Robert Christgau on Cloud Nothings, The xx, and Japandroids
The Dean of American Rock Critics hears growth in Dylan Baldi's lyrics and indistinct murmurs in The xx's 'I See You.'
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.
Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound (Carpark) As his fellow 25-and-thereabouts debate Dylan Baldi's musicianship and originality, I don't doubt the first, don't sweat the second, and continue to find him an admirable young guy who's less a kid every time out. But because his voice and guitar distinguish themselves within such a narrow range, you have to give each album time to sink in, and his growth isn't instantly apparent here. Where previously he wrote and recorded off the cuff, this one didn't come so easy, and it couldn't have helped that he'd taken on a second guitarist. But that may just be why his ongoing project of becoming more human opens up as never before if you give the record a chance. Skeptics should start with "Darkened Rings," where he propels the frustration he's lamenting into Hüsker Dü territory. A MINUS
The xx: I See You (Young Turks) If anything, this is the most "accessible" of their three albums—four if you count Jamie xx's more eventful, more instrumental solo shot. It gets your attention right from the faux horn fanfare that occupies its first six seconds, and I can name from memory songs I actively enjoy, to be precise the catchy "On Hold," the needy "Say Something Loving," the frail "Brave for You," and... I forget. That's the problem—however impressive their originality and skill, the details always end up getting away, because in the end the band's shared aesthetic is so contained. As you probably recall yourself. Or do you? B PLUS
Japandroids: Near to the Wild Heart of Life (Anti-) Five years after their road album, their next road album, so praise G-d they know more at the end of it than they do at the beginning ("No Known Drink or Drug," "In a Body Like a Grave") ***
Pinegrove: Cardinal (Run for Cover) Responsive young roots-alt as a model for the awkward drama of fleshing out human relationships face to face ("Old Friends," "Aphasia") **
Los Campesinos!: Sick Scenes (Wichita Recordings) Detailing a depression so comprehensive it could convince an artist beset by buzz loss to go on the wagon—or so we hope for your sake, Gareth ("The Fall of Home," "For Whom the Belly Tolls") *
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