Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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This was originally published as exclusive content, in Robert Christgau's And It Don't Stop newsletter. You can have Christgau's posts delivered to your mailbox if you subscribe.

Consumer Guide: July, 2022

Songs from New York, Pretoria, Berlin, and So Paulo, as delivered by performers ranging in age from 20 to 95. Plus: guitar rock from Nashville and Cambridge, drones from North Jersey, and more.

Arcade Fire: WE (Columbia) "We unsubscribe/We unsubscribe/Fuck season five" ("Unconditional [Lookout Kid]," "End of the Empire IV [Sagittarius A*]") *

Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Love for Sale (Columbia/Interscope) The news that this pair were revisiting their cross-generational gimmick seven years after its launch got no rise out of me, because while Cheek to Cheek was definitely enjoyable, it was often no more than that. And while the duo's young distaff half had since emerged from her shrewdly individualized carapace of glam-pop celebrity to prove a gifted actress and adaptable all-around entertainer with a high alto of near-Ella sweetness and definition and the brains to begin the "It's De-Lovely" opener with its semi-recitative "tinpantithesis" prologue, her senior partner had not only turned 95 but been diagnosed with Alzheimer's way back in in 2016. But I failed to register two things. First, all 12 titles are by pantheon wit-and-a-half Cole Porter, who not only devised the term "tinpantithesis" but festooned "Let's Do It" with "Lithuanians and Letts do it." Second, Alzheimer's has been found to be much easier on your verbal memory if you are singing, at which point lyrics you could once recite verbatim pour past your vocal cords and into the air as if they were notes on a scale, as they also are. Of course, this assumes you retain a larynx worthy of the name, which not every singer of 75 much less 95 can claim. Anthony Dominick Benedetto still has one--he sounds leaner, a bit drier, but also capable of enunciating every word in a long-cultivated New York accent whose miraculous juice and intuitive smarts could make an 80-year-old hope for a longer life than many would consider seemly. A

DakhaBrakha: The Bedouin Reworks of DakhaBrakha (Human by Default) Of course I feel their Kyiv-spawned "ethno-chaos" deepest when their beats lean African--I'm an American ("Salgir Boyu," "Yahudky") **

DJ Black Low: Uwami (Awesome Tapes From Africa) Is it gqom? Or is it amapiano? Or somehow both? Eight thousand miles from this 20-year-old beatmaker's Pretoria base, do I know enough to claim I care? Nah. Early on minimal as opposed to minimalist melodic content is provided by digital maneuvers or devices that thrum more than they drum much less clatter, kind of like a bass only not really, with the fundamental pulse usually provided by what could pass for a brushed snare. Other sounds include teenagers singing or chanting, a male or female teen going heh-heh, an adult male or facsimile singing-chanting actual lyrics echoed by a much younger voice singing-chanting. Markedly abstract, I admit. Reliably delightful, I insist. Plus you can dance to it if you have the skills, I assume. A

Elucid: I Told Bessie (Backwoodz Studioz) Jamaica Queens-born Nostrum Grocers rapper-producer a/k/a E L U C I D dedicates a solo album to his grandma, who died in 2017--and who on the sonic evidence he still misses acutely ("Spelling," "Nostrand") **

Emperor X: The Lakes of Zones B and C (Dreams of Field Recordings) Over the ever-lengthening years Chad Matheny has carved out a principled DIY career for himself, and at some level he's proud of it. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean the world has stopped coming to an end. And it also doesn't mean that he's as inclined as he once was to keep up the good fight. Here there's a sun-powered GPS, there DHL losing your furniture, here a hummingbird better equipped to weather the storm than we are, there sketchy Syrian punks who haven't figured out how fucked they are. So if "Our lack of certainty is no excuse for nihilistic dread," well, in addition there's "no need to give ourselves a hernia/The real heavy lifting's for the young." Musically, Matheny has never been more sure-footed, but spiritually he's in a bind. So am I, and quite possibly you. A disturbing record. A

Craig Finn: A Legacy of Rentals (Positive Jams/Thirty Tigers) Not everybody loses in the Hold Steady frontman's ongoing series of musical short stories, but for sure nobody wins. The slightly obscure title of his fifth such album in a decade says what you need to know: the guy who sings "The Year We Fell Behind" is the only protagonist here who owns his or in one vodka-soaked case her own domicile--not even Anthony, whose parents' house was always "neat and sweet and normal." How would you calculate the chance that any of these all-white casualties of finance capital and the fossil fuel cartel goes out and votes? I'd put it near zero myself. A MINUS

Gonora Sounds: Hard Times Never Kill (Phantom Limb) From Zimbabwe, where they know about such things, lively family street band led by deft blind guitarist sound cheerful because that's the job and they're committed to doing it well ("Go Bhora," "Madhiri") ***

