tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l
April 20, 2011
In w h o k i l l we have a case of sonic multiple personality. I wouldn’t say ‘disorder’, since beyond a determined veering from convention there’s nothing awry in the outcome.
African-inspired drumbeats and monkey-like ‘ooh-ahh’s open the record on ‘My Country’, and Merrill Garbus’s confrontational-, at times conversational-toned tongue advances to critique restrictions in her so-called ‘sweet land of liberty’. Halfway through, a seemingly more level-headed persona undercuts this yell of fighting words, questioning softly and lingeringly ‘if nothing of this is ours how will I ever know when something’s mine?’ before all that preceding belligerence turns into a sax and horn blast-out party.
First listen is easily spent basking excitedly in how well all these unpredictable and uninhibited layers can work together: the hip hop kick into funky bass of ‘Es-So’, the cooing and cawing over a Dirty Projector’s Bitte Orca-reminiscent arrangement on ‘Bizness’, the tripping rhythm and soulful, genderless vocals through to Prince-like yelps, on ‘Powa’.
While so many different styles are twisted up and around each other, there’s a thematic unity behind these tracks that the aforementioned opener perfectly sets up. Though drawing some influence from African beats and Jamaican dub, the lyrics raise Western concerns centred around control and violence. Sounds serious, but it’s never overbearing; ‘Es-So’ is one of the most fun tracks despite being a satiric dig at questions of body image, while ‘Gangsta’, addressing peer pressures, is the LP’s catchiest and most punch-packing. The most beautiful track is also the one most at odds with its subject matter, as Garbus tells of an African-American man who was shot dead in her hometown through the softly harmonised R&B of ‘Doorstep’.
While tUnE-yArDs made her mark with 2009′s BiRd-BrAiNs, without the tinniness and fuzz of the former this is an altogether more continuously relistenable record. And its confidence is infectious; walking around with this coming through the headphones feels kind of empowering, like you could take down anyone who tries to get in your way with just a look..
w h o k i l l is out now on 4AD.