Under the familiar moniker decorated in its quirky alternating case, tUnE-yArDs are back with another zany serving of eccentric globe-pop tracks. With enough of Nate Brenner’s bass groove and tropical rhythms to get you bouncing with the demeanour of the Maasai tribesmen, this third serving of tUnE-yArDs goodness packs a youthful, riotous energy that can only be associated with the output of Merrill Garbus.
For someone with a fan base built upon a love of lo-fi unconventionality, Garbus has drafted in some surprisingly big-budget record producers for ‘nikki nack’. Malay (renowned for his work on Frank Ocean’s Grammy-award winning ‘channel ORANGE’) and John Hill (who has laid his fingers on the compositions of Rihanna, Santigold and post-prime Natasha Bedingfield) both contributed to the texture of the record meaning Garbus had to abandon the independent nature of the project. This renouncement certainly comes across with the record’s more encompassing sound, diverging away from the simplicity of her loop pedal-friendly tracks.
‘Water-Fountain’ bursts with liveliness with it’s jump-rope incantation and organic percussive elements as synth bleeps hop and leap around the feverish vocal mantra. Meanwhile, ‘Look Around’ is how a tUnE-yArDs ballad should sound as a muted piano melody is layered with whirring tones before climaxing with a grandiose vocal chant. Garbus concedes “I can never seem to focus on the task at hand” in the glorious ‘Hey Life’ and that is partly where criticism lies with this record. Whilst the tracks above benefit from frantic production, there are moments on ‘nikki nack’ that are overcomplicated and a little brash on the ear.
In fact, the songs that triumph as the strongest on the album are those rooted in simplicity. The wonderful ‘Wait For A Minute’ is not embellished with instrumental pandemonium but instead holds a funky swagger with enough production to cushion Garbus’ audacious vocals. Simultaneously, ‘Rocking Chair’ takes this minimalism further and holds a campfire appeal. The practically a cappella effort infuses folk-inspirations that she’s inherited from her parents and even resorts to the use of her father’s fiddle. However, the most minimal point on ‘nikki nack' is the skit ‘Why Do We Dine On The Tots?’ which, bluntly put sounds like The Tweenies on acid. This was no doubt inspired by her decision to revisit the 80’s kid show ‘Pee Wee’s Playhouse’.
Whilst this interlude borders on a little creepy, for the most part the innocent exuberance of ‘nikki nack' is truly endearing and with tour dates to the UK on the horizon, it will be interesting to see how this thicker layer of production will integrate in to the tUnE-yArDs live show. Garbus stands tall as the ringleader of globetrotting backyard pop.
Words: George Hemmati