Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-02-01

2011-02-01

The Extra Lens: Undercard (Merge, 2010) Twelve songs in 34 minutes by John Darnielle on "vocals, instruments" and Franklin Bruno on "instruments, vocals," and as someone who's long felt Darnielle was trying too hard, I'm so glad he's cut himself some breathing room. Ofttime Mountain Goats keyboardist Bruno deserves very nearly half the credit, less for his three-and-a-half songs (which Darnielle sings, so where are Bruno's "vocals"?) than for the keyboards enveloping "Programmed Cell Death," the piano undergirding the Randy Newman cover, and for all I know the guitar splattering "How I Left the Ministry." If the verse-chorus-verse of these gorgeously understated, quiet but hardly grooveless artsongs makes your teeth hurt, Grizzly Bear will give you something to suck on any year now. A-

Todd Snider: Live: The Storyteller (30 Tigers/Aimless, 2011) His second live album in eight years lacks the full functionality of the first, which doubled as a better best-of than the studio one Hip-O put out two years later. But Snider's hang-loose performances are so infectious they reproduce on record even when he's showing the crowd how two unconscious people sprawled into a perfect T across a fondly and farcically remembered stage. So though the songs are from his much improved studio albums of the past decade, most worth owning in themselves, the "storytelling" isn't just in the songs. There are stories proper galore, plenty more than the three tracked as such, and every one is worth hearing--always as narrative and usually as music, where Snider's acquired drawl provides a species of musicality akin to that of prime rapping, especially over a vamp. Snider's promise: "If everything goes particularly well this evening we can all expect a 90-minute distraction from our impending doom." Pondering the Comcast power grab and the perils of democracy in super-Saharan Africa, I wasn't fully distracted. But Snider's stoned-humanist humor eased my soul. A-

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