Album Review: Tune-Yards – i can feel you creep into my private life

It is hard to know whether to put Tune-Yards in upper or lower-case – or mix the two and create an eye-confusing melange. Their album, I can feel you creep into my private life, is, I think, all in the lower-case. Even though the duo (Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner), infuriatingly, do stylise and mix their letters, their music is focused and reliable. The new record is, if anything, more accessible and extraordinary than anything they have provided previously.

Last October, when ‘Look at Your Hands’ was released, the Oakland twosome swapped their complex rhythms and a feast of notes for something more current and restrained (by their standards). There were worries – from those more bearded and Pitchfork-y amongst the music community – that the innovators had compromised individuality for the mainstream. Any fears of Tune-Yards’ equivalent of a Taylor Swift album have been allayed with I can feel you creep into my private life. The album’s title suggests anxiety and the encroachment of the modern way of working – people getting too close and misunderstanding digital politeness for lustful come-ons. It seems the 2017 single was a slight misnomer: the new album recalls their past work and has very little in common with ‘Look at Your Hands’.

It has been four years since the glorious Nikki Nack. Garbus’ stunning voice was noted as a highlight then, as were the unconventional rhythms and the accessible nature of the album. Its compositions strayed from the familiar but the songs have that verve and addictiveness. It is a compelling brew and one that was dangerously close to the top of the end-of-year lists. 2009’s Bird-Brains and follow-up Whokill (never ones for easy and ordinary titles!) scored huge with critics and, if anything, the duo have expanded and improved since 2009. Anyone fearing they would slow and slack on album number four are, well… foolish. ‘Heart Attack’ starts with ecstatic hand-claps and wonky piano (sounding slightly out of tune) and those glorious vocals. It’s soulful and driving: a mix of 90s house and classical soul. The song’s instrumental elements bond beautifully with the vocal. Pulsing bass and hissing beats, far-off electronic howls and pitter-patter of percussive rain – all go into a symphony of delight that gets the album off to a flyer!

‘Coast to Coast’ opens with stuttered feedback that has an electronic buzz and sense of urgency. Garbus allows her voice to wander and explore as she takes the listener with her. It’s a song that immerses the listener in images of her mind – walls tumble down into the sea – and provokes the body. It is an early standout and, after the extraordinary lead-off song, we know the US duo are not going to let us down. ‘ABC 123’ will connect with many: it has been played on the radio and been bouncing around my head for ages. The tribal beats and pulsing electronics give the song a fantastic mix of hip-hop and soul. Like any Tune-Yards song, it’s a busy and fulsome thing that digs deep and gets the listener thinking.

Songs on I can feel you creep into my private life swap mainstream choruses for thought-provoking alternatives. We hear about white privilege, isolation, environmental decay and political corruption. ‘Honesty’ is, in my view, the best song they have concocted in years. Its layered, repeated vocals are heady and divine; the beats stamp and kick. Honesty is the mantra and core that opens up to a study of right and wrong; ethics and morals – one thinks more of social responsibility as opposed to the lies we tell in relationships.

Tracks like ‘Colonizer’ ably integrate cutesy and calm with weird glitches and spacey sonics. It has squelches, robotic grind, tin-percussion and fuzzy electronics. The heroine, with her “white woman’s voice”, is telling stories of “African men”. It is an original notion and line that gets you into an odd headspace. The song’s experimentation and twists keep you guessing and bring so many emotions to the surface. It’s an anthem for those who want their music with more intellect and depth than anything out there – one of the strongest cuts the duo has produced since their early days.

Home and Hammer, in many people’s minds, sounds like the title of a bad daytime British TV show. In fact, it’s a pair of songs, each with its own skin and different agenda. ‘Home’ is ghostly and spectral, seeing the voice used as an instrument to chill and stun. The beats are constant and disciplined and the song offers many odd fizzes and colours. It seeps into the imagination and leaves you breathless. ‘Hammer’ has African percussive-notes and hand-claps. It seems more of a celebratory and community-driven number. The heroine has a man who won’t get off her back – she’s forcing him away and wondering where she can go. It’s a slinky and moody song that provides cool and swagger contrasting lyrics that point to toxicity and control.

‘Private Life’ and ‘Free’, considering the songs I have mentioned, seem like retorts and solutions. If there was suffocation and nerviness before, now, there’s a new lease and chance to escape. That being said, the almost title track, ‘Private Life’, seems more positive. Our heroine wants to hear a male voice and find something physical and real. ‘Free’ is another mood-swept, intense offering that brings the LP down to an incredible close. It’s a confident and eclectic track that brings so much into the pot, always moving and never willing to slow. An album that could well trouble end-of-year lists come December, I can feel you creep into my private life safely blows the doubts of those who feared the worst cleanly away.