Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner are the duo better known as Tune-Yards, and their excellent fifth album, released by 4AD, is called Sketchy. The 11 songs have been inspired by the Beastie Boys, Book and Questlove’s Creative Quest.
The couple ditched the computer screens and started long and daily jam sessions in their home studio. The album that’s emerged is musically more organic sounding, and lyrically Merrill has managed to balance her trademark bombastic call to arms with an inward-looking reflection that was the highlight of 2018’s I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life.
We were treated to a taste of what to expect on Sketchy with last year’s groovy and energetic art-pop single and album opener “Nowhere Man.” A song referencing The Beatles “Nowhere Man” questions society’s narratives, asking whose stories are being told and ignored. It was accompanied by a fantastic and slightly surreal stop-motion video by Callie Day and Japhy Riddle.
The bass-heavy, vocal-led and synth-driven second single “Hold Yourself” is an upbeat, indie pop song based around a heady mix of self-doubt and self-empowerment. Garbus said; “This song is about feeling really betrayed by my parent’s generation, and at the same time, seeing how we are betraying the future.”
Sketchy, as an album, is chock full of sharp, quick-witted, alt-pop songs that have made Tune-Yards an indie radio playlist must-have. On “Hypnotized”, the chorus is so catchy you start singing along to Merrill’s powerhouse vocals on your first listen. “Silence part 1 (when we say we)” is another classic and complex Tune-Yards track. Where sharp lyrics of hope and disappointment are interwoven into a delightfully layered, syncopated rhythm: “she said change yourself to change the world.”
However, a point of annoyance. “Silence part 2 (who is we)” is just silence. Great as a concept, but not on every listen. The jarred rhythm and layered lyrical range on “Sometime” is nothing short of wonderful. “My Neighbour” is an album highlight. A laid back beat hosts Merrill at her lyrical best. A plea to be a community; “My neighbour held the key to my survival. I made sure to lock the door.”
If you have never heard Tune-Yards, then “Sketchy” is a perfect place to start. The duo from Oakland, California, have created a fun and interesting mix of alternative indie-pop songs. If you are already a fan of Tune-Yards left-field music, you are in for a real treat.