Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2013-04-19


The Knife: Shaking the Habitual (Mute, 2013) Surrounded and set up by bizarro-world electronic "dance" music as engaging as prime Burial and playful to boot, even the arty stuff signifies--sometimes as soundscape and sometimes as slap upside the head, as in the scraped cello-I-think of "Fracking Fluid Injection." The one exception, the 19-minute electronic-drone-with-apostrophes "Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized," isn't calming or trancey, just an inoffensive tune-out. Conveniently, however, that one's a bonus track even if neither band nor label advertise it as such--available only on a two-CD "deluxe edition" whose sole additional attraction is a comic book satirizing the superrich, who I guess they figure won't think twice about buying it. Poor me recommends the single disc, an hour and a quarter of music that's the opposite of inoffensive--an exciting, multivalent Dreijer sibling showcase. Karin provides saving shades of humanity by exercising the vocal cords nature gave her. But Olof's imagination, sense of humor, and bent rebop carry the day. A

They Might Be Giants: Nanobots (Idlewild/Megaforce, 2013) They're such novelty nuts that trying to get into a groove with them would be like trying to build a go-kart with Legos. They're about individual pieces, not structural strength, and thus always demand a count. My calculation: overlooking the nine subminute snippets--most annoying even at that length, with bows to the nine-second "Tick" ("If it wasn't for that tick/We would not be in this predicament/Not be in this predicament that we're in," over and out) and the 24-second closer (she neither killed him nor made him stronger)--that leaves 16 songs that pretend to be songs, including one A plus, two clear A minuses, and six close enoughs. One of these is as strong as--and more soulful than--anything in their catalogue: the 2:04-minute biography "Tesla." Thumbs up as well to "Black Ops," because it's always fun to hear the word "communist" in a song, and "Replicants," because for some arbitrary reason it tickles me. The arbitrarily amusing--their specialty. B+

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