Over the course of Tune-Yards’ 15 years, Merrill Garbus has made intense self-reflection sound more interesting than actually doing it yourself. And after digging into any number of complexities (white guilt, appropriation, femininity, gentrification…), her conflicted sense of self is a lively presence that’s always made Tune-Yards feel deceptively joyful.
At face value, Garbus and husband/bassist/collaborator Nate Brenner clatter around in the colourful pop eclectics of a kid’s playroom – a joyous, Fisher Price-like ingenuity anchored by Garbus’ capricious vocal – but beyond the bright melodies and playful rhythms, she’s constantly challenging narratives, interrogating systems and piercing her own privilege – with those multi-tracked vocals emphasizing that sense of internal conflict.
Sketchy continues that bittersweet contrast. A pic ‘n’ mix of vocal surprises, explosions of energy, and Garbus amplifying shades of her own existential dread, ‘hold yourself’ is a perfect generation game anthem as she observes “Parents they made us / And they tried to raise us / But parents betrayed us / Even when they tried” in this age of boomer v millennial v Gen Z finger-pointing.
‘Sometime’ hits similarly philosophical too, as she rides a fluid, freeform beat, positing “When they say our world is destroyed /Sometimes I nod and say I know / Other times I breathe in, breathe out, shake my head / No no no,” in a line that manages to be both hopeful and handwringing at the same time.Flitting between abstract symbolism and more literal lines that cut to the subject core, these songs are part inquiry, part lament, part rallying cry in a search for absolution and answers that aren’t forthcoming. But offset against the zany, robocall monotony of ‘homewrecker’ or the slow burning groove of ‘my neighbour’, it’s easy to overlook how effortlessly Tune-Yards make songs about self-doubt sound so curiously stirring.
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