The Dean tackles new releases from Matador and Hardly Art—plus a little bit of Tame Impala.
Welcome to Expert Witness with Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics." He currently teaches at NYU and published multiple books throughout his life. For nearly four decades, he worked as the music editor for The Village Voice, where he created the annual Pazz & Jop poll. Every Friday, Noisey will happily publish his long-running critical column. To learn more about him and his life, read his welcome post here.
Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial (Matador) The tell on Teens of Style, wherein wundertwentysomething Will Toledo rerecorded 11 of his hundredsomething Bandcamp songs for physical purchase, revises his 2012 "Times to Die" to include the line "Got to believe that Lombardi loves me"—Lombardi being not Vince but Matador prexy Chris, who financed and marketed Teens of Style, unleashing the rock dreams that freed Toledo up to buckle down and make a great album like the major artist he always wanted to be. True, existential depression is Toledo's sole subject, without much in the way of romantic travail to universalize it. But on Teens of Denial, Toledo renders that indie-rock ur-theme, um, relatable—grand, rousing, philosophical, ecological, funny, riffy, confused, out front, and of course tuneful. Where once his leads blurred into generalized multitracking, here you can make out his congested, drolly personable, Jonathan Richman-channeling voice. And while to shape his associative structures would betray unseemly firmness of purpose, he milks incantatory repetition like he minored in soukous, extending seven songs past five minutes and three past 7:48: "Drugs are better with friends are better with drugs are better . . . .," say, or the three 12-second "I give up"s that climax the 11:46 "Ballad of the Costa Concordia." As Lombardi surely knows, these are feints. It's too late to give up now. Kid doesn't even like drugs. A
The Julie Ruin: Hit Reset (Hardly Art) After years of illness, 47-year-old Kathleen Hanna still has the same girlish voice she did with Bikini Kill at 21, small and cute. But unlike Astrud Gilberto, say, she's tended to weaponize it. Le Tigre had a sisterly ebullience sometimes, and on her 2013 Julie Ruin comeback she sounded so glad to be alive everything else was secondary. But here she's grrrlish once again, proudly indulging her inner brat as she and her crack electropunk band launch putdown after empowering putdown at a fearsome dad, a pickup creep, a bullshitting promoter, a pushy fan, a pushier friend, a troll, and assorted conversationalists. Since the most painful and effective of these seems to implore a lifemate "Let Me Go," it's a relief when the enigmatic finale wonders quietly what made her think she could fly and then thanks the unspecified person who gave her the courage to try. A MINUS
Tame Impala: Currents (Interscope) Swathed in electronics and simulated tenor, possibly the most soothing "alt-rock" record ever—so soothing one can barely feel the heartbreak 'tis said to expiate ("New Person, Same Old Mistakes," "Yes I'm Changing") **
Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Style (Matador) The songfulness is there, the wit and sometimes the heart, but not the specificity ("Something Soon," "Los Borrachos [I Don't Have Any Hope Left, but the Weather Is Nice]") **
Big Thief: Masterpiece (Saddle Creek) Fragile, noisy images of a love perpetually out of reach ("Masterpiece," "Paul") *