There are a lot of great albums out so far this year, but my stand-out favorite has to be w h o k i l l, the second album by Oakland-based tUnE-yArDs. tUnE-yArDs was originally a solo project for musician Merrill Garbus, but for her second album, instrumentalist Nate Brenner works with her, along with some touring saxophones.
Similar to my experience with GIVERS, I found tUnE-yArDs largely by happenstance. This year, I was at SXSW with a gap in my schedule. I saw that tUnE-yArDs was playing the NPR party and, having heard the track “Bizness” a few times, decided to check it out. tUnE-yArDs started playing “Gangsta,” and when Merrill’s vocals came in, I got goosebumps. I was hooked.
Merrill seems to approach her music with equal parts joy and seriousness. She’s certainly not just messing around, but at the same time doesn’t give off the whole “thisproject is the most significant thing to happen to
music life since the gramophone” vibe that you sometimes come across in indie music.
One of the best thing about seeing tUnE-yArDs is watching Merrill build her songs, starting with a drum beat or a few notes, looping that sound, and gradually adding more elements. Even if her songs were crap*, it would be impressive to watch.
That’s what’s great about these videos of tUnE-yArDs performing for Seattle radio station KEXP - you get to see the live looping up close and personal. The videography is also visually appealing, with a range of tight shots rather than boring stationary camera set-up. Watch the song that caught my heart, “Gangsta,” as well as the lesser-played track “Doorstep” below.
* Which, of course, they are not. But you just watched those videos, so you know that already.