Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

tUnE-yArDs: w h o k i l l [4AD, 2011]
Leaping and flowing, growling and crooning, exclaiming and explaining, stopping short for horns and glitches you had no idea were coming, Merrill Garbus's second album has the tune power and groove appeal normal music lovers put on repeat. And if too many normal music lovers think it's abnormal, at least she's hired a bassist, not to mention a studio into which at least a dozen other living musicians are suspected to have ventured. I don't suppose it'll help much to venture that Garbus contains in one person the finest attributes of Captain Beefheart and Phoebe Snow, not with the former a demigod and the latter a footnote. But she does reconstitute roots tonalities and procedures without hermeticism or egomania, and she does roll around in her enormous voice without bathos or undue expressionism. And though you won't wonder about the lyrics until you've had your fill of the music, she tells you what she has to say in the opening "My Country" and explores its ramifications for 10 songs and 42 minutes. "When they have nothing why do you have something?" she asks, with the "you" encompassing both herself and her country. "The worst thing about living a lie is just wondering when they'll find out," she warns, with the "they" encompassing have-nothings everywhere. That is, she deploys her superb music to address an issue so pressing few can stand to think about it: who kills who? A