Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
  And It Don't Stop
  Book Reports
  Is It Still Good to Ya?
  Going Into the City
  Consumer Guide: 90s
  Grown Up All Wrong
  Consumer Guide: 80s
  Consumer Guide: 70s
  Any Old Way You Choose It
  Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
Xgau Sez
  And It Don't Stop
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  NAJP Blog
  Rolling Stone
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
Web Site:
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell:
  Carola's Website
CG Search:
Google Search:

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: May, 2023

Melodies that mitigate pain and navigate stumbling relationships, a spiritual force on tour, 25 songs or rants about (among other things) street life, racism, automobile fetishism, and ice cream.

Algiers: There Is No Year (Matador '20) Intelligent, militant, explicit, anti-crypto, all those lefty essentials, but too sludgy in thought and/or musical execution ("Chaka," "Void") ***

Algiers: Shook (Matador) This international, multiracial quartet-plus is one of the darkest bands this side of death metal and knows why, which is politics. A prominent trap set drives texturally articulated keyboardish substructures that incorporate enough actual guitar and bass to sidestep any cheap synth-rock catchall genrewise, and on this album has its lyrical content locked and loaded. From the oppressed "We all shatter, it's a sign of the times" to the unbowed "When we die, our beloved, our kinfolk, fear not/We rise," driving force and chief vocalist-lyricist Franklin Jay Fisher knows whereof he sings, and on this album he's enlisted quite the crew of walk-on allies, most impressively Zack de la Rocha raging against hegemony, Billy Woods honoring his Marxist patrimony, and Afro-Canadian trans pioneer Backxwash representing for her fellow ladies as just one legion of the oppressed. And toward the end comes the grueling "Something Wrong," where you just know the cops are gonna brutalize the painfully polite driver-narrator and can't stop yourself from following every detail. A MINUS

Big Joanie: Back Home (Kill Rock Stars) These three second-generation Black British women are slotted punk and given their new label even riot grrrl. But that sure isn't how they sound, which matters when you've make a rock band your life for 10 years. The tempos are solidly moderate, the tunes sturdy as opposed to hooky and sometimes delivered on simple but striking keyboards including one that sounds like a smallish church organ. The direct, thoughtful lyrics are seldom confrontational but often questioning or just curious, shot through with but not dominated by the interpersonal. Basically their goal is to try and make their lives work. Aren't politics included, you wonder. Of course they are, because all three smart thoughtful women are conscious in the broadest sense and even more likable as a result. A MINUS

Boygenius: Boygenius EP (Matador '18) Shelve this determinedly quiet, occasionally sharp-tongued introduction posthaste or it may waft away on the next stiff breeze ("Stay Down," "Salt in the Wound") **

Boygenius: The Record (Interscope) Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus are all flat-out sopranos committed to articulate songwriting, crystalline pronunciation, moderate tempos, and rocking out when circumstances require. Although two of them were raised strictly Christian, all three are now staunch leftists who identify lesbian or bisexual without being ideological about it or claiming their love lives are hunky dory. Quite the contrary--quite a few of these 12 memorable first-person songs navigate stumbling relationships, awkward road trips, failed post-breakup patch jobs, or reflections on a rapidly receding past. There are awkward meetups in dive bars and quasi-confessional karaoke sessions; there's one where a prospective partner warns "I might like you less now that you know me so well" and another that simply admits that the singer might be "Writin' the words/To the worst love song you ever heard." But they have a sense of humor and never stop trying, so that something in the committed intelligence of their music makes you feel they're going to get where they're trying to go if they haven't arrived already but don't know it yet. A

Fever Ray: Radical Romantics (Rabid) Proving as clearly as is mete not just that sex doesn't get any easier as you get older, but that neither does music no matter how strange yours was to begin with ("Even It Out," "Kandy") *

Holy Modal Rounders: 1 & 2 (Fantasy '99) An Xgau Sez question alerted me to my failure to review Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber's amply annotated, still-available 29-track double-CD, which resurrects without quite replicating the 1964 and 1965 LPs they put out on Prestige in their mid-twenties. How could that be, I wondered, and indeed, in the reissues portion of the 1999 Dean's List found I'd placed it fifth behind Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, A Tribe Called Quest, and Hound Dog Taylor best-ofs and ahead of five others I'd also reviewed. I'd rank it ahead of Taylor and Tribe now, and leave Crosby second out of respect more than use value. Illimitable fiddler Stampfel is in full cartoon voice on these 29 mostly traditional, mostly wacko songs, while doomed speed freak and ace guitarist Weber applies his high-baritone coulda-been-a-croon to such ploys as converting "Mr. Bass Man" into "Mr. Spaceman" and pretending the all too prophetic "Junko Partner" is a bagatelle. Freak folk started here. Would it were still thriving, though Stampfel's young potna Jeffrey Lewis does do his part. A

