Tune-Yards’ proves off beat yet on point
Newest Album "Nikki Nack" is worthwhile to open ears
By Will Royal
The experimental pop duo of Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner packed “Nikki Nack” with the power and quirkiness fans should expect.
This danceable compilation of world beats, synthesizer and Garbus’ wild range of vocals retains the lo-fi feel with which the group was founded. Stripped-down, bare moments of pure percussion with the occasional simple synth line break up full, multi-layered compositions, but even these thickly produced pieces have a raw quality to them.
The tracks all draw their pushing power from percussive elements, which is no surprise to those who have seen the band perform live.
While Brenner jams on bass, Garbus stands between a floor tom and a snare, pounding and creating drum loops as she sings.
This taxing performance style took a toll on the vocalist during the group’s “Whokill” tour, and her remedy was surprisingly more movement in the form of dance.
It was in taking Haitian dance classes where Garbus met her Haitian drum teacher, who played an ensemble of his native drums in the album.
After a trip to Haiti as part of a cultural study, Garbus explained that Haitian song and dance comes out of dedication to a spirit strengthening the spiritual connection to music, which is just what the artist said she needed after her recent tour.
By studying drumming with dance, Tune-Yards published an album that begs for movement. “Find a New Way,” the album’s first track, lets you fall into a groove again and again as the polyrhythmic layers pause and mix with free-form vocals to create a beat punctuated by synth sounds.
The wall of rhythm continues with “Water Fountain,” one of the album’s most upbeat tunes. These driving beats take a turn with more subdued tracks like “Time of Dark” and “Wait for a Minute” — a song so atypical of Garber’s vocal technique that it sounds almost normal.
“Nikki Nack” ends with a trio of songs that recapture the kooky cadence and powerful progression prevalent in much of the album.
Just in time for summer, Tune-Yards again lets go of convention and demands that we, too, let loose and move.