ALL TOGETHER NOW

By Gill Hornby. (Little Brown, 324 pages, $26.)

A novel about a community choir, set in a small English town — oh, and let’s make it a town that has seen better days, as has the choir — well, the ingredients promise the sentimentality of a slice of treacle tart. Gill Hornby takes awhile to bring the tale ’round, and perhaps overstates one character’s great shameful secret.

Yet by the time that bit of semi-dark past is revealed, we’re invested in this quirky bunch of characters who sing not so much because they’re all that good, but because it’s something that brings everyone out of their houses on Tuesday evenings. And where’s the harm in that?

But the impulse to compete in an upcoming contest propels a need for new members, and shenanigans ensue. The trio of choral villains who tamper with this tradition is unexpected, and yet familiar. Maybe you’ve never sung in a community choir, but you’ve been through middle school, and the potential for certain factions jousting for control remains unchanged.

Hornby’s characters are just a bit sharp in all the right ways, making for a pleasant read that, against your will, may have you humming.

KIM ODE, features writer

 

THE UNDERGROUND IS MASSIVE

By Michaelangelo Matos. (Dey St./William Morrow, 425 pages, $25.99.)

The first big-picture history of electronic dance music in America brings its subject to life in down-and-dirty detail. Michaelangelo Matos’ chronicle of electronic dance music’s long, bumpy ride to stadium and festival staple status in its birthplace is packed with facts. But it’s the action, humanity, and heat that the Brooklyn-based Minneapolis native pumps into “The Underground Is Massive” that’s likely to make readers sail through it.

The book opens in 1983 with Frankie Knuckles and Derrick May forging the first bonds between Chicago house and Detroit techno. It closes in 2014 at a celebrity-festooned Grammys after-party celebrating Daft Punk’s five-award sweep. Pretty much everything significant between those points happens in chronological order — usually with enough immediacy to make the book feel more like fiction than history.

Why so lively? Matos wisely lets his characters drive the story. He also lets them tell much of it. Not that he quotes excessively — of the roughly 250 people interviewed for the book (full disclosure: I’m one), only a few dozen get speaking parts — but the narrative never lacks for firsthand accounts and observations.

May, Richie Hawtin, Moby and a handful of other prominent DJs, producers, and promoters provide threads long enough to give the book’s sweep extra muscle. But Matos doesn’t prioritize movers and shakers any more than he prioritizes the songs, labels, venues or drugs that figured in EDM’s ascent. Along related lines, not all of the 18 events that form the story’s backbone were successes. The author’s willingness to present bad with good makes the music’s eventual triumph seem that much sweeter.

Matos will talk about the book with local writer/musician Dylan Hicks at 7 p.m. Sept. 3 at Moon Palace Books, 2820 E. 33rd St., Mpls.

ROD SMITH,

Minneapolis music writer