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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: April, 2022

A Ukrainian band lays claim to democratic capitalism and artistic freedom, a late-night band leader summons many (many) spirits, a late-night band member remixes James Brown, and punk lives again.

Amyl and the Sniffers: Amyl and the Sniffers (ATO '19) The Australian Recording Industry Association named this debut album punk- miracle-come-true that continent's Best Rock Album for good reason: the likes of "Gacked on Anger" and "GFY" do lead naturally to "Control"'s "I like control, I'm obsessive/It's the reason I exist," a statement of principle far more impressive coming from a scrawny blonde than from some weightlifter with attitude. But Amy Taylor's guys do sound a little thin in the end, with the result that as the album rushes on it doesn't so much peter out or explode into bits as combust into a cloud of ashes. B PLUS

Amyl and the Sniffers: Comfort to Me (ATO) Pay attention and what at first seems nothing more or less than the show of muscle this band needed reveals itself as serious next-level stuff. Not only have the guitar-bass-drum bulked up and Amy Taylor's shrill soprano gained focus and conviction, but the songs are meatier with no loss of the bratty lip that's her selling point. "I'm short I'm shy I'm fucked up/I'm bloody ugly" (which she isn't, natch). "I swear I'm not that drunk/I'm not that drunk/Let me into your pub" (although, true, "I distracted you with all my bullshit"). "I want to go to the country/I want to get out of here" (that one's called "Hertz"). And then, unexpectedly, at track eight where bands often hide the naff stuff so maybe she's nervous about it, one called "Capital," about how "I only just started learning basic politics" and does admittedly close, far more modestly than the rest of the lyric requires in my opinion but worth some humility points: "I love feeling drunk on the illusion of meaning." In short, as good a punk album as I let myself hope to hear. A

Jon Batiste: We Are (Verve) Hard to tell exactly how many "spirits that influence me" the booklet thanks when the listing includes "the Fats', the Roys, the Charlies, the Pauls, the Kings." Pushing 70, say, most Black as is only fair but not Ludwig or Debussy (or Bob?) and you know he could have kept going because occasionally he does, like when the song with the Zadie Smith cameo namechecks the Beatles, the Stones, and the Wu-Tang Clan. A breathier singer than we and he might prefer, Batiste makes up for this deficiency with his well-schooled arrangements and all-purpose New Orleans piano plus he's got the spirit. Many feel-good musicians talk the kind of all-purpose ecumenicism favored by Stephen Colbert's bandleader. This album won the big Grammy because his NARAS brethren and sistern believed he put it into practice, and for once they were right. May such a miracle happen again, and while you're keeping your fingers crossed savor this fun fact: Batiste's grandfather was president of the Louisiana Postal Workers Union. A MINUS

Cheekface: Emphatically No. (New Professor) Whiteboy indie-rock standup that is something like funny and occasionally even acerbic a good half the time ("'Listen to Your Heart.' 'No.'," "Best Life") **

Stro Elliot & James Brown: Black & Loud: James Brown as Reimagined by Stro Elliot (Polydor) This audacious object lesson in what Dan Charnas has dubbed "the sound of error" is body music with a spasmodic jerk or twist to it. Maybe you have to love James Brown to love the simultaneously awed, woke, and dismembered way 44-year-old Roots instrumentalist/beatmaker Elliot adores and messes with hybrid JB grooves on which he confers titles like "Machine No Make Sex," "Coal Sweat," and "Turn It Up Give It Shrooms." But I hope not. Because even if you've never been fooled into thinking that "Sex Machine" might just go on forever this time, you'll be electrified by every one of these 10 sub-five-minute instrumentals-with-vocals yet at the same time be glad when each workout ends, kind of like at the gym. Foreshortening a syllable here, unbalancing a mix there, squeezing sounds out of shape, fucking with perfection Dilla-style, Elliot reminds us that nothing lasts forever. But he also makes us glad we're capable of thinking it can. A

Clay Harper: They'll Never Miss a Five (self-released) Stretching over half an hour because they've definitely got the time, seven leisurely, ruminative, somehow sweet songs about sad lives lived because their proprietors have nothing better to do ("The Blazin Sun That's Shining Down on Me," "An Empty Parking Lot [Reprise]") ***

Ray Wylie Hubbard: Co-Starring Too (Big Machine) The 75-year-old Hubbard actually got better as his voice evolved from amelodic to just plain old, and unlikely though it may seem, his second straight duet album actually has more jam than its 2020 predecessor. It's not like Steve Earle or James McMurtry has it in him to provide much extra vocal puissance anyway, although the Shiny Soul Sisters add major cred to the slinky soul music tribute "Groove," as do the Bluebonnets to the one that rides the indelible couplet "Only a fool uh disrespect a woman/A woman is the best thing to ever take place" and references the 19th Amendment by name. Of course he's "Gonna transcend like Henry David Thoreau/Listen to the sweetheart of the rodeo." Of course he's gonna "love a woman who's pretty reckless/Wears a bullet on her necklace." It's even possible that he's "headed due east hellbent for leather/Might even get the band back together." A MINUS

