“Nikki Nack” by tUnE-yArDs
As if their worldbeat art funk wasn’t singular enough, tUnE-yArDs begin Nikki Nack with a challenge to “Find A New Way.” Album number three’s arsenal includes synthesizers, a Haitian hi-hat called a boula, Thao Nguyen, a bag of rice, and more.
Merrill Garbus’ vocals continue to be nothing less than virtuosic. She lavishes every track with impassioned yowls, tender chirps, and layered harmonic loops, which she effortlessly recreates live. Classic catch phrases from “yakkity yak” to “woo-ha!” cozy up to powerful statements like “I look good in debt” and “don’t beat up on my body.” Garbus combines her prodigious percussion skills with programmed drums, wedding the soul to the machine. Her uke appears briefly, as a ghostly echo on “Look Around.” As a result, Nate Brenner’s propulsive bass successfully moves to the forefront, from the scat-like “Hey Life” to the Ital Disco thrum on “Left Behind.”
Nikki Nack belongs to every genre and no genre. “Manchild” is, as Too $hort would put it, “on that funky sloppy hip-hop tip,” while “Rocking Chair” is a remarkable bluegrass-influenced interlude. The show-stopping, double dutching club banger “Water Fountain” firmly establishes tUnE-yArDs as one of the decade’s preeminent pop acts. All we should expect of their work is for it to confound our expectations.