Whines that know their own minds
The hook on these 14 two-minute songs isn't tunes except occasionally. It's whichever of the two guys who "sing, if you must call it that" comes packing the most anxiety‑-that is, the one who kicks off "Donuts Only" by whining "Like a red state's Baptist fervor/Like a small town's unsolved murder" like his meds are not quite perfect. Texan refugees whose idea of a vacation is North Dakota, they're stoned and starving in Ridgewood, Queens, where they ended up after concluding that "There are no more summer lifeguard jobs/There are no more art museums to guard." So they're pretty much resigned to giving this drone-rock thing a shot. A MINUS
Alt-J: An Awesome Wave (Canvasback/Atlantic)
It's not easy to sound like no one else while performing what are still recognizably pop songs, and harder to remain anything like listenable in the process. But topped off by Joe Newman's ductile whine (can't call it weedy, too organic) and propelled by living bass and drums you'd swear were synthesized too, this Leeds-to-Cambridge foursome's unhurried electro-mesh is always more than pleasant and half the time mildly enthralling. "Tessellate" is the hit, "Matilda" the rouser, "Dissolve Me" the statement of aesthetic-erotic principle. How Brits can call them the new Radiohead beats me. But then, Brits and Radiohead often do. B PLUS
"London Calling"/"Brand New Cadillac".
But if anything I'd probably tend toward any Sleater-Kinney, with "Dig Me Out"/"One More Hour" at or near the top.
"Statesboro Blues"/"Trouble No More".
And then just to be contrarian, I'd add
"Astral Weeks"/"Beside You".
Also Lisanga Ya Ba Nganga and Ngungi from . . . oh, you know where.
Kudos to Tom Walker: "Luv N' Haight" / "Just Like a Baby" is hard to beat, though for PE I prefer "Lost at Birth/Rebirth" leading to "Nighttrain." (To do some cheating of my own.)
Would also submit "Tom Violence"/"Shadow of a Doubt" *or* "Teen Age Riot"/"Silver Rocket."
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.