Concrete jungle is a phrase often reserved for the commotion and kill-or-be killed disposition of the city. In the case of Merrill Garbus, the artist known as Tune-yards (or tUnE-yArDs), it refers almost literally to the animalistic, addictive cacophony she produces with every fierce roar and calming ukulele strum on Whokill (or w h o k i l l), her second album.
This womans work is daring for the industry. Shes an uncontainable pinball in a dusty, old machine. Imagine Garbus ricocheting off walls of Afro beat and psychedelic funk with the voice of a Disney princess. Throw in some repetitive hooks a la hip-hop, add some horns and youve got a grippingly schizophrenic tune.
Like her disregard for proper script, she disregarded the very notion of song in her 2009 self-produced debut album Bird-Brains (or BiRd-BrAiNs). The record actually a cassette tape made on an old-school tape recorder introduced listeners to her aversion to the typical taught, linear structure of song.
Whokills is a little more accessible. Its Tune-Yards first foray into the domesticating world of labels, but shes far from tame on the 10-track album. Dont worry, shes still odd.
The album sets the stage with My Country, a track alternating between tribal drums and enveloping synth. Gangsta adds a heavy bass line, previously missing on Tune-Yards tracks, that acts as a steady stool for this discombobulated song to stand on. Tempo changes and noisemakers evoke sirens and gunshots as Garbus sings mockingly, sweetly, then angrily, Never move to my hood, cause danger is crawling out the wood.
The most accessible song on Whokills is Powa, a David Bowie-inspired rock song with warbled guitars and a soulful Garbus. She showcases her surprising voice powerfully on this track, a traditional dip in an otherwise out-there album.
Whokill is rapt with weirdness even idiosyncrasy from start to finish. Theres a gamut of tracks ranging from sweet lullabies (Wolly Wolly Gong) to catchy pop possibilities (Bizness). Whatever goes on in Garbuss mind, we should feel lucky to share this unabashed, brazen product.