Music Review: tUnE-yArDs

There are two words I’m going to use a lot in this review: intelligent and organic. tUnE-yArDs (henceforth to be referred to as tune-yards to keep my word processor from stabbing me) can also be described as interesting, weird, avant-garde, clever, chaotic, percussive, inventive, earthy, gorgeous, and genius. Yet, descriptive adjectives are only going to get you so far in reference to something so utterly alien-sounding that it ends up defying tangible description.


Instead here’s a track off their new album, W H O K I L L: the bizness.

tune-yards is the stage name of Merril Garbus, a lady who seems to have a lot working against her in the music business: she doesn’t really have a conventional look or voice, and the sounds she creates aren’t as accessible or predictable as most pop singer/songwriters. Even her tools for creating music are a little strange: a ukulele, a couple of drum sticks, and a collection of loop pedals to wrap it all together.


tune-yards literally creates her sound out of whole cloth. A string of nonsense vocals precedes a strong, intelligent beat, which is then accompanied by a bit of funky uke infused with a dash of soul (see video below). Here, she spends the first two minutes constructing loops that work to create fascinating music characters:


Her first album, Bird-Brains, was made entirely in this fashion, her with a digital tape recorder that she took everywhere. The sounds she recorded are, microcosmically, the sounds in her immediate environment, and, on a grander scale the sounds of the world. tune-yards then took these field recordings and mixed it all in with her intelligent and organic music – breathing new life into the sonic landscapes she’d recorded. This idea of creating a world out of sound with a life of its own actually stems from her work in a puppet theater before her music career (for this puppet theater visit which is kind of more like a Being John Malkovich-type puppet show about Walter Benjamin and such“It was never just about a puppet and how it moved, it was about the invisible world that the puppet lived in. The songs I’m interested in creating are worlds, sonic worlds, with texture that you can feel, smells… things you can see.”


““Creating worlds” is really a good way to put it, much better than creating a “sonic landscape.” A world is something that includes landscapes and makes them a part of its being. Sonic landscapes are easy to come by – just open your CD book to the post-rock page (think Explosions in the Sky, Errors, Mogwai, etc). Sonic worlds are much harder to create because, just like a real world or a theater, the individual elements have a story of their own and they interact with other elements, and they meld and move together. It’s much rarer, and Tune-yards is one of the few I can think of that can really pull it off well.


While W H O K I L L is recorded in a studio, she maintains that original ethos in the record, but she adds to it a pop sensibility that makes the album kind of irresistible in the same way that when you smell a delicious pizza, you want to eat it. In the same way that when you hear something that sounds like it could be good music being played in a park, you want to go see what’s going on. It’s the kind of irresistible draw that tugs on all your senses asking them to focus intently on what’s happening: the creation of an entire world of music, which is what tune-yards are really all about.

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