Punk Miracles: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau
The Dean tackles records from The Goon Sax, Thurst, Priests, and Let's Eat Grandma.
The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it. He was the music editor at the Village Voice for almost four decades where he created the trusted annual Pazz & Jop Poll. He was one of the first mainstream critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." On top of his columns, he has published six books, including his 2015 autobiography, Going Into the City. He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To read more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
The Goon Sax: Up for Anything (Chapter Music) My brilliant wife heard Go-Betweens in this high school band well before I learned that Robert Forster's son Louis was a cofounder or that they were "driven" by a female drummer or even that they were Australian. Nah, I told her, though I liked them fine—too crude. And indeed, they're cruder than even the earliest Go-Betweens, who were a university band after all, and somewhat static at their worst. Usually, however, they're charming at least. When Louis fantasizes about a "Boyfriend" or James Harrison hates the "Telephone," it just accentuates the specifically adolescent angst they pin down so much more candidly and affectingly than any other high school band that comes to mind. "If you don't want to hold my sweaty hands / I completely understand"? Pretty mature, in its way. A MINUS
Thurst: Cut to the Chafe (self-released) For the how-many-hundredth time, it's the punk miracle, here performed by late-twentysomething singer-guitarist Kory Seal with help from older sister Jessie Seal on drums and backup vocals plus a bassist friend. The tempos are brisk but seldom speedy as the tunes mine the nursery-rhyme and playground-chant riches of punk drone and whine, with Kory laying in guitar hooks whenever he intuits we might be getting bored. His core attitude is earned alienation, his "I'm always just gonna be me" neither boast or self-laceration. By living "Paycheck to Paycheck" he earns the right to dis the "Struggling Artist" whose parents pay the rent. But he backs it up by branding "fuck the government" "an excuse," by admitting he should "interact with people," and by wondering where the "Lonely Webcam Girl"'s parents are. B PLUS
Frontier Ruckus: Enter the Kingdom (Sitcom Universe) Somebody marry this winsome sad sack, whose increasingly plausible rhymes now include open-ibuprofen, gauche-precocious-neurosis, salad on the tennis court-valid passport, speckled melanin-freckled up your skin, and the very sexy errands-gerunds ("Visit Me," "27 Dollars") ***
Let's Eat Grandma: I, Gemini (PIAS America) Anyone who thinks these two self-consciously childish British teengirls are a mess is a tightass, and anyone who thinks they're geniuses is a doodyhead ("Eat Shiitake Mushrooms," "Rapunzel) ***
Stef Chura: Messes (Urinal Cake) Wobbly indie rocker staggers beckoningly but keeps on going, so don't even think about thinking she hopes you'll hold her up ("Human Being," "On and Off for You") **
Priests: Nothing Feels Natural (Sister Polygon) Musicianly postgraduate postpunk steals one of its few credible melodies from X-Ray Spex and proves hookiest when ranting ("No Big Bang," "Suck") **
Lithics: Borrowed Floors (Water Wing) Portlandia Delta 5 fans are coy about who's on guitar, probably because they're afraid he's the star, and yes I'll bet money it's a he ("Labor," "Seven People") *
Vagabon: Infinite Worlds (Father/Daughter) Demographically enticing indie-rocker emotes credible strum'n'drum but should fool around more with the electronics thing ("Mal à L'aise," "Minneapolis") *
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