Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
  And It Don't Stop
  Book Reports
  Is It Still Good to Ya?
  Going Into the City
  Consumer Guide: 90s
  Grown Up All Wrong
  Consumer Guide: 80s
  Consumer Guide: 70s
  Any Old Way You Choose It
  Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
Xgau Sez
  And It Don't Stop
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  NAJP Blog
  Rolling Stone
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
Web Site:
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell:
  Carola's Website
CG Search:
Google Search:

2018: Dean's List


Collapse to plain list

  1. Noname: Room 25 (self-released) 17: I got why hip-hop heads were so besotted with her 2016 Telefone. But back then I felt she wasn't quite there yet--"on the brink of a poetic breakthrough" rather than in flight--and segueing directly from Telefone to Room 25 convinces me I was right. Lovely as Telefone is, Room 25 is standing up and waving as of the hummed piano intro to the 1:35 "Self," and soon "My pussy teachin ninth-grade English / My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism" is rendering "And y'all still thought a bitch couldn't rap huh?" a rhetorical question. I can't resist a few quotes: "Africa's never dead, Africa's always dying," "Globalization's scary and fuckin' is fantastic," "Titties 13K, the pretty costs these days." Or mentioning that though Noname is glad you told her Telefone "saves lives," you should also be aware that she "got no money" and "almost passed out drinking." But delivering all this poetry is the dealmaker: a delicate, even fragile vocal pulse that's also complex and eventful, floating a murmured flow so conversational its rhythmic acuity seems modest, uncalculated. Noname carries the first half of the 35-minute album pretty much alone. But when other vocalists join her--Ravyn Lenae, Phoelix, Smino & Saba--their role is to augment and embellish her sound rather than change it up. Not only is she the boss, she's the source. And I admit it--I like Telefone more now. A
  2. Mast: Thelonious Sphere Monk (World Galaxy/Alpha Pup) 15: The only jazzman whose compositions have racked up more cover versions than Monk's is Ellington, who copyrighted over 2000 tunes. Monk's life total was 70. Think about that for a second. Counted too weird, too blunt, too ham-fisted, too trinkle-tinkle, too spacey, too nutty, Monk was a melodist of genius. But beyond "'Round Midnight," most of his covers are jazz covers; even Hal Willner's lost 1984 tribute That's the Way I Feel Now legitimized its Shockabilly and Joe Jackson sallies by giving equal time to Steve Lacy and Barry Harris. This sound-collage is different. Masterminded by techno-friendly LA guitarist Tim Conley, it performs the magic of refreshing a catalogue that's eternally new to begin with--just when you're wondering what's up, in sidles "Misterioso" or "Evidence" or "Epistrophy" or "Blue Monk" or "Let's Cool One" or "Nutty" itself. Rather than desecrating these timeless classics that were once too weird for words, the bleeps and electro-textures prove the melodies' mettle. Nor is Conley above strings or horns or playing a few of these beauties himself. Does it, er, swing? The answer, as it should be, is sometimes. A
  3. Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed (Verve) 12: After her 2003 rebranding with minimalist producer-songwriter Dennis Walker, soul belter turned art singer LaVette got melodramatic on our ass, as old soul belters will. So neither the Brit-rock covers of 2010's Interpretations nor the Grammy fodder of 2015's Worthy speaks for itself with anything approaching the unforced impact of this highly uncanonical Dylan album. Beyond a dubious "It Ain't Me Babe" and a startlingly rearranged "Times They Are A-Changin'," LaVette's picks are obscure, half of them '80s titles left off both of the compilations since concocted to salvage his lost decade. And "interpretations" they're not. Instead LaVette invents a truly new Dylan--a Dylan who's an African-Ameican woman. Sure this Dylan has "soul"--reservoirs of empathy and spiritual mojo the Dylan we know could only gesture at, cut with a deep seam of the sardonic skepticism that never leaves him alone and finished off with a range, texture, and definition beyond the capabilities of his aging larynx. But the invention goes deeper than that. With R&B master drummer Steve Jordan overseeing an unfailing groove, LaVette messes with the songs at will, not just by changing genders as storylines require--"Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight" is so different addressed to a man--and introducing the terms "bullshit" and "fucked up" to Dylan's lexicon, but by swapping and omitting stanzas and updating historical references, Annie Oakley and Belle Starr to Otis Redding and Bruno Mars. The closing "Going, Going Gone," which has no real place on 1973's Planet Waves, darkens the album's political through-line. And in the boldest stroke of all, "Mama, You Been on My Mind" addresses not some dumped old lady but this Dylan's mother. LaVette's mother too, sounds like. A
  4. Parquet Courts: Wide Awaaaaake! (Rough Trade) 11: Thank producer Danger Mouse for the heat, clarity, and structural detail that intensify an album where nine tracks add keyboard to the kind of punky g-g-b-d tunes these Texans rode into New York on only five years ago. Their aural gestalt will never be on a Stones-Ramones level, but those are the comparisons--in an appalling year when too many g-g-b-d types have chosen to gaze inward, I doubt we'll hear a greater album. Not only is it sinewy and flexible--that's a funk groove propelling a title song that celebrates the woke meme it also looks askance at--but the lyrics are sharper than ever. As usual, A. Savage is the political philosopher, Austin Brown the "Get love when you find it / It's the only thing we have to fight with" guy. So where Savage valorizes the square term "collective" in two different songs, the Brown who lost a sister in a car crash insists that the nearness of death changes everything else you think you know. Prescriptive or expressive, visceral or oppositional, neither guy ever quits. A
  5. Pistol Annies: Interstate Gospel (RCA) 10: Did Miranda Lambert/Ashley Monroe/Angaleena Presley, as the composer credits on 13 of these 14 songs put it, come up with the "Jesus is the bread of life / Without him we're toast" opener or lift it from some rakish evangelist I'm too provincial to know about? I wouldn't rule the evangelist out, because while the writing is every bit as sharp as on their near-perfect 2011 debut, these bad-girl and mad-wife nuggets take sin seriously. "Stop Drop and Roll One" and "Got My Name Changed Back" retain the threesome's signature devil-may-care. But there's a deep sadness in "When I Was His Wife"s been-there-don't-do-that, "Leavers Lullabye"'s love-ain't-enough, "Best Years of My Life"'s "hankering for intellectual emptiness," and the blood, sweat, and bitterness of "5 Acres of Turnips." "Cheyenne" envies a gal who can take love or leave it, "Milkman" wishes Mama had cheated, and "Commissary" is so glad the abuser folks fronted for got beaten to a pulp in jail. Even the steadfastly unharmonious path to enduring matrimony laid out by the closing "This Too Shall Pass" suggests the wisdom of maturity. Why am I not surprised the woman who did herself a favor by shitcanning Blake Shelton didn't pitch in on it? A
  6. Rich Krueger: Life Ain't That Long (Rockink) 9: Born on a Wednesday full of woe, a 58-year-old Chicago neonatologist undertakes to show the world he's also a major songwriter, complete with wavery high baritone that hurts so much it'll make ordinary mortals wince. Although most of his evidence dates from the current century, only two selections are near new. The most recent goes on about Nero--"At night in his garden, Christian torches glow / He entertained the masses with fiddle and bow"--before observing that "a lie is a lie, and not 'fake news,'" and should you wonder what a Christian torch is, the CD comes with a useful booklet that will also make you wince. So will "The Gospel According to Carl," which re-enacts the pre-suicide ruminations of a car salesman who just discovered his conscience, and "Ain't It So Nice Outside Today?," which diagnoses suffering sinners who lust for life against all odds. Two songs praise Sid Vicious, a bunch indicate in agonizing yet generous detail why the guy's love life hasn't been everything it might, and the most memorable of all can't get over that girl he ditched so stupid when he was 17. Krueger's band accommodates horns, violin, accordion, and femme chorus. He borrows afterhooks from Bonnie Tyler and Jose Feliciano. And somehow I never mentioned that he can be pretty funny. Also nice. A
  7. Hamell on Trial: The Night Guy at the Apocalypse: Profiles of a Rushing Midnight (Saustex) 7: Recorded live on his phone in venues hither and yon, these 13 low-life tales are different from all the other low-life tales the barfly with his stage name on the cover has peddled over the years. That's because they're enraged rather than merely sardonic, and also because 14 of these low-lifes die, often hideously. These include one commander-in-chief (it was the vodka, swear to God) and start with the five dispatched quatrain by quatrain in "Slap": a wife-beating cop, a foreclosure king, a Nazi fuck, a pedophile priest, and some lawyer or CEO or something whose smirk Bobby didn't like. Accompanied solely by Ed Hamell's trusty guitar and one boozy singalong, the minimal melodies of these brutal fantasies hit bone on the strength of the narrative punch he's honed over decades on the road--"I've gotta go from Iceland to Dublin," he notes at the close of "Melting Snow (Kill Them All)." That ominously subtitled selection adds no new stiffs to the death toll. It merely targets every stupid-as-shit hate-spewer now adding meanness to the world--starting, let's figure, with a commander-in-chief or something who inspired this Jeremiah-come-lately to spew his report from the fucking front. Which front, in case you hadn't noticed, is everywhere. A
  8. Black Panther The Album (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope) 7: Shrewdly, Kendrick Lamar conceived this not-actually-a-soundtrack as a relief from the burden of remaking himself album to album to album. Credited on only four tracks, he's all over it vocally anyway, marking every one of the nine remaining songs with a verse or chorus or hook defined by the least regal of the great rap flows, unassumingly slurred while making every word count. Throughout Lamar delivers star-studded, hooky-to-jingly, sneakily experimental pop-rap product tinged with the flick's racialized broad-stroke humanitarianism; whatever sketchy plot references some exegete may imagine, "I Am" is a stand-alone love song, "Paramedic!" a street-ready gangsta metaphor. As in the film, the music's African tinge bears down on electronic decibelizations of the ensemble percussion to which Americans of all races still reduce the continent's many musics, but with the saving grace that the wealth of cameos doesn't stop with the multiple star turns. Room is made not just for the phlegmy young Vallejo spitters Slimmy B and DaBoii unfazed by Top Dawg godfather Jay Rock, for UK ingenue Jorja Smith standing tall next to Top Dawg seeker SZA, but for five South Africans, one of whom rams home the most arresting verse on the record: seasoned "Jo-Burg Femcee" Yugen Blakrok, who tops "Opps" off with a deep-voiced rhyme that only begins by assonating "millipede" and "Millie Jackson." Blakrok has her own album coming. What a blow for Wakanda it would be if Top Dawg picked it up. A
