(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

BiRd-BrAiNs (2009) , 6/10
Whokill (2011) , 7/10
Nikki Nack (2014), 6/10
I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life (2018), 6/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

tUnE-YaRDs, the project of Canadian singer-songwriter and ukulele player Merrill Garbus, debuted with BiRd-BrAiNs (2009), 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 Talking Heads-ian 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, but also 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 ditty. 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).

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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