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 theVoice 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 eight books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City . His most recent, Book Reports: A Music Critic on His First Love, Which Was Reading, isnow 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.
Desaparecidos: Payola (Epitaph) The catch in Conor Oberst's voice isn't much of a vehicle for punk outrage, but that's not why so many ignored his gift for the conscious quatrain when he released this just as Trump began making bigotry big again in June, 2015. It's the alt-rock world's endemic confusion of the explicit with the corny combined with the pop world's aversion for anything serious except romantic chagrin. The bombast is so committed to volume that the tunes get muffled. But that doesn't mean they're not there. And among lyrics that vary in quality and clarity as lyrics will, most are sharp and five are machetes: "City on the Hill" excavating the bones it's built on, "Search the Searches"'s surveillance-state advisory, "Golden Parachutes"'s venture-capital spreadsheet, "MariKKKopa"'s refugee anthem, and "Te Amo Camila Vallejo," for Chile's very own AOC. A MINUS
Nicki Minaj: Queen (Young Money/Cash Money/Republic) I missed this August 2018 item while homing in on Eminem's September album because hip-hop's bureau of standards brushed hers aside as inconsequential while actively attacking his as an offense against the polity. In fact, both are quick-lipped, sharp-tongued arguments for the hip-hop they and I came up on and the endangered kind of flow both excel at. And both are funny, outrageous, self-confident announcements that neither artist has any intention of going away. Minaj articulates the stakes with the opening "As the world turns, the blunt burns/Watch them cunts learn" before reeling off three pointedly female, pointedly unfeminine sex songs so spectacular that the album never tops them. She also drops brand names like a good rap star should and shows off her connections with seven high-profile cameos, including godmother Foxy Brown, little sister Ariana Grande, postflow Swae Lee, and world speedster Eminem himself. And then there's the best touch—her hip-hop turf all too obviously contested, she doesn't sing a note. A MINUS
Mekons: Deserted (Bloodshot) Powering rock music of ineluctable muscle with Tom Greenhalgh's congested outcry at its heart, it's more like they're struggling out of the mud than spinning their wheels in the sand, so pray it's not an omen that the mud still has them as it does us all. ("Harar 1883," "Lawrence of California") ***
Kristi Stassinopoulou & Stathis Kalyviotis: NYN (Riverboat) Keyed to Stassinopoulou's simultaneously gentle and haunting soprano, Greek multi-traditionalists find pleasure and the will to go on in schooled, imaginative modern fusions. ("Erhatai Heimonas [Winter Is Coming]," "Kyma To Kyma [Wave by Wave]") ***
Western Centuries: Songs From the Deluge (Free Dirt) Devoid of cornball retro throughout, three-songwriter nuevo-honky tonk combo rises to the top whenever Ethan Lawton's number comes up. ("Far From Home," "Own Private Honky Tonk") ***
Wreckless Eric: Transience (Southern Domestic) Half a dozen riffs durable enough to support a jam of sorts, many attached to strong first lines, perhaps three of which unfold into full-fledged songs. ("Father of the Man," "Strange Locomotion") ***
Better Oblivion Community Center: Better Oblivion Community Center (Dead Oceans) In which Conor and Phoebe muster too much crafty retrospect and tuneful desperation, not enough clear-eyed anger or social resolve. ("Didn't Know What I Was In For," "Chesapeake") **
Robert Cray: Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm (Jay-Vee) Al Green's band is the concept for a blues reviver who's always written even better than he played and played rather better than he sang, with focus tracks by the late great Lowman Pauling and the Trump-despising blues reviver himself. ("I'm With You," "Just How Low"). *
This article originally appeared on VICE US.