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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: October, 2022

A Ukrainian revolutionary, an always-say-die grouch, a profusion of differently complicated sex lives, and a nuanced trifecta-of-sorts from the world's hottest under-30 pop star.

The Beths: Expert in a Dying Field (Carpark) The title track, an extended analogy between a love turned old and an academic career in an obsolescent discipline, could also be said to sum up the formal approach of this New Zealand guitar-guitar-bass-drums tuneful-not-melodic not-quite-power pop. As background music it seems pleasant but plain. The sole singer is Elizabeth Stokes, who also wrote all the songs beyond a single collab with guitarist-producer Jonathan Pearce. But soon you notice that Pearce is some guitarist, and soon after that, when you've found time to give the lyrics the attention they turn out to deserve, you can't wait to hear how the next one will turn out. The title track is dazzling flat-out, a failing relationship in less than 200 meticulously metaphorical words. But the rest are almost as articulate and also less dark: "I cave like I was built to break/You stay like it's a passing rain"; "I want to leave you out there/Waiting in the downpour/Singing that you're sorry/Dripping on the hall floor"; "It's a pain in the heart/Clean the blood from your shirt"; "If you want to whisper/I swear I want to listen"; and in summation "Mixing drinks and messages/It's been quite a year." A MINUS

The Chats: Get Fucked (Bargain Bin) Recently resettled in the capital of their absorbent nation-continent, former quartet unleash 13 heartwarmingly recidivist punk rants in 28 minutes ("Paid Late," "Emperor of the Beach") **

Ezra Furman: All of Us Flames (Anti-) My favorite thing here is the rousing pre-revolutionary opener "Train Comes Through," my second favorite "Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club," about Furman's teen crush on the gal she wanted not to fuck but to be. But on almost every track trademark high-tenor urgency delivers songs that tend somewhat less compelling than on 2018's picaresque Transangelic Exodus or 2019's punky Twelve Nudes. Be sure not to miss "Point Me Toward the Real," the fervent hope of someone who just got picked up at the "County Cook Psychiatry Institute" in a convertible driven by a benefactor whose relationship to the singer remains tantalizingly undefined--especially since Furman is a known rabbi-in-waiting. B PLUS

Gogol Bordello: Solidaritine (Cooking Vinyl/Casa Bordello) Now 50, Eugene Hutz obviously hasn't grown more mellifluous with the years, but the rawness isn't just physiological. Having fled Ukraine with his part-Roma family in the wake of Chernobyl 1986, Hutz spent six years getting to the U.S., where by the early '00s he was on his way to worldwide cult renown. But since he now finds his birth nation under brutal attack by a new breed of fascists, it's only natural that his 2022 songs are rawer, angrier, and less "musical" than those on 2017's Seekers and Finders. What may seem less natural until you figure out why you can't stop listening is that this is his best album ever not counting 2007's triumphant Super Taranta! Raw and angry is only a precondition--it shares its title with the imaginary hormone named on the opening track, a biochemical miracle that unites humans engaged in concerted struggle. After which the album unfurls song after song that evoke such a struggle: "I'm Coming Out" (as a human who resists "the technogenic sphere"), "Take Only What You Can Carry" (your bare hands will do to scoop water), "Knack for Life" (the faculty that helps you sense when the ice is too thin). It's "The Era of the End of Eras," and we'd better adjust. Fugazi gets a cover, Bad Brains a cameo. It's all hands on deck. A

Dylan Hicks & Small Screens: Airport Sparrows (Soft Launch) If lounge-rock there must be, then let it be as brainy and stubbornly unslick as this ("I Ain't Forgotten This," "Happiness") *

Rhett Miller: The Misfit (ATO) Although the Bowie-meets-Eno analogy he claims is among other things a mite abstract, the fifth solo album by the inventor-protagonist of the Old 97's, recorded in Covid's wake with Brooklynite Sam Cohen, sure isn't anything like "alt-country." Although the melodies are as graced as ever, the tempos tend moderate and the sonics synthy. Many of the songs adduce personal relationships more complex than I'd wish on any long-married 52-year-old father of two near-adult teenagers. But when songwriting is your craft, you follow the tales and logic that present themselves. From "Let's spend the night together and never spend the night together again" to "If I'm gonna get to heaven I'm gonna have to go through you" to "At the end of the day/You'll be glad/You'll be glad you stayed," he's in both love and art for the long haul. B PLUS

Angel Olsen: Big Time (Jagjaguwar) With all the melodrama her economy-size soprano demands or is it permits, she explains the pitfalls, complexities, and agonies of romantic love better than she explains why she chose the partners who inspired her to reflect on them ("All the Good Times," "Go Home") ***

