â€œLadies and gentlemen, Merrill is performing at the â€” â€
Deep percussions cut off the lethargic opening announcement to tUnE-yArDsâ€™ new album â€œW H O K I L L,â€ an eclectic and bizarre follow-up to lead singer Merrill Garbusâ€™ first album â€œBird-Brains,â€ released in 2009.
â€œMy country â€˜tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, how come I cannot see my future, whatâ€™s in your hands?â€ Garbus sings in a low-pitched computerized screech, an instant show-off of the higher production quality used here compared to â€œBird Brains.â€
This is a raucous melding of multiple soul-filled genres, including funk, jazz, R&B and rock, brought to life through Garbusâ€™ strange and infectious voice, a voice made up of rare confidence and style.
And she uses it to its full potential. There are moments when her vocals blur the sound between the male and female voice, especially in â€œGangsta.â€
With the addition of funk bass from Nate Brenner (who wasnâ€™t on tUnE-yArDâ€™s first release) and a constant barrage of garbage-can percussion, â€œW H O K I L Lâ€ flaunts serious attitude. As homage to their impressive live performances, the album captures all the unique messy energy that comes with playing a show.
Garbus slows down on â€œPowa,â€ a slow-jam driven by mandolin (Garbusâ€™ instrument of choice) and electric slide guitar. She asks, â€œYou bound me with lifeâ€™s humiliations everyday, and you bound me so many times I never found my way. Go on and love me, why donâ€™t you love me? â€ Her questions address a spectrum of issues, mostly about race and gender and relationship dynamics.
In â€œRiotriot,â€ confusing sexual imagery causes the audience to contemplate its meaning: â€œYou had come to put handcuffs on my brother/I dreamt of making love to you up on the rooftop looking out at the sky â€¦ why did you come here, to our neighborhood?â€
In the last song â€œKilla,â€ Garbus declares, â€œIâ€™m a new kind of woman, Iâ€™m a new kind of woman, Iâ€™m a donâ€™t take s*** from you kind of woman … Ready or not Iâ€™m a new kind of killa.â€
And yes, some people might not be ready for this bizarre album, but I definitely am.
Music reviewer Michael Elizabeth Sakas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.