Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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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, 2019

Major artists changing their tune can take some getting used to

black midi: Schlagenheim (Rough Trade) This young g-g-b-d is such a sensation in Britain its reviews there read like competing thesis abstracts, and while all the talk of math-rock, King Crimson, and Japanese genres I've never heard of might discourage a geezer like me from applying his magnifying glass to the lyric booklet, he'd already Spotified their album in the wake of a good-humored Pitchfork rave and was reminded of Pavement and 75 Dollar Bill. The drummer is the virtuoso, the bassist the rock, the unmatched guitars the sound, and singer Geordie Greep . . . well, as Pitchfork guy Jeremy D. Larson put it: "Imagine someone with the name 'Geordie Greep' and that's exactly what he sounds like." On their hysterical breakthrough "bmbmbm," Greep deploys his unhinged upper register to repeat variants on the phrase "She moves with a purpossse" until you're ready for a closer that ends with the Polish words for please, thank you, and goodbye. Message: Brexit lurks. A MINUS

Chance the Rapper: The Big Day (self-released) Since the rhyming may seem slack when you follow every word, why bother? As I've determined via the old-fashioned ploy of sticking my (burned) CD in my (overpriced) changer, the opener's choral "we-back" intro and self-sufficient lyric lighten up the room every time they come round, and that mood never dulls. Not one of the crowd of cameos is tossed off. Ben Gibbard reclaims his eternal boyhood, En Vogue relive their lost girlhood, CocoRosie put in their five seconds, two party-pooping, wisdom-dispensing male elders blend sagacity and pomposity with a comic flair dispersed by Randy Newman's disconsolate solace, and Nicki Minaj bids her rap career farewell with the theme outro "It's possible, it's possible/It's possible to me." And the strongest rhymes redound to Chance solo: "Found a Good One" and his half of the Minaj-topped finale. Both celebrate his wedding day with a cred the cameos only flesh out, a cred that will endure as art even if the marriage itself fails--this is showbiz, after all. Best wishes to the happy couple and all their progeny. A

Tyler Childers: Country Squire (RCA/Hickman Holler) This guy can write. For the second straight album, he mixes a few sure-shot classics into nine straight winners--imaginatively observed, acutely colloquial songs of the Appalachian life, the musician's lot, or both. On 2017's Purgatory I loved the way he pivoted off the title into the doctrinal matters that still persist where fundamentalism rules, for the object of his special affection is a papist so unbiblical as to believe there's a place between heaven and hell. Here he's apparently married this infidel, a paragon who texted him the selfies that inspire the juiciest wanking song in the literature--"It gets so hard out on the road," so thank the Lord the motel has his "favorite lotion" and his "Ever Lovin' Hand." Other topics include the muse he can't refuse, the '66 camper he's customizing, a school bus driver who'll paddle your ass, and the high price of peace of mind. A MINUS

Tyler Childers: Live on Red Barn Radio I & II (Thirty Tigers/Hickman Holler) Born in 1991, Childers was no longer a kid in 2013 and 2014, when he recorded the two four-song EPs combined here. But he wasn't yet a man either. Instead, he was just old enough to know how good he was at the songwriting stuff even if he had trouble with the life stuff the songs drew on: "I believe if I could find my keys/I'd try to drive away" are the words of somebody who doesn't know whether "it's the wine or the coke/That makes her sound like her jaw is broke." Such well-turned dilemmas dominate this phase of his repertoire. The most manly is a heart-tugger about a pal's dead grandma: "Back when all us boys were tryin'/To make sense of all these strings/I can see her in the corner/Singin' along to all our crazy dreams." A MINUS

Chuck Cleaver: Send Aid (Shake It) Ten songs lasting 27 minutes recorded by Wussy's grand old man in two days total, often backed by a drum machine although Mark and Lisa chip in, as do half a dozen others including a flesh-and-blood drummer actually named Dylan McCartney. As with most Wussy albums, the tunes don't register as tunes at first, although the refrain of the opening "Terrible Friend"--"I'm a terrible friend," it goes--sticks before the song is over once. And then suddenly the tunes stick too, just like with a Wussy album. Not that they're uplifting or anything. Bypassing his spiritual high croon for his sober middle register, Cleaver sounds not so much glummer as darker than usual, and while the situations tend failed/doomed romantic, underlying them is a world where "The Weekend That It Happened" involved an ecocatastrophe, "Children of the Corn" recapitulates a horror movie, "The Night We Missed the Horror Show" was "just another night," and "If it looks like a hole it's probably a hole." A MINUS

