Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide:
Gypsy Part of Town

Come savor the beaty delights of European multiculturalism, Arabski kjuchek included

ART BRUT: Bang Bang Rock & Roll (Banana Recordings/Fierce Panda) Although this crudely hooky three-chord guitar band are working on a concept EP about a Red Brigade spinoff, their debut album is the kind that brooks no follow-up. Beginning with "Formed a Band" ("Dye your hair black/Never look back"), it really should end with "Stand Down" ("Some of us want to go back to our families") rather than the one about the 18,000-lira bank robbery. Young love, impotence, older love, charging head down at a stray Matisse, and being bored with the Velvet Underground: this is the stuff of one-shot art-punk. Mike Skinner, meet Eddie Argos--the perfect collaborator, and he'll be looking for work. A MINUS

BESH O DROM: Can't Make Me! (Asphalt Tango) Like most Gypsy outfits, these Hungarians work weddings, which involves pleasing many ethnic subgroupings--subber than the "Albanian, Greek, Serbian, Macedonian, and Turkish" cited in the notes--and complement many moods. Some of these moods are kind of moody, and the players like to show off their chops and their respect for propriety. In general, however, they're wild panethnic fun for the entire family--and fertile, that's important, fertile. B PLUS

DJ SHADOW: Live! In Tune and On Time (Geffen) Recombinant is the idea with any DJ, but who'd expect even Shadow to make a live album worth hearing twice? Yet this hits-and-obscurities set is cannier than that of rock bands with twice as many titles to choose from: pieces of Endtroducing and Private Press reconfigured to mesh with pieces of Preemptive Strike and Psyence Fiction while and generating the same old illusion of inevitability. Sounded so right it got me to watch the overpriced bonus DVD version. Some of it, anyway--better his wrists and fingers than the superimposed film clips of freeway traffic and such assembled for the ticket buyers. A MINUS

MISSY ELLIOTT: The Cookbook (Atlantic/Gold Mind) On this benchmark album that half the beatoisie will sleep on because it has no "Work It" and Timbaland, after all, was the genius (which he was)--this benchmark album that given the vagaries of fashion could initiate a permanent commercial decline--Elliott showcases the musical health of African American pop. Oldschoolfreshbeathiphopr&b--run through Elliott's considerable talent and good heart or reasonable facsimile, these are meaningless categories. Elliott's disinclination to give it up to gangsta's thrill cult or black pop's soft-focus porn, plus her proven ability to work a good beat when she gets one, leads her naturally to a collection that ebbs and flows, peaks and dips, and pokes fun at any canon of taste you got. It's vital beginning to end--vital even when it's misguided, a matter on which your judgments may differ from mine, fine with her. A MINUS

GOGOL BORDELLO: East Infection (Rubric) For two albums, Eugene Hutz's concept was better than his songs. On this EP, spillover off an album in progress is manna from Thrace. No need to repeat the contentious bathhouse romp "Ave. B"--the flag-waving "East Infection," the baton-passing "Strange Uncles From Abroad," and the Romanian-tuned "Madagascar" would have sufficed. A MINUS

GOGOL BORDELLO: Gypsy Punks: Underdog World Strike (Side One Dummy) I've never gotten the very few bands like this: neither black nor green Negresses Vertes, strident pub politicos Black 47, squeezeboxing omnivore Kepa Junkera. Even before it jelled, however, I got this. Balkan immigrants flee some combination of thieving bureaucrats, bootstrapping hustlers, Yugoslavian genocide, and anomie. The underworld no-accounts of old Montmartre pursuing Eurotrash chic, they valorize their half-imposed marginalization by reaching out to fellow jetsam from other international backwaters where Islam is an everyday thing. Bootstrapping hustler Eugene Hutz formed a band in this subculture, which for all I know he invented first--rock, yes, but with its segmented groove and village dance rhythms very un-American (and un-African). This album is that band's statement of principle, cri de coeur, and ring grab--Hutz hectoring his way through a bacchanalian rant that's broken into songs that want to be slogans. Sixty revolutions per minute, this is my regular speed. You are the only life there is for yourself my friend. It is all connected through the Gypsy part of town. A

PAT METHENY/ORNETTE COLEMAN: Song X (Nonesuch) Right, the same damn jazz album--same damn fine jazz album--he/they released in 1986. Only the 18 minutes of bonus tracks, which include Ornette blowing changes and playing bebop, would make a damn fine EP. Instead, they sit there at the very beginning, saying, "We are the loam from which Song X will arise forthwith." A

CHARLIE ROBISON: Good Times (Dualtone) I liked the title tune better when I thought he was saying "don't let the fascists get you down" rather than "bastards," but it amounts to the same thing. Long a champion of country music that eschews both purity and virtue, here Robison writes like his life depends on it, which it does--the virtue lobby has all fun in its sights, his music included. On the one about eating his wife's cooking he finds a new shade of meaning for the word "brisket." And on the one about how his wife vamoosed anyway, words fail him: "But I still got my buddies and I still got my pals/And I still got my buddies and I still got my pals." A MINUS

