The Dean reviews Paul Simon, Plus Sized Dan, and more.
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
Paul Simon: Stranger to Stranger (Concord) Backwards street gospel, flamenco handclaps and heelstomps, and Harry Partch microtones move and color an obsessive craftsman's insomniac lullabies. But the unease of Simon's new songs runs deeper than the existential anxiety these technical strokes alleviate, and not just because they provoke musical anxiety to do so. Early in the opener, a Milwaukeean with "a fairly decent life" is murdered by his "fairly decent wife," and soon the rich are gobbling all the extra fries as the rest of us hoard canned goods; in the one after that, a bemused tale about a stage door clicking shut transmutes into a meditation on the rage of everyone who'll never get a wristband. Five years ago it was like Simon had been soaking up the Dixie Hummingbirds for so long he'd made his covenant with God. On this record the good news is that heaven has finally been found—located a mere "six trillion light years away." A MINUS
Plus Sized Dan: Plus Sized Dan With Marshall Ruffin (Plus Sized Dan) "My people are poor people/Poor people got problems/Problems with no solution/Problems with no solution," bearded white Atlanta Berklee grad and Sunday-morning guitarist Ruffin soul-croons dejectedly. And lest we doubt their problems are really as bad as all that, he proves it by evoking four dead-end relationships with details so homely, unsensational, and depressing—“customer service on the phone" meets "a pet store smell, an old dog dish," like that—I wish I could just keep quoting them until you're convinced. Ruffin's chief enabler is Atlanta ex-Coolie and pizza baron Clay Harper, last encountered showcasing an Arabic-singing massage therapist. I hereby nominate him for any Americana award you got. A MINUS
Benjamin Dean Wilson: Small Talk (Tapete) Somebody organize a band for this Tulsa grad student (in math), who probably shouldn't even be singing his six extended, well-imagined songs about complicated middle-class lives, much less playing all the parts as if stuck on presets ("So Cool," "Sadie and the Fat Man") **
Veda Hille: Love Waves (Canadian Council of the Arts/Conseil des arts du Canada) Vancouver melodist quotes Rilke, references Isherwood, reprises Gilbert & Sullivan, covers Bowie, covers Eno, insists M.F. stands for megafauna, and steals her best lines from her young son ("Burst," "Lover/Hater") **
Benji Hughes: Songs in the Key of Animals (Merge) Jingle king's lark seems designed to piss off the Anti-Silliness League and the Earworm Eradication Society ("Girls Like Shoes," "Fall Me in Love") *