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:

Expert Witness: 2018

January 5, 2018

Link: Princess Nokia / Sheer Mag / Margo Price

Princess Nokia: 1992 Deluxe (Rough Trade) Her album title her birth year, this Afrocentric "Jewish Puerto Rican" is already an established alt-rap fashionista who tours profitably under her own advisement. Putting her music across on a girlish flow free of tough-bitch macho-once-removed, she keeps her beats amateurish and minimal even when they flirt with trap grandeur. Not that she isn't tough--there's viral video of her dousing a racist drunk with hot soup on the L train. Claiming bruja and goth, tomboy and ho, foster kid and class clown, Harlem and Tompkins Square, she's the most complete New Yorker to hit hip-hop since Heems if not Nas. A

Sheer Mag: Need to Feel Your Love (Wilsuns RC) The radical rabble-rousers' first full album is a good one for sure, but a misconception must be addressed. On record, at least, Tina Halladay does not have a "big voice"--a "gruff" "yowl" or "wailing typhoon." She's narrow and high-pitched, her intensity harder to take at 43 or indeed 26 minutes than at the 14 of her band's three EPs. I mention 26 because that marks the spot where the most fetching song here swallows the problem whole. It's a "disco" number called "Pure Desire" that departs from her fellas' '70s-band aesthetic only if you don't remember what a hell of a '70s band Chic was--a minor masterpiece that conveys how horny and consuming it can be just to lie next to someone you want to fuck. Elsewhere she craves love and defies authority in the equal measure that makes people want to overrate this band. Risk disco, guys. Maybe non-Berniacs will start getting the message. A MINUS

Margo Price: All American Made (Third Man) For anyone who calls herself country to blame women's troubles on "rich white men" is a miraculous thing, as is a title closer that remembers when "Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders of Iran." But singing a lyric isn't the same as driving it home, and she should never have removed the echo from a soft-edged soprano that needs all the vulgarity it can enact. I admire the one she has the brass to call "Pay Gap." But I respond more naturally to the losing-the-farm saga "Heart of America," which blames "the big banks" like it should, and the self-determined "Loner," which warns "You get what you pay for, sometimes you pay twice." So let's just call her a folkie, shall we? That way we can be sure we're getting what we paid for. B PLUS

January 12, 2018

Link: Homeboy Sandman / Aesop Rock / Open Mike Eagle / CunninLynguists / L'Orange / Mr. Lif & Brass Manzeri

Homeboy Sandman: Veins (Stones Throw) Given how it signs off by wrapping "God" and "Speak Truth" around "Nonbelievers"' and its "light brown privilege" verse, 2016's 16-track, 40-minute Kindness for Weakness feels so much like a signature classic that this 10-track, 25-minute follow-up seems trifling despite its identical minutes-per-song ratio. But on both albums, Sand remains the most consistent song-crafter in whatever we're supposed to call the game he's playing. Accept his rat-a-tat delivery and his looplike beats and recognize how rarely he lets four lines pass without proving that "Every single morning I handle boredom by being born again." Never one "to waste time tryna be cute," he rocks his "Fila and Le Tigre on the Tigris and Euphrates," reads Moby Dick between sets, and delivers delight. If his flow and beats were a smidge more iconic, he'd epitomize the kind of major minor artistry Le Tigre--hell, Spoon or somebody--parlayed into legend. A MINUS

Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman: Triple Fat Lice (Stones Throw) On their third free EP in three years, Ace and Sand's permanent floating alliance for gravity defiance finds itself somewhere between "I hate you all" and "hungry for affection." While leading efforts to get the giant panda off the red list, they make sure you "find your keys before you cannot find your keys" and hustle up that kidney transplant you're waiting on. Yet they're always in the mood to play--to say anything they feel like as long as it feels good. How about rhyming "MMA," "lemonade," "emanate," and "Hemingway"? Can you get with "Don Mattingly mustache" and "naked lady mudflaps"? Would you go as far as "candelabra" and "blah-blah-blah-blah-blah blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah-blah"? A MINUS

Open Mike Eagle: Brick Body Kids Still Daydream (Mello Music) The meek shall inherit the rubble of the Robert Taylor Homes, demolished because drugs even though most of the 27,000 who resided in a development designed for 11,000 were ordinary Chicagoans surviving as best they could. So this rap nerd who rhymes this band he likes called the Kinks with a refrigerator that don't stink makes up songs for these Chicagoans. In one he's a superhero he thought up himself who protects his neck with magic jewels; in another he celebrates a holiday he thought up himself by extinguishing garbage fires; in yet another he's so brave he had an asthma attack last bar and you didn't even notice. Hey, he's even got a They Might Be Giants beat. Why would any bedroom music fan deny him? A MINUS

