Robert Christgau on the Refuge of Yo La Tengo and the Audacity of Amy Rigby

The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews Rigby's 'The Old Guys,' Yo La Tengo's 'There's a Riot Going On,' and Wreckless Eric's "Construction Time & Demolition.'

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Mar 30 2018, 5:47pm

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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.

Amy Rigby: The Old Guys (Southern Domestic) Between 1996 and 2005, the 37-to-46-year-old ex-wife of excellent drummer Will Rigby released five excellent-to-superb pre-Americana CDs stocked with more terrific songs than any competing non-rapper except maybe Jon Langford—including Bob Dylan on his last great run, although I'll give you Sleater-Kinney while noting that songs per se aren't really what they do. Concrete, class-conscious, cutting, forlorn or funny or both, Rigby's lyrics chronicled a single mom's quest for love and sex, so of course they were never taken as seriously as "Cold Irons Bound." Only then she hooked up with Wreckless Eric, who's ridden "Whole Wide World" for four otherwise marginal decades, in a marriage so engrossing her writing slowed down to two hers-and-his albums. So now comes her first solo work since her great run, with Eric's production lending an unmannerly distorto gravitas that suits its audacity. If you don't want to hear a 58-year-old female singer-songwriter litcrits have never heard of impersonating Philip Roth emailing Bob Dylan about his Nobel, you probably think she's on Dylan's side, and you're wrong. Robert Altman also gets a song, as does an unnamed sack of shit she resists in her mind by imagining she's Tony Soprano, Lucky Thompson, or Walter White—the NAACP one not the Breaking Bad one, as Wikipedia helped me figure out, after which I looked up the unbowed Thompson and recalled that Soprano had a specialty in assassinations. A MINUS

Yo La Tengo: There's a Riot Going On (Matador) This inward-looking, barely verbalized album describes a parabola. Beginning with the hypnotic instrumental "You Are Here" and ending with the fragmented instumental-with-murmurs "Here You Are," it builds through five low-key songs to three six-minute instrumentals centered on the pulseless electronic "Shortwave," which reveals ionospheric subchatter when you turn the volume up, only why would you? Then come five less shapely songs, and there you are: in a time roiled by the political turmoil the title puts up front, a domesticated Yo La version of the kind of esoteric atmospherics I myself treasure in Hassell & Eno's Fourth World Vol. 1, Orüj Güvenc's Ocean of Remembrance, We's As Is, and Marcel Khalifé's Andalusia of Love. They mean to create not just music as a refuge, but recognizably indie-rock music as a refuge. "Shortwave" is too murky and cerebral. But "You Are Here" could open their sets forever, "Esportes Casual" is a perky relief, "Polynesia #1" makes me want to go, "For You Too" is my kind of love song, and "Forever" is my wife's. So yes, I find succor here. A MINUS

Wreckless Eric: Construction Time & Demolition (Southern Domestic) A few fine songs peek out from these 11 tracks—the bridge-to-nowhere gentrification threnody "Gateway to Europe," the fanboy expose "Wow & Flutter," the unraveling autobiography "40 Years." So do fine chants like "The Two of Us," a title he yells 19 times. But note as well instrumentals designated "Mexican Fenders #1" and "#2," a guitar-not-car metaphor that evokes the shambolic fuzz and droll electronic detritus he smears everywhere. A deliberately unkempt whole whose stray noises will make you chuckle against your suspended judgment throughout. A MINUS

Album due out April 6.

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