You’re with Stupid: kranky, Chicago and the Reinvention of Indie Music By Bruce Adams, 264 pgs.

Nov 15, 2022

I read books like this to learn about stuff I didn’t know before. And there was a lot for me to learn about kranky (intentional lowercase). The Chicago label was founded by Bruce Adams, the author of this book, to mine this particular, kinda ethereal vein of indie rock, equal parts lo-fi and Krautrock. I knew some of the bands involved— Low, Godspeed You Black Emperor!—so I thought I’d give this one a shot.

You’re with Stupid is most successful when it contextualizes kranky inside the larger Chicago music scene—and indie as a whole. Chicago was and is such a vibrant city musically that the larger discussions of where the bands and labels fit into regional and national networks of groups, scenes, and zines were welcome and illuminating. A consistent voice throughout would have been a welcome addition. Adams occasionally discusses signing a band to the label, say, and discusses the signing in first person, saying “I did this,” or, if decisions were made with a partner, “We did this.” There’s nothing wrong with this strategy—just that it’s employed with infrequency, and is occasionally jarring when read in proximity to what is otherwise a straightforward, detached narration. The switches felt like bits of articles, maybe, had been stitched together to form a narrative, making the read feel bumpy and less than cohesive.

I mentioned above that I love reading music books to learn about scenes. You’re with Stupid presents a ton of information and discusses many kranky bands—so many that I sometimes had a hard time keeping track of who was who because ample introduction wasn’t provided. I wondered whether the imagined audience for the book was someone already familiar with the kranky scene, rather than me, a neophyte. Coupled with the odd narrative changes, this aspect made for bumpy sledding as I read. Still, this book got me interested in music that was new to me—I dug around online for Labradford and Stars Of The Lid—and gave me a greater sense of Chicago’s scene in the ’90s. –Michael T. Fournier (University Of Texas Press)

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