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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

New Album from Four (cough) Weeks Ago: BiRd-BrAiNs by tUnE-yArDs

Before I start, I wanted to give a quick note. Technically Tune-Yards is stylized tUnE-yArDs, Bird-Brains is stylized BiRd-BrAiNs, and Whokill is stylized W H O K I L L, but if I write them that way every time, my word-processor is going to become sentient and murder me. Also, as usual I am sorry I was a week late, I suck (you just get to enjoy two this week :D ).

This Saturday, several members of the blog (I think everyone except for Eric) are going to the Root’s Picnic at Penn’s Landing in Philly. To say I am excited is an understatement. Not only is James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem) doing a DJ set, but St. Vincent and Tune-Yards are also performing on top of many other amazing bands. Now, we at the blog have gone to a heck of a lot of concerts this past year. Every time we debate which concert was best, Tune-Yards and St. Vincent are universally agreed to be the top two, with former barely edging out the later (Man Man is disqualified from the debate because I become violent if anyone claims that either concert wasn’t the best concert of all time).

I unfortunately missed the Tune-Yards concert, yet any long time reader (I.E. no one except for Eric) will know that I saw St. Vincent and loved the crap out of that show. Needless to say, I am excited to see Tune-Yards seeing as the rest of the blog claims that they are better. So you can imagine how excited I am for Saturday.

So what made Tune-Yards a better concert than St. Vincent? Both are solo projects by strong female singers, Merrill Garbus and Anne Clark respectively, so they must sound exactly the same. Ah, but how wrong you are you ignorant music fan! Not all female solo acts sound like the homogenous mass I like to call Lady Katie Clarkson.

 According to my co-bloggers, Tune-Yards was simply more fun than St. Vincent. The concert was more like a party than anything else; people just started dancing like mad. Whole sections of the audience jumped up on stage with the band and just started dancing with them. They weren’t thrown off the stage, Tune-Yards just started dancing with them while continuing to play. According to Steve, St. Vincent might have been a better performance, but the Tune-Yards show was one of a kind.

I don’t need to know my friends as well I do to trust their take on Tune-Yards, I can tell from her music. Whokill is one of the best albums of last year. Not only is it amazing artistically, it just makes you want to get up and dance. It has this light-hearted joy to it that makes it fun to listen to. I can only imagine how crazy it must be to listen to live. I doubt that Saturday will be anything like the concert I described above because it is going to be in a festival setting, but I am sure that I am going to have a heck of a lot of fun.

Thinking about Tune-Yards music this week made me wonder why her music is so fun. There are so many different emotions that music makes people feel, but fun is rarely one of them. Upbeat, kick-ass, pumped, happy, ready to party, and relaxed for sure, but fun? I don’t know how but they do it but even her mellow songs have a playful quality to them.

I think Tune-Yards’ music is fun because it feels like kids music made for adults. It has a youthful energy and dynamic to it that is akin to music in kid’s movies and TV shows, yet it has the complexity and depth of more mature music. I might be completely full of crap, but I feel like it bridges the gap between the playful energy of a child’s imagination and seriousness of the adult world. In short, Tune-Yards is music for your inner child.

Connecting childhood to Tune-Yards is not completely unfounded. Both of her albums, Whokill and Birdbrains, feature samples of children. It is important to note that these are not choirs, or focused lines from children like most songs, but straight up kids talking. Garbus also does a lot of work to support youth programs in the arts. Both of her music videos feature a whole bunch of kids from one of said programs. The videos are just a bunch of kids and Garbus up to crazy antics, dancing around and making faces. When kids aren’t on screen, the adults on screen are acting like kids. If those videos aren’t proof that Tune-Yards loves kids I don’t know what is. Check out the video for My Country below.

Somehow Garbus is somehow able to capture the antics of childhood in her music. Is it is the high tempo and strong drumming? Maybe it is the way she sings, an intricate mixture of softly serenading, rapidly chirping, and powerfully bellowing? Or perhaps it is the energetic guitar and ukulele riffs that repeat over and over? I really don’t know; she really doesn’t do any specific techniques that I haven’t heard before. What she does do is put it together in a way that creates a really unique sound that makes me yearn for recess.
I picked up Bird-Brains for the same reason that I picked up St. Vincent’s Marry Me; I wanted to check out the debut album of an artist I love. The thing with picking up a debut album after listening to an artist’s later work is that you will inevitably compare it to their later stuff. While comparing an artist’s varying albums is usually natural, it is unfair in this context. I listened to Bird-brains wanting it to be just like Whokill, just like I did with Marry Me and Strange Mercy. I originally didn’t like it because it wasn’t quite as strong of an album as Whokill, one of the best albums of last year. However, I forced myself to try to appreciate it without considering Whokill and grew to love it.

Bird-Brains is a really interesting album. It might be the most lo-fi album I have ever listened to given that it was recorded on a recycled cassette tape using a dictation machine without a bass guitar. Given its limitations, the album is extremely impressive. Besides the obvious poor sound quality, something that is part of the album’s charm, it is impossible to tell that it is just Garbus and not a full band. It is busting with musical ideas. It so desperately wants to be more than it is but cannot manage it with the equipment that it had to work with. It literally sounds like the cassette is filled to the brim, it cannot physically handle any more musicality and artistry. Switching between the two albums I just can’t help but feel like Whokill is simply Bird-Brains freed from its shackles.

At the same time however, Bird-Brains is not nearly as good as Whokill, even considering the limitations. Yet, that is only natural given that the former is a debut album and the latter is almost a masterpiece. Bird-Brains lacks a bit of the sophistication and artistry of its successor. However, the two albums are actually remarkably similar. The energy and style of Whokill is pervasive throughout Bird-Brains, all that was needed was a bit of time to mature. Unlike St. Vincent on Marry Me, Tune-Yards is not trying to find her sound, rather execute it.

Like Whokill, Bird-Brains consists of one amazing track after another. every song on the album is excellent. It never relents, never sags. I am a huge fan of Lions; the drum beat is so simple yet really drives the song. Also it has the line “While my brother and all his friends whip out their tiny teenage cocks” which is absolutely fantastic (and kind of creepy). John is a huge fan of Hatari which has some awesome bellowing and a really wonderful end section. News, Sunlight, and Jumping Jack, are all bursting with energy and make me want to dance. However, the best song on the album is definitely Fiya, seen below. Fiya has everything I could want in a Tune-Yards song, it starts off soft and peaceful and builds into a massive song that makes my inner child boogie. The drum beat is huge and wonderful and the riffs are to die for; the song is really fantastic.

The one exception I have when I claim that every track is amazing is its lead track, For You. I admit that I am not a huge fan of For You simply because it features a long sample of Garbus and a little boy AFTER the song. I know it is picky but it would have been a great opener it if the two were reversed. These types of decisions really bother me on some tracks; I hate the fact that Neon Bible ends with My Body is a Cage and not Antichrist Television Blues. But that is just me picking at strings.

If you haven’t heard of Tune-Yards before but liked either of the above songs, you should definitely grab Whokill because that album is really fantastic. If you are familiar with Whokill, then I can’t recommend Bird-Brains enough. Once you get over the extreme lo-fi sound, it is a really great album. That being said, if lo-fi is not your jam then Bird-Brains is not for you. Either way listen to tUnE - yArDs and let your inner child out for some fresh air.

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