“What should I do?” That’s the question Merrill Garbus asks herself halfway through “ABC 123,” the stunning centerpiece of the new Tune-Yards album, I can feel you creep into my private life.
In 2014, Tune-Yards released Nikki Nack, which NPR called “dazzingly imaginative,” while the NME hailed it as “easily Tune-Yards’ finest work,” and New York Magazine dubbed it “possibly the catchiest record of the year.” The album earned Tune-Yards performances on The Tonight Show and Conan in the U.S. and Later… With Jools Holland in the U.K., along with sold-out international headline shows, support slots with Arcade Fire, The National, and Death Cab For Cutie among others, and festival performances everywhere from Pitchfork to End Of The Road. The album followed her similarly acclaimed 2009 debut, BiRd-BrAiNs, called “ingenious and often irresistible” by the New York Times, and their 2011 sophomore release, w h o k i l l, which landed on nearly every major outlet’s Best Of list and topped the Village Voice’s prestigious Pazz & Jop poll as critics’ favorite of the year.
The new album is an unflinching examination of modern identity, intricately rendered in the manically infectious way that only Tune-Yards can. Drawing on a recent foray into DJing and inspired in part by C.L.A.W. (Collaborative Legions of Artful Womxn), her radio show highlighting female-identifying producers, I can feel you creep into my private life finds the band flirting with the dancefloor more than ever before, as four on the floor kickdrum underpins wild polyrhythms and slinky bass grooves. The atypical arrangements seem to defy gravity, bursting like fireworks one moment and retreating inwards the next as the band blends pop, hip-hop, soul, folk, rock, 80’s house, African, and Caribbean music.
While the album was written prior to the 2016 presidential election, it’s not difficult to hear hints of political anxiety throughout the record. On album opener “Heart Attack,” elements of vintage soul crash into frenetic drum machines as Garbus frets over the unraveling of progress, and the swirling “Coast To Coast” imagines a New York swallowed by rising seas.
In addition to being the band’s most pointed work to date, I can feel you creep into my private life is also the most fundamentally collaborative, with Garbus’ long-time partner Nate Brenner co-producing, heavily influencing not just his basslines but also the shape of the songs themselves.
“This album is the most writing that Nate and I have ever done together,” says Garbus. “The first iterations of Tune-Yards were just me by myself, but this really feels like a true collaboration between us, and it’s the first record where Nate is listed as a producer. These songs are the result of what we’re each bringing to the table.”
If there’s an underlying thesis to I can feel you creep into my private life, it’s that uncomfortable questions often come with uncomfortable answers. Garbus has always been known for pushing the limits of pop musically, but here she tests just how much weight the genre can bear lyrically, too, challenging herself to look inwards rather than simply point fingers and assign blame. It’s a radical act of accountability, a candid self-examination delivered with ecstatic energy that calls on the audience to take their own long hard looks in the mirror. In the piercing silence after the record stops spinning, only one question remains: What should I do?