When approaching tUnE-YaRdS’ second album W H O K I L L to review, I was immediately overcome with a pressing sense of excitement for the task ahead. It was only after I’d reached hurriedly for my laptop, slammed the ON button, and double-clicked Word – irritably correcting the font settings, for who the hell uses Calibri I ask you? – that I realised, face-to-face with the blank page, the difficulty of the task in front of me.
I mean, how exactly DO you review this thing? I could happily devote a good thousand words or so to debating genre alone. Lo-fi? Yeah, lo-fi certainly. But that’s not enough. Experimental RnB? That could work. Hmm… how about noise-pop? Is that a genre, or did I just make that up? I like it though. Noise-pop… bear with me a second, I’ll look it up…………..
………….alright, it exists: “mixes atonal noise and/or feedback with the melodic instrumentation and production elements more often found in pop music, making it more melodic and angst-free than noise rock.” Well there you go. We’re almost there I reckon, cheers Wikipedia, you are the best. So, we’ve decided: this fidgety, restless bundle of energy is a lo-fi experiment in RnB, with noise-pop propensities tossed in for good measure.
I guess the next question is: am I enjoying it? Ha! I like that question, it’s a lot easier. Indubitably yes. Although I have to admit, on first listen I found all the vigorous invention and intense, in-ya-face positivity a bit much to take in. Because New England multi-instrumentalist Merill Garbus, aka tUnE-YaRdS, fairly batters you with her uncontainable personality in every one of these teeming tracks. In riotous album opener My Country, for example, she bounds about the place using vocal loops that morph her into a screeching shrewdness of apes (by the way, I looked it up, amazingly that is the right collective noun… I could have also used ‘troop’). You quickly learn such looping is a heavy feature of Garbus’s craft, and rumour has it her live show is an incredible one-woman collage of drum, ukulele, electric bass, saxophone and vocal loops layered one on top of the other. I NEED to see that.
The eclecticism of her music makes me see her as the female equivalent of Beck. Certainly she is able to move through styles and genres with a similarly natural ease, snatching prompts she gets from traditions like pop and RnB and twisting them into something wholly unique to her. Honestly though, I don’t think there is anyone quite like her around at the moment. Surely there can be few with as potent and arresting a voice; you could never stick this album on and hope to hold your attention on anything else.
Overall, it’s a joyous parade of vocal gymnastics and playful lo-fi compositions, with a dominant, urban undercurrent to the lyrics keeping it grounded in something like the real world. Also, if you can muster up any further suggestions for what the hell the genre might be, please do help me out. Because I’m still dizzy.
Ch-Check It Out If You’re Partial To – virtuoso multi-instrumentalism; fierce explosions of joy; Lo-fi; the shrewdness of apes; urban commentary; genre-defying music; vocal impersonations of police sirens put on a loop; flouting the rules for correct spelling, capitals and spacing usage.
Fantastic Track – Bizness… she sounds a bit Zap Mama on this one