New England musician Merrill Garbus is tUnE-yArDs. tUnE-yArDs is Merrill Garbus. Her second LP, w h o k i l l, was released on April 19th (4AD), and since then, Ms. Garbus has been taking the web by storm… for good reason. The songs on w h o k i l l form a wild bramble of tangled musical genres. Elements of experimental jazz, pop, funk, soul, rock, and afro-beat all make appearances… in almost every single song. Add in Merrill’s inimitable, howling, but melodically androgynous voice, and you have a record that has the rare distinction of being something truly unique.
The record’s keystone is “Bizness,” a mad freak-out of a tune. “Bizness” starts simply with singular, computer-like tones provided by Merrill herself, looped and repeated. Next come the snare hits and stick taps, again looped. Then Merrill starts in with actual lyrics. To start, she cries out; “If I represent the one that did this to you, then can away the part that represents the thing that scarred you.” Eventually a bassline appears and the composition continues to build and layer. Then horns emerge, and the track rounds into an exercise of controlled clamor. “Bizness” has immeasurable depth, as does the rest of the record. It is a joy to try and unpack.
tUnE-yArDs – “Bizness”
While “Bizness” is w h o k i l l‘s epicenter, and the composition most representative of the rest of the record, “Powa” just may be one of the best tracks of the year (we know, it’s only May). Merrill’s vocal performance is a stunning revelation, especially when it fully blooms during the final two minutes of the song. The most forthright and approachable track on the record, “Powa” is 100% pure slow-smoldering soul. This vocal is downright sexy. Try not to groove to this one.
tUnE-yArDs – “Powa”
Refreshingly embracing of its own oddity, w h o k i l l is dense but listenable, complex but straightforward, strange but familiar, like a twisted mix of Animal Collective, Vampire Weekend, and a sped-up, tripped-out Bobby McFerrin. Really? Really. And Merrill does it all with a couple of drums, a ukulele, some foot pedal looping equipment, a bassist (Nate Brenner), and a horn section. The songs that make up w h o k i l l are an undiscovered species unlike anything we’ve ever heard before, and that is inspirational stuff. The record has so much going on, the listening experience mutates and evolves with each spin. The songs of w h o k i l l have definite staying power and will inhabit your playlists for months to come… Call it musical survival of the fittest, and w h o k i l l is very strong and very smart.
BONUS (x2): 1. Download “Bizness” for free by clicking here and providing Merrill with your e-mail address and 2. check out an insanely amazing performance of “Powa” below: