After listening to w h o k i l l, tUnE-YaRdS’ phenomenal new album, go back and listen to Merrill Garbus’ debut Bird-Brains. It’s rough, shoddily-produced, abrasive and full of ideas. By virtue of the way it was recorded and released – on a handheld voice recorder and second-hand cassettes (the album was ultimately remastered), it sounds better than it has any right to be but it’s still more of an interesting experimental lo-fi record than one to fall in love with.
By contrast, w h o k i l l is a pop record. Of sorts. Effortlessly carried by Garbus’ voice which loops, shouts, yodels harmonises, croons, skitters and creaks in all the right places. Meanwhile, the instrumentation is pristine and visible with playful rhythms. Garbus’ songwriting is top-notch. Her time in Kenya studying music comes across in the Afrobeat melodies and the employment of jazzy horns (oh er missus) and high-fretted stunted guitar riffs along with her trusted ukelele. The percussion is bright and primal. And the songs are fucking magnificent. All 10 of them. Best of all, it still sounds absolutely bonkers.
Three favourites for detail: ‘Gangsta’ is possibly the most unhinged song on the album. Clattering drums, distorted bass envelopes the song, brass parps interject. Garbus impersonates an ambulance. No joke. ‘Bizness’ is the album’s most complete pop song – a endlessly repeatable tune. When the brass comes along for the ride at 2:26 and again at 3:40, it’s pure bliss. ‘Doorstep’ – a mama blues mantra which builds with flittering harmonies and loud drums into a swirling elegant end.
w h o k i l l is a whooping and hollering joy. eXceLlEnT.