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 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, 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.
Chai: Punk (Burger) Proudly "new-cute" and post-if-not-quasi J-pop, Mana, Kana, Yuki, and Yuna play k, g, b, and d respectively. On their second album, they beef up the high-soprano chants of their 2017 Pink with hard beats that turn march-like occasionally. They also decorate their lyrics with stray bits of English. "Choose go!" "Don't kidding me." "What a cute girl I am! What a cute girl you are!" "Do you do housework? It's a great job! [Chortle chortle chortle chortle]." Replete with bite and body yet so light it might blow away like a puffball in a summer breeze, it's super simple yet unprecedented in its tiny way. Grab it now. It'll still be there when you open your hand—I promise. A MINUS
Charly Bliss: Young Enough (Barsuk) It's been a while since a new power-pop machine has operated at this pitch of tuneful intensity. Eva Hendricks never lets her breathy childishness undercut her determined professionalism, and she doesn't live in a catchy bubble—the lead "Blown to Bits" catalogs satisfactions, distractions, and incidentals ripe for extinction in a world where an unnamed "he," as "Bleach" puts it, "could destroy everything that I like." Still, something about these songs feels pat, even unempathetic sometimes. Beneath their punk-informed momentum and textured-chrome surface are self-realization precepts about believing in who you are and accepting your own insecurities that mean more to well-fixed postcollegiates still figuring shit out than to those all too preoccupied with earning a living. These are legitimate power-pop themes. But spiritually they only take you so far. A MINUS
Tacocat: This Mess Is a Place (Hardly Art) "What a time to be barely alive" equals dejection that bridges the social and the personal, but putting dejection across requires more musical drama than they have in them ("Hologram," "Grains of Salt") **
Abjects: Never Give Up (Yippee Ki Yay) Who better than a London-based punk trio made up of Noemi from Spain, Yuki from Japan, and Alice from Italy to sing one called "Fuck Brexit"—which isn't even their best song! ("Never Give Up," "Awake") **
Drinking Boys and Girls Choir: Keep Drinking (Damnably) Do how they sound, which is punky-tuneful-rebellious, not what they say, which is usually in Korean anyway. ("Keep Drinking!!," "Oh My California") **
Pup: Morbid Stuff (Little Dipper) Punks or not, even Canadian road dogs tend to turn macho if they're male to begin with, a tendency softened here by images of death that feel fearful, as they should. ("Closure," "Morbid Stuff") *