Tune-Yards - Bird-Brains
It’s really easy to record an album in your bedroom: for a modest budget there's enough gubbins available to re-create a studio experience that would have a circa-1966 George Martin doing somersaults. Of course that doesn’t mean what you record is going to be any good. That Korg D3200 in the airing cupboard is never going to make up for a lack of talent or vision.
But what if your budget is next to nothing? What if all you have is a Sony digital voice recorder, a ukulele, some freeware mixing software and two years to kill? That was the scenario for Vermont’s Tune-Yards aka Merill Garbus, recording bits and pieces here and there and superglueing it all together on her computer. When the glue was dry she uploaded it onto the internet for all to download whilst politely asking for a donation from those who did so.
Things have moved on since then. The donation scheme ceased when she signed to Marriage Records in America and she’s just about to release her album via 4AD in the United Kingdom. The move to a more corporate model does nothing to change the lo-fi principles on which the album was formed. This is the embodiment of slap-dash-and-no-cash.
The album itself has a unique sound: it’s rhythmic and funky, Merrill’s beautiful voice swoops around, sometimes whispering, sometimes chanting, sometimes hollering and sometimes pitch shifted to sound like singing animals from a Disney movie. Snippets of incidental sounds fade in and out; conversations with children and what sounds like plates falling out of the cupboard colouring the background and providing that home-baked sound that sets this recording apart from anything else this year.
‘Lions’ is simply wonderful, managing to be sinister and pleasant at the same time. ‘Jumping Jack’ is delivered like a double-dutch playground game. Dare to close your eyes whilst listening to ‘For You’ and Oliver Postgate-animated creatures will dance across your eyelids.
This may have been recorded in her bedroom but it should be enjoyed in yours. It’s never going to be a commercial success, it’s an idiosyncratic yet tender labour of love. It’s our little secret. It’s time to go and find where I left my dictaphone.