Coming at you from your favorite lo-fi sort-of folkie, Merrill Garbus and company aka TUNE-YARDS (stylized as tUnE-yArDs) released a new album entitled Nikki Nack. A delightful miss-mash of singing, spoken word ‘interludes’, pulse quickening percussion, and a whole host of other sounds that you can’t quite define, Nikki Nack has a tightened up and finessed sound. When a lyric like ‘a two-pound chicken tastes better with friends/ a two-pound chicken tastes better with two/ and I know where to find you’ (from Water Fountain) can get stuck in your head for days, you know you’ve struck song-writing gold.
TUNE-YARDS is also distinguished by their happy and positive themes. In our interview with her, TUNE-YARDS talked about liking the song Happy by PHARRELL, and we discussed the whole mantra these days where it seems like ‘coolness’ and ‘happy’ can’t go together. Well, for this musician, they do.
Garbus has a multi-faceted voice that can go from deep and throaty to an up and airy soprano. The album opens with the toe tapper Find a New Way. Featuring a harpsichord, the song tells us that she learned ‘that I had a right to scream just like a bird had to sing’ but Garbus saves her screaming for other tracks. Fans of her unique sound will note the influence of her recent trip to Haiti to study percussion and dance, especially on the tracks Water Fountain, Left Behind, and Rocking Chair.
Eighties synth sounding Stop that Man, and more quiet and introspective Look Around, TUNE-YARDS show why no none can really put them in a genre, they are a genre all their own. Real Thing starts almost like an a-cappella R&B jam, before devolving to extort you to ‘Girlz, while you worry about dress size six, they’re winning the tricks those tricks those dicks, oh!’ Unlike the folk music that influenced her, Garbus does not resort to direct appeals, but choses a subtler, roundabout way, singing about ‘binge and purge the USA.’ She puts the politics and social change of folk in modern terms. Yes, it’s subversive, yes it’s questioning, but it’s obtuse enough to be interpreted in many ways.
The positive returns in the sweetly reflective Look Around which tells us ‘there will always be something you can rely on/ I will always be something you can lean your weight into.’ Just in case you were feeling safe, things go a little Jonathan Swift-ish with the Interlude -Why Must We Dine on the Tots? which has a organ background while Merrill shifts her voice to play different people in a poem/conversation in which they are discussing eating children. The tracks are brimming with lyrical confidence that goes hand in hand with technical accomplishment. TUNE-YARDS is not some half-assed bedroom project, they have become a fully fledged harbinger of the new hyper aware patchwork folk.
This album is pure joy. When an LP comes along that tells a story while switching up genres like some girls change clothes, ‘Nikki Nack’ is fully realized offering from TUNE-YARDS. For fans of the non-normal and non-traditional.
NBHAP Rating: 5/5