Welcome to the first Reselect New Music Monday (which I announced last week)! I’m excited, how about you? I’m starting out with a song that came out in April 2011, just barely under my self-imposed New Music Monday deadline of 12 months since release. It’s by Merrill Garbus, who goes by the name “Tune-Yards” (frequently written in writeups about her as “tUnE-yArDs” because that’s how she has it written on her albums — but I find it odd that some people carry that over to writing about her, because plenty of bands write their names in, say, all capital letters on their albums, but you don’t see it being written that way elsewhere; it’s just a way to decorate one’s albums, no?).
Anyway, Tune-Yards is one of the most genre-defying acts I’ve come across in a long time. Garbus is all over the map in terms of influences and sounds, but she nonetheless pulls it together into a style that is definitely her own. If I were to try to describe it, it would end up being something like lo-fi alternative Afro-pop folk with a solid dose of indie rock, reggae, hip hop, lullabies, and “found sounds” thrown in. Essentially, there’s no point in trying to describe it, you simply have to hear it. She’s one of a kind.
Her second and most-recent album, 2011’s Whokill (which, similarly, people have chosen to write as “w h o k i l l” simply because it’s spaced out that way on the cover, although I don’t know why the lowercase, because it’s written in all caps), is a somewhat cleaner-sounding update of the music on her first album, 2009’s Bird-Brains (which was apparently recorded using only a handheld voice recorder and is no worse off because of it, really — it’s excellent). Whokill may have been recorded in a studio, but it didn’t stop Garbus from employing her usual modus operandi of creating loops on the fly with sampling equipment and then singing over it. It sounds wholly organic but completely unlike anything else I can think of offhand — to use the old “love-child” analogy, if the love child of Beck, Bjork, and Grace Jones had grown up on the Serengeti Plains, maybe you’d end up with something like this. And “Powa” is one of my favorite tracks on the album — it’s a little more straightforward than some of the other songs instrumentally, but it’s a great showcase for her awesomely unique vocals. You would be very hard-pressed to identify her ethnicity (or even, in some cases, her gender) based on just hearing her — you probably wouldn’t peg her as a Caucasian woman who grew up in Connecticut. There’s just so much going on, and you keep hearing something new with every listen. Her sometimes sexually charged lyrics may be too strong for more delicate listeners, but from a purely aural standpoint, everyone should get a dose of Tune-Yards.