Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

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