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: December, 2022

Joining a polysyllabist in battling the algorithms: a midwestern folkie, Congolese avant-gardists, quiet songs with roots in Alabama and Texas, gorgeous textures that span Asia and Africa, and more.

Willi Carlisle: Peculiar, Missouri (Free Dirt) Covering Utah Phillips and Almeda Riddle, citing J.D. Salinger and E.E. Cummings, Midwestern folkie who's proud of both labels applies his wavery tenor to "people who don't fit in." "Meritocracy's a lie," as he noted on 2016's Too Nice to Mean Much, so in this world where "somebody's true religion's always someone else's joke" you'll find detailed descriptions of living in your van and a breakout party in the Wal-Mart that serves the Kansas City suburb of his title. Pay special attention to "Life on the Fence," composed while driving to Austin and trying to figure how to explain to the woman he thought would make him "shiny and new" that he seems to have fallen in love with this guy he hooked up with in Memphis. A MINUS

The Casual Dots: Sanguine Truth (Ixor Stix) Where this two-gals-and-a-guy aggregation's 2004 debut was amelodically instrumental-experimental enough to slot as riot grrrl with the rough edges sanded off, their very belated follow-up is songful enough to call grrrl group even if it's grrrl group about the end of the world. Yet apocalyptic though "When those in power play their money games/They ruin this world they ruin for all" and "How could you live free?/How could you be snug in your bed?/When visions of violence/Dance in your head" may be, they don't ignore the post-erotic/romantic shortfalls political malfeasances so often fuel. On the contrary--they situate them in history. A MINUS

Fontaines D.C.: Skinty Fa (Partisan) They gave love a try, put their hearts into it too, but pain ensued even so, which made them both sad and mad ("In r Gcroithe Deo," "I Love You," "Nabokov") *

Slim Harpo: The Best of Slim Harpo (Hip-O '97) I rediscovered this 16-track 1997 collection after revisiting my more qualified 2004 Recyclables take on Excello's now-deleted two-CD Hip Shakin', still on my shelves and for sale on Discogs if you find yourself as beguiled by his groove as we are around here. Sounds good, too, but not as consistently as this more concentrated option. Although the Louisiana stevedore turned one-man trucking company born James Moore was slotted blues, what I called "lowdown novelty with a mudcat beat" summed up the true calling of a harmonica-wielding mushmouth who wrote songs with his wife as well as various producers until a heart attack got him at 46 in 1970. "I'm a King Bee," "Baby, Scratch My Back," and the Exile on Main Street cover "Shake Your Hips" are the stone classics. But be sure not to miss "Tee Ni Nee Ni Nu," "Tip On In," "I've Got Love if You Want It," "Rainin' in My Heart," "Strange Love," or for that matter "Bobby Sox Baby." Which brings us up over half of this album's offerings right there. A

Kassmasse: Bahil Weg (Meedo) Although everything I knew about Fikru Sema seemed praiseworthy enough, I was chary of giving this breakout Ethiopian hip-hop-sorta artist the praise his music and general vibe deserved because I don't understand a word of Amharic. In a nation near neither the top nor the bottom in human rights matters, no political slant or animus makes itself known in this context unless an active interest in modernity counts, which to an extent it does. But the music is something like entrancing nonetheless, dominated by vocals that are chanted whether sung or spoken over sample beds often constructed of traditional Ethiopian sounds, which have always tended European by African standards. Some are almost orchestral, there's always a drum line, and you bet there's a Bob Marley sample too. A MINUS

Lady Aicha & Pisco Crane's Original Fulu Miziki of Kinshasa: N'djila Wa Mudjimo (Nyege Nyege Tapes) The simplest way to slot this raw, ebullient, technologically street-primitive, culturally avant-pop groove is post-Congotronic. Clueless as to what the words are but aware that Kinshasan instrument fabricator (from old oil cans, discarded pipes, defunct computers, etc.) Crane has been described as "a participating member node for the Data Observation Network for Earth," whereas lead vocalist Lady Aicha (named for a Moroccan goddess famed among other things for her hooves) is said to be a "performance artist, sculptor, and fashion designer," I have no idea how "street" it actually is. What I do know is that it's a simultaneously bracing and abrasive reminder that without a hint of comfort or affluence these hard-hustling Third Worlders are loud, unbowed, and sui generis. Is their music going to resolve? Is it going to get pretty? Not on your life. A MINUS

