Best Albums of 2011 – tUnE-yArDs’ W H O K I L L
Musically, this album rocks in a super unique manner of rocking. It takes energetic music in a new direction that refuses to be held back by convention – which is difficult to do when your band consists of two saxophonists and an upright bass player. But those instruments are the last remnants of convention in the lineup. The band leader, Merril Garbus, plays ukulele, sings with a powerful passion, and joins in on the impromptu percussion. The twist is, she records little chunks of her vocals and drumming on the fly and loops them to create a rich construction to be the basis of her live singing and ukulele playing. To hear it is exciting, to watch it is poetry in motion, and then in sound. She really has an incredible talent.
On the hit, Bizness, the signature vocal and drum looping is at its finest. Garbus’ voice takes over with a passion that few possess, and still fewer can effectively radiate. On Gangsta, a sweet bass line gets surrounded by loops and loops of belted yelps and popping sax. The two saxes of the group play off of each other entertainingly throughout the album, most notably on Gangsta, Bizness, and My Country, as they duel in free form. There’s a mysterious tone in the vocals and spaced-out bass of Riotriot. The ukulele and drums keep real cool before they all step out of the dark along with some saxiness at the whim of the lyrics. The thematic lyrics are what command the song’s energy, and keep the whole album connected.
On Wooly Wolly Gong, desolate and detached ukulele picking is joined with a softly sung lullaby that attempts to offer comforting protection. However, the lullaby is sung tearfully, as though the mother knows that even with her wholehearted sacrifice, she is unable to protect her baby from what threatens. On the relatively sparse Doorstep, her voice echoes behind itself which brings home the feeling of betrayal by the powers that be, because a “policeman shot my baby as he crossed over my doorstep”. These tracks give examples of the circumstances that have led to suspicion and mistrust spoken about on My Country. Here, she offers a poignant dialogue between the haves and the have-nots: “And you cannot have it/Well then why did you say so/With my eyes open, how can I be happy?” See, the whole album has a consistent story of events that subscribe to the sentiment of the vocals. And her lines are delivered dead-pan style most of the time, not following the rhyme scheme she sets out with. Sometimes this comes off abrasively, but it makes each lyric hit home harder…and some are really worthy of hearing, and demand to be heard, not as a pretty little rhyme, but as a blunt truth.
Killa seems to be the public declaration, in accordance with the whole of W H O K I L L, acknowledging and advocating that a new generation is here – the solution to all of the problems of disparity brought forth in the album. A new generation of a new kind of woman (and man, for that matter) – one that does things differently, tries new things, refuses to conform, and perhaps, most importantly, treats fellow human beings with a familial compassion. It feels like she’s trying to combat the negativism towards a style many would downplay as hipster. Now, I don’t think she’s defending the extreme end of the hipster spectrum, of course, they’re assholes. But many people are slighted with that epithet who are genuinely quirky people with a style or interest that is unique to most others (and more often than not, going against the grain of the powers that be). And that is ok. Moreover, that is becoming the norm, the new generation. And hey, if it sounds like this, that’s cool with me. Where do I sign up?