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 the Voice 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 six books, including his 2015 memoir Going Into the City . A seventh, Is It Still Good to Ya?: Fifty Years of Rock Criticism 1967-2017 , is now 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.
Pedro the Lion: Phoenix (Polyvinyl) Whether praising Christ or excavating angst, David Bazan has always been a natural-born depressive—his Christmas album does "Jingle Bells" as a dirge. But on his first Pedro the Lion record since 2004, recollections of his Arizona boyhood are marked by a forgiveness that testifies to his spiritual development: the air-conditioned model home the family toured on special Sunday afternoons, his parents sharing the piano bench for evening service, skateboard savings squandered on candy and soda pop, the shy fifth-grade classmate he slighted so he'd fit in himself. And if the sexual taboos built into his church training are worth resenting to this day, "Black Canyon," where some poor sufferer kills himself by jumping in front of an 18-wheeler on the freeway, is for the saved and the unsaved alike, its hero a female firefighter brave enough to face her own worst memories as she shares the suicide's last moments. A MINUS
Jason Ringenberg: Stand Tall (Courageous Chicken) It happens. In the '80s Ringenberg came up fronting the country-punk Jason and the Scorchers, who soon ran out of attitude as punks will. But he kept at it, riding the Scorchers for whatever they were worth while clocking kiddie-music dollars as Farmer Jason and recording the occasional solo album—check out "Rebel Flag in Germany" and "Tuskegee Pride" on 2004's disgruntled Empire Builders. His articulated nasal yelp flattens out too easy, but the writing carries this album up if not quite over. Punk being the white man's blues, the sure shot is "Thank God for the Ramones." But how many Ramones tributes propel us toward not one but two sequoias tributes? How many John the Baptist tributes set up a tribute to how ineluctably God's rejects maintain their faith despite it all? B PLUS
Eric Church: Desperate Man (EMI Nashville) Subtler than Keith Urban, manlier than Brad Paisley, Church continues to sculpt his own postmacho niche somewhere to the left of the rip-roaring guyville of rockin' Nashville bros ("Hippie Radio," "Snake") **
Gurf Morlix: Impossible Blue (Rootball) Guitar sharp as ever, voice rougher than ever, he tops 4:30 on seven tracks out of nine because his dolor overfloweth, as why the hell shouldn't it? ("Spinnin' Planet Blues," "I Saw You") *
Bottle Rockets: Bit Logic (Bloodshot) "Whatever I can do to keep my chin up is a damn good thing." ("Human Perfection," "Doomsday Letter") *