  9. Tierra Whack: Whack World (self-released) 6: The third commandment of my school of Orthodox Rock Criticism, after "Fuck getting there first" and "Never read the comments," is "Thou shalt not watch the video." We Orthodox stick to music music music. So having concluded after a few streams that these 15 one-minute songs belonged in my permanent collection as songs, I'm reviewing the music here--a burn of the Philadelphia rapper-singsonger's EP, which I DLed from Amazon after determining that it wasn't on Bandcamp. The fragments gain emotional weight as they accrue, so that the second half is more affecting than the jokes, brags, reveries, and interpersonal touches that draw you in, with the turning point the hooky hillbilly stomp "Fuck Off." But the most emotional moment of all is the 15 seconds of wordless, keyboard-brushed cymbal ticks that transition out of Whack's final line: "I know that I am worth mo-o-o-ore." Having figured all this out, however, I decided that professional ethics required me to check the video everybody was raving about on my desktop. And how about that--for once everybody was right. Soon I had it up on the flat-screen for my wife, who'd only liked the EP. The video she loved. "It gave me reason for living," she told me, and we all need those these days. A
  10. Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy (Atlantic) 6: Because she's smart enough to know the difference between a mixtape and an album, she earns the right to treat this official debut as the one that counts--no filler, no throwaways, no riding her smash, no withholding her smash either. Musically and lyrically, every track is thought through, with debts called in and incurred. The Noo Yawk accent she's right to lean on is so blunt that she's not a truly fluent rhymer, so she does well to pull in Chance's flow, Migos's trickeration, Pete Rodriguez's clave. And lyrically, her aim is true. "Write a verse while I twerk / I wear off-white in church"? Tell it, sister. "Only thing fake is the boobs"? Ca-ching. "Pussy's so good I say my own name during sex"? Car-di! A
  11. Mount Eerie: Now Only (P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.): Because you only die once, and also because nothing is as perfect as death, there's no way Phil Elverum can reaccess the stark perfection of A Crow Looked at Me. So at first only his enthralled recollection of his ecstatic and in retrospect doomed first days with GeneviŤve holds up against the living memory of his death album. But you have to admire the no-fuss complexities of his survival album--in particular his realization that it isn't just the artist's body that can't survive, it's the artist's body of work. Just as admirable is how unironic he is about the time Skrillex's subwoofers were juxtaposed against his frail humanity, and I quote, "At a festival that had paid to fly me in / To play these death songs to a bunch of young people on drugs." About what a shitty father Jack Kerouac was. About how cute and smart his and GeneviŤve's sweet kid is. About how doomed she is too. A
  12. Superchunk: What a Time to Be Alive (Merge): Call the most affecting political album of our brutally politicized era the lament of the slack motherfucker. Unlike most alt-rockers, Mac McCaughan thinks railing against Trump is a proper use of his aesthetic essence and finds words for his loathing: "Hate so graceless and so cavalier," "You have a dream / a bloody nightmare / for any human that's not you," "all your bad choices / are gonna cause suffering yeah." And while claiming the good guys have time on their side, he can't help observing that "all these old men / won't die too soon," which is one reason "everyone is acting normal / but no one's sleeping through the night." He's torn apart by the ineffectiveness of his present and the "shit decisions" of his past. He calculates that youthful Reagan voters greatly outnumbered Reagan Youth fans who thought they were so smart. "We were awful bored," he recalls; "too late we find our feet," he realizes. So he devotes his wakeful fifties to bitter lyrics that make themselves clear, anthemic tunes that make them inescapable, and broken vocals that make them hurt. A
  13. Pusha T: Daytona (G.O.O.D Music): G.O.O.D. Music's weekly-EP gimmick was basically a neat excuse to fuck around and call it art. But as a compression device, the seven-song limit was perfect for framing and accentuating its CEO's narrow strengths in an opener the series never got near to topping. Pusha's verbal pride is a formal passion that rejects both excess and half measures as he enunciates every syllable in his impassive, sibilant flow, and no objective observer would deny how skilled he is at narrativizing the cocaine hustle. But where 45 minutes of his unflinching tales wear ordinary humans out, the EP format compels him to hone every line, as in, oh: "If you ain't energized like the bunny for drug money / Or been paralyzed by the sight of a drug mummy / This ain't really for you, this for the Goya Montoya / Who said I couldn't stop, then afforded me all the lawyers." It also helps that the label owner provides the hardest and simplest beats he's stooped to in years. And that Pusha hates Drake so much he compares him to Trump. A
  14. Rich Krueger: NOWThen (Rockink): On his second self-financed album of 2018, an ambitious project Dr. Krueger reports was "as expensive as owning and operating a large yacht"--trifold CD case, 20-page booklet, cameos from 11 studios nationwide--the singing neonatologist juxtaposes selections from his '85-'98 (Then) and '07-'18 (NOW) songbooks, between which he wrote nothing except an array of scientific papers we'll assume share with his songs both spectacular intelligence and irrepressible verbiage. Three of the NOW songs are superb--"Kenny's (It's Almost Christmas in This Bar)," the good-time opener every smart guy needs; "O What a Beautiful Beautiful Beautiful Day," the lowdown from the obstetrics theater; and the jaw-dropping "Don," about a contrarian youth, why Leopold loved Loeb, and the untrustworthiness of all entertainment. But that leaves out the guy with the underwater mortgage and a Wal-Mart tent and whether Robert Johnson understood a word Charley Patton said, both NOW, and also the love song that survived the marriage and the love song about the waitress hung up on Leon Trotsky, Graham Greene, and Rick Derringer, both Then. That last one does get a little Byzantine. Nonetheless, here be a literary songwriter of the first rank whose pipes benefited from his long break and who's reeled in enough fine musicians to execute his ambitious arrangements. Vanity projects seldom come prouder. A
  15. The Paranoid Style: Rock & Roll Just Can't Recall + 3 (Bar/None)
  16. Maria Muldaur: Don't You Feel My Leg: The Naughty Bawdy Blues of Blue Lu Barker (Last): Now 75, Muldaur became a dynamo in her fifties, an album a year between 1998 and 2011. Always a nuanced singer, she got subtler, sassier, and smarter; her pipes remained supple and the burr in her voice never went to seed. But her best albums were sharpened by a concept, particularly the wide-ranging Memphis Minnie tribute Richland Woman Blues and the mind-blowing .Heart of Mine: The Love Songs of Bob Dylan and its climactic "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," which gets busier in that easy chair than was dreamt of in the Byrds' philosophy. This album flips the script by breaking out an obscure songbook rather than reimagining a famous one. Muldaur has been performing Blue Lu and Danny Barker's lubricious title song since it spiced up her solo debut in 1973, and in 2007 she assembled a whole album called Naughty, Bawdy & Blue. Here she lightens her timbre in tribute to her friend Lu on top of a hyperactive New Orleans band, and she's never sounded sexier or more committed. "Georgia Grind" jumps out at "Mama mama look at sis," after which "Loan Me Your Husband" follows hard upon "Leave My Man Alone." But it signifies that naughty and bawdy ain't all. "Now You're Down in the Alley" and "Here's a Little Girl from Jacksonville" could double as 50s dance novelties, "Nix on Those Lush Heads" means what it says, and if "Trombone Man Blues" evokes Dinah Washington at her filthiest, "A Little Bird" ends happily ever after. After all, Blue Lu and Danny were wed for 67 years. A
  17. Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing (Legacy): As Nelson made room for his 85th birthday, he also beefed up his wee catalogue by adding 11 new tunes written with whippersnapping seventysomething Buddy Cannon. Their organizing concept is wisdom as opposed to age brags proper like "I don't want to be the last man standing / But wait a minute maybe I do." Sometimes the wisdom is rakish: "I gave you a ring then you gave me the finger," "He might not know me 'cause I'm low class / But tell him I'm the one with his head up his ass," "Bad breath is better than no breath at all." Sometimes it's paradoxical: "We were getting along just fine / Just me and me," "So many people, it sure is lonely." Sometimes it's just deep: "It's not something you get over / It's just something you get through." Always it sounds like it started with an idea that popped out of his mouth or sidled in from his subconscious, and who knows, maybe the weed helped--with an eye on retirement income, he's now marketing his own brand, Willie's Reserve. Over impeccably relaxed session work, that wisdom is delivered with a clarity and resonance that would inspire substance abusers half his age to quit drinking if they had his brains or soul. A
  18. Riton & Kah-Lo: Foreign Ororo (Last Gang): Riton is London 40-year-old Henry Smithson, who's been riding the waves of the UK dance scene since 2001, Kah-Lo Nigerian 25-year-old Feridah Seriki, who moved to New York in 2009 to attend college and stayed to pursue a job in marketing. Their delectable 2016 "Rinse and Repeat" nabbed a Grammy dance track nomination and ultimately generated this irresistible little album. The light, catchy loops and beats of the dance-pop Riton goes for take their lead from the girlish delight of Kah-Lo's half-spoken unrap in a synthesis that bears only a peripheral relationship to Lagos's electro-happy Afrobeats craze. Kah-Lo's saucy vocal signature is as calculated an invention as the besotted pitch corrections of Rayce or Mr Eazi, but her presumption of innocence is as old as rock and roll, manifesting in an evolved schoolyard chant that needs a fake ID to get loose with the Henney and the Coke. Notice, however, that ID quality becomes a much heavier matter in the Mr Eazi cameo "Immigration." And that "Money" is about not really needing that much. A-