Mammoth Penguins: There's No Fight We Can't Both Win (Fika) Relocated to hightone London-adjacent Cambridge from industrial northern Sheffield and playing guitar not bass, former Standard Fare frontwoman Emma Kupa has released three albums with her two male bandmates as well as an eponymous solo job. This 2019 entry is the keeper, solid proof that at the very least she deserves a nicer boyfriend (or girlfriend, though her scrupulous second person doesn't quite cancel lines like "It was a dick move baby"). Commonsensically and prosaically but also fervently and you bet tunefully, she's trying her best and getting better at it. Sure she still suffers gaffes and insecurities she needs to get beyond. But you'll expect she's got it in her. A MINUS

Matt North: Bullies in the Backyard (mattnorth.net) Hook-adept drummer makes war with middle age ("The Last Angry Mam," "Top of the Fridge") *

Regina Spektor: Home, Before and After (Sire) "My mind is full of melodies/They search for homes inside of me," and although rhythm players are credited along with the strings and occasional fancy-pants brass that swell up quietly here and there, the dominant instrument on Spektor's first album since 2016 is her classically trained piano, which even so plays second fiddle to her sweet, modest, precise voice as crafted song follows crafted song and thoughtful lyric enriches thoughtful lyric. At 42 she's not getting any happier, her humanity touched with the kind of disquiet sure to make biographical fallacy fans nervous. So I guess I'm relieved to report that the finale brings her back to a home where the light is always on. And I also note that the standout "One Man's Prayer" sketches a guy who's timid till a gal shores up his confidence and what happens next is not pretty. I dare any male to cover it. A MINUS

The Trypes: Music for Neighbors (Pravda) The Trypes comprise or comprised all of North Jersey's drone-prone, tune-averse, postpunk, initially propulsive Feelies, who early in their sporadic career would both debut on punk-adjacent Stiff and hook up in more ways than one with R.E.M.'s Peter Buck. For extra collegiality they add on a bunch of the Feelies' North Jersey friends, including two crucial female vocalist-instrumentalists. So say they were conceived for fans of classic Feelies (whose bland, belated 2011 and 2017 albums, I'd best note, are dull dull dull)--and that naturally they drone too. Laid down live and at home as well as in the studio, the 16 tracks on the CD I somehow kept playing constitute what can pass for their entire recorded oeuvre. Except for two songs unveiled at a 2017 reunion, all date back to the '80s, and beyond one Patti Smith cover and two George Harrison covers all are originals. They may not catch your ear immediately, or in the case of the six-minute "Friends" ever. But if reading this has sent you back to early Feelies records that sound fresh all over again, the Trypes are officially waiting to give your ears an extra twist. B PLUS

Tommy Womack: I Thought I Was Fine (Schoolkids) Pushing 60 with that boy of his in college or at least out on his own, never has this Nashville lifer made more of his knack for words and the tunes to put them across than on his eighth long-player. He's so funny and humane you can't help rooting for him, which in this case means hoping he hasn't settled for a concept album about the disconnect between holy matrimony and the rock and roll life. Don't miss the closing diptych, true stories about how his much older brother Waymond once played touch football with Elvis and Waymond's beloved wife Lou once told Elvis to get lost. Then there's "Call Me Gary," about a priest he knew long ago who'd buy five-year-olds ice cream cones and then put his head in their laps. Hope that "Sitting here in Saskatchewan/Baby, baby you're the only one" is literal and "Rock and roll is a losing cause/All my old groupies got menopause" is just an opener he couldn't resist. Which may not be so easy with "Tumors in my bladder an inch from my penis/I'd appreciate it if you keep that between us." A

Tom Z: Lngua Brasileira (Selo Sesc) This unexpected album by my favorite Brazilian genius comprises songs written over several years for a theater piece that deconstructs a Brazilian Portuguese it means to tell the world was always inflected by Ugandan Kimbundu, which long ago bent the language's New World variant toward vowels rather than the consonants that render European Portuguese so guttural and mean. Augmenting aptly well-lubricated lead vocals with a chorus less femme than his fans have gotten used to, the 85-year-old projects good-humored vernacularity throughout, and as usual the tunes are as welcome as reals from heaven. Lyrics are less easy to come by for us non-Lusophones, a detriment in theater music. But I hope to find more as searching and unbowed as "Unimultiplicidade," which Google Translate tells me goes "I want the unimultiplicity where each man is alone the home of humanity." Me too and maybe you. Jair Bolsonaro, not a chance. A

And It Don't Stop, July 13, 2022


June 8, 2022 August 18, 2022