Love, Doubt, and Death in New York City: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau

Robert Christgau explores the "finest" albums from Laurie Anderson and Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts.

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Oct 30 2015, 3:32pm

Welcome to Expert Witness with Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics." He currently teaches at NYU and published multiple books throughout his life. For nearly four decades, he worked as the music editor for The Village Voice, where he created the annual Pazz & Jop poll. Every Friday, Noisey will happily publish his long-running critical column. To learn more about him and his life, read his welcome post here.

Continued below.

Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog (Nonesuch)

The soundtrack to a film I missed is also Anderson'a simplest and finest album, accruing power and complexity as you relisten and relisten again: 75 minutes of sparsely but gorgeously and aptly orchestrated tales about a) her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle and b) the experience of death. There are few detours—even her old fascination with the surveillance state packs conceptual weight. Often she's wry, but never is she satiric; occasionally she varies spoken word with singsong, but never is her voice distorted. She's just telling us stories about life and death and what comes in the middle when you do them right, which is love. There's a lot of Buddhism, a lot of mom, a whole lot of Lolabelle, and no Lou Reed at all beyond a few casual "we"s. Only he's there in all this love and death talk—you can feel him. And then suddenly the finale is all Lou, singing a rough, wise, abstruse song about the meaning of love that first appeared on his last great album, Ecstasy—a song that was dubious there yet is perfect here. One side of the CD insert is portraits of Lolabelle. But on the other side there's a note: "dedicated to the magnificent spirit/of my husband, Lou Reed/1942-2013." I know I should see the movie. But I bet it'd be an anticlimax. A PLUS

Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts: Manhattan (Rough Trade)

The title tune of Lewis's catchiest and finest album lasts eight subtly varied, steadfastly strophic minutes, its only bridge the Williamsburg, which Lewis and his girlfriend cross on foot as he tells her it's over before putting her on the subway back to Brooklyn. Pushing 40 now, this second-generation bohemian knows his turf from "Scowling Crackhead Ian," where the kid who held a knife to his throat in junior high is still befouling St. Marks Place, to "The Pigeon," which stuffs some 30 choice Yiddishisms—“schnorrer," "verkakte," "furshlugginer," oy gevalt—into a Poe-parodying Delancey Street anti-gentrification kvetch. As promised only a hell of a lot slower, he spends nearly five minutes collecting his thoughts in "It Only Takes a Moment." But he gets where he's going just about every time. A

Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter and read the archives of his criticism on his website.