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: July, 2023

Sweet melodies buoying up existential weight, trying Jesus when other men let you down, sad and brilliant tales of failed relationships, and jazz with a pop-friendly sense of identity and purpose.

African Head Charge: A Trip to Bolgatanga (On U Sound) This Adrian Sherwood avant-Afrobeat collective exists, which after 40 years is admittedly a more impressive achievement than it used to be, but to exactly what extent it exists has always been a perplex ("Accra Electronica," "Abalatua") ***

Buck 65: Super Dope (Handsmade) The Nova Scotian CBC talk show host returned to the hip-hop lists last year with an album that earned the title King of Drums, so naturally this year's model harks back to the wordplay that has always been his wheelhouse. Ruthless like Rufus Thomas doing the organic chicken, a rebel without applause allows as how he's not so much an alpha male as an alfalfa male--one who rhymes Sissy Spacek with shitty paycheck and then adduces a shifty tape deck. Heed his words to the would-be wise: "Read a book before you sleep/And take a look before you leap." A MINUS [Later: A]

Corook: Serious Person (Part 1) (Atlantic) No kid--28 years old, it says here. No amateur either--like secret sharer Adrianne Lenker, who registered simplistic until finally you realized how not just smart but sophisticated she was, Corook has put in time at Berklee, regarding which she has admittedly averred "I don't use half that shit/Fuck the circle of fifths." But if you shy away from this EP on account of it sounds childish, then you miss the point, as many have and will. Just make sure it"s not because you can't comprehend why the "Tiny Little Titties" outro "I don't feel like a man, I don't feel like a woman/I've tried to describe myself, it turns out that I couldn't" rides a melody so sweet and simple it's hard to comprehend that it buoys up so much existential weight. One way or another, that's the way it is with all eight songs on this 18-minute collection. Almost unbelievably until you take a moment to ponder how many supposed normals are bent out of shape by the non-binary perplex, there've been reviewers who've loathed this record. Get used to it, which shouldn't take long, and you'll find yourself not just charmed but transfixed by its triumphant sweetness, candor, humor, and musicality. A

Corook: Best of Corook (So Far) (Atlantic) Relative to Serious Person, this older music comprises a relatively conventional lineup of collegiate-to-post-collegiate queer love songs. But much more than the preponderance of such material, it's simultaneously deep and cute. Vocally it milks the breathy sweetness of Corook's petite soprano; instrumentally, it foregrounds modestly playful keyboards. Issues addressed include not telling mom, "if they don't like you they're fucking stupid," the futility of BDSM, who'll get the dog, and the cheesiness of Edgar Allen Poe's "Annabelle Lee." A MINUS

Elle King: Come Get Your Wife (RCA) Near as I can tell by quickly checking back, the third album by a marginal Nashvillean who was inspired to take up music by none other than the Donnas is her sharpest so far. She's always fast, loose, and long on attitude, although it's hard to imagine her ever topping "I'm gonna try Jesus/See what all the fuss is about/Thinkin' I should try Jesus/'Cause every other man let me down." Fortunately for us, this experiment doesn't work either. Not only does it leave room for the Miranda Lambert cowrite "Drunk (And I Don't Wanna Go Home)," which follows all too immediately. It also provides varied ways for her to spell Tulsa backward, pass out goodnight kisses, and make the most of a bad reputation she's proud she's earned. A MINUS

L'Orchestre National Mauritanien: Ahl Nana (Radio Martiko) Recorded in Casablanca way back in 1971, these 10 six- to nine-minute tracks by a family credited dubiously with foreshadowing the likes of Tinariwen and other desert guitar bands could dub themselves the "national orchestra" of their sparsely populated, largely Saharan and Arab-Berber land because no one else had applied for the job. Their groove devoid of the complex polyrhythms of dance musics from Senegal down to Congo and also the thrust of the Malian and related styles that would soon emerge, they rely instead on what sounds and also looks in the cover photo like an all-female chorus call-and-responsing to drums-lute-kora with vigor, conviction, and delight. Tinariwen are fine. But half a century ago this ensemble was far more singular. A MINUS

