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: September, 2022

Guitars for those who believe in hope and those that don't, the finest album of one of hip-hop's most prolific careers, and rock-as-electrodance about struggle not devoid of satisfaction.

Etran de l'Aļr: Agadez (Sahel Sounds) Not at all slick but definitely more professional, clean-edged where one charm of their 2018 debut was how unkempt it was, the default up-and-comers of Agadez guitar generate a lot more drive this time around. Their Tuareg loyalty to an Azawad that exists primarily in their aspirations seems more presentational than activist at this moment in a crammed historical juncture with less and less room for that aspiration. But keeping the faith is a proven way to keep the music that arose with it alive. A MINUS

Fox Green: Holy Souls (self-released) Where their 2020 The Longest April was solid with impressive highlights, the songwriting on this unmistakably southern, utterly humanistic straight rock album from Arkansas tends spectacular verbally if less striking tunewise or jamwise. The lucky thing or maybe it was planned that way is that Wade Derden's mild, unaccented vocal affect suits the decency of the lyrics perfectly, turning them into something radiant from "I saw your daddy in a dream/His eyes were laser beams/He was a gamma ray" to "He's got sweet, sweet rims/And he's got you, he's got you," with the likes of "My baby is on the jail app/For everyone to see/My baby is on the jail app/But she's still my baby to me" and "Like two virgins in a sleeping bag/Tender and reckless in our love" biding their time in between. Eager to believe there's hope for America, not to mention Americana? Try this. A MINUS

Freedy Johnston: Back on the Road to You (Forty Below) Unnoticed by anyone but connoisseurs and an all too compact fanbase, the 61-year-old Johnston continues to craft subtly melodic, insufficiently catchy tunes at a rate of just a few a year and match these tunes with lyrics that know the ins and outs of a love life that's imbued with thoughtful kindness but has trouble keeping on. Many of these are touching, a few compelling. In one of my favorites, he raises himself from a bartender's sleep to watch his newish sweetie take public transport to an office he's never seen and likely never will. In another, he puts a nephew and/or niece to bed after explaining how life and death work. Thus I hope the woman he thinks he glimpses in "Trick of the Light" didn't die and am sorry to report that he leaves that possibility open. B PLUS

Kabaka International Guitar Band: Kabaka International Guitar Band (Palenque) Four tracks lasting 38 minutes, this would appear to be a verbatim reissue of an album released in Nigeria in 1978. Beguilingly light and irrepressibly jumpy, vocals shouty and guitar delicate, it will serve as an upful introduction to the soukous-inflected highlife or vice versa showcased on the long-lost Oriental Brothers International collections Heavy on the Highlife! and Do Better if You Can that the great John Storm Roberts bequeathed us on his Original Music label. A MINUS

Mach-Hommy: Dollar Menu 4 (Mach-Hommy) Gruffly reclusive Haitian-American rapper Mach-Hommy enlists his higher-pitched mack homey Fahim to share the vocals on their second album in two years, which while it runs out of ideas quicker than any nine-tracks-in-24-minutes should is a welcome complement to its overtly educational predecessor. "When we move it's similar to tectonic plates/It's a fine line between criticism and tryna hate" is how they begin an album where dropped names include Peter Frampton, Tanya Tucker, Peggy Guggenheim, Mark Cuban, and dream hampton and dropped wisdom ranges from "getting caught up in that street life can lead to your demise" to "fun is short for fundamental." Fortunately, the latter proves a reliable aesthetic principle. A MINUS

Mista Savona Presents Havana Meets Kingston Part 2/Toma 2 (Cumbancha) Cuba-based skank-clave fusions with Robbie Shakespeare holding up the whole ("Reggae y Son," "Guaracharį") ***

The Mountain Goats: Getting Into Knives (Merge '20) The songs just keep on coming, often sharp but less knifelike than we might hope ("Bell Swamp Connection," "Corsican Mastiff Stride," "Getting Into Knives") ***

