tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L

written by: May 9, 2011
Release Date: April 19, 2011


New England native Merrill Garbus and her project tUnE-yArDs are a totally singular force in music. W H O K I L L, the band’s second album, burns from start to finish. At best, it’s semi-traditional rock instrumentation; there are, to note, guitars, drums and bass but also cut-ups, overdubs and sampling spliced into the songs, many of which flash, bump and grind. The result is miles away from convention.

In concert you can watch her build the melodies layer by layer. It is an era of delay-pedal musicians. From opener “My Country,” the album wastes no time getting down; thunderous jungle drums lay out a knobbly terrain for the songbird; laced with horns, tribal chanting and ecstatic outbursts to boot. It’s a playful song that ends forebodingly enough, “The worst thing about living a lie is wondering when they’ll find out.” More prominently, “Riotriot” sways with African call-response, starting sinister, moving into a triumphant march before retreating to its original vibe.

There’s an air of mystery to the album—listeners may find themselves wondering whether what they’re hearing is studied art rock or just an exuberant wild rumpus. “Powa” for instance, is a lurching tempo head-bopper that wants to sound like classic rock, while “Bizness” is just as, if not more pop sensible, whilst its sounds are from out in the cosmos. It’s a work that effortlessly straddles the two worlds.

tUnE-yArDs has not—unlike many of its contemporaries—moved to Brooklyn. Actually, a lot of W H O K I L L is a veritable laugh at aspects of the pre-gentrification frontier. Clearly, there’s some cheekiness with names like “Killa,” a spoken-word poke at the too-hip-for-school or “Gangsta,” whose chaotic barrio vibe seems like it came from the same world as Beck’s Guero.

It’s a dream catcher of an album—not the dream itself but someone remembering trying to relate it to you. “Wolly Wolly Gong,” is an incredibly tight song—the production uses space and channels well; not everything is in one ear nor is it compressed to needle thin frequency—you can hear Garbus breathing.

Garbus is a total singer with nothing physically or sonorously held back, and when she wails, neck hairs stand.

She must be something of what Odetta was in her day; a soulful, riveting performer who won’t hesitate to use anything if it makes a sound. Her noises are all over the place—and it’s mesmerizing.

Yes, her pipes are impressive, she can go from wet whispering to belting at turns; sometimes she flutters, hitting a pitch with total vocal support. It almost sounds like medieval chamber music, smacking of Art Garfunkel were he to make a record with the guys from STOMP in his bedroom today.

tUnE-yArDs exudes a confidence that most bands don’t muster until late in the game. W H O K I L L is worth a listen if only for the possibility that there might not be anything quite like it, before or again.

tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L Tracklist:

  1. “My Country”
  2. “Es-So”
  3. “Gangsta”
  4. “Powa”
  5. “Riotriot”
  6. “Bizness”
  7. “Doorstep”
  8. “You Yes You”
  9. “Wooly Wolly Gong”
  10. “Killa”