I would be hard pressed to think of a more prominent DIY figure of the decade than the Tune-Yards. Grimes managed to go from garageband wizard to magazine-covering pop star within roughly the same span of time, but I’d argue that she took the opportunity to step into a completely different league, streamlining her sound along the way (a great decision, mind you). I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life also sees a little bit of an evolution to sharper and tighter sensibilities, but Merrill Garbus and her collaborator Nate Brenner remain in their relentlessly unique niche, any extra fans coming as a result of sheer will.
Garbus’ DJ booth dabbling is probably the most striking change. Heart Attack plucks some tense piano chords and quickly some classic yards hand-claps and a driving bass-line are off to the races. Single Look at Your Hands is the most direct the band has ever sounded with the shiny synths, drum machines, and a kick-ass chorus, whereas closer Free bludgeons with some well tuned distortion.
The DJ-isms aren’t the only highlights. Now as Then sees Garbus whip out an arsenal of backing vocals on the line “don’t trust me that I won’t take all the money and run.” Over the prodding beat, she smolders like all hell.
Politically, Garbus strikes mostly the right chord. Rather than empty finger pointing and call-outs, she chooses to analyze the contemporary issue of politicians talking past each other with facts leaving the room. “Fan the fire or face the crowd,” she says on ABC 123, showcasing Tr*mp’s inability to participate in discourse. The title also looms in various spots on the project, highlighting the increasing urgency with which these debates seem to loom over our heads.
“Colonizer” is certainly a major misstep. It’s excruciatingly difficult to criticize yourself on your own track and Garbus doesn’t do herself any favors here. Being a white women who’s gone on a quest of racial education (read: sounds like performative allyship but ok), she lays into herself(?) with the line “I use my white woman’s voice to tell stories of travels with African men.” It’s just a bit too steeped in irony as she pokes fun at white women who fetishize black men, while delivering said line over an African-Influenced musical landscape. Coming from someone who just lifted a Jackson 5 song title, this comes across as a rather hamfisted self-critique.
I’m more of the practice of forgiving musicians who attempt to speak on issues and don’t exactly nail it. Look at Kendrick Lamar’s misstep on last year’s Humble “I’m so fucking sick and tired of the photoshop” or Garbus’s own blunder on Whokill’s Gangsta “What’s a boy to do if he’ll never be a rasta.” It’s better than ignoring the facts as the people we’re forced to put in office so often do, one message that Garbus flawlessly locks down elsewhere.