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Up the Alt: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau

The Dean of American Rock Critics takes on Speedy Ortiz, the Foxymorons, and more.
January 8, 2016, 6:46pm

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.

Speedy Ortiz: Foil Deer (Carpark) I've always liked the nice Bettie Serveert catch in Sadie Dupuis's voice and the strange tunes that go with it. But as someone who prefers lyrics to poetry and is positive there's a difference, I don't find her MFA in the latter an attraction. In fact, I liked her first album enough as music that I only put it away when I got annoyed by its obscurantism. The follow-up's more legible—"We were the French club dropouts," tell it sister, though that one's a bit of an outlier. Even if it wasn't, however, I would have compromised my principles, because on the follow-up I love the even nicer Bettie Serveert catch in Sadie Dupuis's voice and the stranger tunes that go with that. And since I also love the guitars, I was intrigued to learn that tourmate guitarist Devin McKnight has replaced original guitarist Matt Robidoux. Dupuis does all the writing and most of the lead parts. But watch a little YouTube and you'll see—McKnight's a major improvement. A MINUS

Foxymorons: Fake Yoga (Foxyphonic) On their fifth album in 21 years, two Dallas pop-punk hobbyists and/or perfectionists attain the pop-punk grail: 10 tough, catchy, ebullient, stealth-strange songs in 32 minutes, dudless unless you count the dirgey change-of-pace novelty "The People" and fast unless you refuse to accept the closer for the summum it is. Summumming what exactly I cannot say, although such topics as the rewards of sentience, cherry lips in a permanent frown, drugs and hugs, and pop-punk nerds bullied on the schoolbus definitely arise. What signifies is that tunes abound, as do musical jokes. Let's just figure out what it all means when they do it again. A MINUS

Ought: Sun Coming Down (Constellation) Three Americans and an Australian escaped to Canada for its moderate tuition and patina of rationalism, they're regularly compared to the Fall and early Sonic Youth but are wound tighter than either. Philosophically they recall the less frenetic hardcore bands—personal anxiety due to or is it just expressed as anti-conformist alienation. Tim Darcy fuses the detachment of a lecturer with the morality of a prophet, and the constriction and unresolved tension of the music justifies his white-boy mindset better than straight punk would. Think early Talking Heads without a hint of David Byrne's leaping weirdness. Hope they're wrong about the future while admitting they could be right. A MINUS

Lord Huron: Strange Trails (IAmSound) Repurposing sonics from Buddy Holly and Workingman's Dead, this beguilingly melodic and cheerful-sounding record is about love and death at the end of the world—a world that for metaphorical purposes is barely settled woods and wilderness without a trace of the urban jangle and connected chaos that drive so many under-30s to distraction. The idea being that even without that postmodern stuff bearing down, life'll get you good, although sometimes they confuse life with pretty girls who don't work out because they're devilish or full of fate. But assuming the urban jangle doesn't spiral out of control, they could beat this thing yet. That's why they bother with the tunes. B PLUS

Beach House: Depression Cherry (Sub Pop) Some lyrics are hard to ignore, others hard not to ignore, so file this with Clams Casino and pull it out when you're in the mood for background music with a saccharine soprano flavor—which has its uses ("Levitation," "Sparks") ** Beach House: Thank Your Lucky Stars (Sub Pop download) Seldom in the annals of marginal differentiation has so much been made of so little as with the near-simultaneous release of two certifiably different yet obviously similar albums by the alt-pretty snoozemeisters ("Elegy to the Void," "Somewhere Tonight") ** Low Cut Connie: Hi Honey (Contender) Song band turns groove band, not necessarily on purpose ("Danny's Outta Money," "Little Queen of New Orleans") ** Speedy Ortiz: Major Arcana (Carpark) Plowing past the fun, but never quite plowing it under ("Fun," "Plough") *

Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter and read the archives of his criticism on his website