A little over a week ago, the band tUnE-yARdS released their third album titled Nikki Nack. It was brought to my attention on my way home from the grocery store while listening to NPR, which resulted in a driveway moment. NPR was doing a first listen feature of “Nikki Nack”, and I was awe inspired by the rhythms and vocal energy that this new album was producing, not to mention the fact that tUnE-yArDs is a one woman band (with a little help, from bass player, Nate). So I dove in and have been listening continuously and just can’t help but talk about it.
The genius behind this machine is Merrill Garbus, a New England native, Oakland based musician who started her career out with just her ukulele and her voice. In order to stand out above the rest, Garbus started using a loop station and a drum machine, using her voice and ukulele to make live loops to play along with during her show, giving a fuller band sound. The end result: tUnE-yArDs. What I interpret as a fusion of indie electronic music, soulful Motown and folky mountain music, tUnE-yArDs produces fun and dancable music with lyrics that are both imaginative and thought provoking. Merrill Garbus and her tUnE-yArDs project makes Justin Timberlake’s R&B flare seem like an ignition spark, while still remaining indie hip and unique.
When I first listened to Nikki Nack, what first stood out to me were the irregular and engaging rhythms she uses in most of her tracks. Manipulating time signature and dynamics, listening to this album is kind of like eating a Gobstopper, the color variance is always changing. The music is so very interesting, always keeping you guessing. I’ve had many moments of, “holy crap, how did she do that?” There are layers upon beautiful layers of catchy melodies and complex harmonies. She uses her voice as just another instrument, looping it to make unique electronic sounding patterns.
On her track “Real Thing” (maybe my favorite song), the lyric “Oh my god I use my lungs” stood out to me, because that is an undeniable reality on this album. Merrill Garbus can sing her way out of just about any sticky situation. In an era where the trend for many off-the-grid female vocalists is to manipulate the vowels and tonality of their voice, and keep a soft and quiet dynamic (i.e. Feist, Regina Spektor, St. Vincent, all artists I love), Merril Garbus let’s it all hang out with her bluesy and bold voice. I admire this so much in her singing and I hope this is a trend that catches on amongst other artists.
Amongst her danceable beats and uplifting melodies, the lyrics to her songs can be cynical, subversive and sometimes depressing, just the way I like them. This tension that Garbus plays with is moving and introspective, bursting with creativity. I encourage you to take a listen to this album and let steep a while. As a female musician, tUnE-yArDs is a truly inspiring project and this recent album is giving me the itch to make more music.
If you want to see tUnE-yArDs in concert, they are touring this summer with Arcade Fire. You can buy tickets here.
You can hear the entire album, “Nikki Nack”, on Spotify here.
To purchase on iTunes click here
Check out tUnE-yArDs recent music video, “Water Fountain”