Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide:
Squirt You

August precedents, timely details, and timeless novelties you will find nowhere else

BOBBY BARE JR'S YOUNG CRIMINALS' STARVATION LEAGUE: From the End of Your Leash (Bloodshot) Mostly Bare obsesses over a mythical "wild girl" who has him hogtied until he either kills her on Valentine's Day or doesn't tell her all those "things [he] didn't say." Personally, I wish he began by depicting the mythical Nashville where cops carry capos to help you change keys. But in this postmodern age I can make him do just that, and there are enough winners here that it might be worth the trouble. Definitely we end with "Let's Rock & Roll," where there's vomit on the floor, and the vomit came from someone, and someone else has to clean it up. A MINUS

DNA: DNA on DNA (No More) Arto Lindsay, Ikue Mori, Robin Crutchfield, and/or Tim Wright recorded 12 songs lasting 23 minutes in four years of boho mayhem, and these songs justify a CD. As Byron Coley and Glenn O'Brien outdo themselves explaining, this was art-noise like no other, more anarchic yet more structured than anything else called no wave: dense little aural paint-bombs im/exploding painfully and sportively all over the world-music avant-garde (whatever that means, which with them was everything). But 23 minutes don't a major reissue make, and so Jason Gross has unearthed 20 more tracks in 40 more minutes. Some of those that feature Lindsay's strangled vocals, especially from the "Fiorucci tape" but also the live "Nearing" and "Brand New," are up to the standard of the official oeuvre. Others reduce to avant-vamps with bassist Wright in the lead, especially the program music--"Police Chase" is quite onomatopoeic--that accompanied a Squat Theatre play. As Wright replaced Crutchfield, Lindsay's groovier tendencies began to surface, the way God intended. But closet prog Crutchfield kept the focus on form. You'll know what that form is when you hear it. If you find you don't, listen again. A MINUS

ARTO LINDSAY: Salt (Righteous Babe) Use it atmospherically, always a temptation with Lindsay's mutant samba, and the textures remain textures. Crank it up, and out of the trad percussion and futuristic programming leap Hiroshi Sunairi's performance-art vocal, Vernon Reid's acoustic guitar, Sandra Park's viola da gamba. Lyrics come clearer, too--especially in the translated Portuguese. A MINUS

THE PONYS: Laced With Romance (In the Red) The romance of postpunk, they mean. Not that they can play like Ivan Julian or sing like Peter Perrett (or even Richard Hell). But they can dream, decorating off-key celebrations of their confusion and ineptness with hooks from wherever. "Little Friends" is about their cats, who won't even pee in the box and get much love anyway. Which doesn't make the Ponys pussys--just messed-up young sweetie-pies. A MINUS

SONIC YOUTH: Sonic Nurse (DGC) They'd rather be Coleman Hawkins, but their long-term consistency recalls less august precedents--say the Shoes, fashioning perfect pop album after perfect pop album in Zion, Illinois. Difference is, the Shoes kept it up for what seemed an ungodly long time and still got bitter and old in the span it took these citizens of world bohemia to absorb Jim O'Rourke and continue the mature phase that began with Experimental Jet Set in 1994, just after they were a fixture and somewhat after they realized they'd never be stars. This unusually songful set is well up among their late good ones, its dissonances a lingua franca deployed less atmospherically than has been their recent practice. I like the lyric about the New Hampshire boys who live for Johnny Winter even if he's a no-show. Our heroes are so much more reliable than that. They can be Coleman Hawkins if they want. A MINUS

PETER STAMPFEL & THE BOTTLE CAPS: The Jig Is Up (Blue Navigator) Two wondrous songs: "You Stupid Jerk," as in "You are the kind of guy who hates support groups/But you're the kind of guy who needs support groups/That is so typical of those who need support groups/You cliché-monger stupid jerk," and "Squid Jiggin' Ground," a Hank Snow oldie set against a countermelody of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" about the jolly time to be had stabbing squid to death and then they squirt you. Estimable also-rans include "the first song ever about a repo man" (it's traditional), the misanthropic "Song of Man" (it's not), an unsentimental adieu to William McKinley, and Stephen Foster's rarely heard "Old Dog Trey," to which Stampfel provides a follow-up. There are also some lousy songs by various of the artiste's wasted '60s posse, perhaps to demonstrate (or celebrate) the limits of what his notes dub "Psychedelic Drug Wisdom." Recorded 1989-1999, sung with Stampfel's signature lust for life, and released by conniving alt-folk mogul Michael Hurley, whom Stampfel bribes with a cover of "Werewolf." A MINUS

THE STREETS: A Grand Don't Come for Free (Vice/Atlantic) Timely details--cellphone cutouts and charging problems, TV sex tips. Eternal truths--he's sure she's done bad stuff, but in the heat of argument can't remember just when. Dodgy plotting--obscure bit with Simone's coat leads to sad ending with a twist. A hook marks each chapter--right, chapter. This makes engrossing listening if the effort suits you, but it's useless as background music--behind Alan Sillitoe, Roddy Doyle, Dick Hebdige, the box scores, anything. B PLUS

THE THIRD UNHEARD: CONNECTICUT HIP HOP 1979-1983 (Stones Throw) No lost Spoonie Gees or Melle Mels, and half the beats are "Good Times." But these rediscovered 12-inches aren't the usual humdrum crate-digger arcana. In precise parallel to the first run of punk 45s, spirit is all: you won't just be reminded that early hip-hop was about having fun, you'll have fun. Main man Mr. Magic raps the oldest rhymes in the book with a sense of entitlement that grants them life, while young Pookey Blow advising kids to stay in school and the lisping boasts of that dummy Woodie are timeless novelties you'll find nowhere else. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