THE ROUGH GUIDE TO THE MUSIC OF THE BALKAN GYPSIES (World Music Network) The Rom, as these notes call them, set out from India a millennium ago and have long played music the way African freedmen did in Cuba--because it's low-class, low-paying work, but also because they're thought to have a knack. By 1700 or sooner they had seized local styles in dozens of European locales. There is no "real" Gypsy music, but the daredevil fiddles, skirling horns, and extreme vocals of the Balkan strains whose ins and outs they deploy come close enough. I'd never heard of most of these Romanian, Bulgarian, and other bands, but those I've encountered before, including Taraf de Haïdouks on a standout cut absent from their two Nonesuch albums, have never sounded better than in this can-you-top-this party. Not a new groove because it's not smooth enough. But more than one new beat, usually with a history. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

KEREN ANN: Nolita (Metro Blue) I know melancholy is as universal as joy, and considerably more common to boot, but that's no reason to celebrate it. After all, the same can be said of sloth and will. And while this Javanese-Dutch-Russian-Israeli French succès d'estime obviously isn't lazy--you think pinpoint arrangements come naturally?--the languor she encourages in her quiet cult is the kind of privilege that feels like an accomplishment to Nick Drake and Sylvia Plath fans. I say it's static; I say it gets a person nowhere. At least Norah Jones swings. A little. B

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention

  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Sudan (World Music Network): Decadent bandleaders, vagina-bearing vixens, and a former child soldier sin against Sharia (Emmanuel Jal, "Gua"; Omdurman Women's Ensemble, "Daloka Bet El Mal"; Mohammed Wardi, "Azibni").
  • Urban Brazil (Stern's Music/Earthworks): Baile funk for party people with more stuff (Botecoeletro, "Coco Nutz Mass"; Rappin' Hood, "Sou Negro").
  • Rodney Crowell: The Outsider (Columbia): One more pissed-off patriot heard from ("The Obscenity Prayer [Give It to Me]," "Don't Get Me Started").
  • MF Doom: Live From Planet X (Nature Sounds): Scoff all you like at the very notion of a live rap album, but just remember--no skits ("Name Dropping," "I Hear Voices").
  • Human Television: All Songs Written by: Human Television (Gigantic Music): Part of the discipline for tune adepts is to let the tunes carry meaning themselves, which is rarely how it worked with the bands they love ("Saw You Walking By," "Yeah Right").
  • Sampa Nova (Stern's Brasil): Samba as beat itself, beat song, and, of course, beat jazz-schlock (Suba, "Sereia"; Otto, "Bob [Edu H Mix]").
  • Vernon Reid & Masque: Known Unknown (Favored Nations): On Steve Vai's label, only would you believe funkier? ("Known Unknown," "Brilliant Corners").
  • Souad Massi: Deb (Heart Broken) (Wrasse): Sounds like a nice chick, but her Arabic leaves too much to the imagination ("Yemma [Mummy, I Lie to You]," "Ya Kelbi [Oh! My Heart]").
  • Italian Café (Putumayo World Music): Putumayo say these ingratiating Latins like cute novelties and guys who whisper almost as much as French sophisticates (Giorgio Conte, "Gnè, Gnè"; Fred Buscaglione, "Juke Box").
  • Be Your Own Pet: Damn Damn Leash (XL): Nashville pros' punk kids prove their parents are hipsters like musicians anywhere ("Damn Damn Leash").
  • Cerys Matthews: CockAHoop (Rough Trade): Catatonia frontwoman writes some folk-type songs, covers others including one in Welch and many by co-religionists, almost holds her own ("Weightless Again," "Only a Fool").
  • Mehanata: New York Gypsymania (Mehanata): The fermented garbage from which arose the fabled gypsy punk (Balkan Beat Box and Eugene Hutz, "Tromba de Zangari/Yek, Dui, Trei/New Yorkskiri"; Yuri Yunakov, "Arabski Kjuchek").
  • Brazilian Girls (Verve Forecast): Trilingual rhythmically, quadrilingual verbally, and they make it all stick ("Pussy," "Homme").
  • Enzo Avitabile & Bottari: Salvamm'o Munno (Save the World) (Wrasse): Neapolitan saxophonist, Calabrian percussionists, and world-music luminaries exert their goodwill ("Porto Alegre," "O Munno Se Move").
  • Red Eyed Legends: Mutual Insignificance (File 13): If they don't open when the Fall hit Chicago, Skull Kontrol died in vain ("Milk Crate," "Go-Go Girls").

Choice Cuts

  • Macumbalada, "Samba Do Morro"; Suba, "Sereia" (The Rough Guide to Brazilian Electronica, World Music Network)
  • Keith Anderson, "Podunk," "Stick It" (Three Chord Country and American Rock & Roll, Arista)
  • Miranda Lambert, "Kerosene," "What About Georgia," "Me and Charlie Talking" (Kerosene, Epic)
  • George Strait, "She Let Herself Go," "Good News, Bad News" (Somewhere Down in Texas, MCA Nashville)

Duds

  • Dierks Bentley: Modern Day Drifter (Capitol)
  • Bering Strait: Pages (Universal South)
  • Kenny Chesney: When the Sun Goes Down (BNA)
  • Kenny Chesney: Be as You Are (Songs From an Old Blue Chair) (BNA)
  • Toby Keith: Honkytonk University (DreamWorks)
  • Stina Nordenstam: The World Is Saved (V2)
  • Lee Ann Womack: There's More Where That Came From (MCA Nashville)

Village Voice, Aug. 23, 2005


July 26, 2005 Sept. 27, 2005