Robert Christgau on Some Bright Australians and an Indie-Rocker's Upswing

The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews two albums apiece from Rolling Blackouts C.F., Fred Thomas, and Walter Martin.

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Sep 15 2017, 4:30pm

Photo by Rubin Utama via Sub Pop

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 .

Rolling Blackouts C.F.: Talk Tight (Sub Pop) Released mid-2017 U.S. but early-2016 Australia, this sounds more New Zealand—Chills-Clean-Bats, bright young white guys whose trebly guitars purl and mesh, although Go-Betweens recitative enters as well. If you like the effect—and why not, it's beautiful—you'll gravitate to it on sound alone. But what I'm loving at least as much is lyrics that suit the bright white male culture the sound implies. Seven tracks lasting half an hour include four courtship songs that dig so deep and sweet into that adventure that the titles alone evoke their smarts and heart: "Tender Is the Neck," "Heard You're Moving," "Write Back." The fourth title, "Wide Eyes," is less evocative, so here's the whole couplet: "Been drivin' cross the country [a big deal in Australia] / Just to see those wide eyes." Then there's "Career," which is not a love song and may even be a tragedy—or a dark comedy. A

Fred Thomas: Changer (Polyvinyl) 'Tis a story oft told that this part-time indie-rocker switched gears into confessional stream-of-consciousness with 2015's All Are Saved and indie-rockers liked it so much that he quit his job, got married, moved to Canada, took up music full-time, and generated a follow-up. What few bards detail is that these two pieces of confessional stream-of-consciousness are radically different, not structurally or philosophically but in general come-hither. All Are Saved is pure sad sack, so bummed only convinced depressives will have the gumption to take in its stealth tunes and smart details—his father's flannel shirts smelling of cigarattes and rain, the "overworked doctor smoking in the doorway of the clinic." Changer was cut by a guy on the upswing his bio suggests. The melodies are right there; there's a bite in his strum and a lilt in his snark as he calls out assholes for what they are: "Olympia street punks—the worst!" I recommend that he henceforth resist the temptation to excavate the past, his college days especially, and instead mine his present. Montreal—what's it like? How did kicking nicotine work out for you? A MINUS

Rolling Blackouts C.F.: The French Press (Sub Pop) "And I've been disconnected," ends the first stanza of the title opener, where the press of that title purveys news in France and makes coffee in Australia and by the end the link between the speakers in those nations disconnects electronically as well as emotionally. So figure these guys are bright enough to know their newest batch of intense, speedy songs doesn't connect the way the first one did—and also aesthetes enough to think that's valid if not brilliant. Valid I'll definitely give them. B PLUS

Walter Martin: Arts & Leisure (Ile Flottante) Sung offhandedly and observed at, yes, leisure, the pleasurable escape of going to museums and looking at art—Calder, Copley, Michelangelo ("Jobs I Had Before I Got Rich and Famous," "Calder's Circus") ***

Walter Martin: My Kinda Music (Ile Flottante) Homemade-sounding ditties about what sounds like middle-class family life ("Family Tree," "Marco Polo") **

Fred Thomas: All Are Saved (Polyvinyl) You can hear him coming out of his funk better if you let the words come to you rather than hanging on every one ("Bed Bugs," "Every Song Sung to a Dog") *

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