Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2015-03-27


The Close Readers: The Lines Are Open (Austin, 2014) Led by New Zealand novelist Damien Wilkins, who's old enough to consider Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade a monument, this band sounds more like a cross between--sorry, I know this sounds geographically determinist--the Chills and the Go-Betweens. Wilkins is a mild singer, but his tune sense will sneak up on you, and two of his catchiest songs are about novelists. Really, why not? Especially when two of the others are about teenage wolves and Hüsker Dü? A-

The Paranoid Style: The Power of Our Proven System (Misra, 2013) Collectors are a mixed blessing, artificial scarcity is a bitch, and this band has yet to release a dull song. So The Power of Our Proven System, which added four tracks to Bar/None's download-only EP The Purposes of Music in General for a Cassette Store Day (!!) limited edition of 100, is the iteration you might as well buy, covet, seek out, steal, or storm the barricades for. Named after a 50-year-old work of political analysis by ironic left-liberal historian Richard Hofstadter and led by Elizabeth Nelson and Timothy Bracy, a pushing-40 D.C. couple who've worked as lobbyists and written their share of quality rock criticism, the Paranoid Style mine a pop-rock vein that braces Wilson's cleanly uncrystalline articulation against Bracy's noisier guitar and a straight four that doesn't quit. With scarcely a word swallowed or a turn of phrase obscure, their disturbing ditties delineate a worldview Nelson has said is "rooted in the small-c conservative conviction that Man is neither perfect nor perfectible--and don't get us started on Woman." The mix should be crisper because the tunes demand nothing less. But for lyrics like "Do it with a flick of wrist/Like you're a magician/Oh you're such a solipsist/There's only one position" and "I'm your friend and I'm your lover/Give me those clogs I'll be your mother," you'll settle. We often do, don't we? A-

The Paranoid Style: Rock and Roll Just Can't Recall (Worldwide Battle, 2015) Faster and louder, slower and more reflective, better recorded with a better drummer, this five-song EP is where Elizabeth Nelson fully vents her contempt for the 60s, structural injustice, the 60s, escapist liberalism, a charismatic mentor who brainwashed her with reason, the 60s, and the musical style she and her husband mean to be better at than anybody else in the world except maybe Sleater-Kinney. Her motto: "Don't think twice, it's all over now." Her self-promo: "Glam-rock for the end times." A

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