Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Slay Tracks (1933-1969) [Treble Kicker EP, 1989] A-
  • Demolition Plot J-7 [Drag City, 1990] **
  • Perfect Sound Forever [Drag City, 1991] A-
  • Slanted and Enchanted [Matador, 1992] A
  • Watery Domestic [Matador EP, 1992] A-
  • Westing (by Musket and Sextant) [Drag City, 1993] A-
  • Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain [Matador, 1994] A
  • Gold Soundz [Matador, 1994] Dud
  • Wowee Zowee [Matador, 1995] A
  • Rattled by La Rush [Matador, 1995] Choice Cuts
  • Pacific Trim [Matador, 1996] B+
  • Brighten the Corners [Matador, 1997] A
  • Stereo [Domino, 1997] *
  • Shady Lane [Matador, 1997] A-
  • Terror Twilight [Matador, 1999] A-
  • Major Leagues [Matador, 2000] Neither
  • Crooked Rain Crooked Rain: LA's Desert Origins [Matador, 2004] ***

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Slay Tracks (1933-1969) [Treble Kicker EP, 1989]
These San Franciscans really don't like CDs--where a rap sample scratches a little, their pissed-off speedtoons jangle through the cracked pickup of an old GE portable. Though this mannerism is irritating at first, the toons themselves are so punky (and toonful) that it endears in the end. What ever happened to Camper Van Beethoven? "Box Elder." And they go on from there. A-

Demolition Plot J-7 [Drag City, 1990]
buzzsaw industrial ("Fork Lift") **

Perfect Sound Forever [Drag City, 1991]
Husker Du for the age of indie irony--hooky grunge as guitar power, turnoff splatter as loyalty test, mad drummer as mad drummer. All on 10 inches of 45-r.p.m. vinyl-only sporting seven titles and four songs. A-

Slanted and Enchanted [Matador, 1992]
Though no outsider wants to believe it, they're not just the latest scruffy rumor. And though no insider wants to believe it, they're more well-schooled than inspired--skilled, gifted, of enduring artistic value, condensing a decade of indie thrashing about into a two-year recording career that takes off with their debut album. Always good at both tune and noise, they sacrifice you-know-what for you-know-what now that they're thinking about quitting their day jobs, and as you'd expect, the content is formal: noise doesn't give up without a fight, often it fights hard, sometimes it fights dirty, and tune digs where it's coming from. Yielding a message complex enough to offer hope that the lyrics--more bemused than enraged, more depressive than despairing--will catch up. A

Watery Domestic [Matador EP, 1992]
The rumor that the title means "watered-down, not wild" would bewilder music-lovers outside Indieland. Though it does comprise four distinguishable, hummable songs, it isn't anything the big guys would call pop music, just a dandy outro for Drag City's EP compilation. And since nobody this good lives in Indieland forever, it raises the question of what they'll do for an encore. As they brag, admit, or observe, they've got "so much style that it's wasted." Which means the content problem is staring down their throats. A-

Westing (by Musket and Sextant) [Drag City, 1993]
This concept CD about the limits of vinyl fetishism--23 cuts off EPs, flexidiscs, and other ephemera you may have read about or even purchased--is the ideal way to hear rather than collect their song-noise, which starts out as pissed-off speedtoons crackling through the pickup of an old GE portable and gradually gets (somewhat) bigger. Even irritating instrumental doodads like "Krell Vid-User" gain presence (aka "warmth") in digital form, and besides, if you get too irritated you can zap 'em. Pretend this is all that remains of a great art-punk band that never wert and chances are you won't want to. A-

Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain [Matador, 1994]
Whether the tunes come out and smack you in the kisser or rise from the clatter like a forgotten promise, this is a tour de force melodywise, which is not to get dewy-eyed about its market potential. They'll never truly sell out until they take voice lessons--as alternarockers from Stipe to Cobain know full well, soulful strength is the pop audience's bottom line. Me, I find their eternally pubescent croaks and whinnies exceedingly apt, and though in theory I always prefer songs that aren't about music, any bunch of obscurantist jokers who can inject the words "Stone Temple Pilots they're elegant bachelors" into my hum matrix have got a right to sing the rocks. A

Gold Soundz [Matador, 1994] Dud

Wowee Zowee [Matador, 1995]
Despite their disavowals of "progress," this proceeds as you'd figure--toward lyricism rather than commerciality or some such chimera. It's seldom hard or fast or chaotic, and if it was their sacred mission to humanize guitar noise, they've betrayed it like the reprobates they no doubt are. But if their vocation is beguiling song-music that doesn't sound like anything else or create its own rut, this reinforces one's gut feeling that they can do it forever. They can't, of course--nobody can. But the illusion of eternity has been music's sacred mission for a good long time. A

Rattled by La Rush [Matador, 1995]
"False Skorpion" Choice Cuts

Pacific Trim [Matador, 1996]
Not a maxisingle--an EP consisting entirely of recommended arcana, with the bonus of lyrics that actually (seem to) make sense. But note these stats: three songs totaling 7:44 for $6.98, with the prize-winning "Gangsters & Pranksters" finishing at precisely 1:30. Why do you think they call it discretionary income? B+

Brighten the Corners [Matador, 1997]
Mature or die is the whole of the law. So of course there's no longer much insurgency in their ill-mannered sounds, now deployed to serenade a self-sustaining subculture and celebrate a band's collective success. Moderate tempos that once breathed psychedelic wooze turn reflective if not thoughtful as lyrics reference the material emoluments of middle-class life. Yet it's still exciting, because it isn't dragged under by the nagging disappointments that generally dull such music (and security). As convinced ironists, Pavement never expected anything else. Closure is a chimera--they'll drink to that. Onetime insurgent Thelonious Monk--they'll drink to him, too. A man known for his brilliant corners. A

Stereo [Domino, 1997]
completists' advisory--two good otherwise unavailables, eight bucks ("Westie Can Drum," "Winner of the") *

Shady Lane [Matador, 1997]
The named album highlight plus three-and-a-half new ones, the half being "Type Slowly" rendered as the Stones shuffle "Slowly Typed." Two of the others are also linear in groove and structure, sparely dissonant tunelets you'll love when they get broken out live. And then there's "Wanna Mess You Around," nearly 90 seconds of crammed-with-rock, a secret classic inviting infinite revision. What EPs are for. A-

Terror Twilight [Matador, 1999]
Since I was fooled myself until I saw them live and knew every riff, I'm wondering why some believe there are no songs here. Probably the explanation is tempo. There's never that frantic hang-on-for-your-life moment when you either pay attention or embrace brain death--when you engage at gunpoint. And though the music seems stitched together rather than wound tight, it's never in any apparent danger of falling apart; it isn't riven or driven by internal contradictions. Thus, too much meaning is left up to the words. But that's not the same as the songs not being there--or as the meanings not being there either. A-

Major Leagues [Matador, 2000] Neither

Crooked Rain Crooked Rain: LA's Desert Origins [Matador, 2004]
You have to care even more than I do to sort this expanded edition out, but you won't turn it off ("Unseen Power of the Picket Fence," "Fucking Righteous"). ***