Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Female singers from northern Europe, Latin music from the future past, and hip-hop records of every description, including compromised and, down in Duds, horrendous. Kool Keith, Dap C, mysterious Hopsin--for shame.


Mose Allison: The Way of the World (Anti-) At 82, Allison has written a great song, which may seem odd given that it deals with neuron degeneration, and found an ideal producer, which is not how I usually describe Joe Henry. Ben Sidran offered him a sympathetic ear at Blue Note too, especially on 1997's Gimcracks and Gewgaws. But Sidran is a jazz loyalist with a songwriting sideline who brought out the player in him. Henry is a singer-songwriter with a jazz jones who conceived settings that would serve the lyrical gift that made Allison famous. "My Brain" is as right for Peter Townshend in 2010 as "Young Man Blues" was for Roger Daltrey in 1969. "Modest Proposal" and "The Way of the World" bring cosmic wisdom down to earth. "I'm Alright" is a big thumbs-up for anyone who flosses. B PLUS

MC Paul Barman: Thought Balloon Mushroom Cloud (Househusband) On his first album since 2002's Paullelujah!, the whiny-voiced, Brown-educated complex rhymer, who has since sired two children by the appreciative woman who brings home the bacon, is as un-hip-hop as ever. Injecting maturity just to put some hair on his "Rothko"-"Costco" and "power"-"Schopenhauer" rhymes, he advises "Get help," implores "Go sane," and tells the kids to "Get along." Shored up by the respect and occasional beats of ?uestlove, MF Doom, and his old pal Prince Paul, he's sometimes hysterical, sometimes caring, and sometimes both. He's a serious artist who tells his realness-retailing rivals "check yourself--testicular cancer exam" and follows up with a rhyme that's also a double-crostic. A MINUS

The Bundles: The Bundles (K) Though they're not admitting it, this is where Jeffrey Lewis replaces Adam Green in the Moldy Peaches--only rather than sing solely with each other, they want to sing with their friends, especially Jeffrey's brother Jack and jack-of-all-axes Karl Blau. The songs aren't as good, things break down in the middle, and there's only so far you can go pretending to be potty-mouthed 12- year-olds whose musical influences are the Muppets and the Velvet Underground's "The Murder Mystery." But however far that is, they get there. A MINUS

Fever Ray: Fever Ray (Rabid/Mute) You say pretty, beaty, bummed-out electronic background music isn't your thing? How about ethereal tracks with a firm grasp on reality--and also discernible feelings about reality? On a solo debut by the woman who's the reason you liked that Knife album against your better judgment? These are not songs about how depressed Karin Dreijer Andersson is, though the long winter does get Scandinavians down. They're songs about the destructiveness of greed, the difficulties of nurturance, and the very real adjustments every human must make from the dreams of youth to the constrictions of adulthood, which in my lifetime have never been worse than they are right now. As good as it gets: "Work as I've been told/In return I get money/Small feet in the hall/And I long for every moment." A MINUS

Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca: Isabela (Mopiato Music) The Angola-born, L.A.-based salsero-by-default has always been a trifle polite, but on this careful tour de force, he makes politesse an active virtue. In five different non-English languages he invites cousin after cousin into the extended family--from boogaloo to rumba, bolero to son--and defines the groove they share with his own contained dynamics. Far from jarring against each other, the styles barely even seem to segue, shifting like the themes and moods on a well-sung album of quality love songs. Two exceedingly well-spoken female singers, one of them usually a bore, chip in on duets. They groove too. A MINUS

Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca: Retrospectiva (Mopiato Music) The ineffable grace of Isabela never takes over here--some tracks are too poky, others too punchy. Nevertheless, this collection of reconceived Lemvo warhorses suggests that Isabela was a turning point. What was once a likable, entertaining world-music pastiche has coalesced into a fully realized pan-rumba. I didn't say pan-salsa, now--the brass isn't obstreperous enough. My Puerto Rican nephew tells me that sometimes Lemvo's clave is off. That could be part of his charm. A MINUS

Lil Wayne: No Ceilings (free download) "Mickey Mouse cheese, hip-hop Walt Disney [money-and-status, get it?], sheesh gosh Oshkosh B'Gosh [three kids under two, don't ask]/Smoking on that Bob Marley [gotta have kaya], listening to Peter Tosh [don't you watch his size, he's dangerous]." Pretty rich, yet far from the finest lines on his best mixtape since "The Carter III," and farther from the funniest. They're merely consecutive ones I could quote whole without distracting asterisks--the river of scat jokes, the garlands of garden tools, and the off-rhyme with "grandma's cookies" you'll have to transcribe on your own. Squinting at jail time and offering a welcome alternative to his underrated rock album, he recycles beats from Dirty South throwaways whose originals you need never think of again, shows Fabolous how fabulous the "Throw It in the Bag" remix might have been, holds his own with Jay-Z and the Black Eyed Peas, and eases the title onto every track. He believes you can fly. But not as much as he believes he can fly. If only he was right. A MINUS

