Robert Christgau Reviews Music From Priests and the Coathangers
The Dean of American Rock Critics also takes on Camp Cope's 'How to Socialise and Make Friends' and Ex Hex's 'It's Real.'
Photo of Katie Greer of Priests by Scott Dudelson / Getty Images
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.
The Coathangers: The Devil You Know (Suicide Squeeze) Improbably matured into punk careerism, this initially amateur, always all-female quartet-turned-trio has slowed down by an estimated half a tad. But not counting the anthemic "F the NRA" (right, they don't actually say "F"), the lyrics—to the disinherited "5 Farms," the disconnected "Bimbo,"' the homophilic "Hey Buddy," the junkiephobic "Stranger Danger," the lithium-enabled "Lithium"—don't clear up until you consult a cheat sheet. This doesn't matter much for three reasons: because they have the gift of catchy, because we always feel they're on our side, and because splitting the vocal leads between stentorian baritone drummer Stephanie Luke and squeaky soprano guitarist Julia Kugel-Montoya imparts a dynamic range and novelty value matched by no other punk band, grrrl or otherwise. A MINUS
Priests: The Seduction of Kansas (Sister Polygon) Proving that history does evolve no matter how stuck it feels, this always professional, always female-identified quartet-turned-trio has evolved or perhaps just morphed from punk into what we can still only call postpunk. This development suits a band who've always sounded like they took music lessons in high school and read too much theory in college—a band who've never aimed for rousing or catchy much less simple. Bracing, usually; enjoyable, they're trying; angry, that's bedrock. What enrages them isn't just the unprecedented political morass now depressing if not immobilizing their target audience. It's bigger than that—objectification in all its guises, the futility of good intentions, the half measures passed off as progress, men who think they know what's best for them, men who think they know what's best for the world. Their music truly rocks, which is one thing they're going for and good for them. It's more absorbing than on their minimalist debut, too—thicker. But it does tend to fold in on itself—to lead nowhere. A MINUS
Camp Cope: How to Socialise and Make Friends (Run for Cover) However righteous Georgia Maq's cultural politics or profound her personal grief, she leads the rare "punk" band whose power strum is designed to plod implacably, a musical trope that dulls everything they do ("I've Got You," "The Opener") **
Ex Hex: It's Real (Merge) Mary Timony slows her loud heavy down and makes it mean not be by reinstalling detachment as her emotional lodestar ("Cosmic Cave," "Radiate") *