On Merrill Garbus’ third album as the loop-heavy, worldbeat solo outfit tUnE-yArDs, she “decided to scrap everything” from her previous approach. She not only took drum, voice and dance lessons, but she also studied the mechanics of pop songwriting. Elsewhere, she also mentions this record having a “bit of Michael Jackson” influence, and it all shows.
Even though her work has always had a catchy slant, its loop-pedal backbone consistently required a repeating, post-rock minimalism arrangement a la Sigur Ros or Explosions in the Sky. The resulting Nikki Nack is an album that you deeply appreciate, and want to love. But time will tell if some of the songs will lose novelty in the long run. No matter what, there are a few choice cuts that have long-term juice.
The whole LP is still percussive, with Death Grips sort of paradiddle electronic beats. She also features her signature throaty yell-singing, both of which nod to Africa and remind of her past work. However, for all the unapologetically emphatic ways we try to label her, she refuses to be a one-dimensional drum-based Afro-party. Her recent musical makeover was spurred by her feeling ‘bored of herself,’ and she confesses these common feelings with abrupt, bodily images, as heard on “Wait For a Minute:” [LISTEN]
Nikki Nack continues with this very visual style, whether unmasking deep, dark truths such as that one, or delving into a more positive tone. The interlude “Why Do We Dine on the Tots?” is a witty homage to A Modest Proposal, but is beyond the pale in quirkiness, at least for my taste. However, the main issue with some of these tracks is that pointed messages – such as satirizing her own role and examining race relations in the music landscape and on “Real Thing” – are presented with a mishmash of genres and riffs that don’t fit together. Maybe it’s the Michael Jackson twist that’s round-pegging square holes, as this weird feeling also is present on “Hey Life” and short parts of “Sink-O.” On other tracks (“Look Around,” “Water Fountain“), the genre mix is completely unique and exciting.
Pseudo peers, Battles, took their experimental, mathy live-tronic sound on Mirrored and tried to “pop-ify” it. While eaten up by the critical world, it was a disappointment to fans of older material. However, they refined it further on the amazing Gloss Drop. While Nikki Nack does a better job, it’s transitional and unsure nature makes it somewhat like her Mirrored – a fact she realizes and puts nakedly on display.