Love Is All: Two Thousand and Ten Injuries (Polyvinyl) As a punk-loving music journo with a sense of humor, Josephine Olausson is definitely my type. Cute, too. But I'm already taken--and also, I admit, way too old for her. So I was genuinely tickled for her when an opener entitled "Bigger, Bolder" started, "Faster, harder--my love for you," and touched down on a dozen superlatives before it was done cycling through its guitar hooks 2:12 later. But the very next track she was all, "You know that this will never last," and then the next one repeated the same last four words as she, well, ran away. Sigh--she is paranoid, as her last album explained in wondrous detail, and hence maybe not my type after all. On the other hand, there are many more male jerks than female jerks, and most of the latter are annoying at best about their fears. Olausson is funny and candid and multi-hooked and--if her delivery means anything, which this being music rather than life it does--indomitable. So much so that she and her guys have now delivered three straight albums of precisely that description. A MINUS

Kinito Méndez: Éxitos de Kinito Méndez (J & N) In my tireless search for adults who know the difference between getting silly and acting the fool, I bring you a Dominican hit-maker who's so little-known in Anglophonia that the only Web info I could actually make sense of was some well-meaning afropop.org stuff about voudou and Afro-Dominican repression. Which is probably true as far as it goes, but misses the bucolic jocularity that jumps off every polka-like old-school merengue. For once I was grateful for the DVD, which hung some imagery a Yank could half understand off three tracks: little kids dancing, eightysomethings dancing, dentist looming, housewife sweeping, a nun, a hula hoop, lots of muggging, and Méndez's men doing their unacrobatic steps. I also learned that what I took to be single blasts on a baritone sax actually emanated from a truck horn. When I get somebody to translate, I bet the words make me chuckle too. A MINUS

Honorable Mentions

  • The Da Vincis: See You Tonight (Olympic) Three high school seniors from Mississippi show a bossa-tinged mastery of the three-minute pop song that has Zach Condon counting his gray hairs ("Friend Request," "50's Film").
  • Project Ahimsa Presents Global Lingo (Project Ahimsa) One-worlder hip-hop comp benefits from the kids it aims to serve, who turn corn into charm again and again (Amit Shoham, "BodaNathu"; the Children of Ritmos en los Barrios, "El tiburon del Lago Cocibolca").
  • Los Campesinos!: Romance Is Boring (Arts & Crafts) As experience dampens enthusiasm, they find fewer great choruses than great lines--"Every girl I ever kissed I was thinking of a pro footballer," for instance ("Plan A," "The Sea Is a Good Place to Think About the Future").
  • Bettie Serveert: Pharmacy of Love (Second Motion) The more she wonders how to voice her confusion, the louder the band fills the vacuum ("Mossie ['Previously Unreleased' by Moss]," "Souls Travel").
  • MC Paul Barman: Full Buck Moon Kaboom (Househusband) Mixtape musings of hip-hop hierophant start effulgent, lose current ("Word Vs. Meaning," "RZAView," "Make No Mistake").
  • Wetdog: Frauhaus! (Captured Tracks) Kleenex-brandishing Brit-femme trio log 14 songs in half an hour and--what?--the three longest are the three best ("Wymmin's Final," "Lower Leg").
  • Röyksopp: Junior (Astralwerks) Though they finally own the trick of tune, the Norwegian electropoppers still rent out the gift of voice, with not Robyn or Lykke Li but Karin Dreijer Andersson again giving them the most for their Euro ("This Must Be It," "Tricky, Tricky").
  • Donwill: Don Cusack in High Fidelity (iM) The curse of Tanya Morgan--great real-love concept and skits surrounding songs you feel no physical compulsion to hear again ("Girl, Girl," "I See You").
  • Kid Cudi: Man on the Moon: The End of the Day (Universal/Motown) Less fraught than most tunefully sensitive types, which a residue of hip-hop can do for you ("Day N Nite," "Soundtrack of My Life").
  • Dr. Dooom: Dr. Dooom 2 (Threshold Recordings) Koool as a kukkooo bird, krazeee as a rakkooon ("I Followed You," "RIP Dr. Octagon").
  • Roberto Rodriguez: Timba Talmud (Tzadik) Too much timba, not enough that other part ("El Sabor Del Shabat," "Oran Oran [Homage to Maurice 'Papi' El Medioni]").
  • Lil Wayne: Rebirth (Universal/Motown/Cash Money) So smart and scary about death as the flip side of ecstasy, so unperceptive and embarrassing about emo ("Drop the World," "American Star").
  • Kleenex LiLiPUT: Live Recordings, TV-Clips & Roadmovie (Kill Rock Stars) Only a band this seminal and lovable could support such a musically redundant live retrospective, although the six-song DVD is fun ("Lust," "Geierwally").
  • Gucci Mane: The State vs. Radric Davis (Asylum) Fun for a thug, with a winning lust for stuff, but not so's it kills me to take a pass on his mixtapes ("Lemonade," "Sex in Crazy Places").
  • Felt: Felt 3: A Tribute to Rosie Perez (Rhymesayers Entertainment) Aesop Rock's beats elevate Slug and Murs' highly ancillary side project, which in turn gives his beats a lift ("Like You," "Permanent Standby").
  • Gil Scott-Heron: I'm New Here (XL) The premise isn't "I'm new here," it's "I'm not dead," and he strains mightily to get 28 spare minutes out of it ("Me and the Devil," "On Coming From a Broken Home [Part 1]").
  • Souls of Mischief: Montezuma's Revenge (Hiero Imperium) Rappers so intelligent they only do an album when Prince Paul gives them some beats ("Dead Man Walking," "Fourmation," "Mr. Freeman Skit").
  • Abraham Inc.: Tweet Tweet (Table Pounding) Klezmatic David Krakauer lures JB Fred Wesley into hip-hop fusion for midlife crisis survivors ("Tweet Tweet," "Abe Inc Techno Mix").
  • Snoop Dogg Presents the West Coast Blueprint (Priority) All the proof you need that Compton booty-bass was better off before fools started believing that "Gangstas Make the World Go Round" (Yo-Yo Featuring Ice Cube, "You Can't Play With My Yo-Yo"; King Tee, "Act a Fool"; Kid Frost, "La Raza").
  • Cock Lorge Band: The Leading Role (Tubbys) Five knowledgeable songs about the old in-out--with a groove, such as it is, to match ("Eating Disorder," "Magic Wand").
  • Ludacris: Battle of the Sexes (Disturbing Tha Peace) The raunch became less consensual than advertised when Shawnna lost her co-billing ("B.O.T.S. Radio," "I Know You Got a Man").

