Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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75 Dollar Bill

  • Wooden Bag [Other Music, 2015] ***
  • Wood / Metal / Plastic / Pattern / Rhythm / Rock [Thin Wrist, 2016] A-
  • I Was Real [Glitterbeat/Tak:til, 2019] A-

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Wooden Bag [Other Music, 2015]
Identifying more avant, but cutting a funkier path on the longer ones ("Cuttin' Out," "Hollis") ***

Wood / Metal / Plastic / Pattern / Rhythm / Rock [Thin Wrist, 2016]
This four-track, 39-minute cassette-gone-to-heaven by young NYC experimental guitarist-multithreat Che Chen and veteran NYC weird-band drummer-percussionist Rick Brown is a strange one, and it means to be, but to someone of my peculiar interests it connected quick. The main axes are Chen's two guitars, tuned so that they generate 24 tones per octave instead of the usual 12, and a wooden box Brown found on the street and bangs for all it's worth. Although Chen denies that his brief intensive with Mauritanian master guitarist Jeiche Ould Chighaly is decisive, the thing definitely sounds somehow African even if the echoes seemed less distinct when I cued up the untethered vocals and suppler grooves of Group Inerane and Group Doueh. This purely instrumental avant-rock is more solemn, deliberate, set on its strangeness. But the way the tempo picks up two minutes into the 12.27 "Beni Said" is friendly enough for me, especially followed by the diddleybeat Brown lays under the de facto raveup "Cummins Falls" and the saxes and side percussion that thicken the 15-minute closer. Quite an up in its severe way--which is an interesting up. A-

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-