Merrill Garbus’ strikingly original new album w h o k i l l, by her band tUnE-yArDs
Reprinted with permission from The Deli SF
Hands down the most buzzed about new D.I.Y. artist in today’s indie-rock scene is whiz-chameleon Merrill Garbus, band name tUnE-yArDs. Her African inspired, poppy, jazzy, often folk lo-fi, often the best party music you’ve heard in a hell of a long time—new album w h o k i l l is the most original thing you will have heard in a long time. Garbus’ voice is manipulated with vocal loops to make a chorus of yelling-howling beauty that makes you want to paint your face like she does and run around in neon colors across a grassy field. Or finally journey to Africa (as Garbus did, which shaped this new record for her) and join in on those vibrant tribal dances you’ve always seen photos of but never felt the rhythm in front of your very heart and ears. Other songs find Garbus’ voice in a cooing jazzy style, and she manages both of these vocal styles onstage with a simple looping machine. It would truly be a wonder to see live.
Garbus made a trip to Kenya after the release of her debut album Bird-Brains, which she stated deeply inspired her for the newest album. She is receiving rave reviews from the likes of the New York Times, Pitchfork, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Spin. Originally from New England, Garbus lived in Montreal during her first release, and relocated to Oakland, California for her new album. She is a creative force to be reckoned with, and this album is a perfect balance of lyrically profound, quieter, moody tracks, and shake-your-booty dance grooves with heart and soul. This album is already considered a top candidate for magazine album of the year—that is how strongly critics believe in Garbus’ sound.
Her smash-hit song “Fiya” was featured in a Blackberry commercial. Her shows across the U.S. are selling out at such coveted venues as the Troubadour in L.A. and The Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York. The music video for her new hit “Bizness” will give you chills, get you giggling, and make you dance even if you are not usually inclined to do so. It features young children in uniforms bored in class, when one with a hairstyle (shaved on one side and curly and wild on the other) like Garbus breaks out in song, mouthing the words “What’s the busness yeah! Don’t take my life away, don’t take my life away!”. The video segues to Garbus herself, leading a group of people with similarly bright clothing to her own, and her signature streaks of face paint in a dance. She makes the silliest faces possible, and the video feels like the perfect release you want from a song—it uplifts your spirit and makes you feel like you don’t need to hold anything back.
New for this album Garbus’ collaborator –musician Nate Brennan, who co-wrote some songs, and plays bass as well as aux drums. There is also saxophone, played by Kasey Knudsen and Matthew Nelson. Garbus plays ukulele and electric bass.
The album was released in late April on 4AD Records, who also represent the likes of Bon Iver, Deerhunter, Blonde Redhead, The Moutain Goats, St. Vincent, I could go on—essentially many other of the hottest names in the alternative rock scene today. w h o k i l l features infectious beats that create a hip hop feel, and the track names reflect the African influence of focus on non-lexicals—“Gangsta”, “Powa”, “Killa”, “Es-so”—making the lyrics part of the musical sounds, rather than always standing out as clearly articulated like much of North American vocal style is often known for. Listeners familiar with Oakland will notice the song “Gangsta” undeniably is influenced by Garbus’ new home base. The song features the chorus “Bang Bang Boy-ee, never move to my hood, because danger is crawling out the way” and begins with the sound of sirens. But it slows down near the middle, with Garbus softly singing “Life in the city makes sense—“. Clearly living with the violence in Oakland must be worth its thriving arts scene to Garbus, and the city’s potential to become safer, as she has flourished in her new environment.
Her songs range from wild and fast to slower and often visceral, in a way that I would be most comparable to the power of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O. The song “Wooly Wooly Gong” finds Garbus contemplating on romance and attachments, with heart-wrenching lines like, “Keep your bleeding heart wide open”. With inspiration like Garbus’ music, our hearts and ears are wide open.