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tUnE-yArDs - Nikki Nack

"Nikki Nack"

Release date: 05 May 2014
8.5/10
T Un E y Ar Ds Nikki Nack
02 May 2014, 11:30 Written by Laurence Day
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Hugely anticipated since the wind-down of her second album, Merrill Garbus' third long-player arrives with great expectations chained to it. Under her typographically antagonistic moniker tUnE-yArDs, Garbus – assisted by Nate Brenner on bass duties – is set to drop Nikki Nack, perhaps named after the mischievous shit in The Man With The Golden Gun. Influenced by her sojourns between w h o k i l l and now, including visits to Haiti and, apparently, the '80s TV staple Pee Wee's Playhouse, she approaches her third record with a more detached mindset, allowing myriad produces to lend a hand. The result is sugar-glazed cacophony; it's glorious, but goes against nigh every grain in existence.

Lead single “Water Fountain”, inspired by her international treks, combines handclaps galore and hollow toms with slippery basslines and slapdash found instrumentation. It begins life comparatively simply to the resulting finale which swirls in heady ritualistic loopery. “Sink-O”, which happened to be the working title of the album, wields ‘80s pop backing vocals and jarring lyrics that have no intention of being simple – “hold up with popcorn/ hold up with pop tarts/ VHS The Voice can’t wait ‘til it starts.” The track appears to discuss racism, but it’s tough to be sure of anything when Garbus flies through such a melange. “Sink-O” is pretty representative of the whole record: poppy in extremis, with off-the-wall beats, garbled lyrics and vital themes.

Though frequently provocative, Nikki Nack, isn’t purely obtuse or contrary, nor are Garbus’ antics that of a capricious miscreant; there are plenty of moments that endear it to you, and Garbus’ proliferations are often a disarming listen. The charm comes from her honesty, constant haranguing of America’s (and general society’s) hang-ups and skewed indie-pop panache. She’s not merely obstinate, there’s musical moxie to back it up, but, like any good musician with ambitions outside of vapid pop dross, she trots out muscular lyrics and intentions too. It’s the whole shebang, the entire enchilada. Yes, it can get downright bizarre sometimes – “Why Do We Dine On The Tots?” is a prime example – but just how bloody fun is it being weird?

On “Real Thing”, Garbus darts through R&B undergrowth, spieling like a performance poet to tribal-beat chaos. She’s dissecting the foibles of fame and celebrity culture: “Givin’ up what you’ve got/ and what you are, you’re simply not/ aren’t you tired of this game/ and all the emptiness of your fame?” It’s supremely snarkcastic, inflicting blows against her own career as well as all-comers with a bone to pick or generalisation to assume. Conversely, her confidence takes a beating on “Hey Life”: “I can never seem to focus on the task at hand/ ten times a day, I don’t seem to understand.” It’s self-deprecating, but delivered in such a way that she sounds anti-meek; it’s a bearing of the soul that’s more a proclamation, a ‘hey you guys, look at me being mortal, I’m not perfect’ type of thing. The synths that whirr underneath against timebomb drums are reminscent of Everything Everything’s early onslaught “QWERTY Fingers”, which is probably a coincidence, but the calculated mayhem fits the panic superbly.

Nikki Nack frantically succeeds on so many levels. Garbus ticks every box with aplomb and swagger, making a record that’s confrontational, boundary-bending, enigmatic, topical and sheer fun outside the usual channels. Her callous disregard for standard pop structure and rhythmic/percussive conventions is a sight to behold, simultaneously entrancing like a cartoon pie on a windowsill and as boogie-worthy as disco to anyone in a rhinestone catsuit. tUnE-yArDs’ outpourings are always exemplary noise, and worth dropping to your knees in tribute for, and Nikki Nack doesn’t fail to keep that tradition alive. It’s a more polished affair in terms of production, slightly less distracted in terms of thematic content, and with that comes Garbus, seemingly more focused and more determined. She now cuts across with wit and guile, eyes unflinching from her target of blowing our minds, hearts and souls. Lock down a visit with your local needleworker, ‘cause you’re gonna need sewing back together in the wake of Nikki Nack‘s arrival.

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