Merrill Garbus feels bad that she has may have been culturally inappropriate in her work as Tune-Yards and a lot of this record, their fourth album, seems to be addressing this, at least lyrically.
The band, which now includes long term collaborator Nate Brenner, stays very much within genres that pull from black music. Not that this is a criticism. Whether any of this guilt exists outside of her personal viewpoint of herself seems questionable – she is a thoughtful and analytic artist who doesn’t constantly re-market her music in a cynical way to make a buck, and accusations of such seem nonexistent.
Tune-Yards have always made music that is challenging, whether it be harrowing or garishly celebratory, and on their second 2011 album, Whokill, something that genuinely felt new. I can feel you creep into my private life never touches the highs of that record but then neither is it dull or makeshift.
Garbus attended a six-month workshop which focused on how liberal, culturally-sensitive white people can still be unconsciously racist in an inherently racist society and what can be done to change it. This may sound like an episode from Girls and also the definition of white privilege (6 months?), but then I guess that’s also Garbus’ point. The ironic and unfortunate side-effect of this, and the influence it’s had on her songwriting, is that Garbus constantly shines a light on her own race, which can make for some clunky listening. ‘Colonizer’ in particular, a track that bounds along with an addictive and increased energy the longer it plays out, forces the listen to engage with Garbus’ repetitious point: ‘I use my white woman’s voice to tell stories about travels with African men’ – and it’s impossible to feel either betrayal or sympathy at this admission.
Garbus’ free-form and show-stopping disco vocals on the swirling and crazed final 90 seconds of ‘Heart Attack’ are so much more engaging and natural and this where their talent lies, seemingly spontaneous and hedonistic thrills that make you forget what you were doing. ‘Coast to Coast’ has a sumptuous purity in respect to melody and sound that initiates a craving for this kind of simplicity that Garbus’ music often rejects for all out bluster and a cut-and-paste aesthetic. This is turned to the max on tracks like the nostalgic, electro hip-hop singles ‘Look at My Hands’ and ‘ABC 123’, which of both offer-up something greater than their respective parts but again the amorphous melodies on these tracks shows what a talented songwriter Garbus is.
‘Hammer’ and ‘Home’ expand upon the ongoing, eclectic sound design with the former build around the refrain ‘he won’t get off my back!’ set against an Afro-beat mania whilst ‘Home’ is more spacious and features an eerie choral vocal arrangement. Whilst both of these tracks are engaging with lovely production the album fizzles out prematurely and its final run is sadly uninspired and forgetful. Tune-Yards have always had a lot to say and have expressed it in a primary-coloured cultural grab-bag of musical styles, yet they have acknowledged and respected their influences. Garbus’ sometimes cumbersome narrative can still thankfully be disregarded when needs be and by doing so makes a lot of I can feel you creep into my private life a fresh and still frequently invigorating listen.