Monday, May 19, 2014

Review: Tune Yards - Nikki Nack

Tune Yards' Nikki Nack is An Intriguing Kaleidascope of Sound
 by Dustin van Wyk


Merrill Garbus’s musical career has been built on the eccentric manner in which she presents it. Her ability to scatter vocal harmonies over frenetic disjointed percussions while still evoking vivid imagery through her kaleidoscopic lyrics has made many instantly gravitate towards her. Her intricacies lay in the detailed poly-rhythmic drum patterns that are melded playfully with rich African inspired harmonies and angular guitar melodies. With a collaboration list extending from ‘Questlove’ to ‘David Bryne’, Merrill’s musical presence is one to take note of. On”Nickki Nack” we see Merrill ridding herself of the lo-fi ukulele antics of 2009’s “Bird Brains” and naive production tendencies of follow up “Whokill” as she creates a product that reconciles these previous efforts with a more eclectic blend of musical ideas.

Nikki Nack’s immediate pristine sound is evident on album opener “Find A New Way” as Merrll’s erratic vocals are belted over drum beats playing hopscotch. Her harmonies swell and expand over the track as they ooze soulful femininity. The presence of producers Malay and John Hill are felt throughout the record as their ability to make sense of the musical chaos opens Merrill to new possibilities. The extensive use of synthesizers that jostle for space in the mix allow ‘Nikki Nack’ to stand out from Tune-Yards previous efforts. 

Lead single “Water Fountain” compels violent body movements with its primitive handclaps, infectious bass grooves and play ground vocal chanting. The percussion section carries the sound forward as new layers are constantly blended into the current mix while Merrill rages over with her propelling vocal delivery. “Look Around” sees her nod at her past with the track's distant slow moving ukulele melodies, while  open hi hats and abrupt synth bass lines envelope her slow heartfelt vocals. At times Tune-Yards's avant-garde ideas fall too far into artistic self-indulgence as Merrill performs a one man spoken play in “Why Do We Dine on the Tots?”, as the interlude serves no other purpose than to calm the madness of the tracks surrounding it. 

The addition of moog synths and light electronic sounds is major  turning point for the Tune-Yards sound with afro-hop closer “Manchild” that makes use of wobbling bass lines intertwined with spacey mallet melodies and “Hey Life” with its rusty organ key strokes and deep house inspired bass while Merrill moves between spoken word phrases and ruckus vocal gymnastics.

Heartfelt ballad “Wait For Minute” is a track that shows Merrill’s real growth as an artist as she removes herself from her irreverent nature for something that combines the electronic production of ‘afro- Krautrockpioneer William Onyeabor with the visceral soul of West African duo ‘The Lijadus Sisters’. The slightly suppressed back beat with simplistic bass lines gives Merrill’s breathy vocals he ability to take hold of the creative flow and direction of the track. The tame nature of the production is a novelty in itself for a Tune-Yards song as it gives listeners a glimpse of what Merrill is really capable of as a songwriter.

Nickki Nack’s overall first impression might be too much to take but its deconstructed pop hooks and brazen experimentalism will inspire repeats listens that reveal an album that is densely layered, meticulously crafted and fearlessly performed while still embodying the summery textures of its predecessors to make it an invigorating musical journey.

8/10