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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: May, 2021

The gospel from an Atlanta rap collective, hummable hooks from LDR, free flowing zingers from a well-read alt rhymer, and powerhouse vocals from the Sahara via the Hudson Valley.

Anti-Flag: 20/20 Division (Spinefarm) Both too anthemic and too harsh in the '90s, nowadays those are good things when they come with songs attached ("Christian Nationalist," "Hate Conquers All") *

Khaira Arby: New York Live (Clermont Music) New York doesn't mean Central Park, the Beacon, even Webster Hall. It's Annandale-on-Hudson, home of Bard College and just south of her American benefactors at Germantown's high-principled Clermont Music label. Arby is the the Timbuktu-based Tuareg-Songhai powerhouse who courageously headlined the 2012 Festival au Desert as jihadists bore down on her hometown, was exiled in Bamako before returning home in 2015, then died at only 58 in 2018. As the Festival records suggest, she put out live with an intensity she wasn't moved to match in the studio, so this is a treasure. What a foghorn. What a believer. What a band to push her all the way, with special props to guitarist Dramane Toure, who wrecks one called "Salou." A MINUS

Carsie Blanton: Love and Rage (So Ferocious) Her cute voice still sharpens the point on her acerbic politics. Her hyperactive libido still striates her reasonable hope that telling the truth and being kind is good for one ticket to a heaven her parents still believe in and they just might be right. And 35 ain't that old, now is it? Still, nonstop sure shots like last time would be expecting too much and she doesn't want to seem greedy. So she's happy enough to settle for "Party at the End of the World" and "Be Good," both of which say what you'd expect them to in ways you couldn't, the anti-white-supremacist "Shit List," and an unexpectedly warm closer where an occasional lay she's known and I mean carnally since she was 22 qualifies as "a love that sticks around." A MINUS

Blue Muse (Music Maker Relief Foundation) Hanging Tree Guitars outfit documents loose, deep, traditional entertainment blues circa 2015 in Baltimore (Robert Finley, "Age Don't Mean a Thing"; Dave McGrew, "D.O.C. Man") ***

Lana Del Rey: Chemtrails Over the Country Club (Polydor/Interscope) As an LDR agnostic who's felt uneasy about failing to find the so-called NFR! a masterpiece or LDR sexually alluring as ice queen, hot number, intellectual, or any combination of same, I was delighted to be humming in my head before I'd gotten through this Jack Antonoff production twice. Hooks are far more plentiful here than on most LDR albums, the Antonoff-fueled NFR! included, and unusual ones at that. My favorite is "Down in the Men in Music Business Conference" (FYI there is no such thing--with that literal a name, anyway). Runner-up: "We did it for fun/We did it for free/I did it for you/You did if for me"--and then, right on time, "We did it for the right reasons." But also "I left Calabasas, escaped all the ashes" and "I'm coverin' Joni and I'm dancin' with Joan/Stevie is callin' on the telephone" and "Breakin' up slowly is a hard thing to do" and "I don't wanna live with a life of regret/I don't want to end up like Tammy Wynette." Now that she's connected A-list name-dropping to a love life normal humans can recognize, I can see where guys and gals might get off imagining a dreamy soprano "wearin' the same damn clothes for three damn days" because "Lincoln, Nebraska got me in a haze." But the humming in my head thing is what matters to me. A MINUS

For the Good Times: The Songs of Kris Kristofferson (Ace) If only one of the worst singers ever to write some great songs had written a few more (Roger McGuinn, "Rock and Roll Time"; Hank Williams Jr., "If You Don't Like Hank Williams"; Johnny Cash, "The Junkie and the Juicehead (Minus Me)") **

Milo: A Toothpaste Suburb (Ruby Yacht) Dropping names from Schopenhauer to Pat Sajak over textural synthbeats that know not the One, in 2014 this sweet, alienated, autoerudite young rapper is still at the point where pals like Kool A.D. and Busdriver cut him without meaning to ("Just Us [A Reprise for Robert Who Has Not Been Forgotten]," "In Gaol," "Objectifying Rabbits") ***

Milo: So the Flies Don't Come (Ruby Yacht) Impressed by its hooky guests--Kool A.D a slacker trouper, Busdriver an omnivorous networker, but also, shit, Anderson .Paak!!--I initially preferred the Kenosha/Maine/L.A. prodigy's 2014 de facto debut. But here, on his 2015 try, producer Kenny Segal helps the well-read alt-rapper who wants everyone to know that his Spanish-language birthname translates blacksmith grab hold of a human, unquantized groove more flow than funk--of zingers from the "They couldn't predicate upon a precipice" howdy-doo to the rapid-fire clarity of a closer predicated on the proposition that "I don't even have to rap/My nigga it's about if you can talk good." "Reading Nausea in a tent with a girl named Sasha" well before he started rolling with "Failed draft dodgers and niggas teaching at Dartmouth," he knows what he thinks soul is and that's his goal: "that in which spirit has its being." A MINUS

