Assessing masculinity: The Goon Sax, John Grant, Tyler, the Creator

Three acts contend with the travails of modern masculinity using compassion, detachment, and the occasional flipped bird.

The Goon Sax – Mirror II

When the amateurishness of this redoubt of post-punk proves unsurmountable, whether as poor vocalizing or inapt horn honking or obscurantic lyrics, I despair at the persistence of these values. Since 2016 the Goon Sax have expanded their record collection without an attendant honing of their craft. Rather charming in its way. But bands like them also regard post-punk as ethos, not marching orders. Tempo changes, whorls of melody, the guitar as filigree rather than anchor — this Brisbane trio whose guitarist/singer can claim a Go-Between as a dad recalls The Raincoats in their friendly but ambivalent relation to songcraft. “Bathwater” is the peak; with its mournful saxophone peal and rhythmic surge it even flirts with the anthemic. The grandest joke is “Tag,” which, as per mournful opening fanfare, alludes to a Fear & Whiskey-era Mekons death ballad: as the synth mimics a violin and the guitar does its best untutored growl, Riley Jones summons Sally Timms. Because in this game he’ll always outrun her, the joke’s not funny anymore.

John Grant – Boy from Michigan

Since going solo the former Czars frontman has written some of the century’s most piquant songs about queer life. To match the four-dollar synth effects in which he specializes, he prefers bluntness to wit; he has little in common with The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt. He rarely kids. He strives for a hymnal intensity. Every album since 2013’s Pale Green Ghosts has proffered a reminiscence and valentine worth savoring. But Boy from Michigan is too long, attenuated even; Grant isn’t resourceful enough as a programmer to sustain interest in these electronic jams (“The Rusty Bull”). The closer “Billy” showcases his elegant rumpled-sheet timbre for the sake of an elegy to a friend-lover with whom he “set about” destroying themselves “as membеrs of the cult of masculinity.” In its warmth and curiosity it recalls another Billy, written and recited by Lou Reed another century to another friend/possible lover.

Tyler, the Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST

A personality whose raps occasionally match his beats, Tyler treats sequences the same way channel surfers treated TV watching. His sixth album offers more sampled noise and musique concrète over which buddies like Lil Uzi Vert and Lil Wayne can rap with the fluency he won’t bother to attain. I forget to play his work after a couple weeks listening. I blame Tyler’s affect-free approach. “Wilshire” should feel like an opus — an eight-minute narrative near the end about a guy whose hand he’d prefer to hold not shake — but with every verse weighed the same it slides by. Exception: “MASSA,” about doing what he likes.

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