Thursday, June 9, 2011

tUnE-yArDs - WHOKILL (4AD, 2011)

Yes, the name looks absurd. That’s because this is a soundtrack to the theatre of the absurd. The calculated cacophony of Oakland songstress and producer Merill Garbus is some of the most oddly attractive yet puzzling music I’ve heard recently. No wave / post-punk / indie / dance pop that Laurie Anderson and the ghost of John Cage would drunkenly dance to.

The first track verbally introduces us to the character that she is, an anti-diva, anti-M.I.A and anti-inhibition personality with impressive instrumental talent and an incredibly commanding vocal range and presence. A sort of “I am awkward, hear me roar’ mystique. Gifted and unbelievably different, she dispels any attributes of her initial outing Bird Brains.

The first four tracks, “My Country”, “Es-so”, “Gangsta” and “Powa” bang out bizarre but rocking dancefloor numbers. Then with “Riotriot”, she eases into a delicate ballad that seems timely, only to twist the mellow vibe a couple minutes in, creating some kind of psychological carnage.

“Bizness”, the proverbial hit of the record, showcases a beautiful horn section with a very soulful and passionate vocal delivery.

“Doorstep” delivers with one of the most avant-garde vocal cuts on the album. “You Yes You” is essentially a cryptic funk track complete with discordant electric guitar rhythms.

Then there is is finally rest for the weary listening traveler. “Wooly Wolly Gang” is a somber and sweet lullaby admirable for its simplistic line-up of vocal track, acoustic guitar and drum machine, but one that still has a haunting and somewhat disconcerting nature, in keeping with the rest of the record.

Wrapping things up is “Killa”, a peppy and positive fly-girl number that reaffirms Garbus’ female confidence and audacity, one that again confuses by feeling as if its as comfortable in the Caribbean as it is in the club.

African pop, funk, R & B, and jazz are all homogenized with honest acoustic folk pop; however, the lyrical material is ripe with extremely relative themes of self-image, race and gender issues. She takes nothing as lightly as it sounds. This is heavy and intense music that I find difficult to call pop. She deserves better.

This post originally appeared as an article I wrote for

Get It Here

Or: Whokill - Tune-Yards

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