CunninLynguists: Rose Azura Njano (RBC) Inciting to riot up front, awestruck by lust at closing time, they're most convincing mourning their people's losses and nailing a 16 for Muddy Waters ("Gone," "Any Way the Wind Blows," "Mr. Morganfield and Ms. Waters") ***

L'Orange: The Ordinary Man (Mello Music) Mellow, grooveful, humorous beatmaster-soundscaper emerges from a bout of hearing loss with an ear-friendly bag of tricks that's never trickier than when guest rappers pay their respects and collect a check ("Blame the Author," "Look Around," "Things Are Just Props") ***

L'Orange: Old Soul (self-released) Billie Holiday tribute mixtape-qua-rip, no more and definitely no less ("Lost Souls," "The Night") **

Mr. Lif & Brass Manazeri: Resilient (Waxsimile) Luxuriating in a second life, clipped Boston alt-rapper thought it an interesting challenge to adapt to beats from a live if messed-with Balkan brass band, and interesting is precisely what it is ("The Wanderer," "What About Us?!") **

January 19, 2018

Link: Joey Bada$$ / Playboi Carti / Big K.R.I.T. / Eminem / Vic Mensa

Joey Bada$$: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ (Pro Era/Cinematic Music Group) Interrupting a catalogue that's essentially an ongoing autobiography to preach to the disenfranchised in the year of the coup, it makes sense for Flatbush's finest to reverse the normal hip-hop sequencing strategy of starting raw and sneaking in anything soft or conscious at the end. The first half here starts almost sweet, cushioning such messages as "In the land of the free it's full of freeloaders / Leave us dead in the street to be their organ donors" but also "Tryna stay alive and just stay peaceful" with crooning, chorales, r&b grooves. Still, I get happier myself when six street-flavored tracks toughen the second half up and cameos change it up: guttural Meechy Darko, Chronixx representing for Ethiopia, Schoolboy Q leaving his penis out of this. And real-versus-fake brags are beyond tired, a rhymer this literate has a right to go after the "ad lib rapping" of Soundcloud freestylers, especially while scoring points like "I need dead presidents to represent me / Cause I never knew a live one that represent me" and "Nowadays they hangin' us by a different tree / Branches of the government / I can name all three." Inspirational Verse: "Fuck Donald Trump." A MINUS

Playboi Carti: Playboi Carti (AWGE/Interscope) If Migos are the Beatles, this diamond-collecting pretty boy crosses the Raspberries and the Archies. A pimp-identified Blood or vice versa whose idea of social consciousness is not to drink lean and drive and whose idea of a thrill is meeting Raf Simons (look it up, I had to), he is definitely, like they type, FUN. His playful flow careless of consonants, Carti makes exactly as much as he should of spare beats that ease from the faux flute of "dothatshit!" to the faux rhinoceros-huff of "Lame Niggaz." Nahmean? A MINUS

Big K.R.I.T.: 4eva Is a Long Time (Multi Alumni) His generic superstar dreams as over as his Def Jam deal, he's free to make the most of the friendly drawl, good heart, and garden-variety ambition we went for to begin with ("Bury Me in Gold," "Big Bank") ***

Eminem: Revival (Aftermath/Shady/Interscope/Goliath) Much cleverer than lemmings claim, bluntly and intelligently political too, but so received in its cartoon misogyny and pop grandeur you know he felt irrelevance bearing down even before #MeToo killed this album on the vine ("Untouchable," "Chloraseptic," "Like Home") **

Vic Mensa: The Autobiography (Roc Nation) Moderately fluent rapper and observant storyteller reminds us yet again that conscious brothers dog around too ("Down for Some Ignorance," "Heaven on Earth") **

January 26, 2018

Link: Mount Eerie / Mary Gauthier

Mount Eerie: A Crow Looked at Me (P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.) It's essential and not all that difficult to distinguish the persona who sings the song from the person who created both the song and the persona. And then there's this, which begins with a very biographical version of gently depressive Puget Sounder Phil Elverum shakily observing: "Death is real / Someone's there and then they're not / and it's not for singing about / It's not for making into art." The someone is Elverum's wife of 13 years, ghosted away from her sickroom by cancer exactly a week before the song was recorded. It's so spare and bleak that it took me a lot longer than a week to notice that Elverum had laid a forthrightly bassy thrum underneath his finger-brushed acoustic guitar, arting death up after all. But what choice did he have if he hoped to expiate the grief that consumed him? And given that, what can it mean when he ends the same song: "I don't want to learn anything from this. I love you." Such autobiographical conundrums are one of this album's achievements whether Elverum is in control of them or not. But they're obliterated by the immediacy and detail of his loss, of his living yet inexorably transmuting love for his dead wife, of their living baby daughter, of the modest domestic arrangements he can hardly bear to recall. Brutal to listen to for all its quiet. Like nothing I've ever heard. A

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 MINUS

Noisey, January 2018

December 2017 February 2018