Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-11-06


The Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth (Merge, 2012) Thorny to begin with, John Darnielle reached some near-perfect threshold of liminal comprehensibility with Tallahassee 10 years ago, then got thornier again, albeit in liminally comprehensible mode. But here he goes so clear Tom Cruise may propose matrimony. If you want songs that hit as hard as "No Children" and "International Small Arms Traffic Blues," put on your body armor, because most of these hit harder. From "Amy AKA Spent Gladiator"'s unequivocal "stay alive" to the title youth rising heavenward on "air gone black with flies," here is all-embracing existential despair that refuses to get down in the mouth about it, peaking with two sunken-hopes tracks midway through that taken as a diptych constitute the greatest song he's ever written. Matthew E. White's horn charts are the musical development Darnielle has in store for us. But the dealmaker is Jon Wurster's spare, inescapable drumming. A

Ned Sublette: Kiss You Down South (Postmambo, 2012) My favorite tune here was also Thomas Jefferson's--the 18th-century hit "Money Musk," which Sublette appropriates the better to ensnare the "great brain of a brave new nation" in his own sweet trap. Listen faithfully and you'll find more, beginning with the geographical-anatomical title lick. But in truth I wish they weren't so subtle, just as I wish the clave aficionado had enlisted a rhythm section instead of recording these 14 songs as if his 1969 nylon-stringed Ramirez classical guitar was Leadbelly's steel, which it isn't--momentum-wise, anyway. That said, phrasing that stops you short he can do, and lyrically he's something else. "Flow" and "Between Piety and Desire," "Gangster Roots" and "The Auctioneer's Nightmare," "Drugs (Fuck All You Motherfuckers)" and "Hey God"--these deliver the requisite lyricism, complexity, and rage, respectively. The Jefferson song, entitled "Sally," delivers all three. A-

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