  19. Ezra Furman: Transangelic Exodus (Bella Union): The frenetic escape saga "Suck the Blood From My Wound" sets an emotional pace the album can't possibly sustain, but an underlying metaphor provides all the momentum it needs--the angel Furman is on the run with has had serious wing surgery and the authorities mean to get him for it. So in picaresque desperation Furman and/or his half-tinfoil lover/confederate hide out in a beach house and spend a sleepless night in an Arkansas trailer park, recite a prayer in Hebrew and steal a dress from Goodwill. Furman remains vulnerable yet indomitable throughout, indulging an appetite for life that respects both its sanctity and its friability. Think of him as an alternate version of your better self. A-
  20. Wussy: Getting Better (Shake It): The Queen City Five begin this Record Store Day EP with a reading of the underappreciated Beatles classic in which Lisa Walker--her voice always calm, sometimes sweet, occasionally detached--takes Paul's positive-thinking lead, John's background harmonies, and also John's shocking "I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved" bridge. Then follow three winners from the Cincinnati songbook and the insufficiently legendary 2013 Berneice Huff mixtape--Jenny Mae's "Runaway," also all Lisa, followed by Chuck Cleaver's pensive take on the Seedy Seeds' "Nomenclature" and pained remake of the Afghan Whigs' punky old college-radio hit "Retard" with Lisa adding screamo to the refrain. Production is Record Store Day basic. But that's a good thing on a release that reminds us where Wussy comes from and can return whenever the mood strikes them, and also how deep their musical sagacity goes. A-
  21. Janelle MonŠe: Dirty Computer (Atlantic): A self-made black woman whose intellectual ambition anchors woke-while-the-world-slept politics and whose moves and style enrapture a majority-female international fanbase, MonŠe has long been everything you'd want in a musical savior except a compelling musician. Her mentor Prince was so smitten that on his final album he tried to turn into her. But MonŠe's voice has always been too thin and her songwriting too intellectual--until now, when she makes a pass at turning into Prince and gets close. Tracks five-six-seven--"Screwed" with its "You fucked the world up now / We'll fuck it all back down" brag, the raspy-rapped autobio "Django Jane," and the folds-of-your-vagina-to-folds-of-your-brain "Pynk"--are a "1999" for 2018 with lyrics that don't stop don't stop, the apex of an album that's designed to have one. Finally MonŠe drops the "android" mask, for me a relief, and comes out as a woman-loving woman, for me no surprise insofar as I'd thought about it at all. But she calls herself "pansexual" as opposed to "gay" or "bi" because she wants it all. Too often prosex albums are shallow. While remaining intellectual, this one is more personal than the android dared. A-
  22. Elza Soares: Deus … Mulher (Deck): Soares was a major samba star for decades--a more robust singer than Gal Costa or Maria Bethania, say, with a voice you can still stream till you drown in it should that option appeal. But I prefer the disruptive Soares masterminded by producer Guilherme Kastrup on 2016's The Woman at the End of the World (A Muher Do Fim Do Mundo)--the same Soares I got to witness holding forth from atop a pyramidal six-foot throne at an enthralled Town Hall in May, 2017. This Kastrup follow-up surfaced a year later, as Soares turned 81, and once again it roughs up the suave beauty of carioca convention. You don't need to know the title translates to God Is Woman to register how Soares's no longer curvaceous contralto makes the lyrics sound skeptical and soul-deep at the same time. But spelunk around and find a few clunky translations anyway. "Hyenas on TV," say--what in the world could that be about? For a credo, how about "To be happy at the moment is the strength that envelops me"? And to sum up her spiritual goals? Defining "clarity" as "the day so lucid," "a lucky remnant," "the shadow of death," and--best of all--"uncomfortable." A-
  23. Amy Rigby: The Old Guys (Southern Domestic): Between 1996 and 2005, the 37-to-46-year-old ex-wife of excellent drummer Will Rigby released five excellent-to-superb pre-Americana CDs stocked with more terrific songs than any competing non-rapper except maybe Jon Langford--including Bob Dylan on his last great run, although I'll give you Sleater-Kinney while noting that songs per se aren't really what they do. Concrete, class-conscious, cutting, forlorn or funny or both, Rigby's lyrics chronicled a single mom's quest for love and sex, so of course they were never taken as seriously as "Cold Irons Bound." Only then she hooked up with Wreckless Eric, who's ridden "Whole Wide World" for four otherwise marginal decades, in a marriage so engrossing her writing slowed down to two hers-and-his albums. So now comes her first solo work since her great run, with Eric's production lending an unmannerly distorto gravitas that suits its audacity. If you don't want to hear a 58-year-old female singer-songwriter litcrits have never heard of impersonating Philip Roth emailing Bob Dylan about his Nobel, you probably think she's on Dylan's side, and you're wrong. Robert Altman also gets a song, as does an unnamed sack of shit she resists in her mind by imagining she's Tony Soprano, Lucky Thompson, or Walter White--the NAACP one not the Breaking Bad one, as Wikipedia helped me figure out, after which I looked up the unbowed Thompson and recalled that Soprano had a specialty in assassinations. A-
  24. The Mekons 77: It Is Twice Blessed (Slow Things): These are not the legendary yet by some mischance obscure Brit-born Mekons an adoring cabal swears by--the collective led by Jon Langford whether or not the Country Music Hall of Fame portraitist who also leads the Waco Brothers, the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, the Sadies, and many others admits it. So of course it was Langford who invited the Mekons' original vocalists--red-tape-cutting touring advisor Andy Corrigan and artist turned international antipoverty volunteer Mark White--to reconvene the 1977 edition of a band where current vocalists Tom Greenhalgh and Jon Langford played guitar and drums. Based on dim recollections of their Virgin debut, I wasn't surprised to learn the singers still can't sing, their breathy keen and outraged croak oddly indistinguishable sometimes. Yet as a Mekons fan I stuck at it, and to my surprise, these raggedy-ass plaints now add up to my favorite Mekons album since 2002's OOOH!. Corrigan and White are old enough to wonder when humanity got bored with peace and recognize that what we do now is the future. They extol border crossers, lose a daughter to war, and note that "the average British household has 50,000 things." They're "Still Waiting" for "an end to world hunger" and "the money to trickle down." And Brits though they be, they take care to address "You Lied to Us" to the president of the United States of America. A-
  25. Amanda Shires: To the Sunset (Silver Knife): Although premier violinist and respected singer-songwriter Shires comes by most of her current swell of fame as Jason Isbell's wife, bedrock, and babymama, you wouldn't guess it from the advances she's made in these 10 coolly autonomous, acutely turned, observantly experienced songs. Her soprano incisive over arrangements longer on echo and electronics than you'd expect from tradmaster Dave Cobb, she deals more candidly with attraction ("Parking Lot Pirouette"), lust ("Leave It Alone"), personal rivalry ("Break Out the Champagne"), and even suicide ("Wasn't I Paying Attention?") than supportive domestic partners are expected to, and hardly plays her violin at all. That's how you end up with an album that takes some getting used to not just because it's unexpected but because it's halfway to sui generis. A-
  26. tUnE-yArDs: I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life (4AD): Merrill Garbus has a gift for embarrassing people, especially by caring so deeply about the unpackable racial complexities her music has always addressed head on. It's these complexities she's now chastised for making a mess of in a time-slip when African-Americans have earned the right to charge appropriation whenever white musicians venture into racial territory, which is such a relief to the many white people eager to let things ride. On an album marked by the theme statements "I must be witness to everything," "Honesty, honesty gone / Don't know right from wrong," and "I know I'm not to be trusted," she acknowledges more white guilt than she's probably incurred, so of course sometimes she's clumsy about it. Who isn't? But with decisive input from bassist-lifemate Nate Brenner, her musicality--smoother here, perhaps due to the black-pop softeners some reviewers descry--remains something to believe in. Proud against her better judgment, she can't stop exploring her art or living her life. "Sitting in the middle of the Sixth Extinction / Silently suggesting the investment in a generator," she gives no sign she'll ever stop flailing away at everything that makes her crazy and compels her to sing. A-
  27. Wussy: What Heaven Is Like (Shake It): I was struck when the recently revived shoegaze "genre" came up in discussions of Wussy's seventh official album, because it evoked the only track of theirs I've ever disliked: the ethereal remake of the 2008 rock-with-xylophone?? EP track "Skip," where Lisa's deepened soprano whispers a lyric too fuzzy for a band whose turns of phrase pack colloquial bite even when literal meanings are gummy. The guitars tend more immersive than the echoing arena-rock of Attica! and Forever Sounds, proving that Yo La Tengo isn't the only great band addressing politics too painful to ignore by getting weirder. In the end, the intent is neither ambient nor calming, just dreamier than I'd prefer. So I'm glad I have no trouble attaching social significance to an opener that begins "Don't you wish you could have been an astronaut / Back when astronauts had more appeal," or to Chuck's pure-punk cover "There's Aliens in Our Midst." For we who believe heaven means achieving maximum humanity on the only planet we'll ever know, that's the way it feels now. A-
