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 read more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.
Waxahatchee: Out in the Storm (Merge) Here be the tunefully bish-bash nonstop document of a breakup recollected in tranquility—only she's not tranquil, she's pissed and makes something of it, so instead stay at a distance, because finally she's kicked the asshole out of her band as well as her bed. Psychologically, the tell is: "You were so condescending / You wrote me in, gave me a part / See, I always gravitate toward / Those who are unimpressed." Not anymore—with no romantic entanglements to sing of, she's more than content with family, friends, and an all-female band so impressed they love her to pieces. And since she's chosen this moment of emotional clarity to deploy not only verbal clarity but the syntax it deserves, I'm all in. Any guy who'd condescend to this forthright young woman has got serious problems. Too many guys do. A
Beth Ditto: Fake Sugar (Virgin) The unsinging hero of this solo debut is a song doctor I'd never heard of named Jennifer Dicelvio, whose big credit is too big—the bombastic Andra Day Grammy nominee "Rise Up." Always drawn to Ditto's punky fat-lesbian image, I never thought her band was much or her songwriting either. So I make it a good thing that at 36 she's gone both solo and pop, and with Dicelvio's help delivered what pop albums are supposed to deliver, only with guitars rather than keyboards—well-defined tunes with relatable lyrics that get where they're going without distracting shows of the pipes I'm grateful she doesn't have. People think her voice is huge, but that's really her energy, or maybe just how bold she is about her body. Here her most salient vocal quality is a clarity that never thins out her commitment or understates her joy and pain. The pain, I read, reflects a bad patch in her marriage. May she outlast it to enjoy the perfect confluence of "We Could Run" and "Love in Real Life." A MINUS
Paramore: After Laughter (Fueled by Ramen) Impure pop from faux-punk people ("Hard Times," "Caught in the Middle) **
Valerie June: The Order of Time (Concord) As constructed if fetching an authentic Southern gal as ever you'll hear fills out her identity quest with pretty much the same love problems as everyone else's ("Love You Once Made," "Got Soul") *
Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp (Merge) Hold on to your feelings, but put down that thesaurus until you've got a firmer grip ("Breathless," "Summer of Love") *
Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter.