tUnE YaRdS – w h o k i l l (4AD)
April 27, 2011 by TP James
If Merrill Garbus (AKA Tune-Yards) was looking to prove just how easy it is make it into the record business, then she surely pulled it off in some style. On her 2009 debut, she launched herself upon the indie world with a self-released LP of primal, DIY folk-pop, using only a handful of instruments and recorded with a digital voice recorder onto cassette; a process which produced a sound as course as a fisherman’s vocabulary.
And although good, it has to be said that ‘Bird-Brains’ was at times, a difficult record to listen to.
Tune-Yards later signed to 4AD, who remastered and re-released their debut, but ‘Whokill’ is the first real offering under new management and the result sees Garbus given the kind of backup she really needed.
Sonically, ‘Whokill’ is a surreal cacophony of noise, but that’s not to say its overrun with them, sticking to the principles that held their last record so proudly aloft. Co-conspirator Nate Brenner’s bass lines gives the looped drums soul, and together provides a credible rhythm section, adding depth to make a far more crafted and coherent record than the first. However, what really give these songs their identity is Garbus’ voice. Androgynous for most of its delivery, the first three songs here sound like a reggae band doing Antony & the Johnsons covers, and there are subtle nods to R’n'B, hip-hop and soul running through the album as a whole.
Recurring beats and simple ukulele patterns are here again in abundance but by the time we get to songs like ‘You Yes You’ and ‘Killa’, we can hear the difference that the label presence has made. There’s no doubt these albums are of the same stamp but the higher fidelity here flows through the cracks and glosses over the less obvious flaws of its ‘one-take’ musicianship. That’s not to say it’s an all-round easy listen and this record still sounds very raw when placed next to its nearest competitors, which is probably a happy medium that Garbus can live with.
What is clear is that Tune-Yards aren’t trying to be the new anybody. If anything, what they’ve succeed in doing with this record is becoming the new Tune-Yards – all the good elements still in tact, with a bare minimum of label assistance in the post-production. This is still rough-around-the-edges experimental joy pop from the most unlikely of indie heroes, but taken at its word, could be your new favourite album in no time at all.