Positive: 5 out of 5
Mixed: 0 out of 5
Negative: 0 out of 5
May 6, 2014tUnE-yArDs’ Nikki Nack a strong, idiosyncratic follow up: typifies Western ennui, criticizes illusions of first world
There’s something about going to Haiti that changes a musician. At least in the past year. Look at what happened to Arcade Fire. They went to Haiti to record their brilliantly conceptual album, Reflektor, and came back with some esoteric knowledge and newfound sense of humanity. Not only can you hear it in the albums sounds, you can hear in the lyrics, too.
The same has happened to tUnE-yArDs’ front woman, Merrill Garbus. Travelling to Haiti to study drumming with Haitian-born teacher, Daniel Brevil, Garbus noted her trip as a core influence in the development of her latest work. On Nikki Nack, syncopated drums, primal screams, and beautifully dissonant harmonies tangle and snarl to irreconcilable degrees. Garbus’ chesty, idiosyncratic screams structure her melodies and transcend gendered boundaries. If anything, Nikki Nack is the perfect title for tUnE-yArDs’ efforts, here; it achieves onomatopoetic perfection in a way no other title could achieve. Using any and every percussive object imaginable, each track is its own unique ‘nikki-nack’ that clanks and clatters into joyful absurdity.
Nikki Nack isn’t so much a departure as it is a refinement of tUnE-yArDs’ sophomore album, w h o k i l l. Calling on Malay (producer-engineer of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange) for the recording process, Garbus’ chaotic dizziness is more streamlined than ever. Combining Malay’s electronic bass jams with Garbus’ new Haitian rhythms, Nikki Nack has both a narcotizing and stimulating effect. For those uninitiated to tUnE-yArDs, however, Nikki Nack is likely to polarize listeners even more than w h o k i l l did. There’s a part of me that believes Nikki Nack will lift Garbus and tUnE-yArDs to a wider, more mainstream audience. But at the same time, I can see Nikki Nack turning a lot of listeners away. It might make you wonder what type of Kool-Aid Garbus has been drinking. Or it might make you wonder where you might be able to find some.
I’ll be the first to say it: there are tracks on this album that can seem annoying. Either you listen with resistance or you let yourself fall into the cacophony. Garbus is bombastic, relentless, and propulsive. But she sure as hell has my attention. Perhaps that’s what Garbus is trying to do, here. With the messages she’s trying to send, there’s no way to get around that discomfort.
“Wait for a Minute,” a stark take on writers block and Western ennui, finds Garbus lyrically at her best. “Monday, the mirror always disappoints/I pinch my skin until I see the joints.” It’s a cultural problem many can relate to: the struggle between beauty, success, and productivity. Keeping all three standards of achievement is futile; attempting to do so will leave one unsatisfied, filled with languor and emotional malaise. The only thing to do is “Wait for a Minute.” It allows the mind to reconstitute itself, alleviate the vertigo, and make peace in this paradox.
Other album standouts, “Real Thing” and “Water Fountain” are equally critical. On “Real Thing,” Garbus shouts, “I come from the land of slaves/Let’s go Redskins/Let’s go Braves.” Building off of the controversy over the Washington Redskins’ name in 2013, Garbus satirizes the United States’ self-righteous celebration of racism in modern culture. Similarly critical of the Western world, she begs on “Water Fountain,” “Greasy man come and dig my well/Life without your water is a burning hell.” Garbus bluntly condemns the West’s obsession with drilling oil. Unfortunately, the West treats oil just as scarcely as third world countries treat clean water. The West continues to drill oil, shifting its focus away from clean water and preferring capitalism in favor of humanitarianism.
Nikki Nack often evokes playground songs and chants through oddly playful avenues. Garbus situates her work in youthfulness, yet juxtaposes innocence with complexity and caustic criticisms. Nevertheless, Merrill Garbus has continued to cultivate a genre all her own. She defines herself by what she’s not: an oversexualized femme archetype represented in Western culture. In an essay written by Merrill herself, she says, “The rule is: don’t try to get it right, just be in the middle of it.” Nikki Nack doesn’t try to get it right. Rather, it situates itself between two very different cultures with two very different belief systems. Only in that condition of liminality can Nikki Nack say what it wants.
8.7 out of 10… Expand
Jun 22, 2014I bought this CD because Tuneyards are one of the most creative bands in the world. The sheer inventiveness of each track is wonderful, interesting, playful and really, only Dirty Projectors come close AFAIK (there are probably 12 others I don't even know about).
The vocals are what stops this album from being 10/10. The shouty vocals get a bit much, quite frequently. In fact I find it hard to listen to the whole album. One or three tracks is enough. I get bored of being shouted at, which is a great pity since the music is so good.… Expand
Oct 30, 2014Tune Yards' Nikki Nack is about as creative as it is nuts. And that's what makes it such a genuinely lovable album for me. The music is experimental, but never overdone, and suits the mad, play-fullness of her voice, and with some more serious moments in there as well (Time of Dark) it is proven Tune Yards is a talented artist in her ability to entertain us and also have fun whilst doing so as well, which you can hear very clearly.… Expand
Jul 24, 2014This is, in my opinion, better than her sophomore album. Much more accessible; it has music that's rich in layers (Hey Life), and sometimes is catchy as hell (Wait for a Minute).
Of course, sometimes it's not so good either, which is one of the two things keeping this album from achieving true greatness. The other would be the vocals. It's inconsistent. Not only in style (which i don't mind), but in quality as well (and that i do). Some tracks have really excellent singing (Water Fountain), while in other she's basically shouting the whole track (Rocking Chair).
Unfortunately, a big part of the album has one of the problems, or the two of them together. That doesn't make it a bad album by any means. It's still excellent, but not the classic it could have been.… Expand
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