Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-07-20


Greenberger Greenberg Cebar: Tell Me That Before (Pel Pel, 2011) David Greenberger and his Duplex Planet project are old news, and there've been other recordings. But I'm not sure how many a music person would want, and can't imagine any of them improving on the new one I've fallen for: 17 subtly intonated dramatizations of words Americans in elder facilities have spoken to Greenberger followed by a multivocal 19-minute finale. No one's altogether bitter, but many are weary, and gradually the selections become not so much sadder as deeper, their bygone vernacular a bearer of authority and idiosyncrasy, reason and regret. Wise, deluded, confused, loving, placid, wacky, they reminisce and philosophize as they wait for the end, and Greenberger respects them all. Mark Greenberg provides each reflection with dedicated homespun accompaniment--bass and/or drums and/or keyboard, ukulele and/or accordion and/or vibraphone--that accents the musicality of their speech. The words would appear to be all. Yet every time your mind wanders, your ear tells you they're not. A-

Frank Ocean: Channel Orange (Def Jam, 2012) One, Nostalgia, Ultra wasn't perfect. Two, neither is this, but in a different way. There's no song here as astonishing as "Strawberry Swing," "Novacane," or "American Wedding"--two of which, you will note, exploit Other People's Music (not to mention the Other Man's Music), and all of which inhabit a narrative world simultaneously richer and more ordinary than the haut-monde demimonde of most of these songs. But the musical craft on this almost sampleless album is so even-keeled that there's no song here as forgettable as "There Will Be Tears" or "Dust" either. You could speculate that when he's the sole composer Ocean resists making a show of himself--resists the dope hook, the smart tempo, the transcendent falsetto itself. And just as his music is about control, he never promotes a subject matter I believe fascinates him in a cautionary way, as the assigned fate of the r&b elite. Definitely his official debut is about the demimonde, not of it. And definitely the verbal content rules. For a musical prodigy to be a writer first is a mitzvah. But that doesn't mean we have to share his fascinations. A-

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