tUnE-yArDs: “Nikki Nack” Album Review

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Written By: Ethan Griggs

My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com

Merrill Garbus, who makes music under the pseudonym tUnE-yArDs, has something to say about just about anything and everything. She displays this with a sharpened point of view on her third official album under the moniker, Nikki Nack. The only thing that exceeds her curiosity of different lyrical themes is her curiosity of multiple music genres. She and the project’s other official member and writer, Nate Brenner, cover an insane amount of sonic and lyrical ground on this album, which was released in May of 2014.

Any listener familiar with tUnE-yArDs knows that Garbus is not one to stray away from political and sociological topics in her songwriting, and Nikki Nack is no exception. The album’s lead single, “Water Fountain”, is rumored to be about neocolonialism and how it is contributing to the collapse of humankind. “No water in the water fountain/No wood in the Woodstock” she chimes, invoking some sort of feeling that tells the listener that the past of peace and love counterculture has come and gone, regardless of how liberalism has possibly taken its place. “Greasy man come and dig my well/Life without your water is a burning hell”, she continues –a lyric that could have fit perfectly on her 2011 breakthrough, w h o k i l l. Garbus tackles racism and consumerism on “Real Thing” (“I come from the land of slaves/Let’s go Redskins, let’s go Braves) and rape and sexual consent on album closer “Manchild”.

Thematically, Nikki Nack shares many similarities with its predecessor – consumerism as the downfall of society, cultural appropriation, and sexuality just to name a few – but the two records couldn’t be more apart in terms of sonic framework. While still present in the cacophony of noise, Garbus has stripped back some of the earthy, natural sounds that were scattered on w h o k i l l in exchange for some sleek synths and drum machines. tUnE-yArDs sound a little more like Vampire Weekend as opposed to Talking Heads on this record.

Garbus even goes to far to include an original nursery tale, “Why Do We Dine On the Tots?”, that just happens to be about familial cannibalism. “Rocking Chair” is one of Garbus’s most stripped down recordings, consisting of various overdubs of her voice to create the feeling of an old call-and-response folk or spiritual song. While this album may not be as tight in its flow and sequencing as the last tUnE-yArDs record, Garbus and company have made it more than clear that their voices will not be silenced with the crafty and kaleidoscopic Nikki Nack. The last line of the album is, after all, “I’ve got something to say”