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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: August, 2022

Women having fun (with and without Basquiat-buying power), the best-sounding battle rap you're likely to hear this year, adulthood alt-rock narratives, and pop-rock devoted to the arts.

Beyoncé: Renaissance (Parkwood Entertainment/Columbia) I first heard the album of the year on a clogged Merritt Parkway in the rented Corolla that conveyed my family to our overdue vacation on the Connecticut shore. By the time I'd bought it at the Westbrook Wal-Mart two days later ("What's a CD?" the clerk asked), the Bluetooth-enabled car stereo version had sufficed to knock me out, and not because I instantly grokked its range of reference to the queer-identified dance effects my daughter hipped me to. I'd just had my spirits lifted nonstop by one shrewdly differentiated pop smash after another, and back in New York it connected even louder on a real sound system. Despite one that begins "I just fell in love/And I just quit my job" and stray references to "45" and "Karens just turned into terrorists," this is not a conventionally political album. It's Beyoncé as the "sexy bitch" and super-rich Basquiat owner she is, buttressed by an array of house, rap, and disco legends both cult and famed who add crucial flavor here and there--I've never enjoyed Grace Jones more. Erotically explicit, knowledgeable, and felt, with "Plastic Off the Sofa" as lubricious a married sex song as you could hope to hear, it's clearly designed as an antidote to pandemic weariness and historic despair. "Have you ever had fun like this?" Bey asks. She recommends it, and believes her finest album will generate that precious gift big-time. A PLUS

Dan Ex Machina: All Is Ours, Nothing Is Theirs (self-released) This is hardly the first album from Dan Weiss's outer-Philly band. But few if any of their previous songs promised anything approaching the female-male opener's indelible sendoff--"We're gonna die in this house/Baby I know that you always said it/We're gonna die in this house/Baby I know that it's so pathetic"--or essay adulthood's varying alt-rock narratives, sonics, and points of view they nail again and again on an album that maintains for 19 tracks. Sample pickup fantasy: "Please send a gorgeous woman to knife me in the throat/It's better than feigning interest in architecture." Sample sex fantasy: "I want you to plunder my insides/I want you to put me at risk/I want to cave in where I've never been bitten/I want you balled up in my fist." Solid tunes impart cred to unlikely stories in which the singer runs disconsolately for prom king or a couple cheat on each other with each other via accidentally matched Ashley Madison accounts. "The kids love torture porn and candy corn you've been warned" I'll take under advisement. A MINUS

Danger Mouse & Black Thought: Cheat Codes (BMG) "Whether you're in Paterson or Pakistan," this is to inform you that Tariq Trotter's "skin tone is aubergine," which rhymes with "war machine" because the man remains a battle rapper of the old school. Fine though his three 2018-2020 mixtapes were, this collaboration took longer, aimed higher, and made the most of it. "Between Harry Belafonte and Harry Allen," conscious everyman turned hungry autodidact Black Thought is proud to show off a vocabulary and knowledge base further embellished by verses from the equally down Raekwon, Killer Mike, Joey Bada$$, and A$AP Rocky--all swamped by what we can only hope isn't the last we'll hear from the great lost MF Doom. And Danger Mouse is an equal partner at least, rejecting trap texturalism in an aural universe still overflowing with diverse, hookily beatwise inventions no one thought of before. Do not expect to hear a better-sounding hip-hop record all year. Instead pray it'll inspire or shame others into giving something similar a shot in an aural universe that still has room for it. A

Kari Faux: Lowkey Superstar Deluxe (Don Giovanni) Especially given 2019's stalwart but dispirited Cry 4 Help EP, it's a stroke for this self-made Little Rock/Los Angeles pop-rapper to come across not just more playful at 30 than most teens manage to begin with but also something like younger as well. Although the music has a freshness from the "While God Was Sleeping" opener, only midway through will the "Freakin' 'n Ballin' (An Ode to Big Corey)"-"Look @ That (Remix)"-"Chattin' Shit" tripleheader convince you that while she loves Basquiat as much as the next proud black woman, she can have all the fun she needs without owning one. B PLUS

Folk and Great Tunes From Siberia and Far East (CPL Music) How to describe this arresting array of 34 songs spread over two CDs from Russian "republics" I've never heard of, the first 10 Sakha/Takutia, Tuva, Altai, Mal'chik: Novosiborsk Region, Altay, Khakassia, Volge: Omsk Region, Kamchaika, Buryatia, and Sakha/Yakutia again? Granted, Tuva many of us know, the throat-singing capital of the world and the homeland of Huun-Huur-Tu, who I greatly enjoyed at Symphony Space in 1994 after ranking their Sixty Horses in My Head 20th on my 1993 Dean's List and happened to be playing shortly before this came in the mail; three of the four consecutive Tuva selections on what is designated CD1 work recognizable variations on that minor vocal miracle. But though compiler Daryana Antipova has made the dozen or two regional/national styles she's brought together abut each other pleasingly enough, their multiplicity remains a wonder less daunting than purely remarkable. Vocals tend more guttural than in Latinate tongues, and though many songs ride rousing beats, not a hint of Africa is to be heard. That's hardly to say, however, that her selections come up short on melody or drive. If only because largish rhythms have become an international sonic truism over the past half century, a few even rock in their way. But what's had me enjoying this project well beyond the call of duty is the sheer variety of the thing: the unmistakable sound of human beings who are nothing like you culturally having a good time you're lucky to partake of. A MINUS

