But, as with the baffling punctuation and spacing on the band name and title, there’s nothing here that’s normal. This is an idiosyncratic release to the core: Singer/songwriter Merrill Garbus does what she wants, and she doesn’t care if you don’t like it.
This results in some of the most inventive pop songs I’ve heard all year, and some of the most indulgent nonsense of the same level. “Gangsta” and “RiotRiot” are two of the former.
“Gangsta” starts out with oddly fuzzed out melodic instruments and a herky-jerky rhythm section that hang together just enough to sound (sort of) like pop. But it’s Garbus’ voice that is the main star on “w h o k i l l,” and she multi-tracks it here to harmonize and distort against itself as the main hook of the song. It becomes the most appealing, thrilling police siren ever. There are some saxophones, a whole lot more vocal manipulations, and a complicated rhythm section that seems to both tie the song together and jar against the song at once. It’s a brilliant tune that only Garbus could have invented.
“Riotriot” is a bit more pedestrian, featuring Garbus at her most waifish, cooing against an acoustic strum (that could be ukelele) and rattling beat. The song ratchets up in dissonance until she hollers out, “There is a freedom in violence that I don’t understand! And like I’ve never felt before!” An enthusiastic indie-rock section comes barreling in, complete with charging rhythms, hand claps, saxophones and more. It is baffling at first, but endearing later.
On the other hand, the psychedelic-esque “Powa” just kinda hangs out. It’s (dare I say it) normal. “Doorstep” is a sha-la-la-heavy, anti-police, ’50s girl-pop tune (only tUnE-yArDs, right?). Her less difficult works are somewhat of a letdown after the dizzying highs that she can accomplish with her unusual pieces.
Closer “Killa” is another of her completely original works, mashing up funky rhythms, indie-rock, spoken-word, weird vocal manipulations and ’50s girl pop melodies. It’s, again, thrilling, and deals with gender politics. She doesn’t hold anything back, musically or lyrically.
tUnE-yArDs’ “w h o k i l l” is easily the most unique and fully realized release I’ve heard all year. This will translate into “best of the year” for some and “trash pile” for others, as her vision is precise and unusual. I know I love “Gangsta”; that much I’ve figured out for sure. Adventurous types should head her way. —Stephen Carradini