fri 12/08/2022

Album: Tune-Yards - Sketchy | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Tune-Yards - Sketchy

Album: Tune-Yards - Sketchy

Californian alt-pop innovators sounding fresh and maintaining their unique trajectory

Primary bounce intact

Tune-Yards have been much-feted for bringing an original sound to pop. Quite rightly so.

Over the last decade the Californian duo, led by singing percussionist Merrill Garbus, have fired out four albums (and a film soundtrack) that amalgamated global roots flavours, electronic freakery, prog rock weirdness, and post-punk attack, all the while remaining lively and engaging rather than pretentious and po. Their last two albums, by no means straight dance music, showed an increasing affection for clubland sensibilities. Their new one, however, is closer in tone to their angular, earliest work.

This isn’t to say they’ve gone backwards. Garbus’s drums and Nate Brenner’s bass are raw to the fore, but these songs are also full of deranged sonic trimmings. For evidence, just check the cut-up squeaks and wibbles on femme-feeling, Afro-stomper “Make It Right” or the glitched time signatures and sudden angelic acapella on “Homewrecker”. Funk and jazz are rife, but de-smoothed, made caustic, tribal and celebratory. Loose comparisons that crop up along the way would include Scritti Politti, Tom Tom Club, Santigold and The Slits.

Garbus has said the band became too “complicit in all of the systems that I really don't believe in”, and consequently more lyrically introspective. Now, unshackled from their usual promotional schedules by COVID lockdown, they’ve hit the studio freed up, with a new ebullience. And that’s how it sounds. From the almost industrial thump of “Be Not Afraid” to the dub-funk groovin’ of “Sometime” to the rackety attack of single “Nowhere, Man”, there’s determined bounce everywhere.

Garbus’s way with a chewy lyric is still there, coming to the fore on less manic cuts such as the pastoral jazz-pop of “Hypnotized” and, especially, the skonk-sax-laden “Hold yourself” (about parents who “held us close and dear and told us lies that they’d been telling themselves for years”). The meaning is sometimes opaque but there’s always a thought-provoking edge. By album number five, most bands are finding it difficult to muster something fresh. Not so here. While Sketchy is full of hooky tunes and immediately identifiable as Tune-Yards, it’s also bubbling over with inventiveness.

Below: Watch the video for "Hypnotized" by Tune-Yards (one of the new album's mellower cuts)


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