Published May 10, 2015In one of the many essays from her new book, The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic, Jessica Hopper recounts hanging out in the Minneapolis woods as a boy she liked mansplained Dinosaur Jr. to her. "Lots of boys thought going to the woods with a girl and regaling her with an hour and a half of Dinosaur Jr. trivia was a perfectly acceptable courtship ritual," she writes. The piece is ostensibly about the re-issue of Dinosaur's first three albums, but the Chicago-based music journalist pierces the PR veil, mixing the personal with the critical to dig down to the group's once-upon-a-time outsider status. It's a key reason Hopper has become one of the most incisive and dependable music journalists over the past two decades.
Selections from her riot grrrl zine Hit It or Quit It are omitted, but Hopper's feminist eye is pervasive. Clever (and yes, disheartening) title aside, "Emo: Where the Girls Aren't" is worth the price of admission alone, and her conversation with fellow Chicago music critic Jim DeRogatis about R. Kelly's sexual predilections is as relevant now as it was when Kelly's proclivities were first exposed.
But Hopper's writing is just as powerful when she's writing about genderless concerns, like indie rock ad syncs or profiles of Chi-town MCs Chance the Rapper and Chief Keef. That the book's biggest through-line is the connection to her adoptive city is further evidence that it's possible to expertly weave personal narratives into objective journalism. The one knock against this collection — it's a bit all over the place in terms of subject matter — is also its greatest strength. (Featherproof Books)