The sound of Tune-Yards is at once organic and meticulously constructed. The songs from on I can feel you creep into my private life, like those on 2011 breakout Whokill, share a common DNA. Often, they begin with a low-fi, glitchy and sometimes out of tune sample that is quickly consumed by layers of rhythm and intricate harmony. The effect is like seeing the first raindrop on a puddle and watching it build into a cascade.
The songs on I can feel you creep into my private life are satisfying, and yet challenging, to listen to. Singer and main songwriter Merrill Garbus’ vocals are wide-ranging, and work best when she settles into a soulful, gospel style. Like the rhythms, her harmonies are precise and complex, but rarely feel forced. Each layer feels spontaneous, but there is a grand order to it all that tips its hand toward something more intentional.
For the most part, Tune-Yards is the solo project and nom de plume of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Garbus. Listening to the 12 tracks here is like eavesdropping on a personal monologue. And like reading someone’s diary, it’s best when you feel like they weren’t writing it with you in mind at all. When the lyrics turn more literal and prescriptive in a handful of places, the album loses a bit of the honesty that makes it compelling. Thankfully, this fourth wall stays in place for most of the record.
Bass player and cowriter Nate Brenner adds groove and low end. I suspect his influence has a lot to do with keeping the the whole thing somewhat grounded. Right as a track feels like it is about to spin off into an art school experiment, the groove glues it back down.
The first five tracks flow together well and share a dance sensibility without sounding synthetic or veering off into EDM land. “Heart Attack” builds an upbeat, soulful pop song around an initial piano sample and hand claps with a string-heavy second half that lends a vintage feel. “Coast to Coast” and “ABC 123” evoke late Bowie and early Talking Heads, respectively, without ever sounding like either. “Now As Then” opens in a quirky way, but soon explodes with a gospel soul refrain and feel that carries the rest of the track forward. “Honesty” adds more obviously sampled elements and a techno feel, but the strong vocals anchor the tune and keep it organic.
“Colonizer” trades soulful vocals for an operatic soprano. Although this choice serves a narrative purpose, the song is less successful than its predecessors.
The retro ’80s gated snare of “Look At Your Hands,” combined with an inspired bass part and strong production, make it one of the most accessible tracks. “Hammer” and the overdriven “Free” are also standouts that round out the album’s second half.