tUnE-yArDs tUnE-yArDsw h o k i l l
With the great “BiRd-BrAiNs” (2009), a collection of truly original lo-fi dada tracks, one could already sense we were dealing with a great pop singer. Her name is Merril Garbus and that debut was a gem, which, despite going by semi-unnoticed, served to place a versatile composer on the map. Now, Garbus goes all out on this extraordinary follow-up. “w h o k i l l” is a diamond in the rough on which errors and the home-recording lo-fi sound are deliberately kept in place, but onto which Garbus shoves the tapes and the machines in her room aside and goes into a proper studio, like so many of the new bedroom producers. While shortly we’ll get another big surprise in that sense (from Metronomy), today our flowers are for a jovial artist who, here and now, takes off ready to let rivers of ink flow with her torrential musical vision.
Garbus is a constantly effervescent singer, a composer with a thousand ideas per song. On each track, you can hear them bubble and her squeezing her skills with a passion that reaches your ears practically intact. On “w h o k i l l” she gives it her all, at all times. As fun as the first Micachu –whom she is very much reminiscent of in songs like “Es-So” and “Gangsta”– and as sharp as any Dirty Projectors record, it is already one of the most important albums of the year. tUnE-yArDs, now with bass player and co-writer of some tracks, Nate Brenner, and producer Eli Crews (who’s worked with people like Deerhoof, Why? and Subtle), turns all small print into big words with this record. Looking at soul and ska with the same magnifying glass as the one Dave Longstreth uses for Laurie Anderson, every sound is a winner here: the contrasts and paradoxes, the aberrant associations and the theatrical shamelessness. It’s a potpourri of overdone sounds that never are grotesque, a repertoire as free as the fingers of one hand but at the same time solid as a punch from a fist.
The ingredients are pure herbs and the way she cooked them is delicious. There’s much love for pop and R&B, impeccable rhythmic bombshells like “Killa” and “Gangsta” and also daring lyrics for protest songs like “Doorstep”. Her combat attitude is reminiscent of the riot-grrrl movement, while it’s African and Jamaican rhythms that take the better part of the album to a higher level. “You Yes You” trembles like Talking Heads used to, while “Powa” and “Riotriot” move with tighter rhythms that enter like silk. At times –I don’t know exactly why and if it matters– my mind sees connections with the dislocated nerve of icons like Lizzy Mercier Descloux, which can only be a good thing. That’s what happens: the imagination runs loose with crazy tracks like these and a chameleonic voice like hers. Garbus always uses her throat with cacophonic results, as another instrument. The only track that isn’t that impressive is “Wolly Wolly Gong”, maybe because of how “normal” it sounds and because it doesn’t seem to have the same level of ideas as the rest. However, even though the forgettable moments have the form of a whole song, they’re bound to be forgotten as soon as the next one starts. “w h o k i l l” is a brilliant album, whichever way you look at it.