Release Date: Jan 19, 2018
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Listen to "Hammer" from this, the fourth Tune-Yards album, and you can picture Merrill Garbus at the song's creation. Over tapping percussion and handclaps, Garbus sings, "Fear won't get off my back." A joyous chorus of Garbus vocals joins in, turning the ominous lyric into an unlikely sing-along line. The friendly spirit of that infectious moment might prompt you to try this at home, even if that only translates to carefully clapping along with Garbus' remarkable vocals.
It’s been four years since we last heard from Tune-Yards (oft still stylized as tUnE-yArDs, as we all surely know by now) and it seems a Californian retreat has served Merrill Garbus well. Here she is, in the mess that is 2018, atoning for her sins, with I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life serving as her very own confessional: this time she’s shutting down the haters by flying her woke flag loud and proud. Garbus and partner Nate Brenner’s Tune-Yards has always been critical darlings, though on the flipside was the gnawing sense of unease that there was some cultural appropriation going on in everything from the music itself to the singing style – I'm looking at you ‘Rocking Chair’.
For an artist who borrowed from “My Country, 'Tis of Thee” in order to decry income inequality on 2011's w h o k i l l and who chided the use of racist sports mascots on 2014's Nikki Nack, the socio-political climate of 2018 would seem like ample fodder for Merrill Garbus's righteous anger. But while she does steep her fourth album, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, in the more uncomfortable realities of our discordant national discourse, she doesn't lash out at external forces. Instead, she internalizes that dialogue, resulting in her most contemplative album to date.
Tune-Yards made a timely return with i can feel you creep into my private life, a vibrant album that explores the political and cultural tumult of the late 2010s with anthemic heft and individualistic perspectives. Merrill Garbus' creative process included DJ'ing, taking workshops on race, and doing lots of writing, all of which can be felt in the album's poppier sound, its leaner, more direct confrontations and confessions, and the skill with which she and Nate Brenner examine race, politics, and feminism. They're as confident on big-picture songs like "Coast to Coast" and "ABC 123" which respectively envision a sinking New York and a burning California, as they are on "Look at Your Hands," a bouncy expression of connection and responsibility, and "Colonizer," where Garbus sings about using her "white woman's voice" over a gnawing beat that suggests a colony of termites or a multiplying virus.
On last album ‘Nikki Nack’, Tune-Yards led the listener into a percussion-driven world filled with catchy, upbeat tunes. Buried within its playful exterior though lay deeper social commentaries. Even the seemingly joyous ‘Water Fountain’, with its ecstatic whoops and bass-laden rhythms, had a hook that evoked images of a post-apocalyptic world where people will invade the lives of others simply to keep hydrated. Skip forward and bandleader Merrill Garbus has continued to develop her charity, the Water Fountain Fund, and started a radio show called CLAW, which highlights new music from female-identifying artists.
The privileged storyteller never hears the sound of their own voice, because – unless they have elsewhere known the feeling that some essential part of their being is second-class – it has never required any validation to be heard. Reading interviews with Merrill Garbus, it’s obvious that she invests a lot of time in thinking about how her own tongue carries the names of the African people and places she’s known and adored: teaching music at a primary school in Kenya; seeing Taarab music live; the ongoing influence of Fela Kuti, among others. For the fourth Tune-Yards album, I can feel you creep into my private life, Garbus chooses to examine the inherent privileges she is afforded by swiping her white-American library card through other cultures, while simultaneously fighting patriarchal bluster at home.
"It's giving me a heart attack-ack-ack" blurts Merrill Garbus at the start the first Tune-Yards release in nearly four years. What's "it"? Take your pick – global warming (the funky single "ABC 123" invokes Elizabeth Kolbert's tour de force The Sixth Extinction), gender tyrannies ("I don't wanna be a woman/If it means not being a human" Garbus insists on "Now As Then"), the weight of racial history (she interrogates "the blood in my voice" on "Colonizer"). They're just some of the triggers on an LP determined to conjure kinetic joy while staring down our present cultural fright show – and which is more potent for it..
When Merrill Garbus emerged nine years ago as Tune-Yards, she was a one-woman force of nature armed with just a ukulele, a loop pedal and one hell of a pair of lungs. Since then, the New England eccentric has beefed up her band – fourth album ‘I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life’ is the first time long-time collaborator and bassist Nate Brenner is billed as an official band member – and created an art-pop world that zings with colour and dances to its own clattering beat. Garbus makes giant leaps on every record she makes, and ‘I Can Feel You Creep…’ is no different.
I Can feel You Creep Into My Private Life is an album very much of its time, and very much needed. With the world in political, social and environmental disarray, it’s the Anohnis, Pussy Riots and Against Me!s of the music world who we can turn to not only for respite, but also for meaningful commentary to help us calm our spinning minds. And Tune-Yards earn their place on the list by looking further – looking inside at what we as individuals are all about, our cracks and failures, our contradictions and ways that we might need to challenge ourselves before we can change things around us. This album is packed full of the energy pouring from singer, percussionist and general all-round frontlady Merril Garbus.
In a piece Merrill Garbus wrote for Talkhouse in 2013, about her trip to Haiti to take drumming lessons plus folkloric and contemporary dance classes, there’s an aside that speaks not only to Nikki Nack, her album of the following year, but also to a clear future path. “I am not a dancer so much,” she admits, “but these days I will dance harder than I ever have in my whole life. ” What was then a simple commitment to participate fully in that programme (despite some reluctance), now reads like a passionate affirmation of her belief in dance music as a connecting life force.
Four years after the sparking self-analysis of Nikki Nack, Merrill Garbus expands her vision for her fourth Tune- Yards album. With her Yards-space now home to an official bandmate in Nate Brenner, Garbus allows deepening matters of power and politics to creep in to her lyrics, with her facility for flexible afro/ indie-pop hybrids smoothing the way. The results can seem studiedly opaque at times, stiff on the race-themed Colonizer or elusive on Who Are You.
Tune-Yards’ new album I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life is essentially a 12-track examination of the insidious effects of unthinking racism and white privilege, as perceived by a white woman with a penchant for African-inspired rhythms. To her credit, singer Merrill Garbus confronts her complicity head on. She continually questions her own motives and preconceptions, and identifies her shortcomings even as she strives to do better.
Merrill Garbus has an ear for the insidious forces that shape a person’s sense of self. She’s written complex songs that allow pleasure, guilt, and confusion to coexist without contradiction. Her music understood that you could be a feminist and hate your body, bemoan gentrification while enjoying the spoils of its sprawl, loathe violence yet find it incomprehensibly liberating.
Following up a breakthrough album is no easy task, but Oakland-based duo Tune-Yards (vocalist Merrill Garbus and producer/bassist Nate Brenner) clearly had a lot on their mind to channel into the dozen politically charged tracks that comprise the follow-up to 2014’s synth-fuelled Nikki Nack. On I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, Tune-Yards expand on their signature percussive sound and progressive themes, tackling everything from climate change (Coast To Coast) to white privilege (Colonizer), set to electro beats. While their music has always been centred around complex rhythms, Garbus’s recent foray into DJing inspired a sonic shift, marrying the duo’s Afropop and soul leanings with 80s house.
On Tune-Yards’ latest album, “I Can Feel you Creep into my Private Life” (4AD), Merrill Garbus unflinchingly interrogates herself. As she pulls apart her contradictions and self-delusions, she calls upon her deepening understanding of dance music — drawing upon rhythms from her past life in Kenya to her current duties as a DJ in Oakland — to keep the air from getting too murky. The merger of a furrowed-brow intellect and hip-freeing rhythm has been a Tune-Yards constant since Garbus made her 2009 bedroom recording, “Bird-Brains.
In 2006, Merrill Garbus released her scrappy debut, ‘Bird-Brains’. Its smartly looping arrangements of ukulele and percussion were darkly pretty, but seemed to limit the colossal scope of Garbus’s vision, and that uniquely explosive, pirouetting voice. Now officially including longstanding collaborator Nate Brenner, Tune-Yards have since become a progressively richer, more explicitly political proposition - but in no way less infectiously joyful. Elaborating on themes of power and privilege already implied by ‘Bird-Brains’ working title, ‘White Guilt’, here Garbus is unrestrained.
Merrill Garbus could sing in Esperanto through sixteen vocal filters and it still wouldn’t stop listeners from parsing her lyrics. Nonetheless, with her Tune-Yards project, lyrics matter less than what signifies as pure sound, and on that front Tune-Yards have usually brought the goods. Switching the emphasis from ukulele to drums and collaborator Nate Brenner’s bass for 2014’s Nikki Nack produced music of sometimes frustrating and amateurish liquidity but mostly excellent quasi-grooves that complemented Garbus’ posh yawp of a voice.