Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-09-13


Mates of State: Mountaintops (Barsuk, 2011) Kory Gardner and Jason Hammel are strong singers with a weakness for melody who play keyboards and drums, such indie lifers that they went and had two kids on the theory they could just tour with them--check Gardner's Band on the Diaper Run blog. Never scrawny like punk (they rolled new wave) or twee like synth-pop (organ is Gardner's meat), they developed surprising muscle tone for a duo without breaking on through. But their seventh album opens with a simulated big-pop anthem and maintains that size and momentum without compromising their ability to play the new songs live. The discord that surfaces in the last few lyrics may indicate bumps in their marital road. But it definitely indicates how hard it is to write 10 near-corny pop songs without a hint of unhappy love. And the wholeness of the music leaves us feeling they're more than OK. A-

Wild Flag: Wild Flag (Merge, 2011) Such is the sad state of indie that two Sleater-Kinney stalwarts can reconnect six years later and just like that power up the most explosive rock album in years. Sure ex-Minder Rebecca Cole's organ adds thickness and punch; sure ex-Helium Mary Timony adds dream and, crucially, ax. But the shaker is obviously Carrie Brownstein, yelping like Richard Hell as Timony shreds like Ivan Julian, and the mover is Janet Weiss, who for some reason never sounds like the greatest drummer in the world with anyone else. Bouncing off each other like loaded dice, they could make you cry once you're away long enough to think about it. But then you realize that Timony is still a space case and Brownstein writes too many songs about music. One that isn't is "Racehorse," keyed to the wickedly non-indie line "We're in the money." Here's hoping she figures out how to keep it. A-

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