Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Bang on a Can

  • Music for Airports: Brian Eno [Point Music, 1998] A-
  • Renegade Heaven [Cantaloupe, 2001] A-
  • Terry Riley: In C [Cantaloupe, 2001] A-
  • Classics [Cantaloupe, 2002] *
  • Bang on a Can Meets Kyaw Kyaw Naing [Cantaloupe, 2004] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Music for Airports: Brian Eno [Point Music, 1998]
The problem with the original was that it had a bit too much going on melodically and structurally to minimalize down into a synthesizer, especially one that wasn't pretending to be anything else. Here the piano-clarinet-cello-guitar-bass-percussion ensemble pretends to be a synthesizer. And although I pray postdance knob-twisters don't fall for the Gregorian goo-goo girls who douse "1/2" with blancmange, the lovely textures will make them drool. Or anyway, sweat. Perspire. Exude. A-

Renegade Heaven [Cantaloupe, 2001]
Although only percussionist Steven Schick admits to actually banging on anything, I swear the making of the first two of these five compositions, especially Arnold Dreyblatt's galvanically funky "Escalator," is the live drumming, programmed drumming, and/or divine clatter. After that, as so often with rock-allied downtowners who decline repetition, it's down to texture, only these textures have content. Not only can one live with 16 tonally unstable minutes of a Glenn Branca who has cast off his delusions of grandeur, but Phil Kline's "Exquisite Corpses" risks both program music, which he acknowledges, and melody, which he doesn't. Could this be "post-rock"? Or is it just postconservatory? A-

Terry Riley: In C [Cantaloupe, 2001]
In the '60s I loved Riley's gamelan-like semipop breakthrough A Rainbow in Curved Air, dismissing this earlier composition as too tinkly. Since the trippy minimalist lets players determine their own volume and duration, maybe the vibraphone and marimba guys were on the wrong drugs. Thirty-five years later, overall register has dropped, the music signifying loud and electric with comparable instrumentation. The moment that gets me every time comes 15 minutes in, when the cello surges to the front with the force of a Jimmy Page solo--relative force, that is. A-

Classics [Cantaloupe, 2002]
"a little classical music my friends, 'Cheating, Lying, Stealing' . . ." ("Cheating, Lying, Stealing," "Red Shift") *

Bang on a Can Meets Kyaw Kyaw Naing [Cantaloupe, 2004]
Kyaw Kyaw Naing is a virtuoso percussionist from a Burmese family so distinguished that the last Burmese ensemble to play New York before his own, back in 1975, was led by his father. Myanmar being a very special military dictatorship, Kyaw Kyaw Naing now lives in Sunnyside, and his first recording with Western musicians is the best kind of fusion--our guys trying to execute his scales, melodies, and structures rather than him trying to adapt. The result is brighter and livelier than most of the indigenous Asian stuff I hear. Though it's chamber music rather than any kind of pop or jazz, it's more accessible and enjoyable than any similarly sourced Rough Guide or Sublime Frequencies comp. Inauthenticity rools. A-