tUnE-YaRDs, the project of Canadian singer-songwriter and ukulele player
recorded by herself at home on a digital voice recorder,
It sounds more like a diary than a music album.
The opener, Sunlight, is misleading with its blend of
hippie chant, Sonic Youth-ian guitar and anti-rhythm. The rest of the songs
live a much simpler life,
sometimes a bit too naive (Jumping Jack).
She tries to create a more lively narrative with the
industrial overtones of the background noise in Lions
and with found objects in Little Tiger.
The real winners are the cacophonous African chant Hatari,
the sprightly tropical island dance News, the
Caribbean-tinged bedroom-pop lullaby Fiya, i.e. the songs
in which she can channel her polyglot talent.
Garbus then relocated to the Bay Area.
Whokill (4AD, 2011), that employed musicians, boasted a much filler
sound. The exotic influences are more evident, turning
My Country into an
etno-funk shuffle of sorts,
Killa into a Latin dancefloor fest,
and Riotriot into a sophisticated free-jazz jam.
The better arrangements bring out her roots as well:
Es-so harks back to vintage pop of the charleston era, and
Doorstep evokes pop-jazz of the 1950s.
There are still childish and witty novelties, like Gangsta,
quite a bit of creative confusion: she suddenly turns into
a roaring rhythm'n'blues shouter for Powa (the album's
vocal tour de force) and
Bizness (that boasts a lively horn section).
At the other end of the spectrum,
the tinkling lounge ballad
Woolywollygong hints at a new genre of melancholia after trip-hop.
For better and for worse, Garbus' eclectic settings coined intimate muzak for the smartphone generation.
What was on Nikki Nack (4AD, 2014) works really well, from the
Motown-style party soul of Find a New Way to
Left Behind, an unlikely hybrid tribal chant and vintage bubblegum
She proves to be a terrific vocalist in
Time of Dark, where she shifts smoothly from being a sophisticated soul singer in the tradition to impersonating a rousing visceral shouter;
and in the
festive single Water Fountain, which is a close relative of Ray
Charles' Hit the Road Jack but sung as casually as it gets,
and that's the virtuoso aspect of it.
The Haitian drumming is another highlight, and often steals the show.
Alas, the slower tunes tend to be meandering and plain.
Mostly, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life (2018) is party music:
the Afro-funk feast Honesty, the
Talking Heads-ian Look At Your Hands,
the feverish soul-jazz ballad Heart Attack,
and the catchy ABC 123; but Home finds an unlikely balance
between dub bass and church hymn.
They also composed the soundtrack for Boots Riley's film
Sorry to Bother You (2018).
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