Robert Christgau on SOPHIE's Sweet Clarity
The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews SOPHIE's 'Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides,' Beats Antique's 'Shadowbox,' DJ Koze's 'Knock Knock,' and Allen Ravenstine's 'Waiting for the Bomb.'
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 six books, including his 2015 autobiography, Going Into the City . He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To find out more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Sophie: Oil of Every Pearl's Un-Insides (Transgressive/Future Classic) The riskiest tracks here are the two where the London-to-L.A. producer-vocalist suppresses one half or the other of her disorienting stealth-comic synthesis: the opening "It's Okay to Cry," which leans hard on the soprano whose dulcet artifice is believed by some metaphysicians to represent her TRUE SELF, and the six-minute "Pretending," all strident squalls and swells that roll slowly to a stop like hardening lava or a Harley slurping its last ounce of fuel. Often I tune out the first and get annoyed with the second. But the rest of the album is all laughs and thrills in which sweet clarity defies a panoply of beaty techno sound effects at different junctures every time you listen. For me the most reliable comes as a reward right after "Pretending": "Immaterial," where she has the generosity to grant one of technodancepop's most generic and cheerful riffs the Sophie version of eternal life. A MINUS
Beats Antique: Shadowbox (Beats Antique) Struck by this Oakland trio's tenth-anniversary album, which was released shortly before Donald Trump killed Leonard Cohen in 2016, I delayed coverage because I hadn't given them a thought since 2008's Collide and also because I got distracted. I hope they're working on the next one as I write. But I can finally attest that if you're buzzed by the idea of Middle East dub rendered vaster by the complementary miracles of data storage and guest cameos, this is where to start and you're unlikely to need a whole lot more. Simultaneously atmospheric and detailed, abstract and groovalicious, it makes the case for international understanding while limiting its lyrical content to a distorted chant called "Vendetta," a defense of a 17-year-old murderer, something in Japanese called "Three Sisters," and something in French that includes the word "salaam." A MINUS
DJ Koze: Knock Knock (Pampa) Kindly Berlin psych DJ does his bit for world peace with complex feel-good mix, world keeps feeling bad anyway ("Pick Up," "Club der Ewigkeiten") **
Allen Ravenstine: Waiting for the Bomb (Morphius/MVD) Pere Ubu synthmaster concocts instrumental evocations of the historical period preceding not the bomb we're waiting for now, but the bomb they were waiting for in the '50s, which had the decency never to arrive ("If Only There Was More Time," "Day Shift") *
Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter.