Robert Christgau on Aesop Rock and Tobacco's Funny Collab, 'Malibu Ken'
Plus, the Dean of American Rock Critics reviews three albums from Chicago rapper Serengeti and one from MC Frontalot.
The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it—the music editor of the Village Voice from 1974 to 1985 and its chief music critic for several decades after that. At the Voice he created both the annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll and his monthly Consumer Guides. Christgau was one of the first critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." He taught at New York University between 1990 and 2016, and has published six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City . A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017 , is now available from Duke University Press. Every Friday we run Expert Witness, the weekly version of the Consumer Guide he launched in 2010. To find out more, read his welcome post; for almost five decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Malibu Ken: Malibu Ken (Rhymesayers) With experimental rocker Tobacco generating electronic accompaniment-not-beats because it's the rapping that grooves, 42-year-old Aesop Rock generates an album as literal and likable as his Kimya Dawson and Homeboy Sandman collabs. Where usually his gargantuan vocabulary congeals into imagery so dark it's impossible to see through, here he's often literal, even funny if you catch his drift. Start with "Tuesday," which details his disgusting homemaking protocols; "Acid King," which recalls a satanic murder from his Suffolk County childhood; the unsparing depression revery "1 + 1 = 13"; and "Churro," the tale of two bald eagles who nested so magically in Pittsburgh they got their own video feed—until they swooped down and devoured somebody's cat. A MINUS
Serengeti: Dennis 6e (People) The biracial Chicago rapper born David Cohn is so prolific I can't claim to have kept up—multiple plays of 2016's Doctor My Own Patience and 2018's To the Max didn't nail down his shifting persona hard enough to keep me plugging. But though Kenny Dennis, the rapping telephone repairman who is Cohn's best-known creation, has gone through many phases of a biography I wouldn't dare summarize, he's such a mensch he always feels earthbound. On this supposed farewell to Kenny—"You can't do Jason Part 23. They stopped Jason at, like, nine," Geti has claimed—continuity is simulated and reinforced by the textured electronics of Minneapolis rap-rocker Andrew Broder, a/k/a Fog. Disconsolate and alone in Orlando as memories of his lost Jueles "come back like winter clothes," aging white guy Kenny contends with bad knees and a dislocated shoulder, name-checks Steely Dan and Judge Mathis, disses drug dependency and 40-minute smoke breaks, rips a letter to shreds, and consigns unnamed rappers to landfill. After warning that he will jam you up if you bite his style, he closes by rhyming "sorry," "Atari," "calamari," and "Maori." A MINUS
MC Frontalot: Net Split (Level Up) Singsongy white joke-rapper and his funk-lite beats never quite live up to the redolent subtitle The Fathomless Heartbreak of Online Itself—not even, tragically, on "Never Read the Comments" ("Internet Sucks," "IWF") **
Serengeti: Jueles - Butterflies (Audio Recon/Deacon) For Kenny Dennis obsessives starting with himself, David Cohn reveals that Jueles had some success as a '90s pop singer and is proud to discover that "manatees" rhymes and then some with "humanities" ("Places, Places," "Odouls") *
Serengeti: Music From the Graphic Novel Kenny Vs the Dark Web (Burnco) Just when Geti swore he's run out of Kenny Dennis, he serves up these bootlegs from the innards of his virtual subconscious ("Bennies," "Nutrition") *