Merrill Garbus doesn’t just wear her heart on her sleeve, as the cliche goes. She holds it in her hand, arm extended, for all the world to be hypnotized by its beating beauty. A gruesome image, to be sure. But one can’t help but feel every bit of raw, seething emotion when listening to her belt out the insecurities and passion that fuel her musical fire. From the moment I heard her sing the lines of a woman scorned and bruised — Why’d you think I’d put out your fire? Don’t you know I breathe in fire? Breathe out fire? — on “Fiya,” I knew Garbus, aka Tune-Yards, would forever hold a place in my heart.
The snipped and clipped beauty of her surroundings on 2009’s Bird-Brains was enchanting; every bit of it cut and pasted and looped by Garbus herself, and every jagged edge exposed to great effect. She found power in pain and insecurity and made her listeners feel that power by doing so. And for all the jerry-rigged ambiance around her, the greatest asset the music of Tune-Yards possesses has always been its most straight-forward instrument: Garbus’ own voice.
TWJ’s love for Tune-Yards is well-documented at this point, and it’s well-deserved. There was some worry about a sophomore slump before Garbus released w h o k i l l earlier this year — What would studio production and collaboration do to that rawness? But the second Tune-Yards album is merely more polished than the first. Garbus’ immense pipes cannot be dulled, and her lyrics still tell us everything she wants us to know about her deepest, darkest secrets. And maybe a few things she doesn’t.
A cash-flow problem nearly prompted me to sell the Pitchfork tickets I’d purchased earlier this year. But the news that Tune-Yards had been added to the lineup strengthened my resolve. I cannot wait to feel her power live. She hits the stage Friday.
(W H O K I L L is available now from 4ad Records)