tUnE-yArDs | ARTIST
Nikki Nack | ALBUM
4AD | LABEL
6 May 2014 | RELEASE DATE
9.1 | 10
w h o k i l l, the second studio LP from tUnE-yArDs, was singer-percussionist Merrill Garbus and bassist Nate Brenner’s musical breakthrough, with the album being highlighted by several music publications as one of the year’s best albums (as well as my personal favorite from 2011). For their new album, Garbus has once again topped herself as a songwriter, adding new compositional tricks to her already distinct sound.
While many artists have fallen victim to increased studio budget, taken the influx in studio time as a means to sterilize their once rabid style, Garbus remains steadfast in her approach to songwriting, crafting such singular and idiosyncratic songs that it’s impossible to ignore. And lyrically, Garbus has never been better. “Find a New Way” serves as a wonderful introduction to the whole aesthetic of tUnE-yArDs. “When I see you changing, I believe that I could change too,” Garbus observes on “New”. “She tried to tell me that I had a right to scream / just like a bird had to sing / and I believed her but in truth if your convincing I’ll believe anything,” she confesses later.
“Time of Dark” is the type of rallying cry “Bizness” and “Powa” aimed to be, but is amplified due to an increase in confidence by the fantastic frontman Garbus shows herself to be. The song’s climax is one of the most thrilling things we’re likely to hear this year, and is earned through the song’s wonderful execution leading up to the cathartic release. “Real Thing” is equally rewarding, and with it following “Dark,” creates one of the best one, two punches on a tracklist in 2014. “I’m a real thing, real thing,” she repeatedly exalts during the affirming closing moments.
The album’s deeper cuts are perhaps the most satisfying thing about Nack, as “Stop That Man” and “Wait for a Minute” are among the year’s finest songs, period. A devastating synth line is coupled with an aggressive, controlled vocal performance from Garbus on the former, while “Minute” is benefited by Garbus’s most restrained performance to date. “The pain is in the empty time,” she sings, following with, “a thousand roads to injury / most of them so smooth it doesn’t feel like they’re hurting me.” Who knows what path to injury she’s taken, but we’ve all taken at least one of those thousand.
What’s most impressive about Nikki Nack is that Garbus has realized that, through the success of w h o k i l l, her voice holds enormous weight, and can be the foundation of an entire song, as it is on “Left Behind.” On the closing “Manchild,” Garbus sums up her experience with rape culture when she sings, “Not gonna say yes when what I really mean is no / Not gonna say no unless you know I mean it.” “I’ve got something to say!” she proudly asserts later, stating what anyone listening to Nikki Nack, or tUnE-yArDs for any discernible amount of time, had already surmised; Garbus is not afraid to speak her mind, whether through her own vocal chords or the beat of her drum. We’re all better for it.