Enjoy, However Bad This Shit Gets: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau
The dean tackles the new release from M.I.A. and recent albums from Macklemore and Yoni & Geti.
The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it. He was the music editor at the Village Voice for almost four decades where he created the trusted annual Pazz & Jop Poll. He was one of the first mainstream critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." On top of his columns, he has published a number of books over his career including his autobiography, Going Into the City, which was released in 2015 to critical acclaim. He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To read more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
M.I.A.: AIM (Interscope)
Nothing has made me happier in this horrendous moment than Maya Arulpragasam's loopy, simplistic fifth album. Fuck you if you think it's "lightweight" or "confusing" or "aimless" or "ho-hum"—it's the hard-earned proof of the happiness she's achieved after years of fretting about the asinine shaming of 2010's excellent Maya for the crime of following Kala, which was only the greatest album of the century. As no one notices, her sonorities, scales, and tune banks have never been more Asian—mostly East Asian, especially up top, although I'm partial to the uncredited oud-I-think on "Ali r u ok." That's one more signal of the self-acceptance enjoyed by this refugee on an album she says is about refugees, as is her damn right as someone who migrated/fled from London to Sri Lanka to India back to Sri Lanka back to London to—after absurd bureaucratic hoohah—the USA. Never a convincing intellectual, she makes a point of keeping these lyrics beyond basic—declaring "we" a trope, jumping on the byword "jump," riffing on every stupid bird rhyme she can think of. The recommended non-"deluxe" 12-track version ends with one called "Survivor," which like it or not she is. "Men are good, men are bad/And the war is never over," she notes. "Survivor, survivor/Who said it was easy?/Survivor, survivor/They can never stop we." Takeaway: bad shit being her heritage, she intends to enjoy herself however bad the shit gets, and so should we. A
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis: This Unruly Mess I've Made (self-released)
Since the only bad thing I know about this diligent, talented, sincere Evergreen College alum is his post-"Thrift Shop" stage gear, I consider his critical disrepute a disgrace to my vocation. Although clearly no cash-in or rush job, his second album gathered 17 Metacritic reviews averaging a pitiful 59, the most bewildering a sympathetic Pitchfork piece that could have been a 79 as easily as the 51 some asshole stuck on it. The three by black writers went 76, 75, and 50, which I mention because Macklemore's whiteness has been a cause celebre ever since he apologized for the rap Grammy The Heist snatched from good kidd m.A.A.d city. Yes, he's white, and his suburban drawl and choppy flow sound that way, although not Lewis's pop hooks, grand flourishes, and schooled piano. But just because he candidly embodies the awkwardness and contradictions in which white privilege embroils every Caucasian who isn't a flat-out racist, he makes white people uncomfortable, and they should stop blaming him for it. Beyond two preachy substance-abuse numbers, this is consistently fun, interesting, or both. The Anderson Paak. romp "Dance Off," the Melle Mel/Kool Moe Dee joke-boast "Downtown," the tonsorial joke-boast "Brad Pitt's Cousin," and the corny one for his little girl are unpretentious enough to justify the much-dissed 8:46 finale "White Privilege," which has more content than the twice-and-done Tupac feature you never play on To Pimp a Butterfly. A MINUS
Yoni & Geti: Testarossa (Joyful Noise)
The fruit of a European tour by David Cohn d/b/a Serengeti and his beatmaker pal Yoni Wolf is goofy and fanciful in Geti's signature manner. It's quite slight, quite tuneful, quite funny—"Met a woman named Ella/Used to be a fella," or the long list of imaginary social-media sites like ListenUp, WhereYaAt, Lick4Lick, Gwaffalo, and GrindStone. But everywhere you can feel his marriage tugging at touring's frayed tether. At long last he returns home to his daughter's new bangs, his son's homework folder, and the computer he just bought his wife. But happy about it he cannot be. "This is just my tenderness/My wretchedness/I'm a pessimist," he mutters—and also, as he's mentioned before, a poltergeist: an invisible disruptor. Slight or not, if you've come to care about the guy it's pretty sad. B PLUS
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