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Monday, 19 May 2014 |
By Kellie Leaver
Although at first it may sound like Merill Garbus has thrown herself into a foam pit of bizarre instruments with a tape recorder, Nikki Nack is the cleverest LP produced by her tUnE-yArDs moniker yet.
The impressive set of twelve songs and one softly spoken interlude have strong connections to her previous records Bird Brains and W H O K I L L. Again there is an overwhelming feel of percussion, an assortment of obscure instruments and syncopated beats. However, it is obvious Garbus has consciously altered her sound for this record, using Nikki Nack to "start from scratch" as she has put it.
Garbus admits that she undertook vocal lessons and credits part of her new direction to time she spent in Haiti, engaging in Vodou rituals and intensive dance classes with the intention of indulging herself in a “non-western musical tradition”. Garbus has previously confessed that the plug-in nature of the twenty-first century makes her feel a detachment to music; she expresses this musically by wanting to rhythmically disorient herself throughout the album. The result is an enchanting amalgamation of tribal, electronic and folk genres that thread through every single.
From the outset Nikki Nack demands the listener’s attention. 'Find A New Way' welcomes the listener with quieted and intermittent organ sounds and high-pitched echoing lyrics which make you feel both edgy and at home, like you are at a stranger’s house with your extended family. 'Water Fountain' is the immediate standout, particularly due to its infectious dance-rhythm, warm vocals and uninhibited use of cowbell. The chorus could be mistaken for school-children hand-clapping songs at recess if not for Garbus’ commanding build of tempo towards the end of the track. 'Time of Dark' begins with a tiny spaceship orchestra and descends into a percussive offering unmistakably African. Garbus warbles “See me over the mountain!” and ironically it reverberates as though she is harking from a mountaintop. 'Look Around' is slow-burning and addictive: Paranoid, stream-of-consciousness lyrics are gargled through what sounds like an electronic snorkel before a crooning choir abruptly breaks for Garbus to sing, naked without her usual noisy plethora of instruments. Another highlight is 'Hey Life' which opens with talk-style vocals only for a gut-butterfly-inducing synth-drop to interrupt. Garbus jams soulfully over synths in 'Waiting For A Minute' too to produce an equally captivating track. A clear Haitian ambiance, rich with percussion ascends in the verses of 'Left Behind' and then transforms into a jiggy eighties chorus. In 'Rocking Chair', Garbus returns to some of her original influences. An avid fan of African music, Garbus introduces thumping percussion and tribal chanting overlaid with string instruments- perhaps a throwback to her folk musician parents. Incredibly, only four phrases are repeated throughout this track.
Despite the variety of genres Nikki Nack incorporates, it impressively remains a united pool of work. The delights reside in the often clashing and sometimes smooth transitions between different musical codes, and the record attests itself as a mainstream outlier by daring to experiment with contrary genres concurrently. Nikki Nack consequently is bold, unconventional and deeply rewarding. Open your ears.
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