REVIEW album Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha

tUnE-yArDs delivers the most original album of the year

Old Subbacultcha

Old Subbacultcha

‘Nikki Nack’ re-imagines American and African music history in hip-shaking technicolor

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tUnE-yArDs - "Nikki Nack" - 5 May, 4AD

Recorded on a dictaphone, tUnE-yArDs aka Merrill Garbus’ first album ‘Bird-Brains’ was a sparkling one up over the Pro Tools generation’s often stale perfectionism. It’s ‘indie’ after all, isn’t it? 2011’s ‘w h o k I l l’ – using a studio for the first time – took things on to a new level; unveiling a blossoming and uncompromising talent. Always hard to pigeonhole, our Merrill’s aviary of ideas fly off in many different directions mostly homing in on something heartfelt and original. Framed in dance hall, electro, funk or a primal blues howl, her latest effort ‘Nikki Nack’ inevitably flips between genres at will and is (usually) all the better for it. Co-produced by Malay (Frank Ocean, Alicia Keys, Big Boi) and John Hill (Rihanna, Shakira, M.I.A.), the first thing to report is this is not the tUnE-yArDs ‘urban’ album, though the afrobeat swagger of first single ‘Water Fountain’ certainly has hip-shaking hit-parade potential – complete with hand claps, a snapping synth and a few Busta aping ‘woo haas’!


Better still is ‘Hey Life’, a hell of a lot of fun despite the offbeat lyrics about being unable to “focus on the task at hand” and spending “12, 944 days alive, amazing how a human being can still thrive”. Elsewhere, the sparse ‘Rocking Chair’, a circular chant complete with her dad’s wonky fiddle, could be something from the Alan Lomax archive of ancient American folk music. It’s all a great showcase for Garbus’ incredible voice, often reminiscent of legendary South African singer Miriam Makeba, which saturates every channel to the extent that there’s sometimes three or four of her grasping for our attention. In truth, the album is often at its best when she slows it down and just plays it straight, as on the gorgeous steel drummed ‘Look Around’. At her worst, as on the kid’s TV recital ‘Why Do We Dine On The Tots?’, tUnE-yArDs can be as infuriating as the odd use of capital letters in her moniker, but at least we’re always served up something utterly unique.