Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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This was originally published as exclusive content, in Robert Christgau's And It Don't Stop newsletter. You can have Christgau's posts delivered to your mailbox if you subscribe.

Consumer Guide: June, 2020

From 50 million sold to giving it away for free, from righteous anger to righteous humor, from everything is beautiful to everything sucking--it's a big world out there. Let's hope it stays that way

Al Bilali Soudan: Tombouctou (Clermont Music) From Timbuktu, as we spell it, four or five male blood relatives shout and expostulate their songs in Tamashek, Songhai, and it says here French and English as they thrash and manipulate their ngoni-like tehardents. Whether conjoining barely coexisting peoples or boosting kind women who are better than they are, both of which they make sound worthy and neither of which they make sound easy, they will get your attention, guaranteed. If you like desert music enough to suspect you've heard it before, you haven't--Tinariwen are showbiz by comparison, Tamikrest urbane, Tartit cute. And should you instead suspect that this noisy, indelicate stuff is the roughest African music ever recorded, that's because you haven't heard their 2012 debut. A MINUS

The Channels Featuring Earl Lewis: Golden Oldies (Essential Media Group) Soaring tenor Earl Lewis and agile bass Charles Wright lead the finest of NYC's regional doowoppers through polyphonic although not always dead-on five-part harmony ("The Closer You Are," "The Gleam in Your Eye," "Bye Bye Baby") ***

Fats Domino: Live From Austin TX (New West) Back in its release year of 2006, I figured no one needed a verbatim live version of one of his greatest-hits records, plentiful then and impossible to keep track of now. Me, I A-shelf both 1996's The Fat Man: 25 Classic Performances and 1990's 25-track My Blue Heaven: The Best of Fats Domino because they share only 11 songs, and keep the entire 100-track Legendary Imperial Sessions on my iPod because it don't stop. Aided and spurred by bandleader-producer Dave Bartholomew, who played trumpet at this gig decades before he died at 100 in 2019, Domino's songbook was bigger if less wordly-wise than Chuck Berry's. So you don't quite need this 1986 set, recorded when Fats was 58 with a band that also included saxophone titans Lee Allen and Herbert Hardesty. But first of all it's not verbatim. The tempos are less speedy and the vocals deeper--not just because Fats is older but because his hits were mastered faster so he'd sound more like a kid. Moreover, it documents the hardest-touring of the '50s titans in a habitat every bit as natural as New Orleans itself: a nightclub. That's one reason he put down an extra set of roots in Vegas, where it took him years to learn not to gamble away his paychecks and throw in his cufflinks. So in order to support his eight kids and buy more jewelry, this shy guy stayed on the road until 1995. "Over a million records sold," brags the hype man. Make that 50 million, actually. A MINUS

Fat Tony & Taydex: Wake Up (Carpark) Rapping the underrated joys and tolerable hassles of getting by, which took doing even in the good old days ("Run It Up," "Magnifique") ***

Hamell on Trial: The Pandemic Songs (Saustex) This selection of nine of the voice-and-guitar pieces Hamell composed one a day over the two weeks preceding a home Facebook concert strikes quickest at its most comic: the opening "Gonna," which is short for "I'm gonna die," or the improvised "This Is a Hamell Show," which lists all the reasons a father in Finland shouldn't be imposing Hamell on eight-year-old Ruth ("Did I mention drugs yet?/I'm sure I will"). But they wouldn't mean much if "All the Things I Miss" and "My Little Camus" weren't so in love with life that they decline to joke around. Much. A MINUS [originally B+]

Jumpstarted Plowhards: Round One (Recess) Veteran San Pedro punk obsessive Todd Congelliere, multitasking bassist Mike Watt, and eight drummers on eight tracks forge a Clash impression committed enough to make Mick Jones bristle with pride ("Commie Clara," "Claws Break Down," "The Garter Snakes") ***

Princess Nokia: Everything Is Beautiful (Platoon) Not beautiful, exactly--more cute like the piano parts, which while not exactly pop because she doesn't exactly have the pipes color if not define every one of these 12 chirpy, chin-up tracks. Simultaneously "a little artsy" and "kinda smart," "confident" and "insecure," she's rapped her way to riches under her own advisement, so you can "kiss her derriere because it's shaped like a pear." She inhabits a reality of her own devising where tax returns make you miss being a kid, "Sugar Honey Ice Tea" is how you used to say "shit," and if you want to co-release two albums that don't total an hour between them you just do it. A MINUS

Princess Nokia: Everything Sucks (Platoon) Sporting a pussyhat-teddybear combo on the cover while claiming she's "grosser than you hoes and it shows," the former Destiny Frasqueri showcases her bad side not her sad side. Rapping rapidly over spare, playful beats, the consignment-shop whiz looks like a milli in an outfit that cost 20 bucks and likes him but likes the next guy too, kind of the way she likes both fucking and sucking--which makes her the main thing that actually sucks here until an autobiographical closer in which first her mommy and then her granny die before she turns nine with only her wits to save her. Which they have, but it took some doing. B PLUS

Run the Jewels: RTJ4 (BMG Rights Management) Who knows whether this would feel so right absent a historical moment when trying to distinguish rage slavery from righteous anger is a waste of emotional wisdom? With trap on its opiated treadmill, the gangsta sonics that power El-P and Killer Mike's inchoate aggressiveness will feel tonic to anyone with both an appetite for music and a political pulse. One way or another every one of "us"--a term the moment demands--feels anger whether that anger is complicated by elation or anxiety, hope or fear, concern or frustration or curiosity or new ideas or any combination thereof. So RTJ's political intent alone makes their vigor invigorating. And their lyrics have never been sharper: not just the orange clockworks, Godzillaed Tokyo, and copper with lead in his eye, but two of the wisest political raps in the literature. One is "JU$T," where Pharrell Williams and Zack de la Rocha help them expand on capitalism's commitment to slavery: "You believe corporations runnin' marijuana?/And your country gettin' ran by a casino owner?" The other is the protracted "A Few Words for the Firing Squad" finale, which has its doubts about rage. Take for instance this El-P quatrain: "I used to wanna get the chance to show the world I'm smart/Isn't that dumb? I should have focused mostly on the heart/Cause I seen smarter people trample life like it's an art/So bein' smart ain't what it used to be, that's fuckin' dark." A PLUS

Serengeti & Kenny Segal: Ajai (Cohn Corporation) Riding well-textured beats from L.A. alt-rap wizard Segal, Geti's most musical album in quite a few prolific years is also his most accessible in quite a few daunting ones. Or maybe not so accessible--I can't really tell because commodity fetishism as aesthetic pursuit as neurotic obsession has been over my head since Run-D.M.C. began shouting about their Adidas. The first fashion victim here is the title character, an Indian sneaker collector who cooks with quinoa, appreciates tarragon, and siphons his wife's medical-research earnings into--to cite just three lines--Balenciaga, Rick Owens, Supreme, Prada, Abloh, and Diadora, and soon there'll be more. Midway through he's replaced in the subject position by telephone repairman turned over-the-hill rapper Kenny Dennis, who at the start is eating tuna straight out the can but betters himself before the album is over. I think. A MINUS

Tartit: Amankor/The Exile (Riverboat) The title of the Tuareg women's first album since 2006 tells us why it took them so long, and also why they sound so downhearted ("Afous Dafous," "Yahoye," "Efaghane") **

Westside Gunn: Pray for Paris (Griselda) Beginning with a recording of the obscene $400 million auction of da Vinci's Salvator Mundi, which the auteur finds more enviable than disgusting but also grotesquely comic, and ending with a tap solo by enviable fashionista fave Cartier Williams, this album enjoys old-fashioned hip-hop materialism with dauntless esprit. Still exploiting a Frankie Lymon tenor as he pushes 40, Gunn drafts his very young son Westside Pootie for timbral relief and enlists Ghostface Killah, Freddie Gibbs, and Roc Marciano to spell resident rough customer Benny the Butcher--plus, for that woke touch, Joey Bada$$ and Tyler the Creator. Skrrrts and booh-booh-booh-booh-boohs add further sonic variety, as do the civilized poetics of Keisha Plum before she drives an icepick through a whoremonger's eye and reports his demise as a heart attack. A MINUS

Wussy: Ghosts (Bandcamp) Although it skips their grungy revamp of New Order's "Ceremony," this free 40-minute odds-and-sods should hold off a ravenously discerning fanbase still bummed that they'll be stuck in Cincinnati till humans brainier and nicer than our crowd-craving, crowd-punishing führer-in-his-own-mind have quelled a disease that transforms live singing into an infection vector. Not counting one you may have missed on the 2019 Chuck Cleaver solo album you also may have missed, it's all alternate mixes if not new material, and not one feels redundant--the quieter and more lyrical original of Left for Dead's "Mayflies" by Lisa Walker's Magic Words and an electro take on Strawberries's "Fly Fly Fly" are just two standouts. The flat-out stunner is the opener, where Walker makes you feel that the kind and willing woman who sings Dusty Springfield's indelible "Breakfast in Bed" is being exploited nevertheless. Only then there's the fondly recalled Chuck & Lisa closer "Mountain in My Backyard," where the sort of ordinary Midwesterners whose foibles Wussy have long excavated are remembered as everyday heroes. A

And It Don't Stop, June 10, 2020

May 11, 2020 July 8, 2020