Terry Klein: Good Luck Take Care (Terry Klein Music) Pragmatic g-g-b-d propels Bostonite-turned-Austinite's wide-ranging lyrics over the top when they provide the locomotion that the road-dogging opener and its child-rearing follow-up may not even need. Sadly, the metaphorical slow ones about salt and a goldfinch that follow close by need more than that. But then come five story songs that aren't really fast enough but clever or felt enough as well. Clever: "Such a Town." Felt: "Salinas"/"The Woman Who Was Lost in the Flood," which I bet he intended as a sequence. A&nbnsp;MINUS

Lenny Kaye Presents Lightning Striking (Ace) As a soundtrack to rock and roll la Lenny Kaye, aces; as a musically coherent succession of mostly ace tracks, inside straight, and that's not even counting the metal (Lou Christie, "Lightnin' Strikes"; Fabian, "Tiger"; Quicksilver Messenger Service, "Pride of Man"; Babymetal, "Gimme Chocolate!!")

Gurf Morlix: The Tightening of the Screws (Rootball) The opener is called "Touch You Inside," and while it's definitely addressed to a specific woman, this gruff sufferer has you the listener in mind as well ("A Better Place," "Lost in the Shuffle") **

Pony: TV Baby (Take This to Heart) Even in the world-weary, socially impaired pandemic era, pop songs biz or alt do have a way of gravitating to romantic themes when they're not busy advocating full-bore dancefloor escape. So the fact that lyrics like the 10 on this Toronto trio's debut album aren't more plentiful has long mystified and annoyed me. How variously, sanely, and insecurely singer-guitarist Sam Bielanski articulates the frustrations and anxieties but also pleasures and satisfactions of a love life that's sometimes on the right track and other times not is actively refreshing, not least because her telltale heart remains in the right place whether she's sad or exhilarated. Exhilarated comes in second, of course. Happy love songs--so hard to do with an edge. At least as hard as happy love itself. A MINUS

Selo i Ludy Performance Band: Bunch One (self-released) I first heard this Kharkiv-based accordion-balalaika-bass-drums band covering A-ha's "Take on Me" on an MSNBC segment shot early in the war in a basement bomb shelter they shared with nine other patriots, and was soon delighted to find this 2019 covers album in their "funny folk punk polka style" on Amazon. Not counting the two Rammstein tracks Alexander Goncharov intones in German, it comprises nine radio-friendly rock standards, two of the three I like most squeezed into a "Sweet Seven Nation Dreams" mockup Jack White deserves for copping the Eurythmics' bassline. What makes these songs standards is that they're catchy fun when done right, but in this context they also comprise an inspired claim on the democratic capitalism and artistic freedom even Ukrainians with surnames like revered Russian novelists want in on. This is where Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing," Bon Jovi's "It's My Life," and Queen's "I Want to Break Free" become cultural artifacts to build a dream on. With the band's drummer evacuated although Goncharov assures us he'll be back because the worst is over and the war will be won, they've been live-streaming as a trio from a grimmer looking bomb shelter on their own YouTube channel, where PayPal and Patreon options helps American admirers underwrite a rebuilding Selo i Ludy insist is no less inevitable than it is essential. With Putin apparently set on turning Kharkiv into Aleppo as I write, I just hope there'll be enough left to rebuild--with Selo i Ludy intact enough to keep pitching in. A

Spoon: Lucifer on the Sofa (Matador) Britt Daniel having long devoted his considerable talent to proving that the only thing songs are truly about is Being Songs, the nearest he comes to apparently heartfelt here is the stealth nostalgic "On the Radio" ("On the Radio," "The Hardest Cut") **

Superchunk: Wild Loneliness (Merge) Beginning with impressively well-turned songs about first the pandemic and then the world that was still out there dying while we got distracted by the humans who were doing the same only faster, Superchunk's first album since 2018's deftly anti-Trump What a Time to Be Alive is a late bloomer's subtle manifesto. At 55, Mac McCaughan sings more quietly than he used to, as if he has a voice he hopes he'll need five years from now. More conscious than militant, he comes across as someone who'll fight any fight that seems winnable, but also as someone who's tender as a matter of principle. Inspirational Verse: "Well I sleep like a dog/Every sound scares me to waking/I just wanna be the quiet sound/Puts you to sleep without shaking." A MINUS

And It Don't Stop, April 13, 2022

March 9, 2022 May 11, 2022