tUnE-yArDs - Nikki Nack

Eccentrically crocheting loops, the tUnE-yArDs have fostered a quirky, noisy sound with a frenetic sparkle.

Additional Info


ALBUM: Nikki Nack




It’s difficult to aptly describe the inventive sound of the tUnE-yArDs—sometimes it’s melodically unkempt, tribal, and freaky, other times, it’s composed and unswerving. Their sound, however, is consistently funky. The tUnE-yArDs is a band that makes you consider the possibilities of using limiting devices to produce a large, highly texturized sound. It’s music that creates within itself its own magic. Merrill Garbus, vocalist and the band’s front-woman, uses a loop pedal to produce uniquely layered progressions. Garbus’ looping of her voice transforms snippets of vocals into a motley group of percussionists. Supporting Garbus is bassist Nate Brenner who provides an anchoring link under and between these imaginative loops. Together, Garbus and Brenner create a pulsating set of eccentric tracks.

Their previous album, w h o k i l l (2011), is more pungently rhythmic. Garbus’ looping skills are focused on forming a thick bass line and allowing the punctuated rhythms to carry the tracks. Nikki Nack doesn’t diverge from the heavily rhythmic; however, the band’s advanced sense of experimentation is evident in their third studio album. What may be most interesting about the tUnE-yArDs’ sound is the process. Garbus has described her process as “making a collage of sound” and has often acknowledged the use of the loop pedal as a device with a productive limitation. This limitation refers to the use (and abuse) of recycled sounds. Garbus uses a palimpsest configuration—recording a loop and writing over that loop with more loops—to create a highly texturized sound. This technique creates a spiraling, animated accrual of sounds that reminds me of the inherent challenge of using an old typewriter. Besides the exertion required to press each key with force, a typewriter demands the user’s complete presence in order to adequately capture a word. There is no “delete” button and the user may choose to cover up a mistake by writing over it; therefore, making public an editorial modification. Like the typewriter, a loop pedal depends on what is present in the present. What is gathered in the present is what will be carried on in the track’s future. This metaphor may be most applicable to live performances, where Garbus recreates loops with the hopes of capturing the loops in the track’s studio version. This limitation provides Garbus with another creative illumination—what is recorded, whether or not it mimics the loop of the studio version, will occupy the space of the track and the space it holds. Though indelible, the loop is made elastic by its treatment against the ensuing loops. A limitation often offers an artist with opportunities for strange and enlightening experimentations and the tUnE-yArDs indulge in these experimentations to produce their special sound.

Garbus’ voice produces its own phenomena. It’s a unique combination of a matronly, wise expression with a joviality that’s spurred by its own throaty chattering. It’s punchy and bites giddily. It’s tempered and melodious. Garbus’s playfulness is not isolated to the loop pedal. Playing with her voice, she provides her own retorts—encouraging her voice to propel the conversation out and back. Her voice can be seen, too, as its own modulated loop—circling on its hoisted echoes and extending out to tonally capture emotions of angst, melancholy, and pleasure. Moreover, Garbus’ lyrics touch on motifs of individuality, relationships, and roles. They frisk the political and are at times educational. The most memorable moments of lyricism come from quirky idioms that stick as they’re skirted by heavy drumming and more looping.

In glimpses, portions of songs sound familiar, but successfully jolt out of this familiarity to achieve a voltage of quirkily layered sounds. There’s something uniquely “new” about tUnE-yArDs’ sound that is curiously uncanny—it’s a sound that speaks through its convoluted interiority. Though all tracks have a mouthy, substantial feel, some tracks wander and disperse into cacophonous medleys. This sophisticated mess is a product of the uninhibited and spontaneous nature of the sounds themselves. They often sound like premeditated blurts or interruptions and have an animalistic, urgent quality to them. Such songs may require multiple listens to enjoy. Other times, the songs maintain linearity, rising into the hook expectedly. In whatever case, all songs showcase Garbus’ frisky and lively use of the loop pedal. Nikki Nack, overall, is a special combustion of sounds with a frenetic sparkle that’s worth diving into.

“Nikki Nikki Nack. She told me ‘never bend back’. That Nikki Nikki Nack, turn her around and spit on her back”.

