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: April, 2021

Dispatches from the inferno as seen from Melbourne, the Twin Cities, Detroit, NYC and Prague. Plus the White Stripes ring the bell, Neil Young empties the rust bucket, and '60s blues wrecks L.A.

Tamar Aphek: All Bets Are Off (Kill Rock Stars) Jagged, guitaristic Israeli femme fatale cum femme maudit would as soon you fear her as feel her in a world where love is always warfare ("Russian Winter," "Nothing Can Surprise Me") *

Sarah Mary Chadwick: Me and Ennui Are Friends, Baby (Ba Da Bing) Although there are two longterm relationships on the biographical record of this 37-year-old Kiwi-turned-Aussie, it's not just tempting but fair to hear these new songs recorded solo in one day on the Yamaha in her living room autobiographically--even to assume that each one addresses a new lover, factual or imaginary. Nor is love sweet even when it's fond, which isn't often--although she's catchier and funnier than on her two earlier albums, the mood is stark, sharp, arresting. Her harsh contralto talky, her pragmatic tunes getting the job done, Chadwick insists that you attend to the lyrics of an intelligent soul who's made her rough peace with cynicism, depression, and worse. "I'll turn you on you turn me out/She'll pick you up I'll lay you down." "I choose torture over dreaming/I choose torture over dreaming/I crawl into your mind when you're sleeping/You're so facile you're a demon." "That feeling when everything's falling apart/That feeling when no one knows their lines by heart." And believe me, she can go on. A MINUS

Eminem: Music to Be Murdered By: Side B (Deluxe Edition) (Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath) Docked a notch because Marshall has decreed that mad fans who want the 16 so-called B-sides here--purportedly tracks left off January, 2020's Music to Be Murdered By, although since the Covid ones were obviously recorded later we assume some of the others were too--must buy the A-sides all over again. But have some respect, people. Here is more proof that Eminem loves rhyme as compulsively as MF Doom himself: "Yeah I'm a card like Hallmark/At Walmart with a small cart buying wall art," "Kris Kristofferson-Piss Pissedofferson," dumbbell-thumbnail-her spell-gun barrel-my girl. If he's not as playful or surreal about it as Doom, he sure does enunciate better, with a timbral dexterity never quashed by the rock-inflected production style that Dr. Dre laid on him decades ago and oversees here. There's more braggadocio and less delight in these words for their own sake than in the Side A's, and nothing as powerful as the Busta Rhymes-powered "Yah Yah." But there's also this plague wisdom: "This pandemic got us in a recession/We need to reopen America/Black people dying they want equal rights/White people wanna get haircuts." America-haircuts -- there's a rhyme for you. B PLUS

Joe Fahey: February on Ice (Rough Fish) Twin Cities lifer Fahey hits the bullseye twice with the same song, the explicitly ecological "Dante's Inferno," which serves as both Crazy Horse-style opener and solo-acoustic closer: "What are you gonna do when the glaciers flood your basement?/What are you gonna do when you have to answer to Al Gore?" That plus its life's companion we wish would grow old, the long overdue cheap shot "Fuck the Republicans," would certainly inspire a guy to get his album on, especially with good ones that aren't filler themselves close at hand. "Day Drinking With Dracula," for instance, is a joke that comes easy. "I Feel So Alone Now" is so bereft you'll feel a touch bereft yourself if you can just keep listening. A MINUS

Girl in Red: Chapter 2 (World in Red) The dark side of girly jangle-pop: a rape, a floater, that dark ("Bad Idea!" "Dead Girl in the Pool") *

Felix Hatfield: False God (Fangbite) Musical memoir of a marginal musical life--think sometime accomplice/benefactor Baby Gramps a croak or two creakier ("False God," "Walking Distance," "Lucky to Be a Sad Man") **

If I Have to Wreck L.A.: Kent and Modern Records: Blues Into the 60s Vol 2 (Ace) I kept waiting to get tired of this record rather than playing it one more once before I wrote up my Honorable Mention, so finally I just pulled it up a notch: 24 midtempo, mostly 1967-68 L.A. blues tracks from the Kent label when B.B. was its mainstay, half previously unissued, only two by names I knew: a striking Big Mama Thornton onefer and a Lowell Fulson finale sharper than I would have predicted. Highlights: Willie Headen's title opener and its follow-up, alternate version of title opener, Willie Garland's lost "Address in My Hand," Model T Slim's dandy "Baby Don't Tear My Clothes," Long Gone Miles's doggish "Let Me Play With Your Poodle," and Long Gone Miles's draft-superannuating "War Time Blues." Mush-mouthed shuffler Headen and Lightnin' Hopkins protege Miles sound like finds to me. B PLUS

Adeena Karasick/Frank London: Salomé: Woman of Valor (Nuiu Music) Of course a poet who wrote a thesis called Of Poetic Thinking: A 'Pataphysical Investigation of Cixous, Derrida and the Kabbalah tends pretentious--but her klezmer/carnivalesque trumpeter plus maybe some pataphysics render her playful, painful, grooveful, and sexual anyway ("Johnny," "Martyrology") **

