Album of the Week: tUnE-yArDs, 'I can feel you creep into my private life'

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tUnE-yArDs, 'I can feel you creep into my private life'
tUnE-yArDs, 'I can feel you creep into my private life' (4AD)
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Listening to the new tUnE-yArDs album, I can feel you creep into my private life, I got stuck halfway through, caught on a sample that I could almost, but not quite place. It was a simple '80s synthesized beat that I couldn't let go of. There are other samples in the album, but like many things that cause you to pause in your daily life, there's a reason that certain things stick out. Something deeply, and sometimes tragically, human; it was about me. The sample was from a song that I warmed up to in dance class for nearly 10 years. The do doot do doot doo doo that I pas-de-bourree-and-clapped to loosen my limbs and focus. The sort of song that burrows its way into the deep crevices of the brain, without wanting to or even trying. I couldn't move on with the review until I knew the sample. I played the song for my colleagues, searched the internet, listened to various possibilities. Finally, half joking, I posted my do doot doos on Twitter and started listening to the rest of the album. Luckily (or not), we live in a world where the personal is no longer ours alone, lives intersect and Twitter user @JenJavitis (a human who I've never met or know anything about besides her love of synthy '80s ear candy) kindly pointed me to Nu Shooz and their 1986 hit "I Can't Wait."

Nothing exists in a vacuum, and I couldn't help but think about that as I listened to I can feel you creep into my private life. It is a sonic exploration of the deeply personal to be shared with everyone.

Merrill Garbus (who credits tUnE-yArDs on this 4th album as officially a duo with long time collaborator, Nate Brenner) has never shied away from critical self-examination. In the three years since her last album, Nikki Nack, Garbus spent nearly six months visiting various workshops covering the topic of race; questioning how she participated in racism and white supremacy. She listened to other voices in the music world (specifically Kendrick Lamar, Solange, and Frank Ocean) to hear how others shared their story and how their private story was laid out for the world. She held a weekly DJ night at a bar in Oakland and forced herself to write daily to really focus and hone in on the right words, sounds, and samples to share her truth.

I can feel you creep into my private life is a showcase of craft. Like a painter or baker, this album is a work of time and attention to detail. If Merrill Garbus is a painter she's a surrealist like Dali, with sounds dripping, warping and in places that shouldn't fit, but somehow tell a more interesting story because of the strange juxtaposition. And if she's a baker, she's making croissants; a painstaking process of bending, folding, and layering - over and over.

This surreal croissant of an album brings in disco ("Heart Attack"), the aforementioned '80s synth ("Honesty"), and hip hop 808 beats ("Who Are You") with Garbus' spoken word style vocal delivery changing it up from time to time with ghostly howls, operatic vocal swoops, and glitchy staccato. The songs are frank discussions of institutionalized racism ("ABC 123"), American exceptionalism, and, in a time of intersectionality, figuring out how and where to share your voice.

It would be easy to toss this album on and fill a dance floor, people gyrating without once thinking about the personal stories being revealed. But just because the delicate layers of the croissant will never be appreciated as much by the consumer as the producer, it doesn't mean that it isn't delicious.

Resources


tUnE-yArDs - Official Site

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  • tUnE-yArDs perform live in The Current studio tUnE-yArDs is the moniker and musical project of Merrill Garbus. Influenced by her experience and travels in Africa, she became interested in Afrobeat. Combined with her new Sony ICD-TK digital voice recorder and a new laptop, Garbus began recording melodies, noises, and lyrics which led to the release of her first album BiRd-BrAiNs, which she recorded on recycled cassette tape.

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