1. Find a New Way
The drums are paved thickly in the album’s opening track. Garbus modulates her intractable voice to go back and forth between a monologue and a melodic rant. “Find a New Way” may have been more effective had it come later in the album when the listener is accustomed to the frenetic energy of the band’s sound. It’s a chaotic opening to the album, but produces a fierce enthusiasm that’ll be carried on through the coming tracks.7.5
2. Water Fountain
Going straight into the chorus, this track increases the funky tension pulled from the previous track. Garbus’ voice is more restrained and acts as a spunky guide to the track’s playhouse of sounds. Two minutes in, her voice elevates into colorful yelps and provides an invigorating jolt to the track. “Water Fountain” also showcases Garbus’ quirky lyricism. In a brief aside, Garbus sings about a “blood-soaked dollar” and how “it still works at the store”. Later, “a two-pound chicken tastes better with friends”. Such zany moments playfully and subtly suggest Garbus’ political tenets.9.5
3. Time of Dark
This track diverges to summon an ominous energy. “Time of Dark” has the qualities of a ritualistic anthem. Garbus’ voice first appears as a stretched out howling. This track describes the birth of an identity that’s both individualistic and married to its heritage. The relationship between a child and her mother are described in a grandiose way, suggesting the humanness of creation myths. Garbus displays another aspect of her vocals with strained whispers that are at moments iridescently sweet.8.0
4. Real Thing
Following an anthem-like song, this track matches the girth captured in “Time of Dark.” Garbus’ vocals modulate between light talky moments and spunky, almost temperamental, singing. “Real Thing” is a track that comments on capitalistic life in America. Garbus sings quips like “I look good in debt” and “I come from the land of shame”. The repetition of “real thing” towards the end of the track provides a satisfying emotional release.9.5
5. Look Around
Slowing down to a resting pace, this track moves towards a familiar, almost comforting bass line. Though the track provides an escape from the ecstatic previous tracks, there’s something conclusive about this track. It’s a bit dreamy and detached. The placid tone of “Look Around” seems like a hiccup following the previous tracks.7.0
6. Hey Life
In a retrospective track about addressing the monotony and demands of daily life, this track ups the tempo to return to the spunky forays found in previous tracks. Towards the end of the track, Garbus loops herself counting the clock. This adds a neat measure of beat that’s both about time and on time.8.0
7. Sink-O
With a punchy drum line, this track has a grittier more electronic texture. Though most of the track is sustained by its repetition, “Sink-O” offers the listener moments to contemplate Garbus’ looping skills. This track is a bit divergent from other tracks because it uses scratchier, more mechanical sounds, but it shows the band’s wide-range of experimentation.9.0
8. Interlude: Why Do We Dine On the Tots?
It’s story time. Garbus narrates a tale, changing her voice for different characters. The looping in this track is both comedic and disconcerting. This interlude is a strange intermission that displays more the band’s quirkiness than the band’s musicality.5.0
9. Stop That Man
This track begins with a robotic tone, but transforms into a reverberating series of echoes. It returns to this robotic tone periodically. Garbus’ voice lacks guidance and occupies the foreground. The loops create a whimsical effect that’s acutely menacing.7.0
10. Wait for a Minute
This track maintains a cool, understated temper that showcases Garbus’ voice. The steady backbeat offers the spine for Garbus’ toned-down melodic musings. “Wait for a Minute” provides a sweet relief from the frenetic energy referred to earlier while giving Garbus the opportunity to display the wide-range of her voice.8.5
11. Left Behind
Speeding up and returning to the original energetic spunk, “Left Behind”, seems, at first a sewn-together track of multiple songs. The track’s stitches, however, are seamless. The track swiftly migrates from a punchy rhythm to a restrained expression. The subdued chorus also juxtaposes well against the jumpy beat.9.0
12. Rocking Chair
In this stripped track, Garbus calls out her lyrics to create a folk-like moment in the album. Garbus’ voice is throaty and loud, demanding the listener’s participation in a subversive way. “Rocking Chair” sounds like an anachronistic gem—encouraging the listener to think of oral histories and those who carry the voice to tell them.7.5
13. Manchild
This swaying track has a spunkier feistiness that uses more machine-like snippets of sounds. The repetition of “I’ve got something to say” atop Garbus’ warbling creates a manic vibe that, curiously, levels the tracks. “Manchild” is a strong ending to a series of contrasting tracks. This track also culminates to feature all the elements of the band’s sound—the rascally looping, the quickly mutating vocals, and the robust rhythm.9.0
Denver transplant Jenifer Park roll tides at the University of Alabama for her MFA in poetry.

comments powered by Disqus
Tagged under