Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Expert Witness: August 2016

August 5, 2016

Link: The World Is a Setup: The Paranoid Style / Pylon / Pet Shop Boys / The Dandy Warhols / Garbage

The Paranoid Style: Rolling Disclosure (Bar/None) On the scene-setting "The Ambassador's Morning Lift," a term Google tells me denotes a punch comprising egg nog, rum, cognac, and creme de cacao, massed guitars--three gang up live--are juiced a dozen seconds later by a busy bass line that quickly buries all hope of indie decorum. So say for purposes of argument that Elizabeth Nelson always needs to get a little blotto, because otherwise she sees more than she can bear. And say too that she needs to rev that blotto up. Her aversion to nonsense isn't merely acerbic--calm and well-spoken though she remains, she can still run you over with her full-on bitterness. This is so self-evidently an intelligent and experienced woman that when she finds 10 concise ways to tell you the world is a setup she convinces you she's been close enough to power to know she's not getting any. "We'll still be fighting the next war tomorrow." "Everything you did exists somewhere, you're on certain lists." "I've been on TV and I've been in the bag." "You know that I'll fuck anything that doesn't fuck me first." All zingers guaranteed tune-equipped, the better to assure you lend them your ears. Now somebody pay her what they ought to be worth. Right. A MINUS

Pylon: Live (Chunklet) Thirty-three years after the fact, a double-vinyl live album completes the catalogue of Vanessa Briscoe's DOR skyrockets from Athens G-A. Because it documents their very last show, recorded before an enraptured local audience on December 1, 1983, I had major hopes. But since like all live recordings it's subject to audio, pace, and pheromone deficits, I'm obliged to report that it only takes off second half--there are rumblings throughout, sure, but I hear "Feast on My Heart" as the turning point and side four as the must-play. My favorite is the one song I didn't know and also the finale: "Party Zone." I also appreciate the zooming encore: the Batman theme. B PLUS


Pet Shop Boys: Super (Kobalt) With their minimalist chops holding up nicely, someday they'll do a satirical album with the punch of their disco-life numbers--I try to tell myself that ("The Pop Kids," "Twenty-Something," "Burn") **

The Dandy Warhols: This Machine (The End) From a band so immersed in the immersive, Tennesse Ernie Ford and offers to rest your head qualify as welcome moments of clarity ("Slide," "Alternative Power to the People") **

Garbage: Strange Little Birds (Vagrant) More precision-tooled lust for the lovelorn from a strange bird you'd think would be too old for this shit ("So We Can Stay Alive," "Teaching Little Fingers to Play") *

The Dandy Warhols: Distortland (Dine Alone) Still droning drily enough if you give them more chances than they deserve, but note these famous last words: "I'm too old for this shit" ("Pope Reverend Jim," "You Are Killing Me") *

August 12, 2016

Link: Exchange Rates and Record Crates: Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo / Senegambia Rebel / Sonido Gallo Negro / Son Palenque

Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo: Siriá (Analog Africa) Siriá is a couple-dancing hybrid in which the escaped maroons of equatorial Brazil adapted Amazonian rhythms to their own carnivalesque purposes. Punchy rather than flowing, it often generates the polka hop hinted at in chicha, ska, and occasionally cumbia. Now 80, alto sax specialist Cupijó is a second-generation multi-instrumentalist from the river town of Cametá who as a young man traveled further inland to learn and modernize the music of more remote settlements. Long a local fixture, he eventually had some hits with it, all of them collected here. If you know the above-mentioned styles you'll hear their echoes and also something new, playful, and unprecedented in Cupijó's rough, enthusiastic amalgam. What you won't hear is the samba, bossa nova, or tropicalia of the coast. Well, maybe some primal Tom Zé. Zé has never forgotten his inland roots. A MINUS

