Robert Christgau on Carsie Blanton's Unabashed Politics
The Dean of American Rock critics also discusses albums from The Paranoid Style, Caroline Rose, The Regrettes, and The Rails.
The self-proclaimed "Dean of American Rock Critics," Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it—the music editor of the Village Voice from 1974 to 1985 and its chief music critic for several decades after that. At the Voice he created both the annual Pazz & Jop Critics’ Poll and his monthly Consumer Guides. Christgau was one of the first critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: "Melodic." He taught at New York University between 1990 and 2016, and has published six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City . A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017 , is now available from Duke University Press. Every Friday we run Expert Witness, the weekly version of the Consumer Guide he launched in 2010. To find out more, read his welcome post; for almost five decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Carsie Blanton: Buck Up (Carsie Blanton) The unfashionably chirpy, unabashedly horny Blanton has been making albums since 2005. This one, which credits some 400 "executive producers," is easily the best—she's never been so catchy or sexy, and along with unabashed politics catchy and sexy are her flash points. The sure shot "Jacket" strikes a balance—"I like your shirt, I like your jacket/I like to think about you when I whack it" meets "We tried to have a chat, but it was too scary/You're just a Democrat, I'm a revolutionary"; the both-sides-now "Harbor" turns "Love was made for making" into "Hearts were made for breaking." "That Boy" is all lust, "American Kid" all history lesson. And then there's depression: "Bed" can't be a sex song until she stands on her own two feet nor "Battle" a politics song until she makes it through the night. So on the finale her hound dog puts first things first: "Buck up baby, cmon sic 'em/Make 'em laugh if you can't lick 'em." Which sums up her philosophy if anything does. A
The Paranoid Style: Rock & Roll Just Can't Recall + 3 (Bar/None) Beefed up to eight songs to mark its embrace by a venerable label of indie luminaries from They Might Be Giants to Ezra Furman, this digital-only reissue of a superb self-released 2015 EP is designed to make fresh converts as first responders download the three new ones. As Elizabeth Nelson fans come to realize, how deep the songs are is a trickier call than her command of political rhetoric makes you think—lines like "Are we not men/Are we mere clients" and titles like "Slush Fund City" never quite launch the intellectual content her hard groove and enunciated multisyllables gesture toward. She's a songwriter, folks—let others waste their smarts on letters to the editor with op-ed dreams. Especially since Nelson has just nabbed the rock critic slot at a political blog with the excellent rock and roll moniker Lawyers, Guns and Money. The anti-'60s cracks that animate her enthusiasm for Dylan's Slow Train Coming are enough to make one hope that before too long she gets to sound off about Bernie Sanders. A
The Rails: There Are Other People in This World (Thirty Tigers) Kami Thompson joins Pernices-Pogues guitarist-vocalist James Walbourne to showcase Richard-and-Lindaish originals ("Other People," "Dark Times," "Australia") ***
Kate Vargas: For the Wolfish and Wandering (Kate Vargas) Her "Americana singer-songwriter" slot barely hints at her yipping growl, quirky phrasing, erotic substratum, or metaphorical range, but it may suggest why it never adds up to enough ("Roll Around," "7 Inches") ***
Caroline Rose: Loner (New West) Be glad she values catchy, be glad she goes deeper too, be sorry she's catchiest at her shallowest ("Bikini," "Money," "Jeannie Becomes a Mom") **
The Regrettes: Feel Your Feelings Fool! (Warner Bros.) Provisionally punky LA teens rock practical feminist support to their less evolved sisters ("Head in the Clouds," "Seashore") **