Ice Spice: Like . . ? (10K Projects/Capitol) The keyword on this charmingly lubricious soft-rap EP is "smoochie," a nice and indeed affectionate way to say "ho" that benefits from the innocent sexuality of the word "smooch" and as it happens has its sonic congruities with SUNY Purchase, the dropout alma mater of a 23-year-old Bronx-born self-promoter christened-or-was-she Isis Naija Gaston. One song here allows as how good old "boo" is also OK with her. Then again, another one claims the title "Princess Diana." A MINUS

Jinx Lennon: Walk Lightly When the Jug Is Full (Septic Tiger) Melody has never been his strength, which is why it may take you longer to grant how well the lyrics maintain ("Tyrants of the Open String," "Pregnancy Test Kit," "It's Better to Be Alive") **

Jinx Lennon: Pet Rent (Septic Tiger) The stick-to-it-ive Lennon's best album in years is also his most musical ever, which has zip to do with tunes or solos. It's about making a racket, not principally from Chris Barry's "electric guitar" but from Lennon himself on not just "vox" but "keys, guitar, bass, samples, noises, drums, beats." Just about every one of these 25 songs or rants sounds different as Lennon rants more than sings his tales, lessons, complaints, and expostulations. Topics include ice cream, comfort zones, street life, racism, automobile fetishism, sexual objectification in general, spousal abuse, lost mojo, the limits of luck, the limits of New Zealand, feeling stupid inside, standing up for something, self-knowledge, shit happening, and the uses of serotonin. A MINUS

Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens: Music Inferno: The Indestructible Beat Tour 1988-1989 (Umsakazo/Gallo) For 35 years, my go-to Mahlathini album not counting the classic multi-artist Indestructible Beat of Soweto comp itself (which you should buy first if for some reason you haven't already), has been the 10-track live Paris-Soweto. Recorded entirely in England and mostly in London, which gives Simon Nkabinde a chance to utilize the spoken English any Black South African knows enough to get a handle on, this belated 15-track sampler includes only six Paris-Soweto songs, and comes across somewhat sharper not just sonically but performance-wise--there's thumping and soaring, discipline and byplay, a whistle here and a saxophone there, queens adding byplay as well as support, and liner notes so encyclopedic they cry out for a magnifying glass. The epochal how-low-can-you-go groaner died at 61 in 1999. But he remains an artist to to be marveled at and a spiritual force to help you do so. A

David Murray/Brad Jones/Hamid Drake: Seriana Promethea (Intakt) With 92-year-old titan Sonny Rollins in involuntary retirement, 68-year-old lion Murray is without question not just the greatest tenor saxophonist working but by now entitled to stand tall alongside Webster and Adderley if not quite Rollins or Coltrane. If jazz was more than an auxiliary pleasure for me, I would have reviewed more than just a couple of his dozen-plus 21st-century albums. But I found this relatively simple thing--eight tracks laid down in one day in Zurich by a "brave new world trio" mid post-pandemic tour--gratifyingly specific and enticing. I don't know 67-year-old go-to drummer Drake's work well enough to claim it's exceptional here, but he definitely stands out the way a guy with his name on the cover should, whereas bassist Jones, who'll turn 60 May 20, does what a good bassist should: subtly thicken and/or elaborate the groove except that one special time when you pick up your bow. As for Murray, he's who you're listening for whether he's reaching high in his register on "Rainbows for Julia" and "Switchin' in the Kitchen" or just making like a sax man. Nor will you be sorry when you do. But you'll also enjoy two surprises he has ready: a switchoff to deep dark bass clarinet and a Sly Stone cover that'll make you scratch your head till you're fully reminded that it's been in the world for half a century. A MINUS

Peter Stampfel & Baby Gramps: Outertainment (Red Newt '10) "Way over a century of knowledge of American music, way over a century's common ground," but also, "I enjoy the possibility of going nuts" ("Bar Bar," "Ghost Train of Freak Mountain") ***

Withered Hand: How to Love (Reveal) If you can't quite recall Edinburgh sufferer Dan Willson, who leads and is Withered Hand, no worries--after a relatively prolific half decade that ended circa 2014, he slipped from view because he couldn't afford to record anymore. But he never got over his passion for song, and the nine he's moved to deliver a decade later suggest he never stopped writing them either. Raised Jehovah's Witness in London, he rejected that faith but named his band after the sufferer in a New Testament parable, which is why it's a little hard to know whether loving God is a bigger thing for him than loving the right human being when he reports in re love "I'm not afraid to try/I'm afraid of trying and not feeling good enough." Musically, the new songs are no less poignant and fetching than the old ones, each the emotional equal of titles like "How to Love," "Crippled Love," "Still Quiet Voice," and "Comedown." Just about every track mitigates the pain with a simple, irresistible melody. And since part of Willson's story is that his wife bought him his first guitar when he turned 30, some two decades ago now, human being fans will be glad to learn that the credits report that "Eva W" is part of the "WH Salvation Choir" that chimes in on so many of these tracks. A

And It Don't Stop, May 10, 2023

April 12, 2023 June 14, 2023