Tune-Yards’ ‘sketchy.’ is indie pop for everyone

Tune-Yards embrace sunshine-infused indie pop on

Mehan

Tune-Yards embrace sunshine-infused indie pop on “sketchy.” Photo by Mehan

Coming a few years after their last full-length album, the indie oddity Tune-Yards has returned with some of their most unabashedly fun music on “sketchy.”

The group’s 2018 “I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life” was, while as outlandish as any Tune-Yards project up to that point, also a stark look inward. Beyond a few glaring issues — let’s just try to forget “Colonizer” — it was a fine project overall but a far cry from their wackiest and most eccentric material.

“sketchy.” sees Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner setting a clear goal for themselves: fun pop that innovates the sound they have already nailed in the past. African polyrhythm holds steady as a driving inspiration for the duo, weaving seamlessly into their own David Longstreth-like harmonies. But this new project has left most of the abrasive sonics that Tune-Yards has become renowned for in place of a much smoother and sunnier sound palate.

At a breezy 37 minutes, Garbus and Brenner made an album that may not be the quintessential Tune-Yards experience but rather serves as the perfect entry point for the curious onlookers. 

The album’s jarring opener, “nowhere, man” sounds like a musically-inclined robot booting up. Chopped vocal samples, lively drums and a grooving bassline come together one by one, jolting the album alive. Garbus’ unmistakable vocals peak and distort as she snidely yells unforgettable lines such as “Screaming babies are your problem.”

Admittedly, song themes and influences are likely to be lost on most listeners without the proper context, as demonstrated with the mentioned line and its relation to an Alabama law banning abortion. Without the law in mind, it’s easy to see Garbus as little more than a provocateur with some loosely defined political beliefs. Granted, nothing on “sketchy.” necessitates a head-scratch in the way that “nowhere, man” does, but this trend permeates it’s way throughout the songwriting across the album.

Tune-Yards have never kept their politics a secret, and have produced plenty of ire from critics and fans alike — again, let’s just try to forget “Colonizer.” But “sketchy.” tones down the grating lyricism without compromising the bite that Tune-Yards fans are accustomed to.

“homewrecker” is a brutal takedown of gentrification and the utter lack of consideration that comes with it as Garbus sings “A pre-approval for a life of wiping history away / A pre-approval for a debt that I will never pay.” She jumps back and forth between critiquing gentrification and playing the character of gentrifier, making for a song that is equally funny as it is disturbing.

With such an abundance of qualities to gush over, there comes a few instances in which Garbus and Brenner could have spent more time fleshing out their ideas. The song “silence pt. 1 (when we say ‘we’)” is a great song, although I feel that the impact of the titular silence is undercut when “silence pt. 2 (who is ‘we’?)” is relegated to its own separate track, resulting in a full minute of pure silence. When the two parts are separated, it comes off as a failure to commit to an unconventional idea, which is odd considering that Tune-Yards has never been opposed to unconventional ideas before.

“sometime” shifts between refrain and verse without missing a beat, despite the clashing of the two. The production is as smooth and vibrant as the rest of the album, but it does little to grow past the point at which it starts, stagnating by the end.

Despite these stumbles, “sketchy.” contains some of the most accessible indie pop Tune-Yards have produced. “hypnotized” and “hold yourself.” are, for all intents and purposes, pop bliss with an added layer of social commentary that give them the substance to keep me coming back again and again. Garbus and Brenner put together a tight and cohesive listen, making for an easy recommendation to pop music listeners of any and all kinds.

Recommended Listening Setting: a slightly overgrown garden, sipping an Arnold Palmer.

Rating: 8/10