Robert Christgau Takes on Mitski's Disquieting Angst

The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews Mitski's 'Be the Cowboy,' Soccer Mommy's 'Clean,' Adrianne Lenker's 'Abysskiss,' and Nice As Fuck's self-titled effort.

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Jan 4 2019, 5:37pm

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.

Mitski, Be The Cowboy

Mitski: Be the Cowboy (Dead Oceans) Fourteen structurally cunning, melodically engaging, verbally coherent songs that for a compact 33 minutes address romantic angst from a disquieting angle. When women dig into their love lives men usually come out the bad guys, as they should, because men mistreat and undervalue the women they're with much more than vice versa. But the few times the singer tries to reconnect with an unattainable ex she blames the disconnect on herself because she made the approach, and more often she's the unattainable one and wishes she wasn't. The lead "Geyser" hints that the culprit is the music she's hung up on instead, and in "Remember My Name" that becomes explicit: "I gave too much of my heart tonight/Can you come to where I'm staying and make some extra love/That I can save till tomorrow's show?" But her loneliness is so ingrained that it's just as likely she got stuck on music because human love felt beyond her to begin with. That's why she's so disquieting, and so original. But by definition it doesn't make her more lovable. A MINUS

soccer mommy, clean

Soccer Mommy: Clean (Fat Possum) Sophie Allison's melancholy drags less and charms more than teen-alt's indie-strummed norm, and not only that—it's fortified by tastier guitar parts. So if they hit the palate at a strange angle, figure that's as it should be—love can feel pretty bittersweet when your boyfriend's ex is prettier than you. Or is she, actually? It's so hard to figure out that a few times Allison aspires to a detachment and even cruelty she seems too good a person to be stuck with, much less stuck with faking—a life skill she feels compelled to master because she hasn't learned that the cool kids are as insecure as she is only better at hiding it, from themselves as well as everybody else. So be very glad the finale reports: "I found God on Sunday/Morning, layin' next to you/My arms stretched out like Jesus/White sheets nail me down to the bed." Good sex won't solve everything. But it's a terrific way to top off your debut album. A MINUS

Adrianne Lenker, Abysskiss

Adrianne Lenker: Abysskiss (Saddle Creek) Replete with quietude and beatitude, audacity and fragility, clarity and opacity, this remarkable yet dispensable album by Big Thief's reason for being has a firmer grip on her place in the cosmos than on which way to turn at the next intersection ("Terminal Paradise," "Womb") *

Nice as Fuck

Nice as Fuck: Nice as Fuck (Loves Way) Rilo Kiley great Jenny Lewis and two lesser grrrl-groupers try playfully to croon-chant their way into the alt-rock heart ("Guns," "Runaway") *