Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Expert Witness: January 2011

Corin Tucker Band/Robyn

Keeping Your Hand In Meets Seize the Time
Tuesday, January 4, 2011  

The Corin Tucker Band: 1,000 Years (Kill Rock Stars)
A deep, pained, sober, subtle album about a marriage in the throes of geographical separation--and then families out of money, lives out of gas, pasts out of reach. Throughout, guitarist-etc. Seth Lorinczi provides the right shades of darkness--sometimes enticing, sometimes engulfing--as Sleater-Kinney fans long for a bright and cleansing breakout. They get one as "Handed Love" goes out, when Corin shouts her desperation and rips off a riff, then tops the outburst with the even more rousing "Doubt." That's where first-timers will enter the record. Only later will they ask themselves just how rousing doubt can or should be--or so I hope, as does Tucker. A

Robyn: Body Talk (Konichiwa/Cherrytree/Interscope)
I don't hold it against her--in this musical economy, a Swedish disco dolly's gotta do what a Swedish disco dolly's gotta do. Nevertheless, the old codger in me is maddened by the sales strategy in which budget-priced half-hour June and September CDs are not quite subsumed by a full-priced December CD. Problem is, not counting remixes like the radio version of "Dancing With Myself," only one of the six new songs--namely, "Call Your Girlfriend," almost as discerning in its romantic decency as "Cry When You Get Older" on Pt. 1--matches up to anything on the first two, including "Cry When You Get Older," which it omits, as it does Pt. 2's "Criminal Intent" and "Include Me Out." Beyond milking obsessive fans, the idea of rounding her out commercially with a few more love songs is fine in principle. But it doesn't play to her strength, which is mindful defiance--club escapism that knows where it's coming from both personally and politically, and that feels the humanity of normals and freaks alike. From "Don't F***ing Tell Me What to Do" to "We Dance to the Beat," her songwriting in that vein is as strong as anybody's. Scattered across her three 2010 CDs is one great album. How I wish this was it. A MINUS

Das Racist

Winnow These Mixtapes Down Into a Damn Fine Album Called Shut Up and Sit Down
Friday, January 7, 2011  

Das Racist: Shut Up, Dude (Mishka download)
Just like albums you pay for, both 2010 mixtapes from the Queens-W'burg-Wesleyan duo of color are seriously front-loaded, tailing off to scattered cherry bombs after half a dozen Roman candles. But on this debut (already hard to find, so get on it), the default electro loops sometimes reduce their unfailingly clever rhymes to merely clever free associations. Lines like "Hugo Chavez"'s "W.E.B. DuBois/We be de boyz" are worth hearing in any context, and partly as a result, "Hugo Chavez" is above the median anyway. But it's not the wicked "Fake Patois," which is even funnier as well as deeper than the super-catchy and more frequently cited cellphone-culture song masquerading as a fast-food song, "Combination Pizza Hit and Taco Bell." Goin' up like NASDAQ, they don't even know if they're BMI or ASCAP. Guys this intelligent had better learn, and they will. A MINUS

Das Racist: Sit Down, Man (Mad Decent download)
More music, and also more name guests, with Jay-Z's casual title hook on "All Tan Everything" sunk a lot deeper than Jim Morrison's stolen title hook on "People Are Strange." Whether they end up more Jeezy than Jimbo is for them not to tell us and us to find out, which isn't to imply they wouldn't prefer Jeezy, or that the likes of "Hahahaha JK?" and "Julia" do anything less than suggest they have it in them. If they don't make that leap, their strictly verbal gifts are enough to take them someplace all their own anyway. But you have to wonder whether they'll ever deign and/or get it together to write actual songs. Are they really indie-rockers in disguise? Until they stop giving their records away, that'll be my read. A MINUS

Die Antwoord/Shangaan Electro

The Varieties of South African Electro
Tuesday, January 11, 2011  

Die Antwoord: $O$ (Cherrytree/Interscope)
As with so many electrohop beats, Die Antwoord's are short on texture and rhythmic subtlety--it's clear this DJ Hi-Tek isn't the African-American one well before his backstory leaks out. So I might have figured their album for a worthy curiosity if I hadn't seen their show, found the video that began it with a big bang, and located their lyrics online. Yet as mere listening the best songs here--especially "Fish Paste" and the signature "Enter the Ninja"--convey the disturbing comic character Watkin Tudor "Waddy" Jones has created: Ninja, an Afrikaner ex-con who's remade himself in the misconstrued image of an American rapper. Ninja's not a gangsta--he does drugs but lacks the organizational skill to deal them, and though he'll knock your lights out if you touch him and is given to sadistic sex fantasies, he doesn't mention guns once. But freed to express his "inner coloured," he bellows and sweats prideful ressentiment--he just knows everyone's jealous because he's "on the interweb." His child-voiced consort Yo-landi Vi$$er backs him up so obscenely that it takes a while to realize that she's both the secret of the music and the rich-bitch top dog in a bottom-feeding power couple. Guttural, English-infected Afrikaans is the perfect language for this brutal fantasy. But the tell comes when Ninja breaks into Zulu in a song celebrating the size of his penis, and Yo-landi handcuffs him to the bed so she can steal his money. A MINUS

Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa
In a capital city in northwestern South Africa a producer known as Nozinja--which in Xitsonga means "dog," which may signify top dog and may not--creates indigenous pop out of next to nothing. Just keyboards is my best guess, revved in tempo and pitch so the occasional chipmunk effects fit right in. Unrevved are the voices, South African baritones and contraltos going on about endless love and rabbit stew as if this was still mbaqanga. The tweedly gestalt will grate at first unless tweedles are your idea of postmodern fun. But before too long the voices assert themselves in the mix, naturalizing those tweedles with a confidence that's my idea of postmodern fun. A MINUS

Deerhunter/Best Coast

Amerindie Atmospheres
Friday, January 14, 2011  

Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (4AD)
Smart young people have been telling me about this band since 2007, and I've been shrugging just as long. Give their big breakthrough a few plays and, unless you're the right kind of smart young person, you'll shrug too. Though you'll notice some tunes and also toward the end some committed tenor sax, and though there are those who praise its OK lyrics, it's still an arty indie-rock texturama. Only then give it more time than seems altogether fair and you'll find that this texturama has sufficient structure to assure that eventually the tunes and then the saxophone and then even the sound effects will signify and lift you up. Conceive it as DJ electronica that makes its point, starting all partial and halting before gathering itself to a properly modest climax. Except that it's played by a live band. And has OK lyrics. Smart, nothing--pretty darned intelligent. A MINUS

Best Coast: Crazy for You (Mexican Summer)
Bethany Cosentino believes romance is a myth--not a lie, a myth, like Sisyphus. That's why she decks her deliberately simple tunes in echo effects that also obscure the specificity of her already multi-tracked singing voice, why "weed" is damn near the only concrete noun on the entire record unless that burning ball of gas in the sky counts. Musically, the idea is to recreate the Beach Boys' aura 50 years later. Thematically, it's to prove that she's a postmodern girl who knows better. The catch is that through all her generalizations it soon becomes clear that she needs that guy much more than a postmodern girl is supposed to. Too bad she can't pin it down and also can't pin him down. I blame the weed. A MINUS

Girl Talk/Nicki Minaj

If Time Is Money, Nothing Is Free
Tuesday, January 18, 2011  

Girl Talk: All Day (Illegal Art download)
Less fun than Feed the Animals because the sample pool is less obvious, but deeper, if stolen party music can be deep, which in his shallow way is what Greg Gillis believes. With the predictable scad-and-a-half of exceptions on an album that claims 373 sources, the strategy is to provide verbal content via the most unpoetic strains of hop-hop--marginal Dirty South club records, say Project Pat's "Twerk" or Young Berg's "Sexy Can," of which most fans from outside that world were unaware--and beats/grooves/IDs via canonical rock: U2 and the Ramones, Iggy's "Lust for Life" and Miley's "Party in the U.S.A." Of course, since these won't necessarily provoke enough partying in the U.S.A., there are also actual beats a level below, drums and that sort of thing. Multifarious posteriors notwithstanding, the lyrics are less raunchy than on Feed the Animals--rated R, not X. As a result, Gillis's vision becomes less orgiastic and more humanistic. Track 10 features Springsteen and Nirvana, track 11 Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day," and the finale goes out on the daily double Gillis could have conceived the entire record around: the tough-guy sentimentality of UGK's gangsta threnody "One Day" over the mods-versus-rockers universalism of John Lennon's late-hippie hymn "Imagine." Suffused with hope that someday we'll join him and the world will live as one, Gillis dares Yoko Ono to tell him otherwise. A

Nicki Minaj: Beam Me Up Scotty (Trapaholics download)
This 2009 mixtape, not the more recent Barbie World, is why if not where hards decided a biracial female was street enough. Without undue popping of coochie, she quickly establishes herself as a highly unsisterly, rabidly materialistic "shopaholic" set on becoming "the black Hannah Montana." That way of putting it should have alerted hoodrats unworthy of her hiney implants to the scope of her ambitions; on the other hand, so should "behind every bad bitch there's a really sweet girly-girl." Even her materialism is relative: "Tell Michelle I got my eye on Barack Obama/Tryin' to get that Madonna/You know Hannah Montana [a theme?]/Could find me sittin' Indian-style with the Dalai Lama/I'm meditatin' I'm in cahoots with a higher power." One does wonder, though--once you rhyme "Dalai Lama" and "higher power," do you need Hannah Montana anymore? A MINUS