M.I.A.: Mata (Island) Always longer on political instinct than political acuity, Maya Arulpragasam tossed off a whopper of a tweet to draw attention to her first album in six years: "If Alex Jones pays for lying shouldn't every celebrity pushing vaccines pay too?" Although anti-vax disinformation is somewhat more forgivable in parents whose kids seem to slot vaccine-sensitive, a malady she reports befell her daughter, the illogic here is total--even assuming that Jones has a right to his evil opinions, the money he's been ordered to cough up is money he lied egregiously to obtain, where celebrities delivering public service announcements generally do so gratis. Yet even so her first album since 2016 establishes not just that her hip-hop groove and rap dialect remain her own but that after six years she's ready with fresh proof. For all her "multiple relationships, drop them like a hair flip," at 48 she's set on launching brags beyond the reach of any rival, and not just because she sometimes raps in Tamil: "Art in the Tate," say, or "See me in the rubble of a Hubbell telescope." Keeping peace in the streets one minute, she's all "put your pickets down come on and riot" the next. And please note: "The slave trade was real and so was the Holocaust. It wasn't that long ago--you can ask someone's grandma about it." A MINUS

Plains: I Walked With You a Ways (Anti-) Come-from-Alabama Waxahatchee great Katie Crutchfield bonds with Lone Star L.A. folkie Jess Williamson on 10 irresistibly quiet and fetching songs, most of the loveliest although not the listen-up opener by Crutchfield, with nary a cowrite although they join voices on every one. Revisiting Out in the Storm and Saint Cloud, I was startled by how loud Waxahatchee sounded, the drums especially but in truth the whole sonic gestalt even though Crutchfield's vocals are never assaultive. Here she's generally a quantum or two quieter and the drums are quieter still. Yet pealing out of the stillness the melodies are so strong that for most of the half-hour album I've found myself something like enchanted, an impressive effect given that almost every lyric taxonomizes a love too partial, and not always because the man isn't on the case. Usually, though. A

$ilkMoney: I Don't Give a Fuck About This Rap Shit, Imma Just Drop Until I Don't Feel Like It Anymore (DB$B) "Bitch I don't need a pistol/It's just me and my niggas versus the algorithms," begins this polysyllabist whose beats are atmospheric settings and who favors the word "bitch" while fucking women articulate enough to call him "misogynistic." But he proved such an educated autodidact--note title that chooses "Anymore" over "No More"--that I concocted the hopeless project of familiarizing myself with four of his albums, which wore me out so bad that all further exploration will remain in the wait-and-see pile until further notice. For now, however, some inspirational verbiage. "Fuck black lives matter let's go back to the days of black power." "The back of your neck looks like a pack of hot dogs." "Endoplasm reticular within cytoplasm." "I've been trying to rock this spliff since a bar back." "Labeled 'uncivilized' by a civilization participating in cannibal genocide. Any takers for Negro soup?" A MINUS

$ilkMoney: Attack of the Future Shocked, Flesh Covered, Meatbags of the 85 (DB$B '20) Well-read anti-vax herbalist with more women problems than women need ain't Chuck D because he loves to say "nigga" and fuck you if you wish he wouldn't ("Weesnaawwww," "Did You Getcho Check, Lih Brah?" "Snort Ashwagandha") **

$ilkMoney: G.T.F.O.M.D.: There's Not Enough Room for All You Motha Fuckas to Be on It Like This (DB$B '19) "Nothing more dangerous than a nigga with a library card" ("My Dick Too Small," "Mouzone Brothers") *

Sowal Diabi: De Kaboul Bamako (Accords Crois) With a project name translating "question" in Persian and "answer" in Bambara and an album title that begins in Afghanistan and ends in Mali, this gorgeously articulated and textured collaboration featuring musicians from many related lands including several European ones is topped off by jazzy Malian sophisticate Mamani Keita and conservatory-trained Iranian sophisticate Ada Nosrat. You've never heard anything quite like it, and if you let it sink in a little you'll be impressed at least and transported if you're willing to be--it's enough to make you believe international understanding can be achieved from the top. Combining dance modes or honoring a deceased tabla player, juxtaposing "habit" and "feeling," following 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi here with '70s Afghan hitmaker Siar Hashimi there, the combination of juxtaposition and amalgamation is both calming and inspiring. If only life could imitate art once in a while. A

Taylor Swift: Midnights (Republic) As textural as anything this tunemaster has ever let out in public, and muzzier as a consequence, Jack Antonoff collab includes a cowrite with her longtime bf, which hints sweetly that many pseudo-autobiographical lyrics to the contrary she does actually have a longtime bf ("Snow on the Beach," "Mastermind," "Sweet Nothing") ***

Young Thug: Punk (YSL/300 Entertainment/Atlantic) Formerly jokey and crew-hyping, now hooky and collaborative, which is less fun but doesn't mean anybody needs to stick him in jail ("Stupid/Asking," "Livin It Up," "Icy Hot") ***

And It Don't Stop, December 14, 2022


November 9, 2022 January 11, 2023