Thursday 15 May 2014

Review of 'Nikki Nack' by tUnE-yArDs


This experimental pop album is full of lyrical wtf moments. There’s even a skit half-way through the record entitled ‘Why do we dine on the tots?’ in which an elderly couple debate the pros and cons of eating their grandchildren. The melodies are African in flavour accompanied by strange semi-electronic drum patterns that explore all manner of time signatures. It’s easy to feel a little bit lost whilst listening to this album and I wouldn’t be surprised if most people’s reaction is something similar to this…

I’d have probably dismissed this album as pretentious twaddle if it wasn’t for the bubbly personality, humour and catchiness that Merrill Garbus brings to the table. She’s the lead vocalist and creator of tUnE-yArDs (I cOnSiDeReD wRiTiNg ThE wHoLe ReViEw LiKe ThIs). The music video below demonstrates that she has a taste for the bizarre. Note the guy sticking pencils into a potato.

Her ability to construct instant vocal earworms gives the instrumental confusion some coherence. I say ‘some coherence’ because lyrics like ‘A two pound chicken tastes better with friends’ don’t exactly bring much immediate sense to the album. Like St. Vincent, Merrill seems to present a style of pop that is both as cryptic as it is simplistic. I’ve never been very good at interpreting the intended meanings behind lyrics, so I won’t offer any deep analyses here. Vivid imagery is enough for me and this record offers satisfying amounts of it, exemplified by lines such as: ‘He gave me a dollar. A blood soaked dollar. I cannot get the spot out but its okay, it still works in the store’.  

Aided by an impressive vocal range (the low end of her voice does sound a bit like a man but, then again, so did Nina Simone’s) Merrill shows that she's super-talented. Overall, the album is a fun and entertaining listen, often weird, sometimes in places a little too weird, but if you approach it with a sense of humour then it will be rewarding.