The Mountain Goats: Bleed Out (Merge) It's not like John Darnielle grabbed a chance to go on either vacation or what they call hiatus. Near as we can tell he never stops, and during the pandemic he not only put out two matched if insufficiently indistinguishable live-in-the-studio jobs headed The Jordan Lake Sessions but recorded an album of songs inspired by French hellenist Pierre Chuvin and then funneled the proceeds directly to his Covid-grounded road crew. But the mere rockers in the vast ring of fans who surround his giant cult will be pleased to note that after a long keyby spell, this one leans heavily on electric guitars. As a result the tracks seem to coalesce even when you don't altogether follow the allusive logic of their lyrics, although that's less problematic than usual on the most compelling bunch of songs he's put in one place in over a decade. Good guys or bad guys, most of the protagonists here are on some edge or other in a culture stretched near the breaking point by greed and violence that have become commonplaces. The title track is a finale. It offers zero hope that all will end well. A

Petrol Girls: Baby (Full Time Hobby [Hassle Catalogue]) Riot grrrl as screamo, which makes sense politically in this moment-we-hope but still can wear anybody's ears out ("Baby, I Had an Abortion," "Preachers") **

Homeboy Sandman: I Can't Sell These (self-released) Twenty in all, which he "can't sell" because he hasn't cleared samples that originated with not just beatmakers from Diamond D to Umra but elements discerned in Sault's "Free" and the Fiona Apple soundtrack number "Dull Tool" as well as tunebeds traceable to Venezuelan electronic composer Angel Rada, 1957 Crescent City breakout Frogman Henry, and the Parks and Recreation theme song. He will, however, give them away via Bandcamp, and should you reciprocate with a gift of your own will gratefully accept it. This is, after all, the finest album of one of hip-hop's most prolific careers--including Aesop Rock collabs, some 25 albums and EPs since 2007. He just wants you to know that money doesn't help you play in the snow--and about a thousand other things as well. One that touches me especially criticizes as it celebrates the many bus routes of Queens. A

Santigold: Spirituals (Little Jerk) The longtime biz pro born Santi White in Philadelphia in 1976 released her first and formerly best album at 32. After a six-year layoff not counting the 2018 outtakes venture that gave her time to have twins, this is her fourth and her sharpest, transmuting the atmospheric midtempo rock-as-electrodance she's long fiddled with so engagingly into something more ominous, almost as if she's observant enough to notice that she's living in history. From the "My Horror" opener's "Here I come, there I go/I can't feel it's like I'm paralyzed" to the "Fall First" finale's "I slam the brakes but you say no way/But before you know we're there," she sounds very glad to have a companion in a struggle by no means devoid of satisfactions. A MINUS

Dusty Springfield: Dusty Sings Soul (Ace) Still in her twenties with a vast if less than consistently canonical African-American songbook hers to convey to a wide-open '60s U.K. youth market, she applies her considerable heart, enthusiasm, IQ, and let us not forget voice to its array ("Can I Get a Witness," "Nothing," "Oh No Not My Baby," "All Cried Out") **

Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers: Pretty Good for a Girl Band (Domestic La La) These four nth-generation Canberra punks aren't just pissed anymore. They're itching to get out of there as dirty cups pile up next to the sink and the glare of passing brights lays waste to sleep in your freeway-adjacent bedroom. The highlight-cum-lowlight of their EP is "Girl Sports," where some jerk mansplains: "It's pretty complicated you wouldn't understand." But they admit it--they're feeling "naggy," "sorry," "lonely," "mad," "stubborn," and for that matter "bull dragon." The girl-band life can be that way. B PLUS

Kate Vargas: Rumpumpo (Bandaloop) New Mexico-bred, Brooklyn-based Berklee flute grad considers her spiritual options in a dissolutely gritty soprano and invites us to the party where she plans to nail them to the wall ("Rumpumpo," "Church of the Misdirection") **

And It Don't Stop, September 14, 2022

August 18, 2022 October 12, 2022