Merrill Garbus’ second release as the typographically confused tUnE-yArDs is nothing short of an adventure. Almost every song takes you down a different road of sonic peculiarity but for every one angular, discordant turn, there’s ten more that take you back into some curiously soulful grooves.
Garbus has admitted to a youth full of radio pop influences such as Debbie Gibson and Cyndi Lauper through a ‘90s wasteland, where she still holds a certain regard for Ani DiFranco but less so for the grandiose moments of Dave Matthews Band. Add to this an upbringing of hippy parents who played both Bach and Emmylou Harris to her from the womb onwards and, well, it’s no surprise that she’s come up with a hybrid sound to call her own.
That said, each song on this album takes on its own personality. What comes through them all is Garbus’ belting voice, existing somewhere between spoken and singing – the high notes command your urgent attention and are screamed out, often layered like a schoolyard chant. Underneath, a variety of rhythms with an African feel (the opener ‘My Country’ for one) to the slow and funky (‘Powa’) and the experimental-jazzy (‘Es-So’, ‘Riotriot’). Horns pop up frequently adding another layer and turn the whole thing into a squelchy mush under a repeated refrain until the next minute she’s shouting “BANG BANG BANG BANG” at you.
Some of the more angular moments are a little tough to sit through repeatedly, especially if you’re a fan of the 4/4. What you get outside this is what seems like some twisted form of new soul. Boldly testing out rhythms, rhymes and instruments then often pulling things back to the perfect chord and some warm brass before heading off on another verbal or musical tangent. If you don’t mind a bit of a sonic adventure, you just better follow along. Some of these songs will definitely soundtrack your summer nights out so you’d better get used to them.