Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-02-07

2012-02-07

Thomas Anderson: The Moon in Transit (Four-Track Demos, 1996-2009) (Out There, 2012) By electing to expend his Dutch East India advance on a fancy tape recorder instead of the Velvet Underground reunion, this Austin singer-songwriter acquired the means to preserve his songs in analog form, and here's the fruit. There were two good albums and then three marginal ones over two decades, so who'd expect a grab bag to be his best? Yet it is. With all four tracks laid down DIY, it's even squarer rhythmically than his norm, and his calm drawl verges on the spectral. But it also verges on the hypnotic, and the guy can write stories and work up tunes. After a brief fanfare, there's an opener about the Donner Party so gruesome and precise I sometimes skip to the merely spooky "Heckling Houdini." Also featured are a 33-year-old groupie-turned-granny, a cross-dressing uncle, Ubangi-stomping Warren Smith, a painfully slow lunch with Nefertiti a few years or millennia too late, driving till you're dizzy in a dumbshit town, and the one about lost love and "Antihistamines": "Chlorpheniramine, Diphenhydramine,/Doxylamine, Phenindamine,/Tripolidine and Pheniramine,/I can't cure my pain with antihistamines." A-

Craig Finn: Clear Heart Full Eyes (Vagrant, 2012) On a wittingly laid-back solo debut where the declamatory Hold Steady frontman knows he can't bring off the country vocals his best songs deserve, he nails three flat-out anyway: "Terrified Eyes" (couple destroyed by their hospital bills), "When No One's Watching" (snazzy scuzzball seeks needy women), and "Balcony" (she does with her new man what she did with her old man back when he was new). The rest tend more, how to say it, evocative. But at least they evoke specifics--Middle American dramatis personae as marginal as Wussy's. B+

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