Choice Cuts

  • Peter Gabriel: "The Book of Love"; "The Boy in the Bubble" (Scratch My Back, Real World)
  • Masha Qrella: "Speak Low"; "I Talk to the Trees" (Speak Low: Loewe and Weill in Exile, Morr Music)
  • Young Money: "Wife B**ter"; "Roger That" (We Are Young Money, Universal/Motown)
  • Lil Wayne: "Pam Pam"; "Dick Pleaser" (The Leak 6, free download)

Dud of the Month

Freeway & Jake One: Stimulus Package (Rhymesayers Entertainment) Known, moderately talented Philadelphia rapper whose gold album failed to make him a star on Roc-a-Fella in the good old early '00s hooks up with quality, deservedly solvent Twin Cities indie-rap label hungry for street cred. The co-billed producer is a Seattleite who works both sides of the cred street, the packaging elaborately impractical--paperboard wallet surrounded by giant Freeway/Jake One Bucks with lyrics etc. on back. And the CD reveals a talent as moderate as ever, still on the lookout for that "pot of gold." The standout "One Foot In" states the options he sees: "I got one foot in the game one foot in the gutter/If my music don't bubble I feel sorry for your mother." The Raekwon-enhanced hookmobile "One Thing" reserves special contumely for that lowly creature, the snitch. So I'm asking myself, is this "reality"? Or is he fronting like so many hip-hop hards before him? Does "criticizing" his talent constitute snitching? Should I like him so nobody gets hurt? Poor Freeway. Poor Rhymesayers. Poor everybody. B

More Duds

  • Dap C & Lil Wayne: The Ma Money EP (NGU)
  • Dead Man's Bones: Dead Man's Bones (Anti-)
  • Dum Dum Girls: I Will Be (Sub Pop)
  • Fabolous: Loso's Way (Def Jam)
  • Freddie Gibbs: midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik (myspace.com/freddiegibbs)
  • Hopsin: Gazing at the Moonlight (Ruthless)
  • The Knife, in Collaboration With Mt. Sims and Planningtorock: Tomorrow, in a Year (Rabid/Brille/Mute)
  • Kool Keith, Denis Deft and Yeti Beats: Bikinis n Thongs (RBC)
  • Snoop Dogg: Malice N Wonderland (Priority)

MSN Music, April 2010


March 2010 May 2010