tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack

Invigorating, wilful and wildly exuberant…

More polished than 2009’s DIY Dictaphone-recorded debut ‘Bird-Brains’, less disjointed and boundary pushing than 2011’s ‘Whokill’, tUnE-yArDs’ latest, ‘Nikki Nack’, is broadly accessible but at the same time quirky and quintessentially uncompromising.

Working with outside producers for the first time, including Malay (Frank Ocean) and John Hill (Rihanna), has lent an expansiveness and confident playfulness to proceedings.

Insistent polyrhythmic percussion is still the core of Merrill Garbus’s work, but co-writer Nate Brenner’s bold bass has been given a bigger part to play on this album, which is much more upfront and melodic. The African influence remains the overriding flavour, but it also has surprising post-punk, new-wave qualities.

Sometimes it’s genuinely hard to believe that this thrillingly visceral music is being made by a reticent former puppeteer. Garbus’s voice remains a breathtakingly rhythmic yet highly emotional instrument, and the vocals here are more confident and intricate, relying less on loop pedals than her previous albums.

Packed full of unusual harmonies and unexpected progressions the overall energy displayed here is infectious. It’s heaps of fun, a playfully chanted children’s chorus of song, yet in some regards it’s heavier and denser than expected with some severe digital elements creeping in, which lends a Laurie Anderson-style air, especially on tracks such as ‘Wait For A Minute’.

Garbus’s lyrics flip from quirky, laugh-inducing slices of absurdity to deeply insightful in the space of a “woo-ha”. This is invigorating, wilful and wildly exuberant – and one senses an invitation to collaboration with David Byrne might be in the post.


Words: Anna Wilson

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