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As the leader of the International Pop Underground and avowed foe of the Corporate Ogre, Calvin Johnson has spent nearly his entire career avoiding the mainstream of rock music, and even when he or his K Records label have crossed paths with acts with wide visibility (most notably producing and releasing Beck's 1994 acoustic effort, One Foot in the Grave), they've done so on their own terms, with little regard to commercial potential. So what is Johnson doing making a dance-rock album with one of the Black Keys and a teen pop star of the new millennium? Released in 2018, A Wonderful Beast was created in collaboration with Patrick Carney, who co-wrote the songs and plays most of the instruments, while Johnson handles lead vocals, guitar, melodica, and keyboards and Michelle Branch (yes, of "Everywhere" fame) chimes in with backing vocals. The results meld muscular grooves and dance-friendly electronic accents with sharp guitars, keyboards that alternately run with and against the melodies, and Johnson's deep craggy vocals. While this doesn't exactly sound like a bid for mainstream visibility, A Wonderful Beast is polished and professional in a way most of Johnson's previous work has avoided, and it seems more accessible to unfamiliar listeners than, say, anything from the Beat Happening or Halo Benders catalogs. "When the Weekend Comes Around" has a good beat and you can dance to it, as does "Wherefore Art Thou," "Bubbles, Clouds and Rainbows" is an engaging anthem against the alt-right, and "Kiss Me Sweetly" and "A Wonderful Beast" are eccentric but full-bodied celebrations of love and desire. If this music is capable of filling the dancefloor, it also has just enough grit to avoid sounding slick, and Calvin sounds like himself as a singer and lyricist, fully engaged and ultimately uncompromised in his expressive eccentricity. A Wonderful Beast feels more like a partially successful experiment than a fully realized meeting of the minds, but Johnson, Carney, and Branch complement one another better than one might expect, and this shows Johnson is still game to try new things and push the boundaries of his musical comfort zone.