Because she’s so earnest and goofy, and sure, willing to embarrass herself on record, Kimya Dawson ranges from underrated to grossly misconstrued, by contemporary indie critics who claim to have outgrown twee. But her screeching antifolk realism that’s feminist by default is essential in a world where Animal Collective’s bro-y musings are considered concrete. Dawson’s 2002 effort I’m Sorry That Sometimes I’m Mean is the greatest record her post-Nuyorican culture’s ever seen, even overshadowing the Moldy Peaches’ sole collaboration because it’s more poignant to match up with the funny, meaning for every talking blues about a pull-string Jim Varney doll there was an ice-cold tragedy about an abusive social worker.
After Juno made her “Anyone Else But You” the sweet follow-up Jack White’s “We’re Going to Be Friends” deserved, she receded from the spotlight to chill with her new husband and baby, releasing only the admittedly clever Alphabutt for kids.
Does Thunder Thighs have a lot of pressure on it then? Well, her audience isn’t one for the hype cycle since the hype cycle doesn’t take her so seriously. If there’s any disappointment, it’s that it doesn’t live up to that title; there’s no body image tour de force or much of any useful politics here really, unless dissing alcohol and refined sugar is your bag. Somehow I don’t see Ian MacKaye rocking out to the 42-second hippie-mom tantrum “Unrefined” though. The off-key tribute to late wrestler “Captain Lou” is more fun anyway. But Kimya’s not much for fun anyway, at least not without a little pain, and the piano-flecked opener “All I Could Do” harks back to when she was 15, feeding the homeless and wanting to die.
Dawson’s melodic palette’s improved, but her stories are mostly told. It’s great that she’s a good mother—we always knew she’d be—but the tension that powered her lonely refrains like “Why do I always pretend/ I can spoon a guy and still be his friend?” is gone. You don’t want to shit on her kiddie sing-alongs, but you don’t want to hear them again. And even her truly excellent albums are hard to play often. The best energy here is in the rap songs, one of which is a kiddie singalong with an assist from a guitar solo, Aesop Rock, and a list of children’s authors that brings to mind Le Tigre’s “Hot Topic” in the best way. And then, finally, politics and stories emerge from the dual-ventricled ten minutes of “Walk Like Thunder,” in which she brings a dying transgender friend onstage who lost “my home, my lover, my insurance and my hair.”