Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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This was originally published as exclusive content, in Robert Christgau's And It Don't Stop newsletter. You can have Christgau's posts delivered to your mailbox if you subscribe.

Consumer Guide: July, 2020

Parades, protests, rhyming philosophical apercus, and $13 beers, plus alt-rock standouts from Spain, Italy, the '90s, and Katie Crutchfield

Terry Allen & the Panhandle Mystery Band: Just Like Moby Dick (Paradise of Bachelors) At 76, this part-time singer still doesn't creak or croak, but he's never been quite the songwriter his major smarts and smartest material make you think ("Bad Kiss," "Houdini Didn't Like the Spiritualists") ***

Chicago Farmer: Flyover Country (Chicago Farmer) With Band of Heathens' committed backup compensating for the two songs repeated from his 2018 live double, Cody Dieckhoff divides this album into sections of three and seven tracks that signal a turn with "$13 Beers," now the best song on two darn good albums in a row. The first part comprises the lively driving song "Indiana Line," the darker grounded song "Flyover Country," and the mysterious songpoem "Mother Nature's Daughter" before "13 Beers" steers the songs more literal, political, and comic while putting in a good word for Robbie Fulks. Don't miss "All in One Place," where a working-class road musician jokes around about how much money he doesn't make. Also don't miss "Collars," proof if you need it that he gets how much heart it takes to treat money as a joke in flyover country. A MINUS

Clem Snide: Forever Just Beyond (Ramseur/Thirty Tigers) His folk-rock strictly utilitarian and his unaccented vocals plain verging on bland, Eef Barzalay knows his own strength: a serious gift for transforming philosophical apercus into legible rhymes. "Oh God is simply that which lies/Forever just beyond the limits/Of what we already seem to know." "There is a vastness that can't be contained/Or described as a flash in the flesh of our brains/It's everything, everywhere, future and past/Dissolving forever in an eternal flash." "Oh Emily I believe there ain't much of nothing/That we can change in this world/Except for our own mind and heart/To be more kind and brave in the face of it all." "We've never left the place we're searching for/Don't bring no ladder when you die." And it don't stop. A MINUS

Robert Cray Band: That's What I Heard (Nozzle/Thirty Tigers) At 66, one of the sharpest songwriters ever to identify bluesman identifies the abuser in the house and invents a dance called the FBI ("This Man," "Burying Ground," "Anything You Want," "My Baby Likes to Boogaloo") ***

Bob Dylan: Rough and Rowdy Ways (Columbia) The decisive musical achievement on Dylan's first album of originals since 2012 is establishing the aged voice that flubbed his Sinatra albums as the sonic signature of an elegiac retrospective. All three of the prereleased teaser singles work better as album tracks than as stand-alones: "I Contain Multitudes" provides exactly the right thematic sendoff, "False Prophet" opens his heart so the world can come in, and "Murder Most Foul" proves an apt summum despite its excessive length and portentous isolation on the CD package. This is no "Love and Theft" or Modern Times, neither of which is muffled by anything as indistinct as "I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You" (though I do wonder who "you" is) or "Black Rider" (though "The size of your cock will get you nowhere" gets me every time). But I love how "Goodbye Jimmy Reed" rides the hush-mouthed groove of the most simplistic of the blues giants like it's leading a parade, and how the comic Frankenstein fantasy "My Own Version of You" sums up the musical grave-robbing Dylan has been transmuting into original art for 60 years now. As does "Murder Most Foul" itself, in this context both an elegy for and a celebration of all the dark betrayals, stunted gains, enduring pleasures, and ecstatic releases of an American era Dylan has inflected as undeniably as any artist even if he doesn't understand it any better than you, me, or whoever killed imperfect vessel JFK. A MINUS

Hinds: The Prettiest Curse (Mom + Pop) The charming maturation of these club kids who've mastered pop songcraft in plain sight is a sharply poignant reminder of what alt-rock may have lost forever in a health crisis where few simple pleasures seem more endangered than musical socialization in cramped indoor spaces. As they emote ever more catchily about their ever twistier love lives, the chance that they'll figure love out in the end seems considerably better than the chance that they'll keep that love alive in the world that spawned it. Listen to them ponder possibilities that have gotten so much chancier since they wrote these songs and wish them the best. A MINUS

Jason Isbell: Reunions (Southeastern) Lest anyone think he's full of himself, this brave, soulful, articulate Nashville conscience singer turns the high beam on his own moral shortcomings ("It Gets Easier," "What've I Done to Help?") ***

Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts: Milano (30th) Assume Italian-born Hollywood movie-music pro Luppi had melodic input on this half-hour concept bagatelle's five A. Savage vocals as well as the four Karen O's, and assume too that a shot at Milanhattan cosmopolitanism was what lured Luppi in. It's still Savage's record--from "Functionalism's a bore, modernism's a chore" to "Why does he look at me like that/Must be a Christian Democrat," the clever Savage more than the socially aware Savage. How exactly that Beretta sneaks in toward the end I have not a clue. A MINUS

Stephen T. Malkmus: Traditional Techniques (Matador) It's more than cool, as it had better be, that he's matured from willfully acerbic to willingly pretty, but he's too smart not to know in the heart he's proud to have that while acerbic feeds on chaos, pretty is better off explaining itself ("Xian Man," "Cash Up") **

Sonic Youth: Live in Los Angeles 1998 (Bandcamp) Having always found live albums messy and preferred to spread my net wider rather than sink it deeper, I'm not inclined to stream much less review the plethora of concert tapes Steve Shelly has spent his quarantine selecting, grooming, and preparing for sale. I made this exception for two reasons. One, it showcases 1998's underrated A Thousand Leaves, a personal favorite. And two, it was hyped not just by deep-diving Joe Yanosik, whose Perfect Sound Forever rundown of live SY is recommended to completists, but wide-ranging Joe Levy, whose finds in a more historically compelling field of discourse I praise just below. Predictably, it seldom equals the studio original's lyricism. But almost as predictably on a live album worth preserving, especially by this band, the guitars are fire--including the true finale, which long predates A Thousand Leaves and which we'll pretend was chosen for geographical proximity: a "Death Valley '69" far more searing and practiced than the original. B PLUS

Uprising 2020 (Joe Levy Spotify playlist) [link] Because Levy keeps track of one-shot singles and hip-hop here-and-gones, even checks out videos, I asked him to assemble the best protest music generated by the June marches my inability to walk kept me from joining. And although from Meek Mill to Dua Saleh a few of his finds seem flat or pro forma to me, an emphatic majority deserve to outlast their moment and a few are astonishing. Not just Run the Jewels' "JU$T," but most of the hard raps and crossover reports that precede it: Public Enemy's forever militant "State of the Union (STFU)," YG's Ku Klux Kops "FDT" follow-up "FTP," Anderson .Paak's proudly catchy, meticulously reported "Lockdown," Trey Songs's pained, weary "How Many Times," and best of all Atlanta trap pro Lil Baby's aggressively multivalent "The Bigger Picture," which catalogues the right, the wrong, and the justifiable over an experiential expanse with room for the astonishing couplet "I can't lie I don't write about killing and dope/But I'm tellin' my younguns to vote." That's my very favorite thing here. But don't even think about tuning out Beyoncé's deep-rooted "Black Parade" or H.E.R.'s outraged "I Can't Breathe" or Terry Ellis's fed up "Angry Black Woman" or especially my other very favorite thing here: Alicia Keys's heartbreaking "Perfect Way to Die," the impact of which I wouldn't dare soften by trying to explain it. Sheer pained inspiration. A MINUS

Waxahatchee: Saint Cloud (Merge) Her guitar parts echoing readymades so approximately and unaffectedly they sound fresh all over again, her soft voice so casual and personable and smart, she's more winning than ever on the love/relationship/self-knowledge songs up front. I enjoy the way "Witches" name-drops her three best friends later on, too. But I can't help but feel or maybe hope that the recovery songs that gather toward the end, while by no means bathetic or self-regarding, are specialty items prized by some but over the heads of most of us, like manga or single malt scotch. Just not life experiences we know much about, even second-hand. A MINUS

Yonic South: Twix & Dive (La Tempesta) Weathered international psych trio cum dyslexic tribute band launch their four-track attack vehicle with a demented cover of Oasis's "Rock 'n' Roll Star" designed to prove they have something less pop and more antisocial in mind. Then follow the droning "On," the raving "Tell Me Why," and the ready-steady stadium yell-along "Stevie G King of Anfield." Never repeats itself, never lets up. A - [originally A]

Yonic South: Wild Cobs (La Tempesta) So they apparently had a jam-band phase . . . ("Wild Cobs," "37") *

And It Don't Stop, July 8, 2020

June 10, 2020 Aug. 12, 2020