In 2006, Merrill Garbus released her scrappy debut, ‘Bird-Brains’. Its smartly looping arrangements of ukulele and percussion were darkly pretty, but seemed to limit the colossal scope of Garbus’s vision, and that uniquely explosive, pirouetting voice. Now officially including longstanding collaborator Nate Brenner, Tune-Yards have since become a progressively richer, more explicitly political proposition - but in no way less infectiously joyful.
Elaborating on themes of power and privilege already implied by ‘Bird-Brains’ working title, ‘White Guilt’, here Garbus is unrestrained. After years of being told her “white woman’s voice” “sounded black”, ‘Colonizer’ hits back: “I smell the blood in my voice,” she coos acerbically, before breaking into pastiched Native American war cries.
Nevertheless, these explorations of the political in the personal (emphasised by the album’s title) don’t find an outlet here as memorable as the marshal singalong of ‘Water Fountain’ from 2014’s ‘Nikki Nack’. They come closest on highlight ‘Heart Attack’, whose Chicago house backbone makes a diva of Garbus - her delayed voice soaring across hi-hats like Loleatta Holloway’s endlessly sampled ad-libs.
Elsewhere, successful forays into synth-disco (‘Look At Your Hands’), slo-mo new wave (‘Coast To Coast’) and hymnal R&B (‘Home’) rescue a uniquely energetic, smart record in danger of over-saturation.
Words: Callum McLean
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