Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Amber Coffman

  • City of No Reply [Columbia, 2017] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

City of No Reply [Columbia, 2017]
According to the official timeline, Coffman and Dirty Projectors major domo David Longstreth split as a couple in 2012, reconnected somehow in 2014, and recorded her solo debut together in 2016. Only then, album nearly done, their friendship/relationship ended and Longstreth kicked her out of the band, apparently for the first time. Having found said band's disquieting harmonies and shifting arrangements arch and self-involved even when I liked them anyway, I say no big deal. Coffman does not. But it's Coffman who gets the better of this meeting of the minds, fight to the death, or whatever it was. Compared to the labored rhetoric of "Two Doves" and "Stillness Is the Move," the pomo lieder Longstreth ceded her in the Dirty Projectors, the one-dimensionality of "All to Myself"'s "I want to be swallowed up in an ocean of love" or "Miss You"'s "Gonna take you on a night ride" are formal coups in reverse. Longstreth takes a co-write on every song and acidulates the arrangements to excellent effect, but these moves are pop compromises by the standards of the guy who beat Coffman to the release date with a band album anchored by the immemorial avant-brag "What I want from art is truth/What you want is fame." By my standards, they're what aesthetes like him are for--the way his dissonances set off the weathered-porcelain grain of Coffman's lovely voice verges on the exquisite. Thus he's essential to the album's truth, which is that hipster love can be as ardent as anybody else's. A-