nikki nack Brings tUnE-yArDs Back
Though Nikki Nack is technically Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner’s third album as tUnE-yArDs, some may view it as their sophomore release, as it follows their 2011 breakthrough w h o k i l l. That album graced the tops of many “Best of” lists, and while Nikki Nack doesn’t quite live up to w h o k i l l‘s successes, it is a welcome addition to their continued sonic assault against the status quo.
tUnE-yArDs has a way of making a lot out of a little. Whether it’s Garbus’ elastic voice yo-yoing from a light talk-sing to a commanding yell to a delicate, dreamy falsetto or layered, looped beats supporting Brenner’s agile bass, tUnE-yArDs is always more than the sum of their parts.
As on w h o k i l l, cultures clash as African rhythms, electronic beats, jazz vocals and a general sense of unpredictability splatter into something resembling a traditional pop song. Garbus and Brenner manage tight control over these disparate pieces for personal storytelling and social commentary.
The majority of Nikki Nack focuses on personal triumphs and empowerment. From the start, Garbus champions her own adaptability between drum bursts on “Find a New Way” and winning positivity in the face of challenges on “Time of Dark,” “See me over the mountain / There’ll never be a mountain I cannot climb.” Even without direction, Garbus is a dedicated force in motion, aggressively living in “Hey Life” with a stuttering vocal bepop before bursting, “I’m runnin’, runnin’ / I don’t know where to go but I can’t seem to go slow.”
Occasionally, the repetition and dissonant sounds so often deftly employed can detract from a song, as on “Wait for a Minute” and “Sink-O,” but these moments are few. Garbus and Brenner don’t shy away from their ambitions and pursue their ideas to the last. This fearlessness keeps tUnE-yArDs ever on the edge.