  28. No Age: Snares Like a Haircut (Drag City): Ever since they were the de facto house band at LA's Smell, these two art-punks have subsisted totally within the insular club/museum/gallery/festival circuit. So five years after the somewhat abstract An Object, this grand return to the ugly-gorgeous is true to itself as if the larger society was no more vexing than it ever was. Ditching Sub Pop for indier-than-that Drag City, they do what they've always done only better: abrade and uplift simultaneously. Drummer-vocalist Dean Spunt is an equal partner--"Send me / Where should I go?" he repeats and repeats on the first true singalong in a catalogue more songful than you'd figure. But guitar cenobite Randy Randall owns the record. Unfurling more harmonic effects than I bet he can name, he envelops every catchy tunelet and nasty noise in overtones that'll tear you up as in make you cry and tear you up as in blow your mind. Attributing political significance or hope to this act of aesthetic commitment would misrepresent its intent. It means only to help its people thrive in whatever world proves their lot. A-
  29. Hinds: I Don't Run (Mom + Pop): Think of Hinds as the anti-Beach House. Where Victoria Legrand's cool continental tease gets more detached and high-handed as her brand matoors, the Madrid foursome want to be liked. So they play the girl group, deploying chops that recall the early Breeders to power a goofy insouciance that beefs up the spirit of the Chiffons and the Cookies. All into their twenties by now, they make no pretence to innocence, because by now they're not just club kids--they're club kids who've seen the world no matter how unpolished their English. But they're also good-hearted going on kind, and although they'd rather hitch up with someone who doesn't get night sweats or bang another baby when they're not looking, they remain in the love hunt as a matter of principle. A-
  30. Sophie: Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides (Transgressive/Future Classic): The riskiest tracks here are the two where the London-to-L.A. producer-vocalist suppresses one half or the other of her disorienting stealth-comic synthesis: the opening "It's Okay to Cry," which leans hard on the soprano whose dulcet artifice is believed by some metaphysicians to represent her TRUE SELF, and the six-minute "Pretending," all strident squalls and swells that roll slowly to a stop like hardening lava or a Harley slurping its last ounce of fuel. Often I tune out the first and get annoyed with the second. But the rest of the album is all laughs and thrills in which sweet clarity defies a panoply of beaty techno sound effects at different junctures every time you listen. For me the most reliable comes as a reward right after "Pretending": "Immaterial," where she has the generosity to grant one of technodancepop's most generic and cheerful riffs the Sophie version of eternal life. A-
  31. John Kruth & La Societŗ del Musici: Forever Ago (Ars Spoleteum): The book-length celebrator of Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Rubber Soul and leader of the departed TriBeCaStan is a native New Yorker who gets around. So having upped his game with two albums rooted in summers spent with his Croatian-born wife in the holiday port of Split, he crossed the Adriatic to cut 14 of his songs in Spoleto with a Neapolitan mandolinist he met in Manhattan. Thematically and geographically, the material gets around too, from a Milwaukee pal loading up a bag of Christmas goodies for poorer folks across the river to a tuna melt heated up on a desert dashboard to a cautionary reflection on Croatian Catholicism: "There's only one thing that I fear / When the old communist goes to church." Switching among seven instruments including his own mandolin, honoring Sylvia Plath's paranoia, or playing checkers with his cat, he's no kind of singer except the kind Dylan let in the side door with his everyman impressions. But he sure has a broad compass. And he lives to convince anyone who'll listen that that's the best kind of compass to have--by miles. A-
  32. Youssou N'Dour: Raxas Bercy 2017 (self-released '17): N'Dour having uploaded all the songs from this live Paris concert to YouTube, none with video and most preceded by ads, I have my physical from a friend who took the trouble--in a maneuver well beyond my own know-how--to download them and burn them sans ads onto a CD-R that runs over an hour. Sequence: "El Fťnomeno"-"Djino"-"MbeguŽl Is All"-"Djamil"-"New Africa"-"Africa Remembers"-"Sama Gamou"-"Serigne Modou Boussou Dieng Mbackť"-"Bul Nangu." Earlier versions of four of these songs are already in my N'Dour iTunes collection, with "Djino" dating all the way back to the strange 1998 Best of '80s. The recent "MbeguŽl Is All" is diminished here by a dexterously pro forma guitar intro; "Serigne Modou Boussou Dieng Mbackť" and "Djami" are intensified by female vocals from I don't know who. N'Dour is in undiminished voice as sabar drums clatter everywhere, although after all these years that voice finally has some grit to it--among other things, of course. The nearest thing in my collection is the bootleg (?) Le Grand Bal Bercy 2001 Vol. 2. This is more songful, yet so intense I've played it more than any recent N'Dour except Senegaal Rekk. Happy hunting, reconfiguring, whatever. A-
  33. Mary Gauthier: Rifles and Rosary Beads (In the Black): The gritty recovering alcoholic wrote these 11 grave, felt, angry, deliberate songs with service members, veterans, and spouses via a Nashville project called SongwritingWith:Soldiers. But examine the list of collaborators and see why it had better be "members," not "men"--five of the eight soldiers and all of the spouses are women, so that women alone write seven tracks. There's "Brothers": "I was just like you when the bullets flew / I had your back you had mine too / Brothers in arms your sisters covered you / Don't that make us your brothers too?" There's also "Iraq," in which a mechanic with grease under her nails finds herself compelled to fend off male soldiers who are supposed to be on her side. On the other hand, one of the men writes "It's Her Love" for his wife: "When I'm broken and I push her away / She fights her way back she's with me to stay." But mostly what's stressed is respect for common service--documenting battle's brutal grind, celebrating the survivals it's been all of the cowriters' lifework to fight for one way or another, citing the many kinds of injury the combatants came home with, remembering their dead as guardian angels. Without moralizing more than a crack, all of these writers honor shared struggle without papering over how hard that can be: "They say no man's left behind but that ain't true / They hate it that they need us but they do." The record flinches sometime--wouldn't you? But it refuses to break. A-
  34. Sons of Kemet: Your Queen Is a Reptile (Impulse!): Where Elizabeth slithers, British-Barbadian tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings's queens stand tall: Ada Eastman, Mamie Phipps Clark, Harriet Tubman, Anna Julia Cooper, Angela Davis, Nanny of the Maroons, Yaa Asantewaa, Albertine Sisulu, and Doreen Lawrence--one track apiece, look 'em up. This show of matrifocal bravado sharpens and embellishes Sons of Kemet's unique and arresting sonics: West Indian Coltrane/Rollins over two drummers, tuba for bass, and occasional intoned vocals. Purposefully yet also playfully, the implicit politics channel the sweep of the band's third and most finished album. My favorite sequence calms Angela Davis's speedy clatter with a playground melody that implies Nanny of the Maroons had more time for child care than her military record suggests, after which Yaa Asantewaa's track begins calm and builds like her Ashanti revolution. Or so we are left free to imagine. A-
  35. Tyler Childers: Purgatory (Hickman Holler '17): This intense, narrow, flawlessly crafted retro-nuevo honky-tonk album gains decisive poetry from both Childers's lean, resonant East Kentucky drawl and his failure to shake his fundamentalist upbringing--purgatory, in case you didn't get the message, is a Romanist notion. "Do you reckon He lets free will boys / Mope around in purgatory?" he asks the Catholic girl he hopes to hedge his bets with, and damned if she doesn't slow him down some. "Darlin' to me but that's missus to you," he boasts. "Still on the road 'cause I ain't good for nothing / But writing the songs that I sing," he contextualizes. A-
  36. Superorganism: Superorganism (Domino): This ad hoc octet poured into East London from New Zealand, South Korea, and the U.S.A. to make infectious quasipop from a found array of be-here-now life strategies. The treated tunes help, as do the additional treatments that fuck them up. But they'll sink or swim with Japanese-born state-of-Mainer Orono Noguchi, who commands or serves a childlike soprano of adultlike size that projects hopeful sincerity and worldly art smarts simultaneously. Too young to be post-ironic and too self-aware to actually be naive, she's a find and probably knows it. So root for her with your fingers crossed. If "everybody wants to be famous" turns out to be a job description rather than a lament for the world she's stuck with, she could go solo before she knows it--and disappear like a wisp on the wind. A-
  37. Bali Baby: Baylor Swift (Twin): The sex-positive young Dirty South battle rapper makes sure you know this is her pop move with a title search engines consider a typo. By pop she means vulnerable, sometimes playful, sometimes even loony-toony, with emo-ish lyrics in the manner of the simultaneously pained and drawled "You got me feeling so lost/Sitting out here solo/Keep checking my phone." Both her musical execution and her marketing strategy favor a beguilingly silly charm. The hookfest begins with the aptly entitled "Introduction": squelchy three-note synth hook over and over under lyrics that begin "Ha, ha, ha/Mwah!/I said 'Hi, it's nice to meetcha.'" A-
  38. John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness (Oh Boy): The 71(?)-year-old's second album of new originals since 1995 is bare-faced skimpy--10 songs lasting a shade over half an hour where 2005's pretty darn good Fair and Square almost filled a CD. Barely produced, too--quiet g-b-d touched by occasional piano riffs or organ colors, with a few numbers just strummed-and-sung in a voice I never thought I'd say was going because it was already gone when it got here. It daydreams some in the middle, too. Yet it's a keeper to be grateful for, and grateful he is. "Eternity is approaching fast," he notes in the "old folks home" singalong "Crazy Bone," and he's not always so jaunty about it. But in the end, he gets to heaven, where he forgives his enemies, re-enters show business, reconnects with every single aunt, and smokes "a cigarette that's nine miles long." A-