Milo: Who Told You to Think??!!?!?!?! (Ruby Yacht) Just as sound, an opener dominated by James Baldwin expatiating in his pellucid prose about poetry as a holy calling is as gorgeous as anything on a 2017 Kenny Segal production far more experimental musically than its predecessor. Rereading Nabokov, mad that Tim Kaine can't see disaster coming, paging just-deceased actor Bill Nunn on his way to "They were convinced Sufism was expressed by hat choice/Auto-dictate my didact and map it to black noise," and dissing "J.Z. Smith" before capping "The Young Man Has a Point (Nurture)" with "The point is my vocabulary pays my rent," he also stuffs the following into the penultimate "Embroidering Machine": colostrum, medieval weaponry, an Orange County rock band not in my recall memory, a Kurt Vonnegut story not in my recall memory, his ignorance of the details of crack manufacture, and his lifelong mission of raising the psychologically insensate from their stupors as what A Tribe Called Quest called a resurrector. On the other hand, "Note to Mrs" is just a dreamsong to his wife: nothing more, nothing less. A MINUS

No-No Boy: 1975 (Smithsonian Folkways) Assembling a dozen self-written songs with Asian themes for "a Smithsonian series representing 'Asian American' music," Nashville-raised Vietnamese-American Brown University American Studies Ph.D hopeful Julian Saporiti sings them in the style that comes naturally: bland white-guy singer-songwriter folk-rock. He gets away with it for three reasons: his melodies get your attention, his voice projects a tenderness that's neither wimpy nor faux-folksy, and, most of all, the things he sings about are altogether unprecedented. Listen and hear tell of a young Rolling Stones cover band airlifted from Saigon into the jungle to divert American GIs, an all-Japanese-American swing band that played out from their Wyoming internment camp, an expat who named his Chrysler after Ho Chi Minh, a Chinatown Ramones fan, and, oh yes, Central American migrants "wasting in line" for 40 hours. Wonder what his love songs are like. Bet we find out. A MINUS

Nostrum Grocers: Nostrum Grocers (Ruby Yacht/The Order) Styled milo joins styled E L U C I D so they can disrupt them some racism and let their minds wander in quick, soft-edged succession ("Walter Hudson," "'98 Gewehr") **

Todd Snider: First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder (Aimless) The ramshackle production so fundamental to Snider's shtick doesn't transmute into gold here the way it did on Cash Cabin Sessions. It takes multiple listens to register the plain yet eloquent and even witty John Prine tribute. "Battle Hymn of the Album" performs the essential function of putting John Brown's name on repeat without availing itself of the sacred melody Julia Ward Howe lifted so pragmatically. In fact, the only true noticer here is "The Great Pacific Garbage Patch," about the two Texases worth of discarded plastic now floating in Terra's largest ocean. But who else you got who's likely to wonder "If faith moves mountains what's it take to leave them alone?" or opine that "We are fractions of equations of illusions of reality"? Or let the pastor of the title church wheedle and hold forth? B PLUS

Spillage Village: Spilligion (Dreamville/Sincethe80s/Interscope) The only previous album by this Atlanta collective was 2016's beguilingly titled and indeed conceived Bears Like This Too Much, but as Covid came down they reconvened in a house owned by rapper C.I.D. I knew only rapper 6lack, whose 2019 album had the good taste to carry his daughter in a snugli on the cover, and warm-hearted Mereba, who closed it out by blaming his adolescent sins on his male upbringing. After an opening skit where Georgia comic Kountry Wayne explains that Jesus "was crazy as a razor-blade necktie, but he was a master manipulator, so people got behind him," a gospel feel infuses this music. Mereba's "PsalmSing" is uplifting without acting all grand about it and followed directly by the quick-lipped J.I.D. feature "Ea'alah," which somehow moves from "smokin' big gas inside this muthafucker dawg" to prayers for his family to Jonny Venus's understandably cynical projections of who'll get plague treatment first. Then themes get ecumenical: "Judas," "Oshun," "Cupid," "Shiva," and, uh-oh, "End of Daze." But that's not the end. This congregation piles resources on top of resources. Share them. A

Too Much Joy: Mistakes Were Made (People Suck Music) Grade hedged because in the decades since I praised two of their early albums (and panned and then missed the next three), I've come to owe two of these brainy, aging postpunks--singer Tim Quirk hired me to republish old Consumer Guide reviews in Formerly Rhapsody's early years and bassist Sandy Smallens co-produces my podcast. Which I hope frees me to report that every song on their first album in two decades is smart, most are funny, and many are catchy. Choicest cuts: anti-Trump "Something to Think About," pre-Biden "Blinding Light of Love," Google-seeking "Oliver Plunkett's Head," post-abusive "Uncle Watson Wants to Think," virtual "Flux Capacitor," and best-for-last the lonely, connubial "Not Being You." Randy Newman meets the Clash? Nah--those two are genius where Too Much Joy just have high IQs. But that goal continues to spur them on. B PLUS

And It Don't Stop, May 12, 2021

Apr. 7, 2021 June 9, 2021