Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Giant Sand

  • Swerve [Amazing Black Sand, 1990] Neither
  • Ramp [Amazing Black Sand, 1992] A-
  • Center of the Universe [Restless, 1993] *
  • Glum [Imago, 1994] *
  • Purge and Slouch [Restless, 1994] Dud
  • Chore of Enchantment [Thrill Jockey, 2000] ***
  • Giant Sand Is All Over the Map [Thrill Jockey, 2004] *
  • Blurry Blue Mountain [Fire, 2010] **
  • Heartbreak Pass [New West, 2015] ***

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Swerve [Amazing Black Sand, 1990] Neither

Ramp [Amazing Black Sand, 1992]
After a decade of secondhand longhairs pushing paisley and/or Manson and/or paganism and/or mulching and/or altered states as the true flowering of that storied '60s ideal, a postpunk comes up with a new improved aural simulation of hippiedom. It probably wasn't recorded on Howe Gelb's commune--sources indicate that Gelb doesn't have a commune. But what a commune it evokes--friendly, cooperative, never so spaced out it becomes dysfunctional. Guests drift in and out, and from Indiosa Patsy Jean, who sounds about five, to Pappy Dailey, who sounds about 70, there's room for anyone with a song. The first side makes something of the dissociated atmospherics that undermined the band's previous umpteen releases; the second's almost popwise. Together they're what country-rock was never really like, or wanted to be. A-

Center of the Universe [Restless, 1993]
Howe Gelb is too smart to claim said center is him--but not too smart to suspect it ("Center of the Universe," "Thing Like That") *

Glum [Imago, 1994]
the wisdom of younguns and old folks rises from the half-formed void ("Bird Song," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry") *

Purge and Slouch [Restless, 1994] Dud

Chore of Enchantment [Thrill Jockey, 2000]
One of them newfangled song-cycle sounding sorta things ("[well] Dusted [for the millennium]," "Temptation of Egg"). ***

Giant Sand Is All Over the Map [Thrill Jockey, 2004]
In Denmark and the desert, Howe Gelb lives and is ready to brag about it ("Classico," "Remote"). *

Blurry Blue Mountain [Fire, 2010]
With nothing much at stake but the shape of his life, Howe Gelb keeps his slow hand in ("Fields of Green," "Better Man Than Me") **

Heartbreak Pass [New West, 2015]
Tripartite autobiography that turns Howe Gelb's natural sprawl into a concept replete with strange yet sensible songs ("Texting Feist," "Eye Opening," "Transponder") ***

Further Notes:

Subjects for Further Research [1980s]: For years I couldn't tell his band from Naked Prey or Thin White Rope, though I confess I wasn't trying very hard, but both of Howie Gelb's 1989 releases on Homestead (his fifth label, and not his last), the collector's compilation Giant Sandwich and the eccentric's extravaganza Long Stem Rant, merited 1989's all-purpose kudo, the Neil Young comparison. He reminds me more of Green on Red's Dan Stuart, only without Stuart's sentimentality and mythopoeia. Also without his song sense, maybe. But unlike Howie (and Neil), Dan doesn't play guitar.