Dare to Struggle, Dare to Win: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau
This week, words on Pussy Riot, Tanya Tagaq, and more.
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.
Tanya Tagaq: Retribution (Six Shooter) I don't normally have much use for apocalyptic shamanism, but with the normal denied anyone with a working understanding of the democratic promise, the most "accessible" release by this throat-singing Inuk performance artist is hitting the spot. Weird, disturbing, relentless, it arrays a Nirvana cover and a Shad rap and big drums and synthesizers squawking like gulls and men grunting like bears and more gutturals than a death metal album around the 41-year-old Tagaq breathing, murmuring, gasping, squealing, yelping, shrieking, chanting, incanting, reciting, lecturing, and, oh yeah, singing. It seemed historically suitable even before November 9, and since then I've been playing it loud. Inspirational Terrifying Ecology Lesson: "Once all the ice is melted, the once-covered ice area will heat up 81 times faster. There will be no stopping it. A new steady-state high-heat-tolerant life may, hopefully, rapidly evolve, but human civilization as we know it will no longer exist. Gaia likes it cold." A MINUS
Pussy Riot: xxx (Nice Life) Three radically different songs by the band/concept's de facto spokeswoman, former and probably future Russian political prisoner Nadya Tolokno. "Make America Great Again" opts for positive messaging in re Vladimir Putin's Greatest Shithead: "Let other people in/Listen to your women/Stop killing black children" over a Yank pal's catchy strum. Producer Dave Sitek goes full earworm on the pro-sex feminism of "Straight Outta Vagina," whose "Don't play stupid don't play dumb/Vagina's where you're really from" has been tagged for cis-sexism by a Pitchfork reviewer who failed to address the related grievances of the Caesarian section community. And then there's the avant-hypnotic Russian-language "Organs," which translates, for example: "Female orgasm faces obstacles/My strap-ons are being replaced with uniforms and icons." All three come with YouTube videos, two gruesome and at least one not altogether implausible if you grant that female political prisoners are in for accelerating levels of sexual abuse. Maybe not brandings, OK. But you know normal's over when I start recommending YouTube videos. A MINUS
Mekons: Existentialism (Bloodshot) Live-to-a-single-mike barroom renditions of barely finished new songs buttressed by audience chorales open up a new frontier in for-fans-only at just the wrong time ("The Cell," "Bucket") ***
Raury: All We Need(Love Renaissance/Columbia) Brave, openhearted Trap City irregular has a message for Myron Ebell, a name you'd best get to know: "Lord save our burning planet!" ("Friends," "Revolution") **
PJ Harvey: The Hope Six Demolition Project (Island) Politics according to Polly, meaning keen observation, analytic detachment, and paradoxically forgiving melodies scarred again and again by baked-in pessimism and misanthropy ("The Ministry of Social Affairs," "The Wheel") *
Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter.