 100-odd-page tomes lends credence to some less frequently cited musical touchstones: While not all would claim Paul's Boutique as the Beastie Boys' finest record, writer Dan LeRoy thoughtfully and humorously illustrates its importance in shaping sample-based culture. Other recent 33 1/3 editions include The Stone Roses and Doolittle, but the one we most anticipate is Matmos member Drew Daniel's take on Throbbing Gristle's 20 Jazz Funk Greats, currently in the works. Ken Taylor

2. Labels Unlimited
Far from just a name on an album cover, a few famous imprints have become arbiters of taste and guarantees of quality. The Labels Unlimited book series (BDP; paperback, $29.99 each) by London's Black Dog Publishing goes behind the scenes at some of your favorite indie outposts, giving their business dealings equal time with the tunes.

Rob Young, editor-at-large for influential English mag The Wire, pens the entire series, which debuted in November 2005. The first installment was an in-depth profile of Warp Records, including interviews with Aphex Twin, Prefuse 73, and co-founder Steve Beckett; Young's next volume, to be released in early October, examines England's indie stalwart Rough Trade. "It's obviously a hugely influential company," Young says. "Its practices altered the whole record distribution scene in the UK and the shops they set up are still the first port of call for anyone looking for alternative music in London." Later in the year, Young plans to tackle Jamaican music buff Chris Blackwell's pioneering Island Records. Patrick Sisson

3. Rough Guides
If you're going to Zimbabwe you might be tempted to pick up a Rough Guide, but do you really need something like The Rough Guide to Rock? You might. Trivial Pursuit fanatics, budding music critics, and collection completists will revel in the knowledge contained in Rough Guides Music series (Rough Guides; paperback, $24.99 each), which includes primers on techno, drum & bass, reggae, and brand new tomes on punk and soul/R&B. Even the snottiest record store clerk has a lot to learn from the books' meticulously researched yet miraculously interesting entries, which span the gamut from obvious bands (Captain Beefheart, Bikini Kill) to cult favorites (Loop Guru, Miranda Sex Garden).

The company has enlisted top writers to curate the volumes, including Peter Shapiro (who penned the Hip-Hop and Drum & Bass volumes) and Blood & Fire label don Steve Barrow (who wrote Reggae, naturally), and has even roped in music celebs like Al Green and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus, who contribute commentary and Top 10s for the iPod generation in the Rough Guide to Playlists. Tyra Bangs