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Tune-Yards - Bird-Brains

Released on 4AD, 8/17/09

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Merrill Garbus, the woman behind Tune-Yards, never wanted to be a musician. She studied theater and was a puppeteer for years before discovering that it was the songwriting elements of her chosen field that she was truly drawn to. What to do then but run about, from Martha’s Vineyard to Montreal, recording kitchen-made beats and homemade instruments on low-fi gear until, two years down the road, Bird-Brains is born.

A truly naturalist approach to both songwriting and recording, and by default a direct, if not directed, response to the steady financial decline of the music industry, Bird-Brains is jagged, childlike and nothing like any of the other groups that share the band roster on her label 4AD. Combining tender folk moments with early Disney choral interludes, clanging kitchen sink and spoon-on-glass beats, and a vocal style that ricochets between R&B songstress, child, and something completely nontraditional and nonwestern, Tune-Yards seems to be driven by eight different forms of genius struggling to be heard.

Why genius? Because though [ b]Bird-Brains is not always easy on the ears, it carries throughout a nobleness that most albums lose the second the studio doors fly open. And there are some moments of real beauty and craft within the ragged style being created. Garbus is the underdog, the anti-hero of her field. The potential remains that some will overlook Bird-Brains, unable to forgive the sound and spontaneity, but with tracks like “Lions” and “Sunlight”, I imagine the grudge will be short-lived.