Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Phases of the Moon: Traditional Chinese Music [Columbia, 1981]
Blessed with neither roots nor technical insight, I come to this 58-minute collection of 11 subtle, surprising instrumental pieces--most of folk origin, though three are postrevolutionary and one "a treasure of Chinese classical music"--as a sublime novelty record. That is, I get off on its strangeness, and why not? Though the mood is quiet the total effect is far from ambient, not just because things do get loud at times but because most of these melodies are instantly arresting. They don't repeat as insistently as Western folk tunes do, either. At times I wonder if I'm back in sixth grade memorizing "Minuet in G" and "Hall of the Mountain King" for Mrs. Tully, and I find that the thing can grate if I start playing it two or three times a day. But why do I keep putting it on? What a trip. A