Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2008-07-01


American Music Club: The Golden Age (Merge, 2008) Dud

Architecture in Helsinki: Places Like This (Polyvinyl, 2007) Art-rockers get silly--that is, come to terms with their existential condition ("Same Old Innocence," "Red Turned White"). **

Atmosphere: When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Sh*t Gold (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2008) Rapper Slug and beatmaster Ant both change direction on this classy package (a bound book--download that, suckers). Ant's shift is less auspicious: no samples. But the "Shoulda Known" synth groan is his catchiest hook in years, and most of the music he coaxes out of his Twin Cities g-s-d-etc. cohort is distinguished enough, especially given his partner's progress. Slug has always made more of self-examination than most cult celebs who work that shtick, and he shows them how on tracks like the well-named "Me." But he's even sharper empathizing with smaller-time losers. True, two of his angst victims are waitresses, the club-circuit version of the cab drivers who've been giving journalists man-on-the-street copy for generations--how about slaves of telemarketing, or data entry? Nevertheless, the lost lives and loves he sketches are so painfully familiar they feel like truth. And Ant's homey beats enhance the illusion. B+

Walter Becker: Circus Money (5 Over 12, 2008) His cynicism turned melancholy, rich rock star warns, "Better not get cozy with your trophy life" ("Circus Money," "God's Eye View"). *

Be Your Own Pet: Get Awkward (Universal/Ecstatic Peace, 2008) They grow up so fast. Once a punky brat, Jemima Pearl now sounds like a punk broad--like she might join the Donnas if that was a better job. But listen through the bigger voice and louder mix and you'll hear someone who's thinking all the time. Not about tunes--that's Jonah's department, which he's getting better at. About consequences. Then it's on to "Food Fight!" and "Zombie Graveyard Party!" "Next year she'll be 21, look out world she wants to have fun," she shouts. Only actually, it's this year. June 20, in fact. Uh-oh. A-

Be Your Own Pet: Get Damaged (XL EP, 2008) One keeper satire, one displaced outburst and one minor threat, all declared too violent for full-length by bad ex-teens' megacorp ("Becky"). ***

Blitzen Trapper: Wild Mountain Nation (Lidkercow Ltd, 2007) From Portland--no, silly, not the Maine one--this third-time's-a-charm indie band gets through 13 songs in 34 minutes with no apparent rush, yet comes off frantic anyway. Their sprung rhythms and imploding guitars suggest the Band as much as Pavement only because the lyrics that break free of the clatter sing the praises of pastoral seclusion. So Portland. In all its urban greenery, or is it green urbanity? A-

Cadence Weapon: Afterparty Babies (Anti-, 2008) Second-generation Alberta rapper (savor that phrase) knows a lot about, well, rapping--and avant-electro beats ("Tattoos [And What They Really Feel Like]," "In Search of the Youth Crew"). *

Craig David: Trust Me (Reprise, 2008) Credible neosoul man glances nervously back toward 2step, saying hi with "Let's Dance" ("6 of 1 Thing," "Friday Night"). *

Ray Davies: Working Man's Café (New West, 2008) Dud

Raheem DeVaughn: Love Behind the Melody (Jive/Zomba, 2008) Dud

Dr. John: City That Care Forgot (429, 2008) "My friends scuffling with contractors," he notes with nice specificity, and he has much worse Katrina stories to tell ("Say Whut?" "My People Need a Second Line"). **

The Dresden Dolls: No, Virginia . . . (RoadRunner, 2008) Notes for a musical about a doubly theatrical drama queen--an arty show with laughs and heart ("Night Reconnaissance," "Dear Jenny"). **

Electrelane: No Shouts No Calls (Too Pure, 2007) Instrumental raveup queens sing, softening their feminist austerity considerably ("To the East," "Between the Wolf and the Dog"). *

El-P: I'll Sleep When You're Dead (Def Jux, 2007) Still the past master of the acerbic beat ("Up All Night," "Tasmanian Pain Coaster"). **

Gillie Da Kid: The Best of the GDK Mixtapes (Babygrande, 2007) Dud

Al Green: Lay It Down (Blue Note, 2008) Between producer ?uestlove's command of tradition, including cannier drums than Green has had since Al Jackson Jr. was taken from us, and the 62-year-old singer's skillfully tended chops, this sounded fine straight off. But the formula seemed slightly pat, and I didn't hear a "Call Me," much less a "Love and Happiness." So I put it away, came back, immersed, and noticed two things. 1) The first four or five tracks work as songs, the instant minor classic the one that clarifies a basic principle: "Your love is just for me/It's just for me/It's just for me, for me, for me/It's just for me." 2) No Jesus, which some count a failing, but not secular me. Except for the finale--"Write this down if you can/I'm a cold, hard-working man," so I did--here is that rare thing, a credible album entirely devoted to connubial bliss. True, Green spends more time supplicating than celebrating, and probably fabricated the whole scenario. But he knows his subject, and he doesn't need Jesus to lay it down. A-

John Hiatt: Same Old Man (New West, 2008) "Old Days," "Our Time" Choice Cuts

Honeyhoney: Loose Boots (Ironworks Music EP, 2008) Five cannily crafted, forthrightly sexy songs by L.A. male-female duo. Guitarist Ben Jaffe is the serious talent, vox Suzanne Santo the reason to care. She sounds both footloose and ready to take her clothes off--suffused with regret and desire at 22. A-

The Kills: Midnight Boom (Domino, 2008) Arithmetic notwithstanding, this combo of adult delinquent chick singer and guitar-wielding male enabler was always more Cramps or Yeah Yeah Yeahs than White Stripes. Outgrowing art-garage blues worship, they cop tunes, big up their sound, and spank basic rock beats. As vision, still somewhere between narrow and ignant. Yet not a boho archetype for nothing. Next time you're in a really bad mood, feel its power. A-

