Merrill Garbus, Tune-Yards founder and frontwoman, recorded her 2009 debut, Bird-Brains, in her bedroom with a Dictaphone. The record won acclaim for its ukulele and loop-pedal pop, and Garbus was praised for her skills as a one-woman DIY band. She'd signed with 4AD by the time she was ready to write follow-up LP, whokill, and had both a studio and band at her disposal. Lo-fi purists may have fretted over the impact of these new resources on Garbus's music (and Garbus herself admitted to a period of creative trepidation), but what emerged was a bold, colourful record – rowdy but focused, and bursting with energy.
whokill has its roots in Garbus's adoptive home of Oakland, California, charged with her own personal politics and the wider turbulence of that community's recent years, from police brutality to the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant and the riots that followed. whokill has all the impact of that first brick thrown at a windowpane, in violent protest or jubilant celebration. Its conception had a specific locale, but whokill's sweltering, shimmering mix of sirens, Mardi Gras saxophones, shattering glass, big Caribbean beats and anthem choruses heralded a year blotted with politicised unrest and worldwide protest, from Tahrir Square, to the London riots and the Occupy movement.
The album saw Garbus expanding and amplifying her raw pop vision into vibrant, rhythm-soaked compositions of melody and noise, brimming with everything from dub and folk to soca and jazz. She matched her capability for sub Saharan-style singing with huge, genre-mashing aplomb, and produced a record that set spring on fire and continued to burn bright across the rest of 2011.
1. My Country
2. Es So
8. You Yes You
9. Wolly Wolly Gong