Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
Books
Writings:
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  Playboy
  Blender
  Rolling Stone
  Billboard
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
  Recyclables
  Newsprint
  Lists
  Miscellany
Bibliography
NPR
NAJP Blog
Web Site:
  Home
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell
CG Search:
Google Search:
Twitter:

Consumer Guide

Kate Nash, Buck 65 and World Artists Woo Our Reviewer; Snoop Dogg is a Dud, Erykah Badu is bad (as in good)

Here I was just now, predicting that I'd have to lay off the "world" stuff for a while. Then I heard one of those divas I'd gotten curious about and all hell broke loose. Los Campesinos!, on the other hand, aren't "world." They're just playin' with you.


Buck 65: Situation (Strange Famous) Timelag-wise, the 1957 concept is as if some '60s songpoet had conceived an album about Armistice Day, influenza, the Palmer raids and Mary Pickford. Only that would have been a milestone and this isn't, which you can blame on heightened aesthetic expectations rather than the potency of this Canadian rapper's literary mojo. Abandoning cabaret dalliances, Buck growls "tenfold"-"Glenn Gould" and "go study"-"Mr. Nobody" over insistent purist-plus beats. He's content to be a bohemian who knows something, like for instance who the "know-nothing bohemians" were. Beatniks, declared outraged 1958 square Norman Podhoretz, who would say the same in 2008 about Richard Terfry if he wasn't so busy bombing Iran. Podhoretz, I mean. Terfry's just bombing him. A MINUS

Dollar Store: Money Music (Bloodshot) For the hundreds of us--nay, thousands of us--who worry that the Waco Brothers have lost steam, the sturdy writing on this second release from Dean Schlabowske's non-Langford band suggests a reason. Put three or four of these songs--I'd nominate the anthemic "Money Music," the defeated "Work = Reward," the sarcastic "Reserve the Right," and the nationalism metaphor "Company Town"--on the last Wacos' album and it would fly to heaven and do its great speckled business on our heads. As rendered by Schlabowske's muscular cohort, the songs' workmanship stays on the ground--all the better to look us in the eye. B PLUS

Mariem Hassan: Deseos (Nubenegra) This strong Saharaui woman is one more singing cynosure whose solo debut proves she needed her band. Without the backing of Leyoad and especially the male counterpoint of Jalihena, she permits herself unaccompanied meditations where she has trouble maintaining the same intensity of concentration, ours and possibly hers. Hassan remains a voice to be heard. But if you start drifting away, cue up the groove tracks "El Chouhada" and "Kalat Leili." B PLUS

Jens Lekman: Night Falls Over Kortedala (Secretly Canadian) In a time when pop retro is split between neotrad rat-packers like Michael Bublť and faux-ironic blowhards like Richard Hawley, this Swede traffics in feeling. With their accented lyrics and melodies from wherever, his fact-filled love songs--foiled picnicker wakes up in a grubby ER with the girl whose sneak hug put him there, minor pop singer falls for the lesbian who enlisted him as her beard while fending off her father with auto-replies--seem completely innocent of the busy posturing of hepcats and blowhards. Loaded with talent, heart and personality, he's an eccentric who still thinks the world is his friend, and one more sweet argument for the civilized compromises of democratic socialism. A MINUS

Los Campesinos!: Hold on Now, Youngster . . . (Arts & Crafts) The first words on the first proper album by these giddy, frantic, proudly hyperintelligent Welsh music snobs: "Broken down like a war economy." The seventh title: "This Is How You Spell 'Hahaha, We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics.'" Only they're so giddy and frantic it's impossible to believe they're broken down with no hopes or dreams. They're merely hyperintelligent enough to know that holding on won't get any easier, and strong-minded enough to know that they'd better get a grip right now--or at least a head start as they leap toward heaven or into the abyss. Like their exclamation-pointed siblings the Go! Team, only with the better songs you'd expect of theoretical dance-pop that emphasizes the second half of the fusion, they believe! A glockenspiel in a guitar band? Freshens up the sound, they think. And they're right. A

