The Complicatist : Make my week

Getting to grips with TUnEYaRdS

by Gordon Campbell

CD reviews tend to be consumer guides, a few paragraphs that boil the music down to a buy/don’t buy advisory note. At The Complicatist, we’re pointed in the opposite direction. Each month, this column features a song or album or genre that’s as complicated as anyone cares to make it be.

Most of the time, we drag around musical associations from years, or even decades gone by. For that reason, this column is focused solely on music that I came across for the first time during the week of November 21-28, just as the latest Werewolf deadline locked in. Here’s what came to light :

1.TUnEYaRdS The highlight of the week was definitely the Canadian singer / instrumentalist/one woman band Merrill Garbus, who performs under the name TUnEYaRdS. In recent weeks, she’s been opening for Dirty Projectors on their US tour. Tuneyards ( lets forget the irritating typeface) has signed to 4AD, and these video sessions for the label

are largely devoted to material from her album Bird Brains that came out in April. They’re probably the best starting point for getting to grips with her so-innerly-focused-its-actually -extroverted music. Can innovation be an act of remembering ? She makes it seem that way. The other Tuneyards track worth checking out is ‘When You Tell the Lions’ which also appears on the Bird Brains CD. On his Just North of Something Important blogsite, Paul Barthel some makes interesting comments about Garbus, plus he has the “Lion’ track from the album onsite as an MP3:

I particularly liked this part of his comments about Tuneyards : :

The intense melodicism and the tone of her voice sounds like Dawn Weiner at the end of Welcome to the Dollhouse, singing to herself in an impossibly sweet voice on the school bus, the beauty smothered by the extroverted exuberance of the other kids. This does not sound powerful. It does not sound like Garbus should be standing in front of a band of amplified instruments, directing and controlling and outdoing them. It’s too contained for that. But it doesn’t feel like a singer-songwriter sitting along on a stool, either; it doesn’t feel confessional. It feels, again, absolutely private, like Garbus is singing entirely—entirely—for herself, with no intention or awareness of an outside audience.

The only performer I can think of with a similar blend of talent, inner directed intensity and daring is Kevin Blechdom, who will be playing gigs in New Zealand during the first week of December – notably at Mighty Mighty in Wellington on December 5, as part of Lady Fest. She hails from the US, via Berlin. If you saw Blechdom perform her solo act in Wellington a couple of years ago you won’t need any further urging. This time she will be appearing with her bandmate Christopher Fleeger as Barnwave, so the set could be somewhat different. Ukelele, keyboards, percussion and torch songs gone wrong…she has the ability say, to make Whitney Houston’s “ I Will Always Love You” sound like a zombie love song, with a creepy stalker vibe. Plus, she does Kylie, better than Kylie. Blechdom is worth checking out : she has an amazing voice. and stage presence.

2. Duck Tails. Another one-person act. I missed Matthew Mondanile when he toured New Zealand a couple of months ago and the genial, gentle electro-bath pop of ‘Deck Observatory’ makes me regret it. The amusing Youtube video for the song is available here

3. Au Revoir Simone : When I first heard Au Revoir Simone’s album earlier this year, the tweeness of the project seemed a little overpowering. This trio of women playing keyboards named themselves after the waitress bound for Paris, France in the film Peewee’s Big Adventure. Ironically, this live version of the ‘Knight of Wands’ track from the album was actually recorded in France in April, and is a bit grittier. ( Hat tip to Matthew Perpetua of Fluxblog for the link.) In its entirety, the song lyric consists of the repeated line : “Oh joy, I can see you! It’s all I want!” In this version at least, they communicate the sentiment extremely well:

4.Charlotte Hatherley Some more conventional rockin’ good times here. . Charlotte Hatherly was a solid minor presence when she was with Ash, and she is about to enter the major leagues by joining the Bat for Lashes line-up when Natasha Khan goes on tour. This live version from 2007 of “ I Want to Know’ is well worthwhile – especially for any die hard Chrissie Hynde fans who are still out there.

5. Animal Collective. For good reason, a lot of people have picked AC’s Merriweather Post Pavilion as the best album of 2009, and the band will be playing the Power Station in Auckland on December 8. They’ve toured New Zealand before, in 2006. ( Sadly, Josh Dibb their since departed guitarist and all round Mr Nice Guy had his Ipod and cash stolen from the Kings Arms green room on that tour.) This time, the band may or may not be playing tracks from their new EP Fall Be Kind. The Stereogum site has made two tracks from the EP available here

– namely, “Graze” and “What Would I Want Sky.” The latter song happens to use the first sample ever approved by the Grateful Dead. The sample being an excerpt from “Unbroken Chain” off the Dead’s Mars Hotel album.

“ Graze,” as some Stereogum commenters have point out, used to be called “Grace” and has been much bootlegged, given that Animal Collective tend to play their songs extensively before they record them, and not quite so often afterwards. You can download a whole swag of versions of the “Grace/Graze” song in its earlier incarnations from 2007 here, courtesy of Mediafire:

If you’re so inclined, the process enables anyone to check out just how the song has evolved. The most striking aspect of course is the much commented-on way that “Grace”shifts from its gradual slow build to where – just past the three minute mark – it breaks into a panflute solo and medieval clog dance. Thanks to Pitchfork, we now know that this panflute solo was also sampled, from the so-uncool-he’s-cool master of the panflute, Gheorghe Zamfir. Way to go. Not a bad week overall that ends with Animal Collective, and a hoe-down. ENDS