Allen Lowe and the Constant Sorrow Orchestra: America: The Rough Cut (ESP-Disk') Jazz loyalist, music historian, saxophonist, guitarist, and major cancer survivor Lowe declares that he doesn't much like today's music, which he claims lacks "funk" without indicating any familiarity with James Brown, who I assume he knows, or hip-hop, where I assume his education is spotty if that. But this hour of sax-guitar-bass-drums jazz got my attention from spin one. Lowe believes various of its tracks evoke "pre-blues ruminations" or "a post-rational burst of tongues," "medicine-show irony" or "old-time hillbilly rag." If so, it does so a little too abstractly or allusively for somebody who continues to find serious as well as pleasurable sustenance in a broad array of today's musics. But as mere jazz it generates a surprisingly compact, uncommonly straightforward, and dare I say pop-friendly sense of identity and purpose. A MINUS

Baaba Maal: Being (Atelier Live) This 69-year-old vocalist and guitarist is a Tukulor not a Wolof and hence, at least in his case, a more politically conscious and proactive figure than even a Wolof as socially sapient as Youssou N'Dour himself. But it pretty much goes without saying because who has that he's never approached N'Dour's musical reach or scope, and keeping up with his albums has required more diligence than they seemed likely to reward. That's one reason I missed 2016's The Traveller, only now I'm kind of sorry, because this one is simultaneously raw and delicate, powerful and modulated. One reviewer has praised how openly it integrates younger pop experimental types. What impresses me is that you can't tell they're there. A MINUS

Pardoner: Peace Loving People (Bar/None) Fourteen hard rock songs in 33 minutes with occasional dollops of smarts and near zero of punk, hence heavy albeit not metal, and despite those smarts I guarantee that most curiosity seekers will miss the punk part even before they figure out what hasn't hit them ("Deadbeat," "Get Inside!") *

Bill Scorzari: The Crosswinds of Kansas (self-released) The third album by a retired NYC-based attorney whose gray beard reaches halfway down his torso is packaged as a 70-minute double-fold CD complete with a 16-page lyric booklet. So I strongly suggest you follow along while you listen, which I even more strongly suggest. As a singer he's most of the way to a talker, which is not to suggest that his Americana-in-the-rough melodies don't deliver his songs or that his musicians don't shore and liven them up. Sadly but also rather brilliantly, most describe or ponder failed relationships, not one of which presents itself as either casual or ill-fated on the face of it. They just don't work out, that's all. "With every situation that confronts me to my core, there comes a realization that I seem to have had before." "Now I'm just sittin' here in my car, thinkin' about how you and I have changed, and how there's no guarantee our destiny could ever be the same." "You said you hoped I wouldn't be lonely now that you're leaving me alone." "And then you said to me 'It's cause you never tried.' You never tried. You never tried. You never tried. You never . . . tried." A MINUS

Straw Man Army: SOS (La Vida Es Un Mus) The steady roll of their enunciated punk-by-association suits their sanely informed politics but has its limits when it comes to rousing the hoi polloi and for that matter the troops ("Underland," "Human Kind") ***

Tinariwen: Amatssou (Wedge) It takes more than Daniel Lanois to add innovative je ne sais quoi to your all too familiar signature style and/or sound ("Anemouhagh," "Tenere Den") ***

Billy Woods: Maps (Backwoodz Studioz) With crucial help from Serengeti and R.A.P. Ferreira pal Kenny Segal, who adds crucial musical ballast to rhymes that cruise to a soft landing on a finale that finds reason for militance in a playground, Woods finally delivers music worthy of a mind-body continuum whose wholeness there was never reason to doubt. Danny Brown fucks shit up and Aesop Rock nails shit down, rappers are stricken with gout and there's a suicide at the gentrifier's next door, the acknowledged healing qualities of zithromyecin and New York City tapwater fail to compensate for peace cut with dread, your taxes underwriting police brutality settlements, and other "things you can't undo." With "every victory pyrrhic," you do make it a principle to skip soundcheck. But definitely not to skip the playground, or to scare your kid off the jungle gym you know can be dangerous and he doesn't yet. A MINUS

Young Fathers: Heavy Heavy (Ninja Tune) In a synthworld version of give the drummer some, biracial Scottish trio who aren't so young anymore insert instrumental tracks that interrupt their trademark march of songs/chants/raps, which has a way of eroding the listener's good will ("Rice," "I Saw") ***

And It Don't Stop, July 12, 2023


June 14, 2023 August 8, 2023