I Can feel You Creep Into My Private Life is an album very much of its time, and very much needed. With the world in political, social and environmental disarray, it’s the Anohnis, Pussy Riots and Against Me!s of the music world who we can turn to not only for respite, but also for meaningful commentary to help us calm our spinning minds.
And Tune-Yards earn their place on the list by looking further – looking inside at what we as individuals are all about, our cracks and failures, our contradictions and ways that we might need to challenge ourselves before we can change things around us. This album is packed full of the energy pouring from singer, percussionist and general all-round frontlady Merril Garbus. She harnesses the power that comes from facing up to difficult truths and transforms this into a myriad of complex yet addictive dance, Eighties-inspired pop and ear-pummelling lyrics.
Garbus has retained much of her hallmark style, from looping and layering vocal lines to blasting out her fabulously malleable voice in a myriad of styles. Bassist and long-time collaborator Nate Brenner is now a fully-fledged member of Tune-Yards, allowing for much closer collaboration. While in the past he’s played more of a supporting role (including encouraging Garbus to drop the focus on face paints and ukulele riffs!), their core strengths of bass and vocals are clearly on display here. Tracks such as ‘Look at Your Hands’ and ‘Hammer’, while unashamedly classic Eighties dance, also showcase the mellow bass-riffery that intertwines, lifts and slides around the melody.
But while a lot of these songs would be called ‘floor fillers’, they’re not uncomplicated. ‘Heart Attack’ is a strong opener: a retro electronic vibe that’s all at once minimal, dissonant and uncomfortable. It sets the tone for an album packed with polyrhythmic chattering, note bending and off-key slips that plunge an uplifting chorus into minor-keyed disquietude at the drop of a beat. This is most apparent, and compelling, in tracks such as ‘ABC 123’, which tightropes somewhere between reggaetón and nursery-rhyme, or the school-yard strains and refrains of 'Private Life'.
At its most personal and bittersweet moments, ICFYCIMPL finds the duo sticking fingers into the darkest aspects of human nature through self-exploration. What are your greatest flaws? What do you know about yourself? The spaces between the sounds, the clipped, sometimes arrhythmic noises leave emptiness that fights to be filled. Is Garbus asking the listener to find their own weakness, their own dark side, the little secrets that make us less than the moral being we present to the world? Maybe, unless you just listen to this as a building-filling dance album! As Garbus said in a recent interview with the Financial Times, 'I'm surprised and relieved to find people are still interested in us'.
And while there are some tracks that feel like the duo have worn themselves out, points at which the album can support neither its stubbornly fusion-pop soul nor its lyrical depth, for the most part it shines. 'Colonizer' is one such luminous track. It is the spiky backbone running through the centre of this album, structurally palatial with hypnotically sweet and simple lyrics belying the struggles of a front woman pulling apart her own cultural appropriation; “I use my white woman voice to tell stories of travels with African men/ I hear the blood in my voice”. Meanwhile the bass, synths and melange of culture-straddling sounds create a shock-wave of energy that continues to ripple long after the abrupt ending shuts the track down mid-step.
8Ruth Singleton's Score