Kate Nash: Made of Bricks (Geffen) A lot of these songs don't hold up when you hang in there for every word--not because they sink into metaphor, but the fellow citizen because their points are softer than you'd hope. In neither wit nor brass does she approach Lily Allen, who figured out that an ordinary girl sticking up for herself could be a template. Nor has she grown into the intricacy of the slightly older Jens Lekman, who did the same for an ordinary guy seeking love without being a sap about it. But Nash has staying power. Whether watching "CSI" or distinguishing pimples from freckles or enthusiastically pronouncing the full titles she feels obliged to render as "D---head" and "S--- Song," she remains a nice kid whose knowledge of her own limitations doesn't interfere with her self-respect. That's not just because the knowledge helps her make catchy music out of it, either. But the music helps. A MINUS

Setona & African Crossroads: [Live] (Blue Flame) Fronted by a cheerfully ambitious, deeply entertaining Sudanese henna artist, wedding consultant and practitioner of traditional female perfume and vapor-bath mysteries, this is the rare live album that busts out with a life and energy its studio counterparts only suggest. Evoking both Ali Hassan Kuban funk and the shaabi shaabi of the Cairo where the former Fatma Ali Adam Uthman now makes her home and helms her business, it romps over ordinary standards of genre decorum in pursuit of the greenback euro. Crazy saxes, Nubian accordions and male singers striving to take control faithfully serve and fruitlessly vie with a desert diva who can steal the show at the launch of a shriek. A MINUS

Toumast: Ishumar (Real World) Though his name doesn't grace the press release and he doesn't join Tuareg militant Moussa Ag Keyna and Keyna's female cousin Aminatou Goumar on the cover, what distinguishes this desert trance-rock from other desert trance-rock is French film-dance-theater composer Dan Levy, who produced, arranged, engineered, mixed and played 10 instruments on its debut album. Real World has always gone for "accessibility," but in a style this austere, some subtle schlock is a good thing. Rather than Tartit or Tinariwen, neither of whom eschew the theatrical themselves, this is the Tuareg music I'll play for friends after they've had their fill of Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara. A MINUS

