The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews the London-based eight-piece's self-titled debut, Alvvays' 'Antisocialites,' and recent albums from Willow Smith, Cigarettes After Sex, and U.S. Girls.
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.
Superorganism: Superorganism (Domino) This ad hoc octet poured into East London from New Zealand, South Korea, and the U.S.A. to make infectious quasipop from a found array of be-here-now life strategies. The treated tunes help, as do the additional treatments that fuck them up. But they'll sink or swim with Japanese-born state-of-Mainer Orono Noguchi, who commands or serves a childlike soprano of adultlike size that projects hopeful sincerity and worldly art smarts simultaneously. Too young to be post-ironic and too self-aware to actually be naive, she's a find and probably knows it. So root for her with your fingers crossed. If "everybody wants to be famous" turns out to be a job description rather than a lament for the world she's stuck with, she could go solo before she knows it—and disappear like a wisp on the wind. A MINUS
Alvvays: Antisocialites (Polyvinyl) From what I gather—she's not forward about it and has no obligation to be—when I refer to the Molly Rankin of this album I mean the Molly Rankin character. The biographical Molly Rankin seems committed to an ongoing romantic relationship with guitarist Alec O'Hanley. The character is more rootless or footloose, hence easier for young indie-rockers to relate to—easier to write songs for, too. Where her debut topped a bunch of cannot-love songs with the upbeat "Archie, Marry Me," here Archie is gone, and despite a few independent-female-on-the-town moments, the lyrical evidence doesn't bespeak an emotional life fit to support an album. But the musical evidence does. It's an optimistic alt-pop she calls "plimsoll," a retro flourish no one else with comparable brains and backbone risked in 2017 (though I alvvays thought it was "plimsoul"). For 10 tracks running, Rankin and O'Hanley's little band ring the bell every time, and while the hooks and harmonic tricks are nothing new, they have more brio than most. So Molly the bandleader and Molly the character have a key virtue in common: they know what they want and know how to get it. A MINUS
Cigarettes After Sex: Cigarettes After Sex (Partisan) Torch shoegaze from a guy who thought Lana Del Rey was the shit until somebody told him about Julie London ("K.," "Sweet") **
Willow Smith: The 1st (MSFTS Music/Roc Nation) With more chops, heart, and brains than most 17-year-olds who think they're indie, she remains very 17, which is nice ("Boy," "A Reason") *
U.S. Girls: In a Poem Unlimited (4AD) If she's so smart, why isn't there one about Trump the racist dickwad to balance off the one about Obama the warmongering "coward"? (working theory: because that would be corny) ("Rage of Plastics," "Pearly Gates") *
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