A furious indie-pop rebellion, but make it funky
The Tune-Yards managed to create a lively and ambiguous-feeling indie-pop special sauce of sampled sounds and original instrumentation in their latest album sketchy.. Released on March 26, the experimental group fuses rhythmic and hard-thought-out drum beats with sound bites, things that should seem random when mixed but end up feeling exactly in the right place. The group’s sound has been described as “weird” in the past, weird in the way that SNL’s Fred Armisen is sometimes thought of as weird, or Animal Collective’s sound: it’s strange to those that don’t understand it, but perfectly genius to those that do.
The group is composed of the Oakland-based duo Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner. The group most recently wrote the score for the 2019 film Sorry to Bother You. sketchy. is their first album in three years.
The opening track on the album “nowhere, man” is a title tribute to the Beatles 1965 tune of the same name. The drums provide some construction to the rhythmic sounds sampled throughout, with key features from bells, quirky keyboard additions, distorted harmonies and Garbus’s Brittany-Howard-turns-Panic-at-the-Disco-esque voice. Cool and rock-inspired, this is a song that evokes images of the punk youth of the ’90s jamming out in the streets, shouting revolution.
“hypnotized” is one of those songs that feel like the sun; it is four minutes and 31 seconds of feel-good sound. It’s funky with a rocking bass line, and the synth calls out like a mother to her son. The expert harmonizing brings some sort of balance to the chaos of the free-style piano. With Garbus’s voice floating effortlessly across each note like a light jog over rolling hills, this is one of the most satisfying feeling songs on the album. “Look into my eyes/ I love you, honey…you’re hypnotized.”
The alien-inspired track “homewrecker” feels like some eerie remake of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” There’s a shift in tone halfway throughout the piece that gives the song even more depth, from an emphasis on the electronic to a more melancholy acoustic vibe. With some features from string instruments and other satisfying guitar lines, this song is just as hypnotizing as the last one.
“silence pt. 1 (when we say “we”)” is an inspirational feeling track, with Garbus droning: “I am one drop in the ocean/ I am one fist of many fingers….they say change yourself to change the world and I am gonna try.” Directly after that track is “silence pt. 2 (who is “we”?),” which is literally just silence, a moment to pause and reflect.
“hold yourself.” is one of the most emotional tracks on sketchy., as well as one of the most catchy. The tune itself feels very ’80s pop and ends in a brilliant cacophony of horns as loud and passionate as the lyrics of the song itself. Garbus describes this track as “a moment of self-realization” and says, “We all have trouble being brave enough to turn the page. This song is about feeling really betrayed by my parent’s generation, and, at the same time, really seeing how we are betraying the future.”
“my neighbor” is a futuristic jazz feeling song, one that’s soft and jagged in-between the spaces, about a weird obsession with a neighbor that turns deadly. The vibes are like an oddly sensual encounter at a bar on the planet Neptune. “be not afraid.” is reminiscent of the experimental group clipping.’s work if they were an indie-pop group. This track feels animalistic, the Tune-Yards the hunter, and the listener the prey. The almost modern dubstep feel and multilayered instrumentation makes every new bar feel like a different level in a video game. With all the song’s layers, this is an epic closure to the album.
The Tune-Yards have continued to produce music with a nuanced and addictive chaotic energy that seems to shape the group’s signature sound. The expertly crafted bass lines create an effortlessly funky feeling throughout sketchy., one that experimental listeners might like.