When you’re known for startling originality, a determined DIY aesthetic and songs that slap the listener around the face whilst exhorting them to get up and dance with the limitless energy and abandon of a manic five year-old, you’d think that three albums in, if you were tUnE-yArDs creator Merrill Garbus, you might be feeling the pressure a little bit. How to maintain that runaway musical momentum? Slow down? Speed up? Learn and master yet another obscure instrument (this time round, it’s a boula, a small Haitian drum) to throw into the mix?

As a follow-up to 2011’s occasionally jarring but infectiously energetic ‘W H O K I L L’, and another step removed from the pure DIY of the recorded-on-a-dictaphone debut ‘BiRd-BrAiNs’, Garbus certainly hasn’t taken the ‘slow down’ option. You’ll likely already have heard the ultra-catchy single ‘Water Fountain’. Punctuated by percussive yelps and a relentless, bursting energy, it’s the sonic equivalent of an exploding jack-in-the-box, benign and highly colourful noises flying out in all directions.

Album opener ‘Find A New Way’ manages to be simultaneously disjointed and flowing, the whole song carried forward by an irresistible current. Rapid spoken word passages, gospel backing and acrobatic lead vocals, soaked in tribal vibes, clash and compete over a recklessly melodic backdrop. The breakneck pace drops very slightly with ‘Time of Dark’, whose searingly soulful vocals sit astride a poignant minor key. The song is home to perhaps the album’s most powerful lyric: “Oh little child, understand a single thing / Your music’s in your pocket with a power you can’t even imagine it would bring.”

‘Nikki Nack’ is a joyful sonic menagerie – there’s so much energy here that listening to it can go one of two ways; you’ll either be exhausted by it, or it will drive and inspire you. Either way, its hooks and rhythm cannot fail to invade your senses. Very occasionally, the joy and vibrancy ebbs away from the music, leaving only its cacophonous shell, as with the high-speed and pitiless grind of ‘Sack O’. Yet ‘Wait For A Minute’ is the only moment at which tUnE-yArDs becomes anything even remotely approaching conventional on this record, featuring as it does a straightforward, beautifully simple vocal melody.

‘Nikki Nack’ is sonically a far cry from Garbus’ dictaphone-wielding beginnings, yet in a sense it really isn’t a far cry at all – her unquenchable energy and boldness is as in-your-face evident now as it was in the early, producer-less roots of this project. tUnE-yArDs remains a creative volcano of a project, something sublimely barmy, joyfully brash, fearlessly brave, and utterly original.


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