Gary Lucas: The Essential Gary Lucas (KFR) Like most great guitarists, he can use a boost from great vocalists and great material, as the David Johansen feature and Chinese Dylan cover stand up and shout on this self-curated double CD ("One Man's Meat," "All Along the Watchtower") **

Mike: The Weight of the World (10k) Like his cross-continental ally Earl Sweatshirt, who adds a near-jaunty specificity to this album's very last verse, 22-year-old Anglo-New Yorker Michael Bonema is a depressive who sounds like one. Muttering thoughtful rhymes in a clotted, immersive, yet quite comprehensible flow, he favors beats that win you over, when they do, without so much as winking at catchy--the one that got my attention was the groan he folds in every six seconds until and after he finally starts rapping "Plans": "I'm a lover with regret, I never picked the hate/Askin' God to still protect you from my shitty ways." The death of his mother in London sparked his most recent and engaging album. But from this distance it sounds like the finality of that event inspired him to climb out of whatever hole he's been living in rather than digging it deeper. A MINUS

The Plastic People of the Universe: Apokalyptickej Pták (Galén) PPU chronicler Joe Yanosik alerted me to this 2018 outlier, still findable with a second pressing expected, by the brave Czech Velvets and Mothers fans whose counterculturalism was far too perilous and thought through to belittle with the term "hippie." It's the most shambolic of the four long-players I've heard, but that only enhances its likability, and the disorder has documentary bite: recorded in 1976 at the last concert they played before being locked up for "organized disturbance of the peace," it embodies the antic, inebriated spirit with which they resisted a government whose iron fist was sheathed in a strait-laced priggishness that was so un-Czech. Saxophonist Vratislav Brabenec's title tune is but one musical highlight of a performance only enhanced by two silences up front and audible crowd chatter throughout. So boisterous. So anti-totalitarian. A MINUS

Dua Saleh: Rosetta (Against Giants) I doubt this allusively sexual, explicitly nonbinary Sudanese-American poet-turned-siren would be as seductive without the wavery, toned soundbeds laid out by producer Psynum. Insofar as the lyrics parse, which they pretty much do, the objects of desire and speculative interest designated in these six songs tend female. But as both musical confabulations and imaginable human subjects, their erotic appeal is what I would call universal. Voila--trans eros for anyone who cares to join in. B PLUS

The White Stripes: My Sister Thanks You and I Thank You: The White Stripes Greatest Hits (Legacy) After 2010's Under Great White Northern Lights, Jack White's live major-label farewell to the duo abandoned in 2007 by his drum-pounding, publicity-shy purported sister and actual ex-wife Meg, Jack proceeded to self-release a dozen more live White Stripes albums, not one of which made the Billboard 200. He did better with this untimely major-label best-of, a retro flip-off to the streaming era and its unnavigable ocean of "curated" playlists: it debuted at 33 before sinking into oblivion and was dutifully praised by a smattering of retro-friendly reviewers and brought to the next level by a sharp New Yorker piece by Amanda Petrusich mourning the disappearance of the best-of itself. Especially with an artist like White, whose aesthetic attractions are diminished somewhat by his limited personal charm (as is true in a different way of Spoon formalist Britt Daniel, who Petrusich reports put out a 2019 best-of I just ordered 'cause it's not on Spotify), best-ofs serve a real, and flattering, aesthetic function. Beginning with their raggedy-ass indie debut "Let's Shake Hands" and signing off with their stadium-friendly accidental anthem "Seven Nation Army," this one mixes it's-been-too-long triumphs like "Fell in Love With a Girl" and "Hotel Yorba" with I-remember-that-one strokes like "Hardest Button to Button" and "Door Bell." Basically, it's never boring--as Petrusich puts it, here be one "thrill of the single" after another, free of pretense, experiment, and near miss. Go ahead, indulge yourself. A

Neil Young With Crazy Horse: Way Down in the Rust Bucket (Reprise) To the best of my digitally enhanced recollection, this is the first electric live Young we've had since the dull 2016 Promise of the Real placeholder, and hey hey, it's "with" his signature band Crazy Horse (though 1974's Time Fades Away with the Stray Gators remains the live Neil to top: "Don't Be Denied," undeniable). The hook-concept-gimmick-rationale is that it's but an unfettered bar gig cut shortly after a revved-up Young celebrated his escape from the well-tailored embrace of David Geffen by returning to Reprise with the Pazz & Jop-topping 1990 Ragged Glory. As a result, however, it reprises more than half of Ragged Glory, and while Young's solo on the "Country Home" opener does actually improve on the studio version, it's still too bad the guys weren't feeling loose enough to pull more classics out of the boss's ratty old canvas songbag. Turns out, for instance, that "Bite the Bullet," the pick hit on 1977's American Stars 'n Bars, is more convincing sans Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson as the backup Bullets. And by the way, did you know that a clitoral vibrator is called a bullet? I sure didn't until Neil's lip-smacking live "I love to make her scream/When I bite the bullet" inspired some research. Be careful with your teeth there, fella. A MINUS

And It Don't Stop, Apr. 7, 2021

Mar. 10, 2021 May 12, 2021