Senegambia Rebel (Voodoo Rebel) So a founder of Voodoo Rebel, an Italian label whose Afro-diasporic romance is summed up by its handle, spent a month in West Africa field-recording what he indicates were mostly rural and I infer were mostly human sounds, many not what is usually called musical. Then he sent the files to a bunch of non-African beatmaker-DJ-whatchamacallems unknown to me, although on handle alone I'm loving DJ Reaganomics, the only American identified as such, and Populous, whose eventful and not what I'd call danceable opener orchestrates crowd talk, sanza or balafon, hand drumming, and bass thrums of undetermined origin into a seductive environmental dub that sets a mood that welcomes all beats, including more conventional ones. Try Capibara's "15," where bass thrums give way to treated chanting. Or Ckrono and Slesh's "Serere," electrobeats to birdy sounds to xyly sounds and yes that is a melodic hook. Fact is, I enjoy every one of the nine, which taken together don't last 40 minutes including Umeme Afrorave's danceable 7:27 closer. Schlock and good taste have a way of creeping into Afro-Euro fusion. That never happens here. A MINUS


Sonido Gallo Negro: Sendero Mistico (Glitterbeat) Mexico City youths adapt Peruvian cumbia to a mystical vision that has more Martin Denny in it than they know ("El Ventarron," "La Patrona") **

Son Palenque: Afro-Colombian Sound Modernizers (Vampi Soul) Palenques are where Colombian escaped slaves reclaimed their lives with, among other things, call-and-response rhythm chants that sound great at first but do get repetitive ("Cumbia Africana," "Unye Unye") **

August 19, 2016

Link: Ethiopian Jazz and Other Stuff You've Never Heart Of: The Rough Guide to Ethiopian Jazz, Joi Sound System, Khun Narin Electric Phin Band, Junun

The Rough Guide to Ethiopian Jazz (World Music Network) Addis Ababa jazz godfather Mulatu Astatke has long cited the diminished scales jazz shares with the Derashe people of southern Ethiopian, who he suggests came up with them before not just Charlie Parker but those jazzbos Bach and Debussy. But where Astatke's classic period definitely qualifies as jazz, it's a little misleading to label the most irresistible of Rough Guide's three Ethiopian comps that way, because for for all its horn sections and understated swing, its diminished scales rarely lean on extended improvisation or small-group interaction. Instead, with seven of the nine tracks postdating the fall of the puritanical Marxist-Leninist Derg regime as well as the Selassie-era recordings documented on Buda Musique's Éthiopiques, these selections suggest a confident modernity--arrangements and sonics fuller, melodicism and harmonies defined and developed. Just to double back on this tentative theory, however, I'll note that my favorite track is the finale, a thoughtful Selassie-era piano solo by a nun born in 1923 that I believe would sound just fine in a cocktail lounge. A MINUS

Joi Sound System: Joi Sound System (RealWorld) It does tend schlocky, like so much of what Peter Gabriel's world music label puts out. Yet as someone with no use for Martin Denny or Jean Michel Jarré or for that matter Junoon, I get undifferentiated pleasure from this two-disc best-of by Haroon and Farook Shamsher, Indian-Bangladeshi brothers who came of age mastering '80s sampling and beatmaking skills in their flautist father's East End instrument shop. The Orientalisms they mix in are fresh enough to engage not just gullible U.K. ravers but an openminded outsider like yours truly; their trance grooves don't go for that overbearing Ibiza-style attack. Try the big chorus, kiddie sample, and slow bass hook of "We Need Your Vote" segueing into the hyperactive tablas, reassuring sitars, and female ululations of "My Love." Not everything here is up to that standard. But it's a fair taste. B PLUS


Khun Narin Electric Phin Band: II (Innovative Leisure) Sometimes this Thai electric lute ensemble leads parades, other times it provides atmosphere, a mode favored on this follow-up, and while I'm complaining let me ask why it skips their Cranberries cover ("Thang Yai Thang Yao," "Phom Rak Mueang Thai") **

Shye Ben Tzur, Jonny Greenwood, and the Rajasthan Express: Junun (Nonesuch) Billing be damned, it's not Israeli composer Tzur or Radiohead busybody Greenwood whose horns, percussion, and vocals are the making of this double-CD--it's the 19 Indian musicians finally named on the back of the 32-page booklet ("Chala Vahi Des," "Modeh") *

Noisey, August 2016


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