When Merrill Garbus emerged nine years ago as Tune-Yards, she was a one-woman force of nature armed with just a ukulele, a loop pedal and one hell of a pair of lungs.
Since then, the New England eccentric has beefed up her band – fourth album ‘I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life’ is the first time long-time collaborator and bassist Nate Brenner is billed as an official band member – and created an art-pop world that zings with colour and dances to its own clattering beat.
Garbus makes giant leaps on every record she makes, and ‘I Can Feel You Creep…’ is no different. The duo have drafted in big gun Mikaelin Bluespruce (Solange, Skepta, Nas) on mixing duties to make sense of a mishmash of arpeggiated vocals, fiercely woke lyrics and inventive beats that are indebted to hip-hop, avant-pop and world music. Like all Tune-Yards records, it’s akin to rifling through a junk shop, but this time the duo have rounded out some of their more jagged edges.
‘Look At Your Hands’ is a straight-up club banger that draws from ’80s drum machines and ’90s piano house and recalls Neneh Cherry’s ‘Buffalo Stance’. ‘Heart Attack’ lands somewhere between George Clinton, Fela Kuti and Dirty Projectors, while ‘Coast To Coast’ shimmies atop an undulating R&B bassline, revelling in its own simplicity.
That said, even at their most uncluttered, familiar jolts of confrontation and innovation ripple like electricity. ‘ABC 123’’s skittering beat is dancehall by E-numbers, flirting with the schoolyard chants and cartwheeling pattycake handclaps that made 2014’s ‘Water Fountain’ such a thrill.
The duo’s sense of social responsibility also remains undimmed, with themes of inequality and white guilt melding the playful with the political. “I don’t want to be a woman if it means not being a human,” Merrill sings over choppy beats on ‘Now As Then’. Later on ‘Colonizer’ she intones, “I cry my white woman tears / I smell the blood in my voice”.
Tune-Yards might have taken a deep breath and a step back, allowing their infectious melodies some space, but their breathless skew-whiff eclecticism remains anything but safe.
Words: Dannii Leivers