mon 08/08/2022

CD: tUnE-yArDs - Nikki Nack | reviews, news & interviews

CD: tUnE-yArDs - Nikki Nack

CD: tUnE-yArDs - Nikki Nack

Merrill Garbus still has the magic on album number three

tUnE-yArDs' 'Nikki Nack' - a 'brightly-coloured superhero'

That Nikki Nack, the third album from tUnE-yArDs, sounds as if it could share the name with some brightly-coloured superhero from a nursery rhyme seems appropriate, because that’s always been how I’ve pictured Merrill Garbus.

It’s a persona that she has seemed happy to play up to this time around, in the colourful publicity shots and Pee-wee’s Playhouse-inspired videos that have preceded this release, but it’s also one that’s a perfect fit: an eclectic and experimental creator of songs (“songwriter” seems a touch simplistic a way to describe the way that she loops beats, whoops and ukelele), Garbus has always been on a mission to create socially conscious, thought-provoking work you can still have a lot of fun with.

This album sees Garbus and bassist Nate Brenner team up with producers (Malay, who produced Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange; and John Hill, who has worked with tUnE-yArDs’ closest contemporary M.I.A. as well as Rihanna and Shakira) for the first time, but fears that outside input might have tempered Garbus’ fearsome creativity are proven unfounded from the first hurdy-gurdy riff of opening track “Find a New Way” and on the joyous bedlam that is first single “Water Fountain”. While 2011’s w h o k i l l - the album that topped that year’s Pazz and Jop poll of US music critics, as well as charming our own Howard Male - played with horns and sax to riotous effect, on Nikki Nack the focus is on the drums. They are chopped and insistent and determined to contradict the usual rules of the rhythmic.

Garbus’ stylistic tricks that see her absorbing and warping the traditional - fed into the mix are her dad’s old violin, a “life-affirming” trip to Haiti and, on “Stop That Man”, the Trayvon Martin shooting - could come across as precious in less-capable hands, but here it’s never at the expense of melody or intrigue. There’s a fascinating darkness to Nikki Nack too, particularly on the appropriately-named “Time of Dark” - a wild, tribal beast of a track with so much subtly going on it’s perhaps only appreciated properly on headphones - the grimy, electronic “Stop That Man” and “Sink-O”, a claustrophobic stream-of-consciousness. Taken as a whole (bizarre spoken-word skit/short story horror “Why Do We Dine On The Tots” notwithstanding), Nikki Nack shows an artist at the peak of her powers. Let her convince you.

Overleaf: visit Merrill's playhouse with the "Water Fountain" video

Socially conscious, thought-provoking work you can still have a lot of fun with


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters