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: January, 2023

Hip-hop from the desert island our planet has become, chamber folk concerning another island (Haiti), polyrhythms that rock, and 18:36 of irresistibly whispery soprano.

Black Star: No Fear of Time (self-released) A quarter century on, the first follow-up album by the great lost conscious duo of Talib Kweli and Mos Def/Yasiin Bey is also the first hip-hop album or for that matter popular music of any cultural profile to rhyme "cinema nouveau" with "Daniel Defoe"--a Robinson Crusoe reference on an album designed to show us around "the desert island our planet has become." Absolutely "This ain't a product placement"--their goal isn't to be clever or brilliant. It's to preach truth however corny that may seem, because "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing," which is that "Life is beautiful even when the world is wack." And who might "My Favorite Band" be? How about "The faithful, the grateful, the tragic, and the classic"? Madlib's settings for their conversational rapping don't always put its philosophizing across as music. But when an unidentified Greg Tate climbs aboard for a few minutes at the very end, he's not even pretending to rap and it sounds like music anyway. B PLUS

Open Mike Eagle: Component System With the Auto Reverse (AutoReverse) As their guest spots remind us, the ace rhymer who called his debut Unapologetic Art Rap just isn't as musical as art-rappers Serengeti, R.A.P. Ferreira, or Aesop Rock ("The Song With the Secret Name," "Crenshaw and Homeland") ***

Joe Fahey: Baker's Cousin (Rough Fish) "There's a vaccine on the horizon/There's a sunrise in the east," the opener reports hopefully, but one-note melodies and $12 cocktails impinge as the insomnia that began with "that one election" never fully loosens its hold ("All Quiet on the Midwestern Front," "Nobody's Afraid of Ringo") ***

Guerrilla Girls! (Ace) There are holes aplenty in this decades-spanning U.K.-generated she-punk anthology. Among the missing are not only the Runaways, Siouxsie and the Banshees, X, and Liliput but Hole, Sleater-Kinney, the Donnas, and Le Tigre. Nor do obscure finds by Blondie, the Raincoats, the Bangles, and the Au Pairs catch fire after repeated plays the way they're presumably supposed to. They're hot enough, though, and in the end the collection's 25 tracks and 40-page booklet gather force on bulk alone. Again and again--from the Bags' "Survive" at track two to the Tuts' "Let Go of the Past" an hour later--songs I don't recall hearing in their historical moment sound better every time they come up. Listenable entertainment and an advanced history course at the same time. A MINUS

Hurray for the Riff Raff: Life on Earth (Nonesuch) "Go run away you darling/Run to some distant shore/Because it's not safe at home anymore/It's not safe at home anymore" ("Precious Cargo," "Rhododendron") ***

Leyla McCalla: Breaking the Thermometer (Anti-) In which the cellist turned Carolina Chocolate Drop sings and plays songs and other music from a theater piece about her parents' native Haiti whose full title is Breaking the Thermometer to Hide the Fever. Since the arrangements tend leisurely and the lyrics Creole, the manifold musical pleasures on this collection epitomize a chamber folk I'd figure wasn't verbal enough to suit a word guy like me. But McCalla has become such a striking singer that I found myself captivated from the first verse. Not that her chops are spectacular here--that would spoil the effect. Murmuring and lilting without missing or bending a note, she's lovely instead, all gentle precision and outgoing care. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that this impression goes against the songs' ideological grain. But that's how they sound. A MINUS

Montparnasse Musique: Archeology (RealWorld) The two kingpins of this remarkable project identify African even though they grew up 6000 miles apart: Franco-Algerian DJ Bern Bella, who didn't even visit the mother country till he was out of his teens, and Johannesburg "township electro house" producer Aero Manyelo, who was born in the northern reaches of South Africa before heading south to Jo'burg with a family led by a father who was a serious jazz fan. But though there's thump aplenty in the beats the two concoct for a band named for the artiest of Parisian neighborhoods, it's striking how Congolese their groove remains. True, it's less lissome than highlife much less soukous and doesn't aspire to such ease. But it's very much polyrhythmic while rocking to beat the band. When you first play it you may think you've heard lots of music like it, but you haven't. It's not going to displace Victor Uwaifo much less Kanda Bongo Man much less Luambo Franco. But it's ready and willing to stand alongside it. A MINUS

PinkPantheress: To Hell With It (Parlophone) This TikTok-launched 21-year-old Anglo-Kenyan ex-film student was a phenom in the U.K. for well over a year before I tripped over her while trawling Spotify, where I expect many of her hooks have already enjoyed long viral lives decorating lesser music. These 10 songs clock in at 18:36 total and are most often loosely anchored by pattering beats and/or tiny keyb figures solider than her irresistibly whispery soprano, with every one some kind of gem or lesser bauble. A genius who's had problems with her A levels, a shopgirl who can now buy the shop, she has problems with love because who doesn't, although a father who long ago relocated Stateside can't be helping. Wish her well as her art turns into a career, which she knows is inevitable and is never easy for anybody. A

PinkPantheress: Take Me Home (Parlophone) Just in time for Christmas, well over a year after her debut mini-album, no more or less than three new songs/tracks. She pronounces "liar" to rhyme with "see ya" because she knows all too well that truly seeing her is well beyond his capabilities. She's injudicious enough to check out the new message on her bf's phone when she goes downstairs to make his coffee the way he likes it. She wants to be young forever or at least till she's 25 but on the current evidence would be better off rushing the next phase some. A MINUS

Pongo: Sakidila (Virgin) An Angola-born 30-year-old who emigrated to Lisbon when she was eight and first heard Angolan kuduru as a 12-year-old traveling to and from physical therapy after she failed to kill herself by jumping out of a window, she sings like singing gave her something to live for. Half-rapped, half-crooned, her songs are verbally opaque to non-Portuguese speakers either way, but their beats and hooks mix styles till they compensate and then some. As usual, I like the beaty stuff best. But soulful plaints-or-are-they like "Kuzola" and "Vida" make me wish I had a trot. A MINUS

Ribbon Stage: Hit With the Most (K) Postpunky NYC g-g-b g-b-d thrash through 11 songs in 20 minutes, gathering all too minimalist melodic momentum along the way ("Exaltation," "Hearst," "Her Clock Tower") *

Tegan and Sara: Crybaby (Mom + Pop) Simple and often schematic, which suits both their terse wit and their bottomless tune sense, almost every relationship described, referenced, or just evoked on this lesbian sister duo's 10th album seems to go wrong in one of an unspectacular variety of small but decisive ways. After a quarter century in the biz, that's almost their signature. You'd never know unless you were part of their sizable fanbase that both identical twins had long since left Canada for California, that both are married, or that one recently bore a son who when you think about it may have inspired this album's otherwise enigmatic title. They're that subtle, that indirect, that confessional-or-maybe-not. It would be stupid to deny their level of craft. But how much that means you have to like it is up to you. B PLUS

Wesli: Tradisyon (Cumbancha) The Haitian twoubadou in this world-music up-and-comer provides the lilting congeniality, the Canadian fortune-seeker the dedicated productivity ("Kay Koulé Trouba," "Makonay") **

Neil Young With Crazy Horse: World Record (Reprise) Absolutely this is a rather generic 21st-century Neil Young album, and the auteur's wacky and indeed ecologically dubious decision to release music that would fit easily onto a single disc as a double-CD is further complicated by his decision to adjust the list price to match. Yet as a generic 21st-century Neil Young album it shares two rare and enjoyable virtues. One, in Young's hands the simple harmonic structures he's explored not to say exploited for half a century continue to generate simple yet endearing melodies whose similarities to previous Neil Young melodies I leave it to the many guys who've committed his catalogue to memory to celebrate or complain about. Two, inconsistencies regardless he cares about the fate of the planet--again and again it's what he feels compelled to sing about. B PLUS

And It Don't Stop, January 11, 2023

December 14, 2022 February 8, 2023