Tune-Yards - whokill (4AD)

Tune-Yards - whokill (4AD)

After recording her debut, Bird-Brains, using a dictaphone and freeware, album number two sees Merrill Garbus making full use of a studio, in terms of scope and sound. Unlike that album, there's a lot less ukulele in sight (one exception is Wolly wolly gong with its spooky fairytale quality, a kind of hip-hop lullaby). The other main difference is a more prominent dub influence running throughout - a prime example is Powa with its lovely loping tempo and heavily reverbed vocals. The single Gangsta has a great caustic energy (brass and strident vocals); check out the street funk of My country, with a memorable fuzz synth line, freewheeling brass section and playground chant na-na-na-na-na outro. However, if you have no other contact with this album, you must at least hear the transcendant moment during Doorstep when a bevvy of layered Merrill's (all sha-la-la's and whoa-oo-whoa's) contrive to produce an intimate atmosphere straight off a Chiffons' record. Although coming across at first like a lover's plea, the song deals with a race riot fatality in her adopted Californian home (a theme which also crops up on Riotriot) - "a policeman shot my baby as he crossed over my doorstep". (It also has an insanely catchy, spiralling bassline.) This ability to wear social/political themes lightly and wrap them in audacious pop arrangements is a particularly winning one - independent without being isolationist, pop-smart without being throwaway. Overall, the studio setting succeeds in giving the knock-out vocals and musical textures plenty of room to breathe without losing a certain delicate touch. Merrill, the studio experiment has paid off handsomely. One of the albums of the year.

Below is an interview with Merrill from Feb 2010, when she last played in Ireland. She's a great character and she likes her pints of stout.

Playing Whelan's, Dublin, June 17


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