Super grooves and vocal gymnastics that transfer anger into positive action.
Being political and having a voice is something that Tune-Yards has always put front and centre in their music. Duo Merrill and Nate have often created music on equality, gender, white privilege and cause and effect. With ‘Sketchy’, it almost feels as if Merrill is trying to convince herself that she and the world can do better. Nihilism and pessimism is not the answer.
It is an interesting spin as a lot of these topics get quite muddy when you are seen as a white person using polyrhythms and Afrobeat and there is more than an element of spiralling as Merrill sings about her own perceived missteps. My own personal view is respect and sharing in music goes a long way. If we only ever play the music we are perceived as being ours to play, how can we ever truly fully embrace others experiences? I feel like Tune-Yards do eventually land in the same view ballpark too as no matter what lyrics are sung, they are still borrowing from elsewhere and putting their own twist on it. Part of me feels like this makes their own message a bit sketchy but there are layers and layers of things to uncover here that go way behind my own intelligence and viewpoint.
I’ve spent so much time going down just a single rabbit hole of many in this album for a reason. What makes ‘sketchy’ a great album is that many songs start off in this cyclic mess of self-loathing, confusion, anger or pessimism but end in a much more defiant, responsive and directed stance. Calls to action on global warming, calling out the lack of Women’s voices in abortion laws, promising to just do better. It is all here and usually stems from an unstable low point. Many songs such as ‘hypnotised’, ‘under your lip’ and ‘hold yourself’ all transform over time into a huge finale. The way the music explodes and builds into a beautiful surge of music is truly fantastic.
‘Sketchy’ is also a return to the earlier sound of Tune-Yards. Drums, bass, brass and vocals. This is the grooviest album of the duos to date and the drum loops are chunky and aggressive. The brass is more layered than ever before and the vocals are as full of war cry as ever. Where the album is different is that often there isn’t a huge main hook. The songwriting has shifted here towards some riffs but mostly waves of emotional energy. The best way I can describe it is that you get the rumbles through verses and the chorus and then the eruption occurs in the outros. It makes ‘Sketchy’ less immediate but immensely satisfying. I think the album will be absolutely immense as a live experience.
So my advice is to let ‘Sketchy’ be a firelighter for your energy. The closing track ‘be not afraid’ has huge dissonant bass rumbles like warning sirens. Then a chorus of Garbus’ voice chimes in over trippy drums, basslines, synths and each time a phrase is sung, everything feels stronger. The listener feels stronger too. I feel like its a musical calling to arms. Don’t become resigned to the norm. Be the change. Enjoy the rhythms. Have fun inventing new paths. Go with the flow.
Recommended track: Hold yourself
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