  39. The Rolling Stones: On Air (Deluxe Edition) (Polydor/Abkco/Rolling Stones '17): Exploiting the surprise sales spike of their 2016 Christmas album Blue & Lonesome, their 2017 Christmas album purportedly revisits the band's early-'60s blues beginnings, which in fact were no such thing. Chuck Berry, who wrote six of these songs, was not a blues artist, and neither was Bo Diddley, who gets three including the previously bootleg-only "Cops and Robbers" playlet (theirs is fine, Bo's better). Billed "R&B" as they started playing out in 1963, the Stones were catchier and quicker than blues, and on these 32 radio transcriptions they sound like the premier bar band of their time if not ever. Where Blue & Lonesome is a sodden thing--many old rockers have recorded sharper, spunkier, wiser music--this collection proves what world-beaters they were even before they got serious about songwriting. True, the unperfected "Satisfaction" some hedger stuck in sounds pretty good--how could it not? But "2120 Michigan Avenue," the instrumental they concocted to celebrate recording at Chess, is the closer because it oughta be. A-
  40. Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba: Routes (Twelve Eight): With North Carolina-based bassist-ethnomusicologist Jonathan Henderson by his side, Cissokho laid down kora and vocal leads in his Senegalese hometown before the two flew back the U.S. to add parts from Stateside folk, jazz, and classical musicians, some of them members of Cissokho's North Carolina band and others not. In short, the kind of well-intentioned cultural crossover that normally turns to mush or treacle. But this moderately miraculous album remains both chewy and savory. From the string quartet that complicates the traditional opener "Alla L'a Ke" to the sabar drums and female backups that fill out the equally traditional follow-up "Badima" to the horn and string sections that bulk up the climactic "Naamusoo" and the bird tweets, indigenous flutes, and sabars again that introduce "Night in M'Bour"'s grand finale, a genuinely and often beautifully syncretic evocation of a double identity it would be hard to match and impossible to duplicate. A-
  41. Ry Cooder: The Prodigal Son (Fantasy): The coup on this gospel-based protest album is master archivist Cooder's overhaul of Blind Alfred Reed's all too jauntily self-righteous "You Must Unload," which skips the captious cigarette-smoking and card-party verses and writes in some jewel-encrusted high heels as it stretches what becomes a heartstruck the-rich-shall-not enter entreaty to five minutes. Going for class-conscious reverence at all costs, Cooder milks his version of the canon from the Pilgrim Travelers to Carter Stanley with a double dip of Blind Willie Johnson and adds three relevant originals: the reverent "Jesus and Woody," the worried, comic "Shrinking Man," and "Gentrification," which calls out two enemies of the people by name: Johnny Depp up front and a regiment of coffee-swilling Googlemen covering his rear. A-
  42. L7: Fast and Frightening (Easy Action '16): "Femininity is sensitivity with a light, delicate touch. But femininity is also intensity when it comes from four fine hard-rocking ladies--L7." So intones a menacing Donita Sparks to kick off the 1992 Radio Brisbane performance that precedes a 1990 Detroit show on disc two, both of which show off this feminist song band's equal commitment to feedback-drenched aggro. Basically a lotta noise with tunes buried in it, I've come to dig their ballroom blitz as much as disc one's winning array of stray live and tribute-record covers: not just the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb" but Willie Nelson's "Three Days," not just the Dead Kennedys' "Let's Lynch the Landlord" but Ray Barretto's "El Watusi." This 2016 double-CD was released to whip up word-of-mouth for a comeback expected to generate a new album that has yet to materialize beyond a single that doesn't live up to the title "Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago." Get it while you can if you can. A-
  43. Soccer Mommy: Clean (Fat Possum): Sophie Allison's melancholy drags less and charms more than teen-alt's indie-strummed norm, and not only that--it's fortified by tastier guitar parts. So if they hit the palate at a strange angle, figure that's as it should be--love can feel pretty bittersweet when your boyfriend's ex is prettier than you. Or is she, actually? It's so hard to figure out that a few times Allison aspires to a detachment and even cruelty she seems too good a person to be stuck with, much less stuck with faking--a life skill she feels compelled to master because she hasn't learned that the cool kids are as insecure as she is only better at hiding it, from themselves as well as everybody else. So be very glad the finale reports: "I found God on Sunday/Morning, layin' next to you/My arms stretched out like Jesus/White sheets nail me down to the bed." Good sex won't solve everything. But it's a terrific way to top off your debut album. A-
  44. Mitski: Be the Cowboy (Dead Oceans): Fourteen structurally cunning, melodically engaging, verbally coherent songs that for a compact 33 minutes address romantic angst from a disquieting angle. When women dig into their love lives men usually come out the bad guys, as they should, because men mistreat and undervalue the women they're with much more than vice versa. But the few times the singer tries to reconnect with an unattainable ex she blames the disconnect on herself because she made the approach, and more often she's the unattainable one and wishes she wasn't. The lead "Geyser" hints that the culprit is the music she's hung up on instead, and in "Remember My Name" that becomes explicit: "I gave too much of my heart tonight/Can you come to where I'm staying and make some extra love/That I can save till tomorrow's show?" But her loneliness is so ingrained that it's just as likely she got stuck on music because human love felt beyond her to begin with. That's why she's so disquieting, and so original. But by definition it doesn't make her more lovable. A-
  45. Methodist Hospital: Giants (self-released '17): Living proof that young white males can still make rock new, fun, meaningful, etc.--in this case Chicagoans Dan Caffrey on concept-lyrics-vocals-bass and Maxwell J. Shults on guitar-drums-bass-"sound design." Nine tracks, 33 minutes, free if you want at Bandcamp but I say give them some money. Concept: giant cartoon monsters overrun either the world or the small Tampa-metro city of New Port Richey, where Pennsylvania-born Caffrey came of age. Subconcepts: the evolution of both cartooning and disaster flicks in millennial youth culture plus the evolution of music "from pop punk to '90s alternative, sludge metal, ambient, and back." The omnipresent guitars betray no showoff macho, I've been brain-humming "'Hey, New Port Richey'" for days, and while the concept is goofy and generational and a tad hyperaesthetic, it also acknowledges an apocalypse that may literally impend. The key idea is attributed to a buddy of Caffrey who has since died: "Once you get to be a certain size, it doesn't matter if you're good or bad / You're so big, you cause destruction wherever you go / Whether you want to or not / You can't help it." A-
  46. The Goon Sax: We're Not Talking (Wichita Recordings): Although Louis Forster takes fewer leads on this young threesomes's smoother and trickier follow-up, their unpretentious affect, plain guitar, and flat groove still recall the early years of his dad's Go-Betweens. True, Louis reports that he's barely heard them. But I doubt de facto frontman James Harrison was so cautious, and can imagine drummer Riley Jones learning that Lindy Morrison never stepped up to the mike and deciding she'd better: "I don't want distance / When distance always seems to be the thing / That comes and hurts us." In any case, a university art band they're not. Instead they're still reflecting on adolescence with a humility and concentration that hurts. No one's calling but they're not picking up the phone. Passing your bus stop hurts even though they know you need time to yourself. Come to think on it, they "never knew what love meant" anyway. Yet already mortality impends in the form of "piles of books I'll never read / And a list of things I'll never be." Twelve songs in half an hour that say more than they pretend and plenty they may only intuit. A-
  47. Wynton Marsalis Septet: United We Swing: Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas (Blue Engine): The trumpeter-bureaucrat didn't just tamp down his jazz chauvinism as such pop titans as Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson and roots flamekeepers as the Blind Boys of Alabama and Tedeschi-Trucks paid their respects at these 2003-2007 fund-raisers. He put his smarts, chops, and combo at the full service of artistes from Jimmy Buffett to Audra Macdonald. There's not much guitar and, you guessed it, no rapping whatsoever. But just about every song is enlarged. Dylan negotiates the horns that elaborate "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry" like the born hipster he is. Lyle Lovett is a hipster too. Macdonald was made for "Creole Love Call" as she was for little else. Ray Charles is alive, which was all it ever took. James Taylor and John Mayer put their all into self-penned songs about what dicks they are. "Are You Gonna Go My Way" is transformed into nine-tenths of the freedom song Lenny Kravitz dreamt it could be. Derek Trucks's "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free" solo very nearly obliterates that feat. And to top off his show of shows, Marsalis sings a song of his own--sans Auto-Tune, you bet. A-
  48. Lupe Fiasco: Drogas Wave (1st & 15th): It's pretentious to complain that this musically agile, intellectually ambitious rapper has undertaken a concept trilogy that doesn't justify its pretensions. Really, why pretend there was any chance it would? Instead honor the two uncommon things this second installment does accomplish. First is a flow that never falters no matter how dense the themes--a flow that accommodates such verbiage as "conjurer" and "iridescent," "breach" and "havoc," "synonym" and "anthropomorphic," "industrialist" and "socialism." The second is that among these two dozen good-to-excellent tracks are at least four whose pitch of emotion and ambition render them something like profound: "WAV Files," which constructs a stanza from the names of slave ships, "Down," which creates a mythology of subaquatic African immortals consigned to the sea by shipwreck or their own leaps of faith, and alternate-universe biographies of two children cut down before they'd barely begun their lives, the drowned refugee "Alan Forever" and the street-slain innocent "Jonylah Forever." Fiasco should interrogate his weakness for consumer goods and study anti-Semitism's meaning as a term and history as a blight on humanity. But we're lucky the big label dumped him, and he is too. A-
