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: August, 2023

Unabashed eroticism, commonplace maturity, baseballese guitar rock, and three songs from four decades ago that will kick your ass.

Dzambo Agusevi Orchestra: Brasses for the Masses (Asphalt Tango '20) Thirtysomething Macedonian-internationalist trumpet master trawls the Balkans with an eye on his future and an ear on the dance musics of modernity ("Brasses for the Masses," "Old Bazaar Groove," "Macedonian Nightcrawler") **

Amaarae: The Angel You Don't Know (Golden Child '20) Born Ama Serwah Genfi to Ghanaian parents in the Bronx 28 years ago, based variously in a New Jersey suburb, Atlanta, London, and Accra, Amaarae has been a professional musician for over a decade. Making the most of a breathy soprano that mixes chants, trills, and murmurs into what comes down to her own style of rapping, she registers sex-positive rather than sex-obsessed because she makes a convincing show of calling her own shots, although exactly how that applies to the "Sad Girlz Love Money" capper is a trickier question. Sonic innocence meets verbal candor in a cutesy amalgam that would have been shocking just a decade ago. B PLUS

Amaarae: Fountain Baby (Interscope) OK, maybe she is sex-obsessed--she can afford it. For sure this is as unabashedly erotic and indeed pornographic an album as I can recall, which I say as a heterosexual male who responds more warmly to the varied vaginas she lusts after than I ever did to the panoply of oversized hip-hop dicks that have long since passed from my memory. Her portion of fame proud and earned, her voice simultaneously fragile and self-possessed, her star-time comforts and advantages acknowledged without vanity or apology, she doesn't so much boast about her crushes, trysts, and conquests as lay them out lubriciously or matter-of-factly as the cherished rewards of a lifestyle I wouldn't be surprised to learn she's exaggerating. From "Reckless and Sweet" to "Come Home to God," from "All My Love" to "Sociopathic Dance Queen," she appreciates what she's got without taking it for granted, and without assuming there are no more chapters to her story. A MINUS

The Baseball Project: Grand Salami Time (Yep Roc) "Dying quail, frozen rope, or a can of corn," begins the fourth exhibit in a Dream Syndicate-Young Fresh Fellows-R.E.M. side project that dates back to 2008, and if you have no idea what Scott McCaughey is going on about it's probably not for you. All three phrases are baseballese signifying bloop single, hard line drive, and lazy fly ball respectively, and I should add that "grand salami" equals grand slam and "It might be, it could be, it is" indicates a less than overpowering home run. Nor is it primarily the lingo that captivates these sixtysomething fellows. As with most baseball fans, it's the mythos the lingo is only part of. Neither the medium-tempo guitar rock nor McCaughey's aging-boyish delivery has quite the snap of earlier editions. But lest you suspect rockist male chauvinism, note that on this iteration the fellas not only come up with one called "Disco Demolition" to remind rockists of the racist homophobia that surfaced at that legendary 1979 Comiskey Park vinyl- smashing debacle but go on to link that night to the even more horrific sexism of what was branded Woodstock 99. So believe me when I say that rockism can be a whole lot stupider and crasser than this, where fond fun has a conscience. A MINUS

Miles Davis: Bitches Brew Live (Columbia '11) Over the years since he died a Warner artist in 1991, Columbia has released more extra Miles albums than anyone but an obsessive need sort out, five of which I dealt with admiringly enough under the direct supervision of Gary Giddins in 1997. None of those five duplicates any of the music here, which impressed me mightily when I was first alerted to it and which near as I can tell also doesn't duplicate anything on 1998's (or the somewhat different 2004's) four-CD The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions. Nonetheless, when I ponder this Chick Corea-Gary Bartz-Dave Holland-Jack DeJohnette band my response is thanks for the rhythm section but how about subbing in more Shorter and Jarrett. Note that despite the album title, only four of the seven tunes/themes here--some recorded at the rock-chocked 1969 Newport Jazz Festival and the rest at 1970's notoriously ramshackle 1970 Isle of Wight rock do--are also on 1970's immensely influential studio Bitches Brew: "Miles Runs the Voodoo Down," "Sanctuary," "Spanish Key," and "Bitches Brew" itself. That said, this single CD documents a too-savvy-for-fusion jazz band finding their way to the next level. Does it rock? Not exactly. Do the soloists know enough to blend in some rock sonics? Definitely, and to their benefit. B PLUS

