Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2013-05-24

2013-05-24

Ethnic Minority Music of Southern Asia (Sublime Frequencies, 2013) I don't have the confidence to give this an A because even though it makes sense on its own terms it's just too weird by American standards. Maybe by Chinese standards too--my calculations indicate that the 11 or 12 ethnic groups responsible for 16 tracks (excluding sacred Tibetan finale) add barely 10 million to China's population, well under one percent. Yet because I lack the sophistication of their billion-three fellow citizens, the vocal scales and lute-and-flute sonorities all just sound Chinese to me. Not well-schooled, formally respectable Chinese, however. There's a conversational feel to most of these colloquies and solo turns, with high female voices prevailing but enough men grunting their prerogatives. In my house, which hosted a Netflix festival of Chinese nature docs recently, it's dinner music. And a beardo I know with a small electronica business immediately pegged it as a sample source. B+

The Rough Guide to Acoustic Africa (World Music Network, 2013) At this point in history, acoustic is the opposite of authentic in Africa--at least the kind of acoustic that gets near a recording studio. The 16 artists scattered across this collection include tourist bands, factitious folk ensembles, moonlighting dance musicians looking for a payday, academics, and loads of expats. They tend genteel and their albums can be snoozefests. But you can bet every one has the sense to polish up a few tuneful show-stoppers, and assume that Rough-Guide-in-Chief Phil Stanton has found them. Normally I get annoyed when Afrocomps skip from Niger to Madagascar 'cause it's all one big happy continent. But the aesthetic here is so pretty and soft-spoken it rarely matters. Assured, calculated, innocent, and sometimes sublime. A-

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