Jinx Lennon: Liferafts for Latchicos (Septic Tiger) 19 more sorta-songs about getting through the all-too-predictable not-quite-Ulster day-to-day ("You'll Always Be an Arsehole," "Ring in Sick," "Pilates," "Racist Butt") *

Lizzo: Special (Nice Life/Atlantic) Catchy but not truly melodic, more dance than funk, assuming a common tongue where what once was p.c. jargon is now colloquial, this long-aborning Grammy follow-up with Max Martin in the house comes across simultaneously spontaneous and thought through and earned both ways. She's "heavy" and "big" and "thick" but never "fat"; she's "codependent" and proud she's gotten that far; she feels unending love that may well not stay that way for a clearly identified man and at least one woman and asks a major lover "Do you say this shit to other people?" She's special--and on a mission to convince us that all of us are too. A MINUS

The Paranoid Style: For Executive Meeting (Bar/None) The only sensible way to categorize the five dozen or so concise, literate, unfailingly catchy mid-tempo-plus songs Elizabeth Nelson has eked out or poured forth over the past decade is to slot them as pop-rock. Although she's as well-informed politically as any rocker or even rapper at our disposal--Jon Langford, can we say? a Randy Newman too punctilious to finish what he starts? Carsie Blanton or Dawn Oberg to get more obscure?--she limits the subject matter on her most playable album yet to the arts. Among the topics she addresses or at least names she drops are Steve Cropper, Ernest Hemingway, Harry Smith, XTC, Charles Bissell of the long lamented Wrens, album illustrator Barney Bubbles, half-witting Nazi collaborator P.G. Wodehouse, and partner Tim Bracy's overdue tribute to the Velvet Underground's secret weapon, Doug Yule. When she closes with a cover of Rosanne Cash's indelible "Seven Year Ache" it seems barely an upgrade technically. Her craft is that sure. But it may well leave you with the feeling that there are emotional places her music has yet to venture. A

Phelimuncasi: 2013-2019 (Nyege Nyege Tapes '20) Bassy and a touch dark, budding gqom politicos figure out how to extend and on occasion elaborate their conscious, unyielding groove ("Ngavele Ngagaxela," "Umahlalela," "Umgido") ***

Phelimuncasi: Ama Gogela (Nyege Nyege Tapes) Having named their first true album after a South African killer bee they report can possess you if it gets under your skin, this seasoned mixed-gender trio of gqom activists enlisted a small phalanx of Durban producers to spruce up its get-down. Few non-Zulu speakers will find anything here that obliterates the memory of a lead track where all three leads chant "I don't feel my legs/I don't feel my hands" as if that's liberation enough while the music lasts. But just about every one of these 11 five-minuteish tracks is hooked in addition to a vocal outburst if not catchphrase. Sure the beats vary too. But not like the hooks, which serve the essential function of piling extra flavors onto a groove that never quits. A MINUS

The Regrettes: Further Joy (Warner) Sex life as real life, complete with pop hooks and romantic ups and downs ("Barely on My Mind," "You're So Fucking Pretty") *

Derek Senn: The Big Five-0 (self-released) Since the fourth and best of his steadily improving run of DIY folk-rock albums foregrounds the biggest b-day in his now definitively middle-aged life, it seemed time to Google Senn some, which yielded two facts: 1) he has his own real-estate business in San Luis Obispo and 2) present company excluded, his chief press support comes from Netherlands-based Ljubinko Zivkovic in the contrarian Americana U.K. Opening with an excellent batch of pandemic songs--"Quarantine" and "Viruses Get Viruses" surround a bereft one called "Don't Shut Down My Surf Break" ("You can unemploy me deny my PPP/Shut down the slaughterhouse I'll go without steak")--he also addresses women's rights in the Texas legislature, vasectomy meeting scrotum, the wages of the Eritrean War, and a romance that goes south in Alaska. It seemed to me he was singing more evocatively as well. But only when he closed with "Use Me" was I convinced. A MINUS

Viagra Boys: Cave World (Year0001) Such a raw rendition of clueless hard rock punks gone full anti-vax MAGA-curious you may well feel it isn't distanced enough to qualify as satire ("Creepy Crawlers," "The Cognitive Trade-Off Hypothesis") **

Billy Woods: Aethiopes (Backwoodz Studioz) Makes sense that the only rapper sired by a Marxist scholar should concoct the best-informed stock market rap ever, and also that it's not terribly hooky ("Versailles," "NYNEX") **

And It Don't Stop, August 18, 2022

July 13, 2022 September 14, 2022