tUnE-yArDs – Nicki Nack
by Peter Giunta (Biology), published May 12th 2014
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
It’s no secret that tUnE-yArDs is the brainchild of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/ex-puppeteer Merrill Garbus. With her recent work as evidence, she is an artist driven to create , taking listeners on many an exhausting journey and frantic ordeal. It was in keeping with that desire to invent when she shed the Dictaphone used to record her debut album bIrD-bRaInS in favor of a synthesizer and percussion buffet for sophomore release W H O K I L L.
tUnE-yArDs’ latest release, Nikki Nack, continues this trend and is Garbus’s most indulgent sonic project to date. Garbus noted that this album would be a marked departure from W H O K I L L, and the essential difference between the two releases lies in the sheer energy of the songs on Nikki Nack. Take the first single “Water Fountain,” whose striking rhythms and ultra-catchy chorus will have listeners dancing away the day’s calories. “Water Fountain” and other Nikki Nack tracks (“Find a New Way,” Real Thing”) achieve Garbus’ stated goal of making each chorus a memorable one with considerable success. The chorus on “Rocking Chair” for instance is infectious, and the sort you’ll find yourself humming long after you’ve finished listening to Nikki Nack.
Fans of W H O K I L L still have plenty to sink their teeth into. Nikki Nack offers lyrics ranging from intense to absurd, coupling an exploration of depression in “Wait for a Minute” with the dystopian interlude “Why Do We Dine on the Tots?” Garbus even questions her own originality on “Real Thing.” Her use of African polyrhythms and yodeling comes through especially on the aforementioned “Rocking Chair,” and some noise rock influences accent tracks like “Left Behind.” She even cites Michael Jackson as a driving force in her music, whose impact can be heard loud and clear on “Manchild.”
While Nikki Nack represents the tUnE-yArDs’ most consistently captivating set of songs yet, none seem to generate quite the windstorm that “Bizness” did in 2011. This can be attributed to the absence of W H O K I L L’s saxophone section that reigned in Garbus’ driving vocals. And as with W H O K I L L, the closing track on Nikki Nack doesn’t tie as neat a bow on the album as one would hope either. The repetition on “Manchild” verges on incessant too, leaving a bitter aftertaste for the listener hoping to be rewarded for their sweat. Even moments like these are balanced by positives though, as on “Manchild” with sharp lyrics depicting a sordid view of relationships.
For long-time fans of Garbus Nikki Nack may be disappointing in its rejection of tUnE-yArDs lo-fi sound. W H O K I L L converts may also long for Matt Nelson’s blistering sax under Garbus’ wail. But no matter what flavor of devotee you are, it will be difficult to avoid dancing publicly to one of the most charismatic and fun (pop?) records of the year so far.