Flying Lotus/Eskmo

DJ Prog
Friday, January 21, 2011  

Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma (Warp)
Never what most would call dancefloor-friendly, Steven Ellison goes all extended-work on us for 45 minutes, but that doesn't mean the 17 tracks just morph on. A few times they come close, but more often they pause and transition and sometimes they shift gears altogether--the whole is segmented, but subtly. Live harp to live bass to looped/sampled beats; bassy dream-pop to jazz scat to chipmunk space-kitsch. Part of its delight is how naturally the disparate parts fit together, but another part is how they add up to phantasmagoria if you let your attention wander (and don't be a tight-ass--you should). Thom Yorke contributes a vocal so modest and treated that you'll barely notice it's there. Not so the ping-pong volleys--part live and part looped, I think--that provides climactic end-game percussion. A MINUS

Eskmo: Eskmo (Ninja Tune)
The first solo album by San Francisco mixmaster Brendan Angelides, who was unknown to me because most mixmasters are, caught my ear before I read its few reviews, several of which compare him unfavorably to NYC gloomster Matthew Dear. Take that as a compliment. Dear's good tracks are well-ordered verse-chorus-verse by comparison, and he feels compelled to sing or intone where Angelides usually lets his textures ooze, thump, and crackle for themselves. This they proceed to do in what strikes this glitch-challenged listener as an exceptionally active and full-bodied manner. Not terribly beaty and almost never fast. Just the kind of weird background music that's guaranteed to engross whenever you lend it both ears. A MINUS

Scion CD Sampler v. 28/Blow Your Head

Dubstep Toedips
Tuesday, January 25, 2011  

Scion CD Sampler v. 28--Dub Police (Scion AV)
Doubting my powers of judgment while prospecting for single-artist gold or at least promissory notes, I dipped into half a dozen failed tips while this simplistic stuff continued to please. So call me dumb, why should I care? Midtempo of course, with Dub Police label head Caspa and his paleskin posse extending stick-to-the-tympanum little synth motives into gallumphing lilts that only rarely--on Unitz' "Light ina Distance," say--approach what anyone in Notting Hill would call dubwise. Danceable if you or any of your flatmates is so inclined, its basic function is environmental--and also, some hustler has convinced Toyota, making young consumers think its boxy little cars are cool. B PLUS

Blow Your Head: Diplo Presents Dubstep (Downtown/Mad Decent)
Though by now the cognoscenti slot him as a blunt-force popularizer, Maya's unchivalrous ex will pass as a semi-popular tastemaker for the loikes of me and probably you. If you really want to, you can even dance to this moneygram from Club Downer--I've seen it happen in my own apartment. The beats are there even when the drums aren't. The electronics are suitably dark without ever approaching sadism or tedium. Lil Jon's fake thug is matched stereotype for stereotype by a British actor making dastardly threats in practiced Cockney. Major Lazer provides fake patois. There's even a lady vampire sounding suspiciously like a disco dolly in forlorn ballad mode. A MINUS

Gold Panda/Standard Fare

England Calling
Friday, January 28, 2011  

Gold Panda: Lucky Shiner (Ghostly International)
Pieced together by a London DJ while he dogsat for relatives in an Essex village over Christmas 2009, this begins with "You," the most fetching piece of glitch-hop I heard in 2010. Belonged on my singles list, I realized too late: after a here-and-gone intro that resembles the door-slam sound on an email program, one or two notes in three differently-voiced but similarly-paced 16-note plates advance over varied beats. If that sounds too simple, well, (a) it isn't and (b) that's the way great singles are sometimes (though you can skip the remix EP). After I got over my high I began to feel the rest of the album was a letdown, but far from it--just lesser variations on his trick of deploying short samples as beats without settling for staccato. Kind of like in rock and roll even if you'd never know it to listen to it--only to think about it. A MINUS

Standard Fare: The Noyelle Beat (Bar/None)
A staunch supporter of staunch voices, I can still see why Sheffield lass Emma Kupa might get on gauze fans' nerves. No kid at 27, she's so confident, so sensible, so relentlessly upbeat about avowedly autobiographical relationships that sure sound flawed from here. Maybe that's the ironic point. Maybe the point is that her provincial positivity will triumph over the petty difficulties she strives so bravely to put behind her. Or maybe she hasn't thought about it that much. Melodically and rhythmically, the two male musicians behind her provide the support she may deserve and definitely needs. A MINUS

MSN Music, January 2011


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