Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Derek Senn

  • The Technological Breakthrough [, 2014] *
  • Avuncular [self-released, 2016] ***
  • How Could a Man [self-released, 2019] A-
  • The Big Five-0 [self-released, 2022] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Technological Breakthrough [, 2014]
Intelligently, uncomfortably, ex-boho singer-songwriter excavates his generational malaise ("Bless Her Insecurity," "Darlin' I'm Not Earning Enough") *

Avuncular [self-released, 2016]
He'll never be a melodist if he isn't now, but he is a lyricist--a wordsmith who loves several uncles, hates "pro-life" death-trippers, and can afford both his wife's thing for home improvement porn and the right sidemen ("Uncle Mike," "Tongue and Groove," "South Dakota Lady") ***

How Could a Man [self-released, 2019]
In 2014 Senn mailed me a pretty good CD called The Technological Breakthrough with a hand-written bio IDing him as "a singer-songwriter from San Luis Obispo, CA with a wife, a couple of young kids, & a day job." In 2016 followed the better Avuncular. And now comes this unlikely culmination--or is it? As with any singer-songwriter, there's no real telling what's autobiographical and what isn't. But I gotta believe the adoring title song describes his wife: "an EMT she won't shy away/she'll suture cuts/she'll pick a tick right off your nuts," or how about "if you ask her to learn to play the drums and go onstage/she'll learn to play the drums and go onstage"? Ditto for the "Some Chase a Girl" saga in which "she" spurns him in Peru only to track him down in Toledo. But is "The Nuclear Family" sociological or just a bad patch? Is he really turning 50 like in "Have a Nice Day"? When you work nights in "The Song Mine," sometimes the song asserts its own logic. And sometimes, too, it'll hand you an actual tune, which heretofore in Senn's part-time career has been a problem. A-

The Big Five-0 [self-released, 2022]
Since the fourth and best of his steadily improving run of DIY folk-rock albums foregrounds the biggest b-day in his now definitively middle-aged life, it seemed time to Google Senn some, which yielded two facts: 1) he has his own real-estate business in San Luis Obispo and 2) present company excluded, his chief press support comes from Netherlands-based Ljubinko Zivkovic in the contrarian Americana U.K. Opening with an excellent batch of pandemic songs--"Quarantine" and "Viruses Get Viruses" surround a bereft one called "Don't Shut Down My Surf Break" ("You can unemploy me deny my PPP/Shut down the slaughterhouse I'll go without steak")--he also addresses women's rights in the Texas legislature, vasectomy meeting scrotum, the wages of the Eritrean War, and a romance that goes south in Alaska. It seemed to me he was singing more evocatively as well. But only when he closed with "Use Me" was I convinced. A-