Gregory Tate’s awesomely just-don’t-give- a-fuck Pazz & Jop essay a few weeks back went so far as to call for a whole other critics’ poll to be invented, just so a myriad of unsung Black Rockers could get their due. Among the company of fellow Soulja Boy antidotes like the Noisettes and MeShell Ndegeocello, Tate prominently listed 22-year-old ex–Test Icicles screamer Devonte Hynes, a/k/a Lightspeed Champion, as a “genius” hybrid of “Elvis Costello, Arthur Lee, and Jim Henson.” While it remains to be seen if Hynes is an all-out genius (or how Tate hears Arthur Lee), he’s certainly mastered the tropes of what I guess would be called “White Rock” more than enough to justify placement on any poll that celebrates Bright Eyes, Feist, or Of Montreal. With songs lamenting hangovers and painful sexual memories—and an album title referring to a lavender-stuffed frog he’d clutch to help him sleep as a kid—Hynes has got the emo blues of the new millennium down pat, right down to the sarcastic song titles: “Everyone I Know Is Listening to Crunk” would’ve been a real groaner if Panic at the Disco thought of it first.
For his abrupt switch from dance-punk tantrum-thrower to Saddle Creek– approved indie crooner, Hynes made all the right friends and successfully assimilated into a style that’s barely still fashionable, but injected it with new life thanks to his unprecedented melodic ambition. Nothing on the last Cursive record had the gorgeous lift of “Devil Tricks for a Bitch,” a brilliant stab at orchestral theatrics that’s more Extraordinary Machine than Ys. Either way, the supporting cast here seems eager to rally around the new eccentric, with Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis rallying Cursive and Tilly and the Wall members for the most communal-sounding indie-songwriter record since, what, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning? From the twangy “Galaxy of the Lost” (which owes Blake Sennett’s Elected project big-time) to the arena-marketable “I Could Have Done This Myself,” Lightspeed Champion sounds like an ambitious fan, eager to stuff his entire record collection into his solo debut, but with the uncluttered grace of a patient melodist, albeit one who can’t resist naming a song “Let the Bitches Die.”