Over the course of four albums, Tune-Yards has merged across from looped ukelele rock tracks recorded in a bedroom to groovy art pop that goes for infectious hooks that hide some pretty deep digging lyrics. Nowhere is that more the case than with Garbus’ latest album which aims to tackle racism and equality head on – something difficult to do when your a white female.
The album opens with a wake up that’s a shakeup. “Heart Attack” is immediate, catchy and fun with its piano riffs, simple beats and lyrical spasms. It eases you in gently with probably the most accessible track on the album but the words are already preparing you for the shocks and bumps you’re going to uncover if you choose to. “Coast to Coast” speaks of America’s divide as the repetition of “right, left, right, left, fantasy” seems less about geography and more of a comment about how discussion doesn’t really take place because of the fear that brings. Musically it’s also a great statement as the ukelele is present throughout, but you’d never know. It’s smashed up in lots of effects to feel like a grungy guitar running synth effect. “ABC 123” is a work of genius as the funky bass lines roll alongside childish lyrics that could be an anthem for starting over again. It’s political as Garbus sings “All I know is white centrality” – admitting she doesn’t really know personally what its like, but all the lyrics surrounding it suggest she knows everything from the ground up is built on something that’s not sitting well with her. It’s a fascinating stance to place into a riotous pop song and makes you think long after the riffs are done.
“Now As Then” is a hidden gem on the album. It’s bluesy grooves and gospel like cries in the chorus as fantastic. It’s quirky, offbeat, off tune and has that lilt into bending notes that I absolutely love. “Honesty” plays with vocal looping and 80’s dance synths and reminds me of a mantra that someone sings out over and over again to get themselves to believe it. The track feels like an assault on the senses as sounds clips and switches around each other in a freeform way – it feels like a jam session. “Colonizer” is a fascinating song as Merrill Garbus sends herself up speak singing in the most delicate manner to make herself sound so much higher and mighty as she discusses inferred lower humans experiencing things. I find it part sad and part comedy as its a two-fingered fuck you to all those people who come back from a years travel to experience poverty porn in Uganda and then dine off it for years saying how humble it was that it changed their lives – but it really didn’t. Musically, it’s a wonderful cluster of influences.
Much of the album flips back to big drum 80’s sound machine style production and “Look At Your Hands” is the best example of that. Lots of percussive riffs collect together for a great earworm that again hints at responsibility and ownership but you may not pick it up if you’re going for the pure pop vibe. “Home” is literally the first, and perhaps only slow brooding track on the album. Eerie cries of “she’s a fool” echo over a thick bass line that falls apart in verses and slowly marches together to a heady crescendo at the finale when it bursts into a raving disco. “Hammer” is about patriarchy, Trump and what does one person’s experience bring to a community really? It’s lazy groove and heavy use of smacking percussive loops give the track a real DIY shop come to life sound. “Who Are You” verges on bossa nova, before the superbly eerie “Private Life” bursts in. It’s a call to arms, a three-minute chant that is ugly, out of tune, hollering and bludgeoning. It’s unapologetically Tune-Yards yet pulls from so many different places at the same time and feels like the culmination of the whole album. The album closes with the statement slamming “Free” which declares “Don’t tell me I’m free” – as frankly none of us are. It ends with Garbus flexing her stunning vocal power at full pelt as she interchangeably joins us with a guitar and the two fuse together. I’m not sure if its trying to tell me that music can be a way that we can fuse together as one but it feels like it.
Earworms from start to end, this album has grown on me from an “ooh” on the first listen to gushing love by the end of a week. Fascinating and thought provoking – whilst being on the dance floor? Sign everyone one!
Recommended Track: Heart Attack