Robert Christgau:
Expert Witness

Sleater-Kinney / tUnE-yArDs / TV on the Radio/ The National / Thurston Moore / St. Vincent


Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love

(Sub Pop)

This return to the wars isn’t necessarily their best album, but that it might be is an up in itself. Their pride is their joy, their standards are high, and they show no sign of getting back together because they could use the payday, although except for Carrie I expect they could—between its noisy desperation and its narrative detail, the clashing Corin opener “Price Tag” nails the overbooked constraints of the strapped middle class like she knows them by heart. Honed back down to punky three-minute songs because the leisure to stretch out is a luxury they can’t presently afford, the music carries the seed of tumult to come, the sense that something or everything could explode without notice just the way this album did. My only cavil is that I wish the singing would relax more, even at the cost of softening the album’s tension, and note that Carrie lets herself go that way on a kind of love song that links fame with mediocrity in the rare woe-I’m-a-star number fueled by emotions anyone can feel the point of. A


tUnE-yArDs: Nikki Nack

(4AD)

Where Merrill Garbus’s contemporaries pro and con hear a boldly experimental self-expresser/cultural appropriator, I’ve always slotted her as a hyperconscious, hyperemotional misfit with a long-gone weight problem and a generous voice. From the start she’s extracted her exhilaration from an insecurity that sounded hard for her to bear. I’ve encountered many such people in my life, most of them not too deeply—they’re hard to take. But because they’re so hyper they make excellent early warning systems and political consciences. Some may wonder why two different songs fret about the water supply. I believe it’s because she lives in California, end of story. Some may wonder why she devotes an entire track to four lines about a rocking chair. I imagine it’s because she became self-conscious about breaking it and composed the song in the ensuing insomnia. Somewhat more overwrought than its predecessors, this album is harder to take as a result. But it’s also hookier and more clearly recorded. And as a musical sensor she has few peers. A MINUS


TV on the Radio: Seeds

(Harvest)

Until the triumphant mortality song “Lazerray” and the scared mortality song “Trouble,” both right before the end, this album makes no discernible reference to the death of bassist Gerard Smith. It’s a love album front to back—those two could be about love too. So if love is your idea of boring, carp away. Big on love myself, I nonetheless wince at the borderline banality of “Could You” and “Test Pilot,” when love goes poorly. But when love goes well—on “Quartz,” “Ride,” the delicate, muscular “Careful You”—they’re strong of mind, body, and spirit. And for your information, love songs that last don’t come easy‑-they take guts, commitment too. A MINUS


The National: Trouble Will Find Me (4AD) Even after loss transmutes into pain sweet pain, it has a way of reverting to the same old same old (“I Should Live in Salt,” “Don’t Swallow the Cap”) ***

Thurston Moore: The Best Day (Matador) Mantras—meditations—celebrations—boasts (“Speak to the Wild,” “Tape”) **

St. Vincent: St. Vincent (4AD) Classy lady reveals not only that she’s feral but that she takes out the garbage (“Prince Johnny,” “Psychopath”) **


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Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter at @rxgau.
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