Lil Wayne: The Drought Is Over 2: The Carter 3 Sessions (, 2007) Title and label approximate. I prefer the other version of this ad hoc collection in my possession even though it slices the ends off tracks--it's louder, with hotter unmatched songs. But I'm reviewing this because it's obtainable online even with now drawing a blank. Look above Wayne's name on the cover image for "The Empire," words that repeat in annoying voiceover ad infinitum; note also the Arabic three as opposed to the Roman numeral of the official release, which shares only a more casual "La La La" with this supposed leak. Skip it and you never hear the actually believable love plaint "What He Does," the in-their-face Beatles rip "Help," the celestially drugged-out "I Feel Like Dying," or, for instance, "I Know the Future": "Like a circle of knives/I got the sharpest flow around." Granted, maybe it's the jaggedest flow around, or the underground stream that slices through rock to move mountains. But superlatives apply. Snicker-snack, snicker-snack, he can't contain himself, the rare modern pop artist who says he's in it for money but always gives up the love rather than vice versa. A-

Lil Wayne: Lil Weezy-ana Vol. 1 (Purloined Datadisc, 2008) Better Weezy talking tough for his crew than Weezy's crew talking tough for the world ("David Banner," "Amen"). *

Lil Wayne: Tha Carter III (Cash Money/Universal/Motown, 2008) From the start you know this is no mixtape because it's clearer and more forceful. Every track attends to detail, with fun tricks like the chipmunk-chorused "Mr. Carter"'s sudden descent into screwed-and-chopped before Jay-Z comes in. But from the start Wayne worries about his image like a pop star, swearing he got shot for two songs running as if 50 was still worth a few bucks. Soon come the auto-T-Pained "Lollipop" follow-up "Got Money" and the soft slow jam "Comfortable," as pro forma as his laziest thug jobs back when he was little. So it's call the doctor--"Dr. Carter" himself, a rap-ologist complete with post-Yiddish "acchh" who will soon lose two impatient patients to their fakeness and his own do-as-I-say malpractice, followed by the space-tripping "Phone Home" and the N.W.A.-copping cop love of "Mrs. Officer." On "Let the Beat Build," Kanye compensates for "Comfortable" with an off-the-cuff fusion of grandiose and primitive. Also mixtape-worthy is the bonus disc, previously known as the download-only The Leak EP. Like the man says in the self-explanatory "I'm Me": "I know the game is crazy, it's more crazy than it's ever been/I'm married to that crazy bitch, call me Kevin Federline." A-

Lil Wayne: We the Best (RBC, 2007) Exemplifying the pitfalls of the mixtape hustle is this item, which I bought blind from Amazon earlier in the year; it has now disappeared there, while mixtape king and sometime Weezy packager DJ Khaled's different CD of the same name remains on sale. Biggest problem with this one is, it isn't a Lil Wayne record. With four features and some cameos, he clocks fewer minutes on these 25 tracks than not just New Orleans rap daddy Birdman but Atlanta's carrot-nosed Young Jeezy and two of the dullest thugs in the lying business: college-educated Miami brutalist Rick Ross and elephant in the Bronx Fat Joe. Were Wayne to toss off "I am a professional/I will cut your testicles," he'd sound wicked sharp; when Fat Joe recites the line, of which he's plainly very proud, even the opera sample can't dispel the impression that he's hoping to find employment as a veterinarian's assistant. While everybody else's criminal boasts are delivered in bench-press mode, Wayne can't stop dancing. Sure he'll entertain at "The Crack House," but: "This is the crack house welcome to the crack house/Man I'm talking more parties than a frat house/This is the problem, this is not music/I hope you find it, 'cause he about to lose it." C-

The Long Blondes: Couples (Rough Trade, 2008) Civilized sex--the dark side ("Guilt," "I'm Going to Hell"). **

N.E.R.D.: Seeing Sounds (Interscope, 2008) Beats of course, songs usually, singing barely--especially sincere-type singing ("Anti Matter," "Everyone Nose [All the Girls Standing in the Line for the Bathroom]"). ***

The Pipettes: We Are the Pipettes (Interscope, 2007) Dud

The Rolling Stones: Shine a Light (Virgin, 2008) "Champagne & Reefer" Choice Cuts

RZA as Bobby Digital: Digi Snacks (Koch, 2008) Snacks meaning tasty bites and tastier beats that don't add up to a full meal ("O Day/Party People," "Put Your Guns Down"). ***

Silver Jews: Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea (Drag City, 2008) Philosophical fictions and fantasias by a stolid-sounding guy who wishes everyone would play his songs ("San Francisco B.C.," "Aloysius, Bluegrass Drummer"). ***

Edwin Starr: Liverpool 8 (Capitol, 2008) Dud

The Ting Tings: We Started Nothing (Columbia, 2008) Cheap dance-pop for post-post-postpunk people ("That's Not My Name," "Great DJ"). **

Usher: Here I Stand (LaFace/Zomba, 2008) "Trading Places," "Best Thing" Choice Cuts

Frankie Valli: Romancing the '60s (Universal/Motown, 2007) Dud

I'm Not There (Columbia/Sony Music Soundtrax, 2007) Karen O & the Million Dollar Bashers, "Highway 61 Revisited"; Mira Billotte, "As I Went Out One Morning"; The Hold Steady, "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?"; Yo La Tengo, "Fourth Time Around" Choice Cuts

Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur (Warner Bros., 2007) The Flaming Lips, "(Just Like) Starting Over"; Green Day, "Working Class Hero"; Jack's Mannequin featuring Mick Fleetwood, "God"; Youssou N'Dour, "Jealous Guy" Choice Cuts

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