Tune-Yards operate in a genre that is tough to get your voice out in a meaningful way. America seems to have a large demand for radio approved pop music, but throwing a heavy message or true substance into the sound created is hit-and-miss for mainstream success. Pleasing a fan base that wants surface level and easy to digest music has to really hurt artists who have a penchant for painting a much broader picture. Merrill Garbus refuses to sell off her messaging for more album sales, which is something her fans will love when it comes to Nikki Nack.
The eclectic mixture of sounds has not changed for Tune-Yards, as Garbus has created some more truly bizarre textures to explore. The bass lines are constantly buzzing at various speeds, while percussion instruments create a jarring back drop for the lush songs created. There are plenty of vocal samples on the record, as well as other world tones that do not typically come forth on an American record. Garbus uses her speed rap and smooth singing attacks in equal measure, writing songs that can change on a dime based upon a slight change in vocal toning. While not the greatest vocalist in the pop genre, Merrill is easily one of the easiest ones to recognize.
There are plenty of positive notes to discuss for Tune-Yards’ third full length album, like “Water Fountain,” for example, is the perfect example of a lead single. The bass line and vocal pacing constantly move up-and-down to never allow the listener to be comfortable, but the lyrics are too catchy to forget, as well. “Look Around” is a grand and touching love song, utilizing small but pretty bass lines and percussion sections building at a high rate. “Stop That Man” is one of the heaviest tracks, seemingly being about a relationship in which the narrator loses a large part of themselves and pleading to get it back. The song has one of the strongest pop choruses of the year, while the electronics pump at a high rate. The real strengths of these tracks are just how real Merrill Garbus sounds, never digitally enhancing her voice and being genuinely odd with catchy lyricism.
There are a few problems with Nikki Nack to note though. The last three tracks to end the record are the weakest of the lot, creating a highly disappointing ending. “Left Behind” has too many jarring tone shifts to become as catchy as it should become, while “Rocking Chair” is an odd curveball that is stripped back to light percussion, no electronics, and vocals you might here around a campfire. The song is fine as a whole, but it really lacks the life one would expect to end an album. Most of all, “Manchild” is the one song that fails to do anything interesting. There is a solid beat and message to the song, but the lyrics are repeated at too high of a rate and serves as a reminder to the pop music Tune-Yards fans might avoid.
Nikki Nack is a good example of what pop music can sound like under the control of a true artist. Merrill Garbus’ personality comes through in spades from beginning to end, while most songs create a beautiful but darker world to inhabit. This is the best effort Tune-Yards have put out to date, but there is still a lot of room to grow in the future to become truly incendiary.
1. Find a New Way
2. Water Fountain
3. Time of Dark
4. Real Thing
5. Look Around
6. Hey Life
8. Interlude: Why Do We Dine On The Tots?
9. Stop That Man
10. Wait For a Minute
11. Left Behind
12. Rocking Chair