Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

75 Dollar Bill: I Was Real [Glitterbeat/Tak:til, 2019]
On 2016, 2017, and 2018 sessions in three studios in Brooklyn and one in Knoxville, guitarist Che Chen and percussionist Rick Brown's avant-rock duo-plus improve on 2016's fine little Wood / Metal / Plastic / Pattern. The handsome CD packaging establishes that digital whiz Brown's main ax remains "plywood crate," that "quarter-tone guitar" is the most prominent of Chen's seven instruments, and that no one else appears on even half the nine tracks, though electric bassist Sue Garner and contrabassist Andrew Lafkas come close. Vocals: zero, not a wheeze or a grunt. Tunes: compelling because they're so strange and microtonal. Mood: meditative and excitable in tandem and sometimes simultaneously, immersive when loud yet never fully trancelike. It's been said by me and others that there's a lot of northwest Africa in this music even though Chen's schooling there was brief, so I'll point out that three titles reference a Mauritanian wedding-dance genre. The liveliest is the four-minute "WZN4." If you're curious you might start there. A-