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Tune-Yards – “Nikki Nack” Review

She has more voices that an entire choir ensemble

On her third album, Tune-Yards continues to evolve her sound. Gone are the more rockier elements for this thirteen track album and in are afrobeats, offbeat melodies, very stripped down production and lyrics steaming at you at 100 mph.

Opener “Find a New Way” has a rolling drum beat with claps and snap snare drums. The bass guitar is omni present throughout the album and the keyboard samples feel almost at random as they pop in and out. The main focus has really shifted to the vocals and Garbus shines on that front. There are lots of mini loops that layer over each other and plenty of tongue twisters. “Water Fountain” is more poptastic with its joyous delivery and bouncy percussive beat. It also has a proper chorus which feels more like a football chant than a rock track. It’s the little production tweaks too that make Tune Yards stick out. Twists in frequencies, little glitches of the vocals and a tiny nods to chip tune styled delivery all sit nicely behind the fierce voice.

“Time of Dark” is more industrial in its cymbals and electronic drums that burst and push in a more volcanic build. The merging of several Merrill Garbus’ for the chorus makes it feel like you’ve arrived into a hedonistic world. It’s rough, ready and visceral as you chant and holler along with the words. “Real Thing” is a breakdown of overproduction made beautiful as a single bass hum and a drum beat leads a song of wondering as Garbus implores “I’m no Real Thing” and lamenting over the search for it. It’s clever, catchy and a potential single in waiting. The ending is superb. “Look Around” demonstrates something played with throughout the album perfectly – a slightly mistimed beat. The beat stops half a beat early and takes a little while to get used to – especially when in the chorus she’s trying to cram all the words in and sounds genuinely rushed. It’s akin to an early Beck track.

“Hey Life” returns to a deliriously upbeat 70’s/90’s/today’s mash-up of keyboards, percussion and insanely fun chorus. Coupled with the offbeat “Sink-O” it’s a great combination as the latter track sounds like someones winding up the song manually as the chords and vocals get higher and more laboured. It also has a lot of vocal layering where it’s spinning between lots of chopped layers and I love that effect personally. After that the amazing “Why Do We Dine on the Tots” is a short interlude that I will say one thing on – I want Merrill to release a story collection. Now.

“Stop That Man” is all about how the bass line interacts with the higher notes of the vocals. It’s dirty, menacing, late 80’s and combined with the thundering kick drum, it makes for a slinky number. “Wait For A Minute” is the quiet track on the album and one of my favourites. It’s laid back – so much so that the repeating loop in the chorus seems to not even be in time with the track. Over time I’ve got used to it but I’d have rather it been in time with the drums! “Left Behind” is a barrage of vocal tracks and loops of summer fun with the second half of the track consisting of a funky bass line and the lyric “Holiday, let’s go crazy!” throughout. “Rocking Chair” is a fantastic African style chant where people make their own music with a simple shaker and beat. The rest of the track is made up almost entirely of Merrill’s voice. It’s this track however that makes me yearn for something a little less grunge pop and something closer to the backporch-ness of her first two albums. It’s not a specific criticism as “Manchild” rounds off the album in typically confrontational view with low beats and declarations of lines being drawn – it’s just I prefer that sound.

Nikki Nack outclasses anything I’ve heard pop-beat wise in terms of style, delivery, originality and ideas. Tune-Yards have strayed onto the more funky pop route and it suits Garbus well – just don’t forget the ukulele in future please!


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