Robert Christgau on Frankie Cosmos' Guts and Speedy Ortiz's Wordplay

The Dean of American Rock Critics reviews two Frankie Cosmos records, Speedy Ortiz's 'Twerp Verse,' plus recent albums from Hop Along and The Breeders.
Michael Hickey/Getty Images; Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

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.


Frankie Cosmos: Vessel (Sub Pop) Because it takes guts to get up there and sing your songs, we expect toughness from the women now achieving indie-rock parity. So Greta Kline's fragility may seem cutesy or calculated rather than the forthright aesthetic signature it is. Of course she's self-conscious about the fragility of the fluting ditties that pour out of her body-that's-a-burden, 18 tunelets on parade on this 33-minute breakout moment. How could she not be? But that doesn't make her fixation on the romantic love she's so insecure about anything like shtick. Immerse in her tiny reflections and glimmers of self-realization and ask yourself just how secure all the 24-year-olds with tougher fronts feel as they fuck around or choose their mate—cynical or carnal, enraged or disengaged, you know they get scared themselves. Kline's quietude takes guts too—more, maybe. A MINUS

Speedy Ortiz: Twerp Verse (Carpark) In a darker mood than when Foil Deer broke in 2015, as what indie-rocker isn't, Sadie Dupuis returns advisedly to the game she likes best: chunky non-Latinate Americanese wordplay that births dislocated idioms like "buck me off" or "I was lost but now I'm floundered" or even "don't wanna lopside my language." With tunes to match, natch. But she's still bucking "The year of the weird, bookended by booty pix I never posted" when she was stalked by a busmate who asked "what kind of games you like" and then switched "games" to "porn" and it got worse than that. "No no no you're not my bro" she yells on her way to a "pink boulder" where she can "be alone / With all the girls I know." Only then she takes a freshman to the prom so she can stick him in a song and he ends up finishing her sentences for her. Which is also a game she likes. A MINUS


Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Saddle Creek) Where the raspy, associative Frances Quinlan of Painted Shut crackled with limitless becoming, this clearer and more coherent one is hemmed in by all she's learned ("Look of Love," "Prior Things") ***

Frankie Cosmos: Next Thing (Bayonet): "I haven't finished this song yet / Will you help me fix it?" ("Sappho," "Sinister") **

The Breeders: All Nerve (4AD) Sisters in stick-to-itiveness address or at least mention black lung, Edgar Allan Poe, and heroin use in and around the Parthenon ("Blues at the Acropolis," "Nervous Mary") *

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