The brainchild of Merrill Garbus, tUnE-yArDs began life as dictaphone recordings which were then painstakingly mixed down on GarageBand to create the opening gambit, her debut album BiRd-BrAiNs. Initially released on a limited LP run through Marriage records with screenprinted sleeves recycled from thrift store bargain bins, it wasn’t long until others took notice and she soon signed a worldwide deal with 4AD. The album was formally released in late-2009, having been remastered and with four more tracks added. The Guardian, whilst awarding it 5/5, called her “the find of the year.” In 2011, that rings as true.
Alongside the record, she also started to build quite a reputation for her live performances. Using loop pedals, two mics, a snare drum, a ukelele, her distinctive voice (she’s spent time teaching singing in Kenya) and crucially, a second band member, Nate Brenner on bass. Together, things started to happen when they took to the road with kindred spirits, the Dirty Projectors, on both their US and European tours. As word of mouth spread, the venues they were playing in were filling up earlier than usual as people heard of their genius. Anyone who has seen them live will attest to them being nothing short of incredible live. It comes as no surprise then that at this year’s SXSW, they were one of the biggest draws.
The latest album, w h o k i l l, was released in April 2011 on 4AD and marks a time when everything came together in to one cohesive whole. Recorded in a studio and influenced heavily by her moving to Oakland, California, she and Nate have made an album that delivers on her early promise. Lyrically Garbus explores constructs of femininity and sexuality with the threat of violence that lurks on the streets where she now lives, while the energy of their show has been translated perfectly to record.
"There is no-one out there making music like Merrill Garbus” – The Times of London
“It isn’t likely that there will be music this year that is more infused with the spirit of celebration and physical movement” – The New Yorker
“Tune-Yards has 2011’s most thrillingly weird record – a joyous, idea-stuffed album built on a stream of horns, loops, ukulele riffs and skeletal dance grooves, and powered by Garbus' bucking bronco of a voice” – Rolling Stone