Amanda Shires: Take It Like a Man (ATO) Shires has told interviewers that several of the 10 songs on this album reflect dicey patches in her marriage to Jason Isbell. But that's no reason to get literal about who's who or what's what. Ultimately they're songs, which like all works of art generate formal imperatives that seldom jibe perfectly with the life experiences that got them started. They don't even leave much room for Shires's violin, and often retain a rawness that prevents them from snapping shut cleverly the way good little well-turned cheating songs do. Several project a sexuality all the more convincing because it's so raw; others end in the emotional middle, before the resolution we're craving is achieved; quite a few feel profound. The part I like best comes dead center, when one that ends "You could say it's all my fault/We just couldn't get along/And if anyone asks I'll say what's true/And really it's I don't know" leads immediately to one that begins "Just when you think you've had enough/All you could take/When you think you've got no more heart left to break/Here he comes." A

Harry Styles: Harry Styles (Columbia '17) Coming off his long boy-band run, Styles not only made sure his solo debut was rock and roll, he didn't shy away from sex or drugs either--for instance "Only Angel," where "she's a devil in between the sheets," or the opening "Meet Me in the Hallway," where his goal isn't companionship but morphine. That said, these are songs with content, songs with stories to tell or metaphors to drop and also songs with pulse and definition. He'll get better, and quite famous for it too. But from the start he's on his own way. A MINUS

Harry Styles: Fine Line (Columbia '19) Hasn't yet figured out where and how far he can go after a launch a little too daunting let him simply steer the ship back to earth ("Falling," "Golden") *

Harry Styles: Harry's House (Columbia) Any pop star who can make a slogan if not an especially great song out of "Treat People With Kindness" has a head start with me, although not so's I'm inclined to give One Direction another shot. In a career that's evolved aesthetically as well as commercially, solo Harry has worked hard on the details of product placement, and on his third album he takes his boy-group preeminence well past the finest work of 'NSync or the Backstreet Boys. The payoff isn't its sexual candor--that's been there. It's more the way the horns recede after punching up the lead "Music for a Sushi Restaurant," making way for a synthesized soundscape of striking subtlety and charm that easily accommodates the acoustic guitar sonics that add extra delicacy to "Matilda" and "Boyfriend." Even more remarkable is the way the lyrics this soundscape cushion and accentuate achieve a metaphorical reach and narrative concreteness truly rare in megapop. "You stub your toe or break your camera/I'll do everything to help you through." "Science and edibles/life hacks going viral in the bathroom." "I bring the pop to the cinema/You pop when we get intimate." "He starts secretly drinking/It's hard to know what he's thinking." And plenty more. A

Sudan Archives: Natural Brown Prom Queen (Stones Throw) Cincinnati native turned Black L.A. ethnomusicologist Brittney Parks had the extra sass to send this impressively pancultural array of Afrocentric tracks she'd created to an array of producers and then sequencing whatever combinations struck her ear and fancy into an atmospheric whole. Lyrics are sometimes collegial and sometimes gangsta, sometimes romantic and sometimes domestic, sometimes metaphysical and sometimes sexual, sometimes civilized and sometimes grotty. They leave open such questions as what exactly happened in Amsterdam and the likely intentions of her roughneck cousin in Chicago. The whole sounds pretty great and also pretty atmospheric. What it all means remains to be determined, which isn't to lay any bets that that consummation will ever be reached. A MINUS

Loudon Wainwright III: Lifetime Achievement (Storysound) Just two years ago this direct descendant of Peter Stuyvesant released the fully orchestrated standards album I'd Rather Lead a Band, and two years before that the half-spoken soundtrack to the Netflix special Surviving Twin, his acerbic, fondly admiring one-man show about Life magazine eminence Loudon Wainwright Jr. Since the idea on what I calculate to be his 30th album is to brag about reaching his 75th birthday, it is my sad duty to report that he did a better job on 2012's Older Than My Old Man Now, where he bragged about reaching his 65th birthday. But much more than on Surviving Twin, the most memorable stroke of which is a preposterously civilized reading of his dad's snobbish notes on the London tailor who fashioned his best suit, or I'd Rather Lead a Band, which broadens his perceived frame of reference rather than staking any meaningful claim on "Ain't Misbehavin'" much less adding his own "How I Love You" to the pop canon, this album is the 18th unmitigated keeper in what is by now a vast catalogue of bottomless facility and immense frame of reference. The most annoying track bewails a family vacation under the anxiety-prone title "Fam Vac." The most warming assumes the voice of a dog regretting his people's divorce. The most impressive reflects on the lifetime achievement of the title in the voice of a guy who sounds something like 50. Loudon Jr. died at 62. Assuming III cuts down on the wine, what he calls "It" may not get him for longer than he might well prefer--or so he believes at a not literally eternal 75. A MINUS

Charli XCX: Crash (Atlantic) Quintessentially minor teenpop prediva closes out her five-album label deal like the effervescent champion post-teenpop you-know-what she needs to prove she can be ("Beg for You," "Crash") ***

And It Don't Stop, October 12, 2022

September 14, 2022 November 9, 2022