Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-02-25

2011-02-25

Konono No 1: Assume Crash Position (Crammed Discs, 2010) I don't expect their diminishing lo-fi claque to care, but the third album from these briefly modish Kinshasa techno-primitives is also their best, for solid yet marginal reasons that boil down to recording quality: the buzzing distortions of their DIY-amped likembes are more distinct, and so are the unpop although not therefore untrained voices of three singers it is safe to assume got their first lessons before they were three. A jam band to the core, they don't craft their "songs" any more cunningly, but the effect is more song-like. Then, after 52 minutes, there's an unbuzzy finale: four minutes of acoustic likembe and aged voice which I call a coda and you may call a bore. To my medium-fi ears, this is where to begin. If having begun one then chooses not to continue, that would be reasonable. There's a lot of great music in the world--even in Kinshasa still I bet. A-

The Rough Guide to Desert Blues (World Music Network, 2010) The blues tag is a marketing gimmick we should all hope works. Saharan music deserves an "accessible" variant of 2004's Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara, and if a few comparatively undistinguished minutes of Ali Farka Toure from the Niafunke delta does the trick, all the better for the scene-setting Terakaft, the humbly imperious Mariem Hassan, the male-led Euro-African women's collective Tartit, the foghorn diva Jalihena Natu, the knot-tying Tamikrest, and various masters of various instruments whose names we have trouble remembering even if we've encountered them before. The most arresting track is Tinariwen's "Tenhert," which convinced many advocates that the stage-savvy Tuaregs' latest album is their best. It's better contextualized here. A-

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