Jad Fair and Samuel Locke Ward: Happy Hearts (Kill Rock Stars) At 69, Half Japanese main bro Jad still sounds like a half lyrical, half cheeky teen twerp. With his pitch elevated and his timbre lubricated, his boyish enthusiasm perches comfortably atop the full-bodied minimalist alt-rock filled in by his latest partner Ward, a sometime comics guy perfectly capable of darker thematics who lists "folk-punk" among his musical gambits. Whether twentysomething cynics are ready to admit it or not, what's not teen at all about these songs is that most of them are lived love songs: "Love is in charge/Love is now ours/We have it now/It's in the stars" is no more simplistic than the crushes of he and his brother David's musical youth and in all biographical likelihood less so--after all, David announced he was quitting the band decades ago so he could spend more time with his family. Jad, however, is set on proving he can have it all. A MINUS

Fokn Bois: Coz of Moni 2 (Fokn Revenge) (Pidgen Music '14) "The World's 2nd 1st Pidgen Musical" sports a plot in which--or so you're advised to gather from the less than altogether coherent film version on YouTube--Wanlov and M$ensa achieve vengeance on a machete-wielding gang that left them for dead, suggest the possibility that the police are underpaid, provide improv room for a maricon, and in a battle of the continents confront Dracula with none other than Ananse himself. Among other things. A MINUS

Lori McKenna: 1988 (CN/Thirty Tigers) At 55, McKenna takes her maturity seriously by leading with a typically striking commonplace that understands how far she still has to go: "The Old Woman in Me," who's "peace in a house dress" where McKenna herself remains a mere "work in progress." Not that this is a departure. Honoring the commonplace has been McKenna's lifework, with the youth audience welcome aboard but by no means a target, although note that the two songs her sons Chris and Brian cowrote are markedly adult-appropriate: "Happy Children" ("I hope you have happy children," who are welcome to try their hand at the family business) and "1988" ("I've been your biggest fan since 1988," which is when she and her husband Gene plighted their troth--a troth that's nothing less than the light at the end of a closer called "The Tunnel"). A

Nakhane: Bastard Jargon (Star Red/BMG) Definitely not what we expect of South African dance music, the well nigh angelic Nakhane Mahlakahlaka surrounds a contentious proposition called "Tell Me Your Politik" with more conciliatory songs bearing the titles "The Caring" and "The Conjecture." Intent on adding base-broadening agape to the erotic acuity that has been his specialty, what is conceived as an audience-building album enlists 70-year-old Nile Rodgers to deliver neoclassic grooves that fuse the penetrating with the all-embracing, which for the most part they do. But without Nakhane's simultaneously thoughtful and enraptured vocals those grooves wouldn't get us where we're supposed to go. B PLUS

Nastyfacts: Drive My Car (Jimboco '81/Left for Dead '22) "Drive My Car," "Gotta Get to You," "Crazy 'Bout You": three songs lasting 8:18 total recorded four decades ago by three white male NYC teens and their 18-year-old senior partner, black female composer-vocalist-bassist Kali Boyce. All three kick ass and then some. A MINUS

Nia Archives: Sunrise Bang Ur Head Against the Wall (Hijinx/Island) In the forefront of a U.K. drum 'n' bass "revival" unlikely to resonate Stateside the way it does in the mother country, the latest EP by this 23-year-old half-Jamaican vocalist-beatmaker is songful dream-pop with an Africanist underpinning, atmospheric rather than groove-propelled. For the 18 minutes these six selections last, that atmosphere has a way of shifting just enough to feel like flow and song at the same time. A MINUS

Palehound: Eye on the Bat (Polyvinyl) "Love is hard, love is complex, love is funny, and on this tragicomic indie-rock breakup album El Kempner generates so many ways to bring these truisms alive you could almost imagine a happy ending will ensue ("Good Sex," "My Evil") ***

SZA: SOS (Top Dawg Entertainment) Stardom has definitely toned up a sex life that was pretty accomplished even when the guys had way more leverage than they deserved ("F2F," "Nobody Gets Me," "Special") ***

Wreckless Eric: Leisureland: The 2023 Wreckless Eric Album (Tapete) As the title hopes you're aware, Eric Goulding has his own cockeyed rock signature complete with cockeyed fans who'll always welcome a refill please ("Southern Rock," "Drag Time") *

And It Don't Stop, August 8, 2023


July 12, 2023 September 13, 2023