  49. Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse (Carpark): In a darker mood than when Foil Deer broke in 2015, as what indie-rocker isn't, Sadie Dupuis returns advisedly to the game she likes best: chunky non-Latinate Americanese wordplay that births dislocated idioms like "buck me off" or "I was lost but now I'm floundered" or even "don't wanna lopside my language." With tunes to match, natch. But she's still bucking "The year of the weird, bookended by booty pix I never posted" when she was stalked by a busmate who asked "what kind of games you like" and then switched "games" to "porn" and it got worse than that. "No no no you're not my bro" she yells on her way to a "pink boulder" where she can "be alone / With all the girls I know." Only then she takes a freshman to the prom so she can stick him in a song and he ends up finishing her sentences for her. Which is also a game she likes. A-
  50. Jon Hassell: Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume 1) (Ndeya): Always warm not chill, Hassell's quiet, environmental "fourth world" music has staying power that enlarges with time--listening back, I hear more complexity and groove in 2005's patched-together Maarifa Street than I did at the time. But ever since his fateful 1980 collaboration with Brian Eno, atmospheric gestalt rather than flesh-and-blood pulse has been his calling. Like Miles Davis in his lost-and-found '70s, Hassell has long raised keyboards to parity with a trumpet that never aspires to the clarity and speed of masters from Armstrong to Marsalis. At 81, he's explored that parity for half his life, seldom more calmingly than on this self-release. Ever the avant-gardist, he insists that his latest music has a synesthetic relationship to the paintings of his dear friend Mati Klarwein. But we don't have to go there. If you're merely seeking something to soothe and engage simultaneously, this will perform that anxiety-easing, life-enhancing, aesthetically self-sufficient trick even better than usual. A-
  51. Homeboy Sandman & Edan: Humble Pi (Stones Throw): His beatmaking proudly utilitarian, his quick tetrameters and plosive rat-a-tat-tat too abrupt to fully earn the glorious old metaphor flow, the heroically consistent Homeboy has never been quite musical enough. Hence this partnership with the seldom heard undergrounder Edan, whose electronics heighten and sometimes carry the vocals Homeboy dominates. On the lead "Grim Seasons," Edan's sound effects dramatize Homeboy's rundown of a year's weather from winter's black ice to autumn's fallen. On the closer he extends human evolution similar support. And his looped, massaged fanfare carries "The Gut" front to back. But best by far is the Homeboy-dominated "#Neverusetheinternetagain," which deserves to go viral for running down every waste of brain power virality has wrought. A-
  52. Becky Warren: Undesirable (self-released): On 2016's War Surplus, Warren wrote and then sang both the husband and the wife songs on an autobiographical concept album about a marriage wrecked by Iraq PTSD. Here the psychological calisthenics aren't so tricky. She does sing "Carmen" as a longtime loser who's found a Neil Diamond fan who'll inspire him to make ends meet so he can move her into the house painted blue she deserves, and the chin-up narrator of the undeplorable West Virginia opener could be a coal miner. But mostly Warren just works her own changes on the fed-up love-getting-by songs that are a well-earned staple for so many Nashville feminists. It's a theme and mood she seems to have become quite familiar with. A-
  53. Tracey Thorn: Record (Merge): Calm, deliberate, undemonstrative, Thorn is a singer some find magical and others prosaic. I've always tended other, but when a 55-year-old wife and mother claims she's recorded "nine feminist bangers," I pay attention. And these definitely work up some fairy dust. The beats evoke without mimicking the subtle electro-dance of Thorn and her beatmaking husband Ben Watt's 20th-century band, Everything but the Girl, and in her undemonstrative way, she sequences the catchiest tracks last: "Face," about checking out your ex at Mark Zuckerberg's place, and "Dance," which namechecks "Good Times," "Shame," "Golden Years," and "Let the Music Play." In four other songs, decent but fundamentally clueless guys mess with various women's lives, while two others evoke a motherhood you assume is autobiographical. In "Babies," "Get the fuck to bed now" is closely followed by "Baby love you even more." In "Go," which takes place quite a few years later, she knows the kid has to leave--that's the reason she put in all that work. A-
  54. CupcakKe: Ephorize (Cupcakke): It would be silly to assume all this homeless-shelter graduate's literotica is literal. But from the armpit-licking "Spoiled Milk Titties" to the dickhead-picking "Duck Duck Goose," believe she's gotten closer to real-life versions of the carnal variations she dreams up than the average Soundcloud trapper has to the carnage he's mumbling about. Not only is her imagery healthier and more humane, not only do her raunchiest rhymes ride her catchiest beats, but she's inserted a public service announcement, cheering on "boy-on-boy" action that'll leave both fellas free to fuck another day. Toward the end she even finds "a new man makes me wet like the ocean." But how about that--before the song is over, he dogs her. A-
  55. The Internet: Hive Mind (Columbia): Syd has the virtue of enjoying her success without getting a big head about it--she's so sensible she could already be squirreling away Roths and 401-Ks. And fine though she is solo, you can hear why she sticks with her group. Steve Lacy's skittering subtlety on guitar and solid quietude on bass suit what we might as well call her spirituality, a gentleness that never comes across genteel or weak or connects explicitly to her unassuming lesbianism, although you begin to sense a yen for serious romance after enough fooling around. "Look What U Started" is a kissoff song. But not only do you believe she's in the right, you notice how unvindictive she sounds. And then you go back and suss that "Next Time/Humble Pie" posits a second meet-up with a honey she has her eye on before she can finally dare a simple "I said hello." So maybe she's not spiritual after all. Maybe she's just shy. A-
  56. Doctor Nativo: Guatemaya (Stonetree): His Cuban-born father killed circa 1990 in Guatemala's long and in crucial respects ongoing civil war, Guatemalan vocalist-guitarist Nativo defines his robust cumbia-reggae fusion as Mayan music, Africanized with the Garifuna styles of nearby Belize and bent on "social justice for his nation's indigenous majority." Moodwise it recalls upful French-Basque internationalist Manu Chao. But it's less yielding, with a groove that stomps. Although my tiny store of Spanish didn't suss out any language more specific than "Babylon," the translations on his website pit doctors against dictators, equate bureaucrats with politicians with cops, and call Bolivian comrades "B-boys." Yes his music is upful. But it's also ready to fight. A-
  57. Imarhan: Temet (City Slang): True enough, all Tuareg guitar bands sound pretty much the same. But as someone who's never been properly awed by Tinariwen's marginal differentiations, I can tell you one thing about these Algerians: they're faster. Or maybe two: people actually dance to them. With nary a nod at the virtuosities of desert guitar gods like Bombino, their second international release rocks without hesitation or apology. So if you're one of the mutants who's moved by this groove, go for it. May it enhance your pleasure that one translation begins "All pleasure ends in death," and that their Tuareg solidarity only goes so far: "I see people destroying their own town / An ignominy they still manage to boast about." Dance to that, zealots. A-
  58. The Coup: Sorry to Bother You: The Soundtrack (Interscope): Six of the nine tracks on an album that breakthrough director Boots Riley couldn't resist tacking onto his debut flick are boosted by guest stars, including undeniables Tune-Yards, Killer Mike, and E-40, although the two Janelle MonŠes seem a mite thin for his baked-in Oakland funk. And all three Boots-alones are in his ideologically revolutionary tradition, which now goes back a quarter century. "We Need an Eruption"? "Level It Up"? He means those things, as he always has, although of course he's also glad "level" rhymes with "Neville"--Aaron, to be specific. A-
  59. Chicago Farmer: Quarter Past Tonight ( I'd never heard of transplanted son of the soil Cody Dieckhoff and you probably haven't either. But this tenth-anniversary double-live, 24 songs and eight spoken bits that include a tribute to his heroically supportive wife entitled "Benefits," documents the Chicago-based singer-songwriter's sold-out weekend at the world-famous, 3000-capacity Apollo Theater--in Peoria, Illinois. Dieckhoff isn't as sharp as his hero John Prine--one disc at a time will do. But he's funny, he's kind, and he's preparing an instructional video about "how do you get that drawl that you do--it's kind of a mix between a small-town big-city kind of a northernly southernly easterly westerly stuck-in-the-middle type of a drawl." And if you grant that his DIY life touring the Midwest in his heroically supportive van is very nearly as hard as the lives of the fans he says put in 40 or 50 less colorful hours every week, he never stops thinking about class, which is why he brushes off an admirer who tells him that if he'd "leave out the politics" he'd move twice as many records (raising his nightly sales to 12, the merch guy in him calculates). Dieckhoff assumes most of his fans are Democrats but welcomes Republicans, and why shouldn't he--not even a Republican could leave a Chicago Farmer show meaner than when he or she walked in. And ask yourself this: how many musicians have the consciousness to employ the square, tired-ass, polarizing terms "Democrat" and "Republican" at all? Only some kind of northernly southernly easterly westerly stuck-in-the-middle visionary. A-
  60. Perfume Genius: No Shape (Matador '17): Title notwithstanding, the most revealing of the many things Mike Hadreas has said about his fourth album concerns the melodies he took it upon himself to fashion first: "I made sure they had a chorus and a bridge--all the things I have never done before because they felt like work." A gay man avowedly uncomfortable in his own body, with the Crohn's disease, erotic asphyxiation fixation, and abated addictions to prove it, Hadreas insisted listeners come to him on 2014's strong-willed Too Bright. But here his music meets the rest of us more than halfway. By all means enjoy how the first three tracks all start with a tease before breaking out the rockets' red glare. I prefer "Just Like Love," where a preteen comes out in front of the social media mirror, to "Slip Away," with its risk-drunk "If you never see 'em coming / You'll never have to hide." But in both cases the music testifies that for hypersensitives like Hadreas boldness is always an achievement worth melodizing about. It bids for solidarity and deserves it. A-