WILCO: A Ghost Is Born (Nonesuch) Not counting the 11-minute synth drone that Jeff Tweedy says reminds him of his migraines, the most blatant of the mannerisms that riddle this privileged self-indulgence is its dynamic strategy. Play the soft parts loud enough to hear and the loud parts will demonstrate the limitations of your cheapjack sound system, you pathetic transistorized consumer clone. Fortunately, there is a counterstrategy. Play the soft parts as faintly as they deserve and you'll still be able to make out the guitar workouts that are the only conceivable attraction the album will hold for any neutral party not seeking an associate degree in sound engineering. Once Tweedy wrote legible songs. They didn't add up to much because he didn't, but they had their shallow charms. Here he's beyond such compromises. "Handshake Drugs" we get, and the NPR-ready one about the best songs not getting on the radio is a clever feint. But it's hard to imagine any of the suckers who fell for the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot hype striving to identify with, say, "Muzzle of Bees." Not impossible. Just hard. B MINUS

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention

  • The Fall: The Real New Fall LP (Narnack): "I hate the country sound so much/I hate the country folk so much" ("Boxoctosis," "Contraflow")
  • Immortal Technique: Revolutionary Vol. 2 (Viper): He's got rhymes, he's got flow, he's got beats, and he wants the world to know that 9/11 was an inside job ("Obnoxious," "Crossing the Boundary")
  • The Books: The Lemon of Pink (Tomlab): Ambient musique concrète out of acoustic instruments, fractured song structures, and talky voices ("Tokyo," "The Future, Wouldn't That Be Nice?")
  • The George W. Bush Singers: Songs in the Key of W (Oglio/True Believer): He calls, they respond; he loses and we get to make Dubya jokes, we lose and he gets to make First Amendment jokes ("War in Iraq," "Peeance Freeance")
  • Big & Rich: Horse of a Different Color (Warner Bros.): More funny than smart, meaning too cornball to truly kick Montgomery Gentry's ass ("Rolling [The Ballad of Big & Rich]," "Kick My Ass")
  • Alanis Morissette: So-Called Chaos (Maverick): Platinum role model can't help helping others, so she tries to help other girls avoid this mistake ("Eight Easy Steps," "Doth I Pretend Too Much")
  • Dead Prez: RBG: Revolutionary but Gangsta (Sony Urban Music/Columbia): Crime pays--better than capitalism, anyway ("Hell Yeah [Pimp the System] [Remix Featuring Jay-Z]," "Fucked Up")

  • George Jones: The Gospel Collection (BNA): The Possum, Billy Sherrill, and a great American songbook plus ringers ("The Old Rugged Cross," "In the Garden")
  • PJ Harvey: Uh Huh Her (Island): A genius's depressions can be as dull as anybody else's, especially if she thinks passion precludes laughs ("It's You," "The Pocket Knife")
  • Patterson Hood: Killers and Stars (New West): Sketches and disses living-room style, with a sweet kissoff for Chan Marshall ("Uncle Disney," "Old Timers Disease")
  • Christine Lavin: Sometimes Mother Really Does Know Best (Appleseed): Half funny folksongs, half the standup beast itself ("Planet X," "The Legal Ramifications of a Crackerjack Vendor Who Works in Yankee Stadium")
  • Washington Social Club: Catching Looks (Badman): "Nonsense about nothing" puts a cheerful face on the modern trance ("Modern Trance," "Are You High?")
  • Dead Prez: Get Free or Die Tryin' (Boss Up/Landspeed): Inclusive music trumps militant ideology ("Last Days Reloaded," "Window to My Soul")

  • Morrissey: You Are the Quarry (Attack): Less miserable than bitter, as he's always better off admitting ("First of the Gang to Die," "I Have Forgiven Jesus")
  • Tom Heinl: With or Without Me (Leisure King): Junior Brown with more jokes and no stupid guitar tricks ("I Love," "Pinto Squire")
  • Otis Taylor: Truth Is Not Fiction (Telarc): The kind of blues where spiritual intensity vanquishes cultural pain ("Past Times," "Walk on Water")
  • Westside Connection: Terrorist Threats (Capitol): So scabrous and sardonic it's cleansing ("Pimp the System," "Get Ignit")
  • The Briefs: Sex Objects (BYO): Punk is eternal, snot not ("Killed by Ants," "Destroy the USA")

Choice Cuts

  • Johnny Cash, "The Mystery of Life" (The Mystery of Life, Mercury)
  • Stephan Smith, "You Ain't a Cowboy" (Slash and Burn, Universal Hobo/Artemis)
  • Usher, "Confessions Part II," "Bad Girl" (Confessions, Arista)
  • The Starting Line, "Make Yourself at Home" (Make Yourself at Home EP, Vagrant)
  • Peaches, "I Don't Give a . . . " (Fatherfucker, Kitty-Yo)

Duds:

  • Goodie Mob: One Monkey Don't Stop No Show (Koch)
  • Wheat: Per Second, Per Second, Per Second . . . Every Second (Aware/Columbia)
  • Brian Wilson: Gettin' in Over My Head (Rhino)
  • Robert Wyatt: Cuckooland (Hannibal/Ryko)

Village Voice, July 6, 2004


May 25, 2004 Aug. 24, 2004