Honorable Mention

  • DJ Kayslay & Greg Street: The Champions: The North Meets the South (Koch) Classic mixtape slams so hard even Fat Joe rides like a playa (Remy Ma & Razah, "One and Only [My Boo]"; Papoose, Remy Ma & Hell Rell, "The Hardest Out").
  • T.E.T.R.I.S. (Coldwater) Speed-rhyming Santa Fe supernerd drops science, literature and his home-ec homework over jacked beats from the classical canon to the Doors to Hernando's Hideaway ("Androids' Alphabet," "WWIII").
  • Glenna Bell: The Road Less Traveled (Glenna Bell) Slightly sketchy ZZ Top fan unlooses her folkie chains ("Outside the Bars," "The Texas Aggies Win Again").
  • All Star: Starlito's Way II (Grind Hard/Loyalty) Beat-equipped Houston overachiever awaits a stardom he's too late for on the mixtape grind ("My Life," "Living Will").
  • Erykah Badu: New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War) (Universal/Motown) When your funk is this futuristic, not to say abstract, astrology and Farrakhan sound old, not to say ignorant ("The Cell," "Amerykahn Promise").
  • Waco Brothers: Waco Express: Live & Kickin' at Schuba's Tavern Chicago (Bloodshot) Old songs for the long haul and damn the consequences ("Plenty Tuff Union Made," "Blink of an Eye").
  • The Service Industry: Ranch Is the New French (Buildgut) Wage servitude and the righteous haters who are stuck in it--the lowdown ("The Drudge," "Wonderful Waitress," "Cook and Clean").
  • Dengue Fever: Venus on Earth (M80) Less Cambodian and more indie rock, a good thing for everybody concerned except Asian pop fanciers ("Sober Driver," "Mr. Orange").
  • eMC: The Show (M3) Masta Ace's theoretical supergroup displays its modestly conscious wares at concept concert complete with skits that add laughs and advance the plot ("We Alright," "The Show").
  • Saigon: Belly of the Beast: The Scram Jones Files (Def Digital) Gangsta realist's mixtape ain't his urban-legend debut, but it's tough, it's smart and it jams ("New York Streets," "Nobody Cares").
  • Lyrics Born: Everywhere at Once (Anti-) "Hella" good rapper swears that this album he'll break out, and then, unfortunately, writes album about it ("Whispers," "Do You Buy It").
  • Kathleen Edwards: Asking for Flowers (ZoŽ) I know she worked on these songs for three years, but writing slow doesn't mean you have to sing that way ("The Cheapest Key," "Asking for Flowers").
  • The Service Industry: Limited Coverage (Sauspop) A little night music about too many day jobs ("They Fired Me," "Have to Go to Work").
  • Del Tha Funkee Homosapien: 11th Hour (Def Jux) "Cleverness will never get you anywhere bitch" ("Last Hurrah," "Hold Your Hand").
  • The Teenagers: Reality Check (XL) Imagine a shallower, less soulful, altogether French-er Art Brut, two years ago when they were fresh ("Homecoming," "Sunset Beach").
  • Mika: Life in Cartoon Motion (Casablanca) Emotion in extremis from pop formalist who straddles several middles ("Big Girl [You Are Beautiful]," "Happy Ending").
  • Black 47: Iraq (UFO) At long last Larry Kirwan finds a subject it's impossible to overdo--or anyway, almost impossible ("Battle of Fallujah," "Downtown Baghdad Blues").

Choice Cuts

  • The Bird and the Bee, "Polite Dance Song" (Please Clap Your Hands, Metro Blue)
  • Kathleen Edwards, "Back to Me," "In State" (Back to Me, ZoŽ)
  • King Khan & the Shrines, "Welfare Bread," "I Wanna Be a Girl" (What Is?!, Hazelwood)

Dud of the Month

Snoop Dogg: Ego Trippin' (Geffen) Snoopy's evolution into an E! cartoon is one of those regrettable trajectories of public taste that tricks get carried away by and hos ride for all they're worth. It's not just, as Tom Breihan observed in Pitchfork, that musically he runs a production line like Tom Petty or Alan Jackson. It's that he trivializes his own content--not the gangsta, braggadocio no one takes seriously anymore, but the pimp slime. People--there are no cute pimps. It's a contradiction in terms. Hustle & Flow I buy. But that's not Calvin Broadus' movie. His movie is a Dreamgirls where Jamie Foxx wins. So for Rolling Stone to give this four stars with long lean Barack Obama all over its cover represents a rather sickening cultural disconnect. The one great song here isn't the cyberporn hit job "Sexual Eruption" or the Prince copyright that Morris Day still owns, but the demented Johnny Cash tribute "My Medicine," not least for this Inspirational Verse: "Girl my love's gonna last just as long as I'm high/You can trust every word I tell you is a lie." B MINUS

More Duds

  • Black Lips: Good Bad Not Evil (Vice)
  • Dan Deacon: Spiderman of the Rings (Carpark)
  • Richard Hawley: Lady's Bridge (Mute)
  • Janet Jackson: Discipline (Island)
  • Klaxons: Myths of the Near Future (Rinse/DGC)
  • Sia: Some People Have Real Problems (Hear Music)
  • The Tough Alliance: New Chance (Summer Lovers Unlimited)
  • KT Tunstall: Drastic Fantastic (Relentless/Virgin)
  • Amy Winehouse: Frank (Universal)

MSN Music, Apr. 2008


Mar. 2008 Apr. 15, 2008