  61. Tal National: Tantabara (Fat Cat): It was a good idea to juice the title opener with some talking drum, a "kazaguť" (?) I can't pick out of the hectic mix, and--especially--mouthy Zara Moussa, a Nigerien who has long rapped under the handle ZM although here she only sings. Another good idea was the lead solo one of three named guitarists takes on the so-called "Entente"--really, this uncompromising thing is an entente? Unrelentingness having been the specialty of this shifting cast of male Nigeriens for three CDs now--14 are credited, including six singers and four drummers--both effects render them somewhat more accommodating while remaining dead set on directing your attention to nonstop rhythm music. If Youssou seems too calm and unflappable even live these days, try this. It will not let you be. A-
  62. Lyrics Born: Quite a Life (Mobile Home): Exuberant and extravagant if gravelly at times, chanted more than sung because Tom Shimura is a rapper, this major funk vocalist's sixth solo studio album celebrates life the hedonistic way. Its first four tracks praise sex as chocolate cake, bling that includes a stegasaurus skeleton and some sasquatch fur, the girl from first-period English who turned him out, and the beauty of difference. But it also embraces life the conscious way. "Can't Lose My Joy" distills his wife Joyo Velarde's long, frightening triumph over non-Hodgkins lymphoma. The double-reversed James Brown cover adds that question mark to "This Is a Man's World?" for the best of reasons. And we'll call the unlisted bonus track "Arrest the President" because it begins by chanting that phrase 14 times before cataloguing shortcomings that include his small penis. A-
  63. Rapsody: Laila's Wisdom (Roc Nation '17): Country girl Marlanna Evans only got into hip-hop at North Carolina State, and 2017 Grammy nominations or no 2017 Grammy nominations she'll never be a promising young rapper again. Not only is she 35, she's too sane, too civilized, too deep into deep-soul beats every bit as Southern as their trap antitheses. Yet on this artistic breakthrough her "real life rap" matches her conversational, comprehensible, musically modest flow to content that's anything but regional. Rhyming her diary and mulling her cultural tribulations, she represents for young black working women everywhere. Would they all were so quick-lipped. Would they all had enough money. Would they all had a Busta Rhymes at the ready when they feel the need for some sugar. A-
  64. I'm Not Here to Hunt Rabbits (Piranha): Site of both the monumental Norman Rush novel Mortals and the soft-hearted James McCall Smith No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series (Jill Scott played Precious Ramotswe on TV), Botswana is less esoteric than Piranha wants curiosity seekers to believe, its capital no further from Pretoria than Boston is from New York. Nor will the bass-heavy "Botswana guitar" style showcased on this oddly configured compilation sound strange to any fan of South African mbaqanga. But that's good--with mbaqanga having long ago run its post-apartheid course, these tunes work up the same gruff energy and stalwart pulse without percussion instruments or anything Jo'burg would call a recording studio. Propelled by a guitar technique in which the hand reaches over the neck to riff on three strings while the thumb drives a bass sometimes furnished by a battery cable, their rustic confidence is less frantic than mbaqanga's urban drive. The vinyl disc features only 11 tracks, whose purchase permits the download of eight otherwise unavailable others, including one called "Condom." Those 11 are the cream. On side two, hear the scratchy violin of "Ngwana Wa Dichabeng" transition to the playful vocalese of "Tiki Molamu" to the organ-driven female falsetto of "Re Babedi." And wonder where Sibongile Kgaila found the guitar hook of "Gladys." A-
  65. Blue Lu Barker: Remastered Collection (J. Joes J. Edizioni Musicali '15): These 21 calm, playful numbers include only five of the ones Muldaur picked. They average just under three minutes rather than just under four and are slighter in other ways too. Unpretentious but not unsophisticated, Barker's light, unslurred mezzo was admired by none other than fellow non-belter Billie Holiday. Often backed by New York pros more understated than their counterparts back in New Orleans, she's slyer than a first listen suggests--give her some time and her originality will stand there hands on hips until you notice. Unlike Holiday, Barker wrote a lot of her own material, but she also knew when Andy Razaf or Lil Hardin came up with a good one. She's too wise for you to jive, and you're too dumb to realize. She got the jitterbug blues and she's looking for someplace to dip. A-
  66. Idles: Joy as an Act of Resistance (Partisan): Cognitive dissonance meets blunt force trauma via five guys who don't need Donald Trump to rail against fascism--not with Brexit, Eton, and bankers at a funeral for inspiration. What's dissonant is that you wouldn't figure from all this baritone bellow and jackboot four-four how much political rage they direct at sexism--the first three songs attack what "Samaritans" later brands "the mask of masculinity." It's like Joe Talbot's vocals are the male equivalent in reverse of Snail Mail or Lucy Dacus embracing sad femininity in gender solidarity. Though Talbot insists the Idles aren't a punk band, his unrelenting politics do remind one that he lacks both Joe Strummer's stealth tenderness and John Lydon's wormwood sarcasm. But a warmth suffuses "Danny Nedelko," about a Ukrainian pal who stands as Zanzibar-born Freddy Mercury's immigrant brother, and "June," all tender love for his stillborn daughter. And what kind of rage freak would be so tickled to cover Solomon Burke's "Cry to Me"? A-
  67. Frankie Cosmos: Vessel (Sub Pop): Because it takes guts to get up there and sing your songs, we expect toughness from the women now achieving indie-rock parity. So Greta Kline's fragility may seem cutesy or calculated rather than the forthright aesthetic signature it is. Of course she's self-conscious about the fragility of the fluting ditties that pour out of her body-that's-a-burden, 18 tunelets on parade on this 33-minute breakout moment. How could she not be? But that doesn't make her fixation on the romantic love she's so insecure about anything like shtick. Immerse in her tiny reflections and glimmers of self-realization and ask yourself just how secure all the 24-year-olds with tougher fronts feel as they fuck around or choose their mate--cynical or carnal, enraged or disengaged, you know they get scared themselves. Kline's quietude takes guts too--more, maybe. A-
  68. Mandy Barnett: Strange Conversation (Dame Productions/Thirty Tigers): I doubt Barnett conceives this strange little album as a rebuke to the reverent high musicianship of the Patsy Cline interpretations she made her bread and butter long before 2011's Sweet Dreams. High musicianship with a gourmet flourish is what she does. But there's a savor in hearing it applied to this potpourri of humble deep-pop obscurities--late Connie Francis, later Sonny and Cher, lost girl-group and guy-group keepers by Mable John and the Tams--garnished with newer art-pop obscurities. For me the clincher is "The Fool," a top-10 one-shot for 21-year-old Sanford Clark that I thought I hadn't heard since 1956 until I found out there are karaoke versions. A-
  69. Paul Simon: In the Blue Light (Legacy): To mark his retirement from songwriting and spice up his farewell tour, the 76-year-old generates a new album from old material--not great hits, just songs he feels he got wrong somehow. Oddly, while six of the 10 selections are singletons going back to 1973, the other four are from 2000's You're the One, where I remain unconverted to "Love" and "The Teacher" and am glad to have "Darling Lorraine" and "Pigs, Sheep and Wolves" on an album I might play again. Never a knockout singer, Simon has arrived at a creaky boyishness that serves him well on arrangements that cant both jazz and chamber while barely hinting at his many shades of folk-rock, including what he's always been too smart to call "world." For me the prizes are "One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor" from 1973 and "Renť and Georgette Magritte After the War" from 1990, small masterpieces I'd never recognized as such. But his 21st-century prizes remain 2010's So Beautiful or So What and 2016's Stranger to Stranger. Hear those first. A-
  70. Open Mike Eagle: What Happens When I Try to Relax (Auto Reverse): On six tracks overseen by five producers, the deepest music is built into the sayings of a guy conversant in the same ballplayers, wrestlers, videogames, and alt-rock you are. "When I get nervous I say something relatable." "I hate when I'm late because I try to be punctual." "Everything ain't great but I can do worse/Cause I can go to the dentist when my tooth hurt." "Everybody I know got a stomachache." "My lady ask am I good, I said hell naw." "The economy killed the rhyme star." "Sign an autograph and sell it to your own self." "And I'm so political, hella political." "A generation's been cursed, what that trauma do?" "How it both sides? We ain't both dyin." "Tryna reach black kids in a room full of whites." A-
  71. Yo La Tengo: There's a Riot Going On (Matador): This inward-looking, barely verbalized album describes a parabola. Beginning with the hypnotic instrumental "You Are Here" and ending with the fragmented instumental-with-murmurs "Here You Are," it builds through five low-key songs to three six-minute instrumentals centered on the pulseless electronic "Shortwave," which reveals ionospheric subchatter when you turn the volume up, only why would you? Then come five less shapely songs, and there you are: in a time roiled by the political turmoil the title puts up front, a domesticated Yo La version of the kind of esoteric atmospherics I myself treasure in Hassell & Eno's Fourth World Vol. 1, OrŁj GŁvenc's Ocean of Remembrance, We's As Is, and Marcel Khalifť's Andalusia of Love. They mean to create not just music as a refuge, but recognizably indie-rock music as a refuge. "Shortwave" is too murky and cerebral. But "You Are Here" could open their sets forever, "Esportes Casual" is a perky relief, "Polynesia #1" makes me want to go, "For You Too" is my kind of love song, and "Forever" is my wife's. So yes, I find succor here. A-
  72. Beats Antique: Shadowbox (Beats Antique '16): Struck by this Oakland trio's tenth-anniversary album, which was released shortly before Donald Trump killed Leonard Cohen in 2016, I delayed coverage because I hadn't given them a thought since 2008's Collide and also because I got distracted. I hope they're working on the next one as I write. But I can finally attest that if you're buzzed by the idea of Middle East dub rendered vaster by the complementary miracles of data storage and guest cameos, this is where to start and you're unlikely to need a whole lot more. Simultaneously atmospheric and detailed, abstract and groovalicious, it makes the case for international understanding while limiting its lyrical content to a distorted chant called "Vendetta," a defense of a 17-year-old murderer, something in Japanese called "Three Sisters," and something in French that includes the word "salaam." A-
