Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-10-04

2011-10-04

Emperor X: Western Teleport (Bar/None, 2011) Lapsed science teacher Chad Matheny specialized in electro-noise until he figured out how chords and beats work, enabling him to put together a futuristic folk music in which nerdy melodies rise out of a shambolic clatter that's the best anyone can expect with the power going out all the time. The opening "Erica Western Teleport" and the closing "Erica Western Geiger Counter" celebrate his crush on a rebel hero who scopes corporatist disaster areas where dystopian sci-fi is indistinguishable from democratic-socialist realism. In "Compressor Repair" he wishes he could fix the ecologically incorrect air conditioner of a girl who deserves to be cool. "Allahu Akbar" establishes his material solidarity with the strugglers of Tahrir Square. A-

Merle Haggard: Working in Tennessee (Vanguard, 2011) Now 74 and short half a lung, he's not making the best music of his life, just the best albums. The playing keeps getting savvier, he hasn't lost as much voice as God intended, his homegrown anarchism is feistier than ever, and with help from his fifth wife he's still writing keepers. Not even the anti-Nashville "Too Much Boogie Woogie" feels like filler. Try a title track that crests with "Well the water came in, the water went out/Saw the Hall of Fame floatin' about," or the equally insouciant "Laugh It Off," or the love songs for seniors "Down on the Houseboat" (they've got money) and "Under the Bridge" (they don't), or a "What I Hate" where he blames the resurgent Civil War on the Rebels. Or if all that sounds too darn modern, start with the three oldies: "Cocaine Blues" on his lonesome, "Jackson" with his fifth wife, and "Working Man Blues" with Shotgun Willie and his own 17-year-old son. Man's learned how to live, and he has no intention of stopping. A-

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