MERRILL GARBUS FEELS SO STRONGLY about Tune-Yards’ new album that she has sent a letter to the press explaining something of its “complicated and personal” background. It’s a dangerous game – show don’t tell! – especially when it includes sentences like this: “This album is what it is: a vessel for a cisgender, white woman in a heteronormative relationship to explore her place in the world.”
It would be easy, then, to roll an eye and say I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life is more fun than it sounds, but that wouldn’t do it justice. In fact, it’s as much fun as it needs to be – as it should be. Reflective, restless, fiercely engaged, it feels like it’s in a constant process of rethinking and remodelling, slicing off bits of musical flesh and slapping them back on elsewhere as it dips and bounces along the street. Honesty and Coloniser arrive in ruptured glitchy torrents; Heart Attack’s grown-up soulful pop is sent on repeated diversions.
None of this is new for Tune-Yards, now “officially” a duo of Garbus and long-term collaborator Nate Brenner. Race, gender and power are always in their tank, but if their music can seem flooded and messy – like someone left the ideas tap on and the plug in – these songs feel tighter without losing range and energy. No small achievement considering Garbus’s aims on ABC 123: “I must be a witness to everything.”
As a result, these songs often feel like a florid immune response to the world, exposure immediately raising colourful electronic blisters and bumpy, itchy beats. Coast To Coast, a disfigured Life’s What You Make It, is caught between environmental and political apocalypse, a very current affair: “The seeds are sown in all the small acts of violence. ” The Dirty Projectors lullaby ABC 123 looks out at California burning, namechecks Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, and ponders buying a generator. (Garbus, happily, can be bitterly funny: “I’m on a desert island and I ate up all the coral / I was so hungry but I know that isn’t normal.”)
There is a fearlessness here, too, willingness to risk looking earnest, or clumsy. The queasy Colonizer explores intersectional feminism and white privilege over an unstable, pitching electronic grind: “I turn on my white woman’s voice to contextualise acts of my white women friends.” There’s a similar disturbance on Now As Then (“That’s for me / That’s also for me”) and Home’s eerily cloistered Handmaid’s chant: “When you’re cheering for the winner / The song remains the same.”
I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life feels like a proper work in progress – one committed to forward motion, tangible change. “We are not what you asked for,” sang Garbus on 2009’s angry, defiant Real Live Flesh. This time, though, Tune-Yards might be exactly what you need.
Watch the videos for Heart Attack and ABC 123 below: