20 Watts

20 Watts Reviews tUnE-YaRdS’ BiRd-BrAiNs by JohnCassillo
Tune-Yards' Bir

Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus separates herself from other 20-something DIYers with her debut Bird Brains EP

PREVIEW: Download tUnE-YaRdS’ “Sunlight” MP3

In today’s music world, do-it-yourselfers are no longer that novel. With Garage Band, file-sharing and internal microphones on every teen and 20-somethings’ laptop, pretty much anyone can throw a couple of songs together and release them upon the internet. Enter Merrill Garbus, the one-woman show that is tUnE-YaRdS. In the newly-crowded fields of basement experimental and noise-folk, respectively, it has become harder and harder to stand out amongst the rest. Yet Garbus, with just a handheld recorder, ukulele and some powerful, off-balance drum parts, has managed to separate herself in a big way.

The aforementioned drums are probably the main reason why Marriage Records picked up BiRd-BrAiNs, which started 2009 as a “pay what you want” release on tuneyards.com. Each song has a different texture and style, sampling genres from folk to electronic to hip-hop and more, but it’s the percussion parts that link them. Failing to fit any known time signatures, the drums swiftly fall on upbeats and downbeats, take large chunks of time off and then hit within half-seconds of the other. However, as the chaos increases throughout the album, those same beats, as off-kilter as we may perceive it all, are what keeps these tracks together.

When looking at efforts such as BiRd-BrAiNs, it is always difficult to deduce exactly what stands out. The sounds you consume are so diverse and scattered, it becomes a challenge to decide which song, or songs, best represent the concept as a whole. Is it “News,” which sounds like Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons covering Animal Collective‘s Sung Tongs? Or maybe the half-El Guincho, half-Vampire Weekend “Jamaican”? As I listen to the J-Kwon and Sigur Ros hybrid, “Jumping Jack,” it still isn’t clear.

My suggestion is to go into this one without expectations, and you’ll find it to be an extremely rewarding listen. Nothing’s groundbreaking, but it’s not supposed to be. Garbus does a very commendable job considering what she had at her disposal, and for that, she should be praised. Even the darker, moodier tracks which I was initially skeptical of, have grown on me. If you’re into jumpy, detailed noise, I’d recommend BiRd-BrAiNs as your album of the summer. If that’s not your style, chances are you’ll still enjoy “Sunlight,” the collection’s most accessible and pop-infused number, as a staple for the season.

— John Cassillo, Reviews Editor


Wow, you really liked it. Some of is pretty challenging to listen to. I can’t stop listening to Julian Plenti…seriously, “Unwind” is awesome.

Comment by tjwell01

Yea- checked it out a couple of months back, and was floored. I’m a fan of noise, so long as it tries to be creative and experiment with some stuff . Haven’t heard Julian Plenti yet- I’ll have to investigate.

Comment by johncassillo

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