Apr 272011
Authors: Michael Elizabeth Sakas

“Ladies and gentlemen, Merrill is performing at the — ”

Deep percussions cut off the lethargic opening announcement to tUnE-yArDs’ new album “W H O K I L L,” an eclectic and bizarre follow-up to lead singer Merrill Garbus’ first album “Bird-Brains,” released in 2009.

“My country ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, how come I cannot see my future, what’s in your hands?” Garbus sings in a low-pitched computerized screech, an instant show-off of the higher production quality used here compared to “Bird Brains.”

This is a raucous melding of multiple soul-filled genres, including funk, jazz, R&B and rock, brought to life through Garbus’ 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 “Gangsta.”

With the addition of funk bass from Nate Brenner (who wasn’t on tUnE-yArD’s first release) and a constant barrage of garbage-can percussion, “W H O K I L L” 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 “Powa,” a slow-jam driven by mandolin (Garbus’ instrument of choice) and electric slide guitar. She asks, “You bound me with life’s humiliations everyday, and you bound me so many times I never found my way. Go on and love me, why don’t you love me? ” Her questions address a spectrum of issues, mostly about race and gender and relationship dynamics.

In “Riotriot,” confusing sexual imagery causes the audience to contemplate its meaning: “You had come to put handcuffs on my brother/I dreamt of making love to you up on the rooftop looking out at the sky … why did you come here, to our neighborhood?”

In the last song “Killa,” Garbus declares, “I’m a new kind of woman, I’m a new kind of woman, I’m a don’t take s*** from you kind of woman … Ready or not I’m a new kind of killa.”

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 verve@collegian.com.

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