The self-proclaimed “Dean of American Rock Critics,” Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it—the music editor of the Village Voice from 1974 to 1985 and its chief music critic for several decades after that. At the Voice he created both the annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll and his monthly Consumer Guides. Christgau was one of the first critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: “Melodic.” He taught at New York University between 1990 and 2016, and has published six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City. A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017, will be available from Duke University Press in October. Every Friday we run Expert Witness, the weekly version of the Consumer Guide he launched in 2010. To find out more, read his welcome post; for almost five decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Methodist Hospital: Giants (self-released) Living proof that young white males can still make rock new, fun, meaningful, etc.—in this case Chicagoans Dan Caffrey on concept-lyrics-vocals-bass and Maxwell J. Shults on guitar-drums-bass-“sound design.” Nine tracks, 33 minutes, free if you want at Bandcamp but I say give them some money. Concept: giant cartoon monsters overrun either the world or the small Tampa-metro city of New Port Richey, where Pennsylvania-born Caffrey came of age. Subconcepts: the evolution of both cartooning and disaster flicks in millennial youth culture plus the evolution of music “from pop punk to ’90s alternative, sludge metal, ambient, and back.” The omnipresent guitars betray no showoff macho, I’ve been brain-humming “‘Hey, New Port Richey'” for days, and while the concept is goofy and generational and a tad hyperaesthetic, it also acknowledges an apocalypse that may literally impend. The key idea is attributed to a buddy of Caffrey who has since died: “Once you get to be a certain size, it doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad / You’re so big, you cause destruction wherever you go / Whether you want to or not / You can’t help it.” A MINUS
Rolling Blackouts C.F.: Hope Downs (Sub Pop) What’s most distinct about the best jangle-pop band to surface in years is also what’s weakest—the way the jangle-pop commonplaces “sparkling,” “effervescent,” and “boisterous” that adorn their raves don’t actually apply. “Addictive,” yes, which is why admirers rave and why I’m giving them their due. Lyrically, the mood is basically melancholy, which in songs like the mournful “Bellarine,” the reminiscent “Cappuccino City,” the pro-immigrant “Mainland,” and my favorite, the love-out-of-reach “Talking Straight” are dark notes I’m inclined to suspect their stauncher fans don’t feel, because that would dull their jangle-fix. FYI, the Hope Downs of the title is an iron reserve in Western Australia, but those words do have other resonances, don’t they? Sub Pop connects them to “the feeling of ‘standing at the edge of the void of the big unknown, and finding something to hold onto.'” The persistence of jangle-pop, for instance. B PLUS
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks: Sparkle Hard (Matador) On his best album in years, his two most fetching melodies power his most representational lyrics ever (“Bike Lane,” “Refute”) ***
Low Cut Connie: “Dirty Pictures” (Part 2) (Contender) America’s road band apply their well-traveled chops to Alex Chilton and desegregation but hit closer to home bewailing the perfidy of the biz and the limitations of youth’s spiritual advancement (“Master Tapes,” “All These Kids Are Way Too High”) **
Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar (Ninja Tune) Alt-rock success anxiety disorder generates its first Afro-Scottish variant (“Wow,” “Tremolo”) **
Okkervil River: In the Rainbow Rain (ATO) Will Sheff’s voice and temperament sweeten as his career finds its own level (“Famous Tracheotomies,” “Don’t Move Back to LA”) *
Eyelids: or (Jealous Butcher/Schizophrenic) Veteran indie sidemen concoct a Fountains of Wayne whose hooks they take too seriously (“Slow It Goes,” “Falling Eyes”) *
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