The Exbats: E Is for Exbats (Burger) Comprising guitar-playing father Kenny McLain and teenaged singer-drummer daughter Inez McLain, this southeast Arizona punk unit isn't as sharp as Billie Eilish or Chai. But they do repay the attention due any artistic unit whose premature best-of could inspire me to name both wunderkinds in the same sentence. Lifted from their 2016 debut A Guide to Health Issues Affecting Rescue Hens, "Everybody Loves My Mom" is no longer their compositional peak on the strength of such couplets as "She watches sports on TV/She's got more friends than me." That honor now goes to "Hey Dummy" and "Maximum of Happy" rendered as a diptych. B PLUS

Mike: Tears of Joy (10K) Clotted samples and rapping more muttered than mumbled further thicken congested evocations of allusive confusion and literal mourning ("Memorial," "Stargazer Pt. 3") ***

Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire: Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire (Chocolate Rabbit) Saith The Matrix: "You don't have to be defined by external expectations of who you're supposed to be" ("Nothing's What It Seems: Short Film," "Nosedive") **

Rapsody: Eve (Jamla/Roc Nation) Because excessive solemnity is woke music's cardinal sin, I wish "Serena" came up earlier than track six, because by then I was craving a hook I couldn't get enough of, plus this one is lifted from Miami's Dr. Luke, of censored, sexist "Me So Horny" renown. It's so reassuring to hear this staunchly political North Carolinian 36-year-old embrace those particular Southern roots, helping me relish as well as admire her tireless rhyming: "Tommy Boy" to "tomboy," "mothership" to "other shit," "anime" to "Anna Mae" (Bullock, look it up), and it don't stop. With every track named after a black heroine--the part of Eighteenth Dynasty pharaoh Hatshepsut is played by who other than Queen Latifah--Rapsody keeps the knowledge coming. Representing for the brothers is who else but J. Cole. And for that Marianne Williamson touch here's L.A. "self-love" advocate Reyna Biddy. A MINUS

Sleater-Kinney: The Center Won't Hold (Mom + Pop) It took me more than a month and well over a dozen plays to finally hear this album as the extreme break Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker embrace and Janet Weiss wants out of. Misled by my mistrust of producer St. Vincent's polished professionalism and plain old art-rock, I was also put off--yet impressed as well--by the industrial drumbeat/cowbell that announces the title opener and then repeats every two seconds for the first two minutes of its three. But eventually I noticed myself perking up every time the CD began, because this wasn't just a hook but a grabby one--the grabbiest on an album that gives it competition straight through to the end. Though journalistic toilers seeking refuge from pop divadom may resent the album's musical efficiency, I find it meatier than either Charly Bliss or Taylor Swift, and those are records I like a lot. Moreover, it has politics from its Yeatsian opener to a closer that invokes both #MeToo and Hillary '16 if you want it to, plus "Hurry on Home" evokes an abusive husband as well as an abusive system whether Brownstein thinks so or not. Ah the elusive allusiveness of the hooky pop song. A MINUS

Westside Gunn: Flygod Is an Awesome God (Griselda) Buffalo Wu/RZA admirer too impatient to clear his samples (cf. Supreme Blientele, the Hitler Wears Hermes series) finally releases an album we can buy, complete with literacy p.s.a., Pink Floyd quote, and Andy Warhol impression ("Thousand Shot Mac," "Bautista") ***

The Wood Brothers: One Drop of Truth (Honey Jar) Standard Americana with deeper angles, sharper edges, and notable emotional smarts ("River Takes the Town," "Laughin' or Crying") *

And It Don't Stop, Oct. 9, 2019

Sept. 18, 2019 Nov. 13, 2019