Album Review

w h o k i l l

w h o k i l l

by tUnEyArDs


4AD
8 / 10
4th March, 2011

Reviewed by Courtney Sanders


Since signing to 4AD in 2009, solo artist Merrill Garbus has released a constant stream of output under pseudonym tUnEyArDs, including her glitchy debut album Bird-Brains. A relocation to Oakland, California coupled with a grueling 24 month tour schedule has imbued her latest release, sophomore w h o k i l l , with a uniformity that both accentuates the honesty of her D.I.Y origins, and pushes them forward into new, soul-driven frontiers.

I interviewed Garbus recently and she mentioned feeling constrained in previous musical projects because she had less formal training than her band mates: “I found it really challenging to be A) a woman musician amid a lot of male musicians and B), a relatively untrained musician among trained musicians. Doing it by myself allowed me this space to just stretch out and not be scared.” Listen to w h o k i l l and such sentiment is represented sonically. Employing live performance techniques in the studio, Garbus has utilized a myriad of simple elements creatively to capacitate a vast range. Bass across the album is provided by new recruit Nate Brenner, who also contributes a series of percussive and horn elements, coupled with the skills of Garbus as producer – no doubt gained from managing the constraints of touring for two years as a multi-instrumentalist solo artist - and Eli Crews as engineer.

The results are a near faultless combination of Garbus’ D.I.Y roots and her new found sonic depth. Across the album organic percussion cements tribal instinctualism, a reasoned use of a horn section (who Garbus now takes on tour) creates breadth and positivity while synthesizers lend computer gaming immediacy. Take opener 'My Country', one of the most ambitious tracks on the album, for example. A simple drum loop opens gradually, giving way to an equally linear synth melody. As the vocalist – credited as Garbus although considering other tracks it’s hard to believe – the range! – increases in animation, horn arrangements present the a cacophonous climax remiscent of The Dirty Projector’s ‘Stillness is the Move’, and the genre ambiguity – sitting somewhere between pop, funk and world music, is just as obtuse as on Bitte Orca. While much of the album presents as refined joy like ‘My Country’, there are a couple of more downbeat tracks. 'Woolly Woolly Gong', particularly, holds up this end of the spectrum; D.I.Y vocals scratch and glitch across the track, while a guitar picks a tiny, almost non-existent tune. The range of mood is apparently due to her relocation from Montreal, Canada to Oakland, California during the writing process, and all of the emotive nuances of such a move are explained through both the lyrical and sonic eclecticism.

With tUnEyArDs, Garbus is marching to our own, unique beat. What is impressive about w h o k i l l is that she not only unites said eclecticism in an overarching sound, but makes her audience want to march to it, too.




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