2011 has thrown up an abundance of great music. To get the ball rolling on Moon Under Water, as officially the first post of the site, I figured tUnE-yArDs were adequate recipients of this prestigious accolade.
Merrill Garbus, the multi-talented eclecticentric who plays and provides vocal on all of tUnE-yArDs’ work, has thrown up an arguably iconic album in the form of 2011’s w h o k i l l.
The album layers funk and lo-fi with the undeniably unique overall quality of Garbus’ loops and vocals. Opening on the infectious My Country, the album immediately promises an anthemic and thematic musical beast of styles and sounds, with South American beats and a resonant lyrical offering for a disenfranchised generation echoing 2011’s discontented youth as much as it observes the global turmoil in which it was written.
Laughing brass and a big layered sound comes to dominate, giving rise to an album that doesn’t let up for a second. Gangsta, arguably my favourite individual song of 2011, is a big-hitting loser’s dream – a dark and punchy piece about success and the price of not achieving it. This piece is also backed up by a cracking video (below), directed by the New England superstar herself as she continues to add to the vast collection of skills that she has on offer.
Sliding between these funky beats and brassy overtures to more dreamlike haunts reminiscent of TV On The Radio in songs like Powa and the creep-up-your-spine slow drift song Wooly Wolly Gang, the album never fails to surprise, and grows with each listen. There is a constantly lingering South American influenced percussion sound too that does not let up, but never fully invades the music, capturing a feeling of a global sound in some very local themes.
The highlighted single from the album is Bizness (listen below), a punchy, choppy tune that was always going to be the “hit” of the album. Hiding behind a powerful chorus are chirpy backing vocals and a dollop of the brass that is the main new introduction on this album in terms of instruments that Garbus collects and plays with. The chorus, “What’s the bizness yeah – don’t take my life away” leaves little room for explanation, and although not the real stand-alone track of Whokill, it is still a cracking tune that you will not be able to avoid foot-tapping and hip-swinging to.
The thematic concept that dominates the tracks is that of a rebel generation – a lifelong power struggle that rises and falls, and this is carried off expertly by both lyrics and music in Garbus’ unfaltering style. This album is a decidedly large evolution from tUnE-yArDs’ 2009 release, the much more lo-fi (but still expertly crafted) BiRd-BrAiNs.
So, overall, Whokill is a stunning success from an artist that looks like she can do no wrong at the minute. With a European tour upcoming at time of writing, tUnE-yArDs is a treat for the present and the future, and fans like myself will be eagerly anticipate the next release.
My only complaint is in the damn name – these erratic upper and lower case shifts are not built for typing in a blog…