Ears are meant to be stimulated, and Tune-Yards begs to be the weapon of choice for flexible music listeners eager to be perplexed, enticed and bombarded all at once. Helmed by New England native, Merrill Garbus, Tune-Yards is an explosion of worldly influences, ranging from traditional Swahili music and eerie indie melodies to modern soul and R&B. Following the 2009 experimental album “Bird-Brains”, Garbus returns with “w h o k i l l”, an instruction manual on how to bewilder an audience before proceeding to reel them in.
“W h o k i l l” solidifies Tune-Yards’ position as a musical anomaly with a diverse vocal presentation that transitions seamlessly from soulful crooning to an African-inspired, but self-styled version of scat singing to a pleasant melodic wailing reminiscent of Garbus?s heroes and former tour mates, the Dirty Projectors. From the first lines of the opening track, “My Country” – “My country tis of thee/ sweet land of liberty/ how come I cannot see my future within your arms” – the album spills over with thoughtful, gritty lyrics that evoke the raw image of city life and Garbus’s uncertain role in it.
While this sophomore effort from Tune-Yards is more accessible than “Bird-Brains” songs like ‘Gangsta’, ‘Killa’ and the first single, ‘Bizness’ feature a similar collision of looped instruments and sounds, including Garbus’s trusty ukulele and the electric bass stylings of Nate Brenner layered over old-school hip hop drum beats.
Garbus just as fearlessly showcases the softer side of her voice on the album?s calmer tracks ‘Powa’, ‘Wooly Wolly Gong’ and ‘Riotriot’ in which she trills “You have come to put handcuffs on my brother down in the alleyway/ I dreamt of making love to you up on the rooftop looking out at the sky”. From the first pluck of the ukulele string to the final blaring howl, “w h o k i l l” offers moments of honesty and curiosity that will hook both devoted fans and new recruits alike.