Album Review: tUnE-YaRdS

Album: BiRd-BrAiNs
Artist: tUnE-YaRdS
Label: Marriage Records
Out: July 2008/March 2009/August 18th

We'll end the non-immediate offerings of Reviews Week with something very related to yesterday's post. Tune-Yards, aka Merrill Garbus, who we spoke of at-length yesterday, released a fantastic record last July, then again in March via Marriage Records and then once more this week, via 4AD. Bird-Brains, which I will consider as released this year for the sake of any end-of-year consideration, is much of the same buffet of sound I touched on with Sister Suvi yesterday. The real difference is that here, it's simply Garbus, by herself, with nothing but some computer software, random instruments and a handheld microphone. The result is lo-fi bliss, and an impressive year in news for an album constructed by Garbus all by her lonesome.

Without the aid of a full band, one might expect Bird-Brains to sound sparse, or at least have a sound reflective of a solo recording effort. On the contrary, the album is a pleasant, and at times, stunning surprise, producing waves of sounds coming at you in the form of awkward timing and crashing cymbals. As I've mentioned on this site before, this is most apparent on "Sunlight," the collection's most active, standout and hectic piece. Though immersed in an album full of noise, it manages to stand above the rest, perhaps bouncing higher, and careening off the walls just a tad longer than the rest. The bevy of sounds here, and everywhere else, give off an appearance of having been run through several subwoofers for effect, yet it only amplifies how strong each is musically.

Style-wise, this, similar to Sister Suvi, also jumps around quite a lot. As I had said, Garbus was a large influence, thus that makes sense. The skips from shocking noise pop to bits of hip hop to tribal folk are frequent and unrelenting. I think I just referred to it as "alternative" on my computer, because I've still yet to figure out the correct genre (I keep everything confined to just 30 different ones) to classify it. Oddly enough, though I, and so many others have offered rave reviews of this one, there are also those who have told me it is a tough act to listen to. Though not of that camp, I suppose I can understand the rift it may create for some. If one is interested in listening to a consistent sound, I can't say with any confidence that you'll enjoy Bird-Brains. Garbus is a pro, but as good as she is, there can be a few misses here and there. These are subtle however, and to me, take away little from the album's overall quality and purpose. I mean, how could you not love the freak-folk and barbershop quartet harmony mix on "News?" I couldn't tell you.

What Garbus succeeds at, perhaps better than anyone except maybe Animal Collective, is taking something that could potentially be a hard sell, or awkward, and turn it into music gold. Though this isn't always in the financial sense (though for AC, I'd say it is, lately), it does make for effective and enjoyable music which manages to exist off the beaten path. Admittedly, Tune-Yards can even exist outside of those fictional limitations set for this type of music, but the pure ability and range displayed here, as well as the ambition it takes to undertake this sort of project, allow for it to excel. Poor timing has a place in music, as do minor chords, and if used constructively, this is what you come out with. Once again, I commend the effort by Garbus, and I hope to hear a lot more from her in the future. If you're still looking for similarities after all of that, go check out Sister Suvi (obviously), Here We Go Magic and Bibio.

Rating: 7.5/10

Best Track: "Sunlight" (courtesy of Pitchfork)

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