Robert Christgau on The Goon Sax's Humble Reflections
The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews the Australian trio's 'We're Not Talking,' Mad Crush's new self-titled LP, plus recent releases from Flasher and Weakened Friends.
Photo: Ryan Topaz
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, is now available from Duke University Press. 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.
The Goon Sax: We're Not Talking (Wichita Recordings) Although Louis Forster takes fewer leads on this young threesomes's smoother and trickier follow-up, their unpretentious affect, plain guitar, and flat groove still recall the early years of his dad's Go-Betweens. True, Louis reports that he's barely heard them. But I doubt de facto frontman James Harrison was so cautious, and can imagine drummer Riley Jones learning that Lindy Morrison never stepped up to the mike and deciding she'd better: "I don't want distance / When distance always seems to be the thing / That comes and hurts us." In any case, a university art band they're not. Instead they're still reflecting on adolescence with a humility and concentration that hurts. No one's calling but they're not picking up the phone. Passing your bus stop hurts even though they know you need time to yourself. Come to think on it, they "never knew what love meant" anyway. Yet already mortality impends in the form of "piles of books I'll never read / And a list of things I'll never be." Twelve songs in half an hour that say more than they pretend and plenty they may only intuit. A MINUS
Mad Crush: Mad Crush (Upon This Rock) Because the guitar-bass-drums-violin as well as the vocals aren't so much subtle as mild, these seven love songs never work up the right pitch of emotional intelligence. But you still believe in your heart that John Elderkin and Joanna Sattin are a couple, because only a couple would notice these things? In the jocose "My Pre-Existing Conditions" Elderkin admits to two left feet, getting stuck in the past, needing to talk before bed, and there's more. In the pained "Where Does It Hurt" Sattin is so sick with ennui she asks only that he still be there in the morning. And he will be, because elsewhere they stay in bed, miss each other when they don't, and overnight a Christmas turkey on Amazon Prime so it'll be there for the Fourth of July. B PLUS
Flasher: Constant Image (Domino) Twentysomethings foresee, rue, and encapsulate in tightly wound pop-rock a constrained, moderately diverting life of futile, moderately comfortable survival ("Go," "XYZ") ***
Weakened Friends: Common Blah (Don Giovanni) Brave young woman gains ground in her wavery-quavery battle with insecurity, which this album proves she has the stuff to win ("Younger," "Early") **
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