The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews the Brooklyn-based band's 'Wide Awaaaaake!," No Age's 'Snares Like a Haircut," plus recent albums from The Coathangers, Idles, and Bully.
Ebru Yildiz via Pitch Perfect PR
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 find out more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Parquet Courts: Wide Awaaaaake! (Rough Trade) Thank producer Danger Mouse for the heat, clarity, and structural detail that intensify an album where nine tracks add keyboard to the kind of punky g-g-b-d tunes these Texans rode into New York on only five years ago. Their aural gestalt will never be on a Stones-Ramones level, but those are the comparisons—in an appalling year when too many g-g-b-d types have chosen to gaze inward, I doubt we'll hear a greater album. Not only is it sinewy and flexible—that's a funk groove propelling a title song that celebrates the woke meme it also looks askance at—but the lyrics are sharper than ever. As usual, A. Savage is the political philosopher, Austin Brown the "Get love when you find it / It's the only thing we have to fight with" guy. So where Savage valorizes the square term "collective" in two different songs, the Brown who lost a sister in a car crash insists that the nearness of death changes everything else you think you know. Prescriptive or expressive, visceral or oppositional, neither guy ever quits. A
No Age: Snares Like a Haircut (Drag City) Ever since they were the de facto house band at LA's Smell, these two art-punks have subsisted totally within the insular club/museum/gallery/festival circuit. So five years after the somewhat abstract An Object, this grand return to the ugly-gorgeous is true to itself as if the larger society was no more vexing than it ever was. Ditching Sub Pop for indier-than-that Drag City, they do what they've always done only better: abrade and uplift simultaneously. Drummer-vocalist Dean Spunt is an equal partner—"Send me / Where should I go?" he repeats and repeats on the first true singalong in a catalogue more songful than you'd figure. But guitar cenobite Randy Randall owns the record. Unfurling more harmonic effects than I bet he can name, he envelops every catchy tunelet and nasty noise in overtones that'll tear you up as in make you cry and tear you up as in blow your mind. Attributing political significance or hope to this act of aesthetic commitment would misrepresent its intent. It means only to help its people thrive in whatever world proves their lot. A
The Coathangers: Live (Suicide Squeeze) As ever, it's easier to be a great live band than to make a great live album, but fans will love how rough this is—I do ("Watch Your Back," "Hurricane," "Squeeki Tiki") **
Idles: Brutalism (Balley) Hard-loud-big Bristol guypunks give no quarter in their war against the aural politesse of the class system ("My Mother," "Faith in the City") *
Bully: Losing (Sub Pop) Clean grunge dynamics times messy romantic complexities equals marginally compelling restatements of stuff many evolving punks before her have come to terms with ("Blame," "Not the Way") *
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