Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Kimya Dawson [extended]

  • I'm Sorry That Sometimes I'm Mean [Rough Trade, 2002] A
  • My Cute Fiend Sweet Princess [Important, 2003] A-
  • Knock-Knock Who? [Important, 2003] Choice Cuts
  • Hidden Vagenda [K, 2004] A-
  • Remember That I Love You [K, 2006] A-
  • Alphabutt [K, 2008] A-
  • Thunder Thighs [Great Crap Factory, 2011] B+

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

I'm Sorry That Sometimes I'm Mean [Rough Trade, 2002]
First of the CD-ROMs she started peddling at gigs in early 2000, first officially released. Though her subsequent output includes stories so fantastic they could kick off an attack of the Dylans, if there's a song you don't need here it's only by comparison. Right, it won't convert the insulin-challenged, and what can she do? Among other things--her desire to hit a certain social worker with a crowbar, for instance--Dawson has a genuinely sweet nature and a fondness for every kind of play including word. Like fellow (ex-?) Moldy Peach Adam Green, she's super clever, but in addition she's got loads of heart--heart that would look great on her sleeve if she had a sleeve, which she doesn't because she's so naked. Coextensive with the nursery-rhyme whisper and goofy-catchy toy samples is someone you want to know--mature, childlike, full of fun, and conversant with species of misery growing girls should only grow up without. Any album that leaves you wondering whether there's really a Muhammad Ali Barbie will enrich your life in ways you can't now imagine. So will any album that explains why kids in day care and singer-songwriters in extremis want to die. A

My Cute Fiend Sweet Princess [Important, 2003]
"Mommy and Daddy, your baby is grown," she overtaxes her child-soprano to proclaim at the end of the first song. "This isn't a come-on, but come on, let's face it/The come on your face is really just mayonnaise," she singsongs flatly in the hooked-on-phonics second. "The air is filled with computers and carpets/Skin and bones and telephones and file cabinets," she whispers dreamily in the anthrax-nightmare fifth. There's a song about small-town hell and a song about alcoholic hell and a song about how cool it is not wanting to be cool, and then the invention wears down a bit. I note disdainfully that her first CDR-gone-legit had better homemade music and no one noticed, I warn that the simultaneously released Knock-Knock Who? is as insular as boors will think this one is, I insist that these are major songs, and I hope she's just getting started. A-

Knock-Knock Who? [Important, 2003]
"I'm Fine," "For Boxer" Choice Cuts

Hidden Vagenda [K, 2004]
Dawson's high little voice and whimsical imaginings camouflage a brave heart that gives her the courage to be silly--and enables her to confront psychological dysfunction more candidly than any mopeaholic or drama queen to come to my attention (which both types admittedly have a hard time getting). Her chin-up ditties don't connect every time, but her abandonment of home recording will win new listeners anyway. Pop quiz: Who do you think is the target of the do-what-I-do advice "They can't all be ballads Julian"? A-

Remember That I Love You [K, 2006]
Some random verbiage--I could have picked almost anything. Say fast: "Adios, I'm a ghost/I am leaving for the coast/And I'll never work for anyone again/I'm not your savior or your heavenly host/I'm just a piece of zwieback toast/Getting soggy in a baby's aching mouth/I'm going south like the geese I just goosed you/And so maybe I seem loose to you/But I don't even want to screw." Then her family home gets sold. Then her brother wins a custody fight. Accept the strummed guitar plus friendly input (I like it when Jake Kelly's sour violin counteracts the ick factor) and the permanently childish voice, and give half a chance to the words spilling out: compassionate, confessional, witty, playful, maudlin, naked. The music is so minimal that you won't return that often. But when you do, you'll remember that she loves you. A-

Kimya Dawson and Friends: Alphabutt [K, 2008]
Although anybody who thought Juno was icky better get a barf bowl, my only problem with the flick was that its soundtrack recycled songs I preferred in their natural habitats. So take these 15 ditties in 28 minutes as the soundtrack to the sequel, in which the adoptive mother cuts off her blond mane so she can occasionally escape the bouquet of talc, poop and sour milk that follows babyparents everywhere. Jollied along by an anarchic chorus of 4-year-olds, it's definitely for kiddies--hearing a 4-year-old sing along with the fart jokes cured my own ickophobia. But it's also the rare work of art that captures the dizzy infatuation that is dedicated infant care. All that's missing is a song about sleep deprivation. A-

Thunder Thighs [Great Crap Factory, 2011]
Too bad Dawson's DIY imprint is above the Deluxe Edition hustle, because tracks 13 to 16 are "bonus" yuck at its most useless. Yuckiest of all is the insipid anarcho-pastoral finale "Utopian Futures," which dreams an ideal world that would in fact lack--among many things I enjoy, such as non-DIY CDs--the library system she celebrates so heartily right before the album's true climax, the inspirational memoir of vanquished dysfunction "Walk Like Thunder." Oh well. She's 37 now, married and a mom, and like most aging hippies can be a crank or a lump--in her case, usually the former. So be glad her gift for whimsy and/or confessional lifts most of what we'll call the "real" album. Highlights include the pregnancy report "All I Could Do," the literary reflection "Miami Advice," and an ecumenically non-utopian protest song called "Same Shit/Complicated"--to which I will merely add that Madison, Wisconsin isn't the only place with some nice cops. B+

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