  73. Leikeli47: Acrylic (Hardcover/RCA): From her friendly, articulate, elusive, music-centered interviews, what we know for sure about this rapper-singer who never goes out in public without a ski mask is that she's from Brooklyn. Plus, right, this: "My love of fashion came of being poor." Everything else we must infer from her lyrics. On her new album, for instance, there's enough detail about historically black colleges in the Greek victory chant "Roll Call" to suggest she attended an HBC herself, although the Broad and Lombard hint places it in Philadelphia, which isn't home to a single one, a smokescreen typical on on album that gets down to cases even so. Articulated in a Lauryn Hill fan's clear, island-tinged flow is a tour of a shy, smart, moderately successful young woman's hood: the nail salons and girl blunts, the sexist UGs and subway makeout sessions, the dumpster babies and relatives who need more help than you can afford to give them. The evidence that she's as musical as Hill, much less her beloved Michael Jackson, is sketchy. But what an up it is to hear a soulful survivor-and-then-some try to get there. A-
  74. Tropical Fuck Storm: A Laughing Death in Meatspace (Tropical Fuck Storm/Mistletone): Crucially, this reboot of vocalist-lyricist-guitarist Gareth Liddiard's Perth-spawned, Melbourne-based, Canberra-averse Drones, who earned grunge-retro renown in their politically dysfunctional land without ever breaking Stateside, leans on three women: guitarist-keyboardist Erica Dunn, drummer Lauren Hammel, and former Drones bassist Fiona Kitschin, without whose shading and amplification the frontman's sociohistorical ravings might evoke a woke Nick Cave flexing his baritone. Although Socrates' hemlock meets Jesus' crucifixion and "The Future of History" details Gary Kasparov's 1997 defeat by a computer, the history part is seldom head-on. But whether the subject is family of assholes in legal trouble they deserve or plywood houses that should be armor-plated, Liddiard's songs are more sociopolitically situated than less verbose types generally manage, plus there's a Trump number where an Oompa Loompa brandishes drones and nukes. "The down side is that we're all about to get royally fucked / And the upside is we're all about to get screwed," he concludes. In most rock, this kind of dark joke comes off cheap if not stupid. Tropical Fuck Storm know how to scare you with them. A-
  75. Fever Ray: Plunge (Mute): Karin Dreijer's solo debut was about money when you listened up. This long-aborning follow-up is about sex. The tentative openers "Wanna Sip" and "Mustn't Hurry" end up where she and you had hoped before concerns about unsafe spaces and fraught hookups culminate with the free-abortion-on-demand "This Country": "This country"--and she means Sweden!--"makes it hard to fuck." Yet strangely or maybe not, that attack of nerves is the turning point. Immediately the title instrumental leads directly to "I want to run my fingers up your pussy" and an open if complicated beyond. Take the plunge, she's hinting. It'll be fine. You'll be glad you did. A-
  76. Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair!!! (Septic Tiger): Although he dedicates these 18 tracks to his wife and little girl and sings them more than he recites them, this tenacious hospital porter and chronicler of the so-called Irish Free State hasn't softened up any unless you count rooting for a gal who takes a bread knife to the turkey-neck bully who's kicking her out. He's still hectoring layabouts, chronicling toilers, and mocking nouvies, although these days he's also skewering the bogus trappings of Irish patriotism and the porousness of the Ulster border. In addition, his specialty in the working class makes Trump a snap. Why aren't more Americans writing mean, obvious songs like "Silver Spoon"? 'Cause they know shit about the working class and care less is what I figure. A-
  77. Wreckless Eric: Construction Time & Demolition (Southern Domestic): A few fine songs peek out from these 11 tracks--the bridge-to-nowhere gentrification threnody "Gateway to Europe," the fanboy expose "Wow & Flutter," the unraveling autobiography "40 Years." So do fine chants like "The Two of Us," a title he yells 19 times. But note as well instrumentals designated "Mexican Fenders #1" and "#2," a guitar-not-car metaphor that evokes the shambolic fuzz and droll electronic detritus he smears everywhere. A deliberately unkempt whole whose stray noises will make you chuckle against your suspended judgment throughout. A-
  78. Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel (Mom + Pop): Cheeky title notwithstanding, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. didn't just sit. It was an album where a band powered up at just the moment its singer evolved into a guitarist to reckon with as she came up with the best-observed lyrics of her life. Three years later, what little observation there is peers inward--half the songs sound written in a flat she hasn't left in a week. If anything, the band is sharper. But rather than a singer dynamic enough to match it, we get a dynamic guitarist who also happens to be the sole lyricist and solo singer. So be grateful for the Margaret Atwood lift "I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Women are scared that men will kill them," especially for sparking the crucial add-on "I hold my keys between my fingers." And for a finale called "Sunday Roast," where someone she likes comes for a visit. A-
  79. Thelonious Monk: Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 (Saga/Sam '17): A pricey French import that targets serious fans like me, so why not you? Recorded down by the riverside in Weehawken because Monk wasn't together or perhaps even interested enough to get to France, this unsynchronized 1959 "soundtrack" for a sexed-up Roger Vadim rip of the 1782 novel of the same name offers no new compositions but several this-time-onlys as it deploys the exceptional rhythm section of bassist Sam Jones and drummer Art Taylor and on some tracks a second saxophonist named Barney Wilen to texture Charlie Rouse's breathy imperturbality. Toward the end comes a brief improvisation entitled "Light Blue" that later resurfaced as "Round Lights" and a brief reading of the Charles Tindley hymn "We'll Understand It By and By" by the same pianist who spent two teen years woodshedding with a gospel show. And then there's the bonus disc, which really is for fans only, like the one I know who can't get enough of the 14-minute "Light Blue (making of)," which consists entirely of Taylor trying to get the tune's bluntly off-kilter beat straight. A-
  80. Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy (Matador): In case you haven't been keeping score, this is a re-recording of what Will Toledo fans consider his Bandcamp masterpiece: an associative suite or bunch of 10 songs ranging in length from 1:30 to 16:11 that circle around his teenage crush on a guy who could be a fond memory or an educational fabrication. At 71:41, the new version is 11 instrumental minutes longer; at 25, its creator is a phlegmier, more masculine singer who's clearly not a teen anymore. But he now leads a band capable of rendering his quest in a hi-fi that illuminates both its seriousness and its sense of play. Young admirers reminded of their own existential confusions have every right to feel poignant about them. But so do observers pleased to be merely touched. My favorite track is the shortest, which goes, in its entirety: "Stop smoking, we love you/And we don't want you to die." A-
  81. AD the Voice: Maxi-Single (Statik Entertainment '07): AD is Schenectady-born, Rhinebeck-based, African-American attorney Antonio Delgado, Democratic candidate for Congress in New York's 19th district, where the mealy-mouthed Republican incumbent has gone after him for this hip-hop EP he recorded in 2007. And how about that? Not only doesn't it deploy "phrases derogatory to women" or--wha?--"glorif[y] pornography and drug use." It's also really good. Suavely articulated over simple, dramatic beats, every word is thought through and all five songs work as songs. The special standouts are "U Scared," where "There's a war going on" evokes America's ongoing race and class combat while dissing both black-on-black violence and "pop like a pimple" rap, and "Draped in Flags," the best-informed Iraq War song this side of Becky Warren's "Get Calm, Stay Low." A DCCC poll has Delgado's jobs-and-healthcare campaign seven points ahead in a predominantly white district where John Hall of Orleans served two House terms a decade ago. So get on it, my peeps in New Paltz with its SUNY hipsters and Oneonta with its SUNY pop music program, in Hunter no longer just a ski town and Hudson now an exurban hub. This 2016 iteration of the EP is filled out with "clean" versions you can do without, although the a cappella "U Scared" is a keeper. So you could just download the songs. But I say you buy the physical and then do some phonebanking if not door-knocking for Antonio Delgado. When he wins, you'll have a collector's item on your hands. A-
  82. Kanye West & Kid Cudi: Kids See Ghosts (G.O.0.D. Music): What's best about this trifle isn't that the big man and his protege acknowledge their madness, with West shitcanning his meds while Cudi turns into such a rehab nut that the five-minute focus track "Reborn" repeats the mantra "I'm movin' forward" 53 times." Instead, what's best is that they fool around like male bonders should--"Feel the Love"'s vocal rat-a-tats, "Fourth Dimension"'s Louis Prima sample, "Kids See Ghosts"'s nursery rhyme in waiting, "Freeee"'s long guttural E's. So its closest brush with wisdom is political rather than therapeutic: Yasiin Bey a/k/a Mos Def envisioning "Civilization without society / Power and wealth with nobility / Stability without stasis / Spaces and places." A-
  83. Shopping: The Official Body (Fat Cat): This theoretical dance trio are such miniaturists it may take their admirers a play or three to notice that on their third and I guess best album the music has broadened. The catchy treble guitar riff at the start of the 2:38 "Suddenly Gone" is partner to the virtual guiro somebody coaxed from a computer at the end--both are the kind of surprise that's good for a tiny thrill when you're out on the floor listening with your body. But no matter how well-honed they are, in this kind of miniaturism all distinctions are marginal--unlike classic Wire or Gang of Four, Shopping never risk a joke or break into something marginally anthemic. For them, "I know what I like and I like what I know" is still "never enough to satisfy me." Which does limit the use value to which they're theoretically committed. A-

Jan. 12, 2019

2017 Essay | -- 2019