Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2019-06-28

2019-06-28

Bettern Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center (Dead Oceans, 2019) In which Conor and Phoebe muster too much crafty retrospect and tuneful desperation, not enough clear-eyed anger or social resolve. ("Didn't Know What I Was In For," "Chesapeake") **

Robert Cray: Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm (Jay-Vee, 2017) Al Green's band is the concept for a blues reviver who's always written even better than he played and played rather better than he sang, with focus tracks by the late great Lowman Pauling and the Trump-despising blues reviver himself. ("I'm With You," "Just How Low"). *

Desaparecidos: Payola (Epitaph, 2015) The catch in Conor Oberst's voice isn't much of a vehicle for punk outrage, but that's not why so many ignored his gift for the conscious quatrain when he released this just as Trump began making bigotry big again in June, 2015. It's the alt-rock world's endemic confusion of the explicit with the corny combined with the pop world's aversion for anything serious except romantic chagrin. The bombast is so committed to volume that the tunes get muffled. But that doesn't mean they're not there. And among lyrics that vary in quality and clarity as lyrics will, most are sharp and five are machetes: "City on the Hill" excavating the bones it's built on, "Search the Searches"'s surveillance-state advisory, "Golden Parachutes"'s venture-capital spreadsheet, "MariKKKopa"'s refugee anthem, and "Te Amo Camila Vallejo," for Chile's very own AOC. A-

The Mekons: Deserted (Bloodshot, 2019) Powering rock music of ineluctable muscle with Tom Greenhalgh's congested outcry at its heart, it's more like they're struggling out of the mud than spinning their wheels in the sand, so pray it's not an omen that the mud still has them as it does us all. ("Harar 1883," "Lawrence of California") ***

Nicki Minaj: Queen (Young Money/Cash Money/Republic, 2018) I missed this August 2018 item while homing in on Eminem's September album because hip-hop's bureau of standards brushed hers aside as inconsequential while actively attacking his as an offense against the polity. In fact, both are quick-lipped, sharp-tongued arguments for the hip-hop they and I came up on and the endangered kind of flow both excel at. And both are funny, outrageous, self-confident announcements that neither artist has any intention of going away. Minaj articulates the stakes with the opening "As the world turns, the blunt burns/Watch them cunts learn" before reeling off three pointedly female, pointedly unfeminine sex songs so spectacular that the album never tops them. She also drops brand names like a good rap star should and shows off her connections with seven high-profile cameos, including godmother Foxy Brown, little sister Ariana Grande, postflow Swae Lee, and world speedster Eminem himself. And then there's the best touch--her hip-hop turf all too obviously contested, she doesn't sing a note. A-

Kristi Stassinopoulou & Stathis Kalyviotis: NYN (Riverboat, 2016) Keyed to Stassinopoulou's simultaneously gentle and haunting soprano, Greek multi-traditionalists find pleasure and the will to go on in schooled, imaginative modern fusions. ("Erhatai Heimonas [Winter Is Coming]," "Kyma To Kyma [Wave by Wave]") ***

Western Centuries: Songs From the Deluge (Free Dirt, 2018) Devoid of cornball retro throughout, three-songwriter nuevo-honky tonk combo rises to the top whenever Ethan Lawton's number comes up. ("Far From Home," "Own Private Honky Tonk") ***

Wreckless Eric: Transience (Southern Domestic, 2019) Half a dozen riffs durable enough to support a jam of sorts, many attached to strong first lines, perhaps three of which unfold into full-fledged songs. ("Father of the Man," "Strange Locomotion") ***

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