Fresh Stuff From Tune-Yards
by Cat Johnson
In 2011, Tune-Yards burst onto the scene with Whokill. It wasn’t the band’s first offering but it was the one that moved them from the edges of the underground into the mainstream eye and ears. A rollicking, loop- and gadget-driven album informed by African rhythms and glitchy (I mean that in a good way) compositions, it secured the band, comprising Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner as un-categorizable heroes of contemporary pop music.
Earlier this month, Tune-Yards dropped its latest, Nikki Nack and it’s a doozy. Filled with tripped-out beats and samples, Garbus’ trademark sing-songy vocals and rolling rhythms, the album sounds, in true Tune-Yards fashion, like you’re inside a video game, or pinball machine with rapid-fire compositions that you’d be hard-pressed to find the beginning, middle or end of. The songs are arty, layered, dense and multi-dimensional, though a bit (just a bit) calmer than those on Whokill.
These descriptors are not new in the underground—there are plenty of bands that focus on art over listenability and noise over melody. What sets Tune-Yards apart is that there is a strong and vibrant core to the songs that keeps them from flying away into experimental land. Maybe it’s Garbus’ warm, friendly voice and sisterly demeanor; maybe it’s the thoughtful lyrics that keep you hanging on; or maybe it’s just that Garbus and Brenner are extraordinary artists who create music that reflects, and even embraces, the ridiculous pace of life in the 21st century, but at its essence is about being alive and connected and creative.