In a recent interview with Pitchfork, the ever enigmatic Merrill Garbus revealed that she walked in to a library and came out with a copy of Molly–Ann Leiken’s How To Write A Hit Song while creating third album Nikki Knack. For those familiar with her first album Bird–Brains and its successor WHOKILL, you would be left wondering how Ms.Garbus would pull off a chart–topping radio–friendly hit? And indeed, why would she want such a thing?
Luckily for her fans, the only association with mainstream music is the appearance of producers John Hill and Malay, who have worked with Frank Ocean and Shakira. We are treated to the same indescribable musical concoctions jumping from electro, hip–hop rhythms, African tribal singing, schoolyard chanting and nods to Native America culture on ‘Real Thing’ and ‘Left Behind’. Each song is saturated in noise, but Garbus’ strong vocal is always the stand out instrument.
Garbus still raps and hollers throughout the album, but what is most noticeable throughout all of the chaos is that Merrill seems to have embraced slowing down the beats and letting her obvious vocal talent shine through. She remains, however, a gifted songwriter; describing situations and thoughts that probably rarely enter other people’s heads.
She is confident and engaging and although this album is classic Tune-Yards, the three year hiatus has seemed to mature Merrill and her music. On ‘Hey Life’ she is in reflective, almost melancholic mood, in her own signature frivolous fashion, of course, “I’ve spent 12,944 days alive/Amazing how a human being can still thrive/I know my days are numbered/I should enjoy the climb, I like to smell the roses/But I’m running out of time.”
The album is halved by the eighth track, a bizarre spoken word interlude called ‘Why Do We Dine On The Tots?’. Into the second half, Garbus introduces us to her take on the electro craze on tracks ‘Stop that Man’, ‘Wait For A Minute’ and ‘Left Behind’, the latter of which ends in what sounds like an Irish trad session. The album ends with the futuristic, R’n’B inspired ‘Manchild’, a blend of hip–hop and Merrill’s traditionally sassy vocals.
It’s unique, confident, catchy, danceable, descriptive and 100% pure and real in its delivery and message. It’s stripped down and organic, yet complex and eccentric, just like Merrill herself. She may have only learnt some “nuts and bolts stuff” from How To Write A Hit Song but who needs hits when your this innovative?