Hitting their stride rather than finding new extremes
Ben Willmott
13:03 24th March 2021

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After their last album, I can feel you creep into my private life, saw Tune-Yards turn their sound on its head and re-invent themselves around electronics and voice manipulation, sketchy was always more likely to be an evolutionary - rather than revolutionary - album. 

And so it is. sketchy is the sound of the new: not exactly no frills, but definitely fewer frills, Tune-Yards are truly settling into their creative skin. With the last album constructed in the still-shocked wake of Trump’s victory in the U.S. election, this one feels more considered and calm. Of course they never shy away from tackling tough issues...it’s just that such subjects feel as though they're being viewed from more of a distance here. 

Take ‘hypnotized’, the latest track to be shared by the band on the eve of the album’s release. It’s built around a very real-sounding drum loop and a subtly dubby bassline that leave loads of space for Merrill Garbus’ voice to breathe, before unfolding into a joyful and memorable chorus that sees her imploring’ “look into my eyes”.   

The shuffling, gentle ‘hold yourself’ works similarly, coaxing you in and getting you on side before you realise it’s actually broaching the touchy subject of generational divides and the childish selfishness of Boomer parents. Even album opener ‘nowhere man’ – not a cover of the Beatles’ classic of the same name, even if It shares a bit of their fuzzy guitar – contains some pretty dark subject matter (“that dream where your gun gets pulled” and “screaming babies are your problem” among them) but breezes along with heaps of infectiousness and charm. 

Undoubtedly the most experimental – and in many ways, the most interesting – track here is ‘homewrecker’, which does use a touch of studio trickery to send the vocal spiralling into hyperspace or down into glitchy depths. Seemingly pointing the fingers at politicians who disassociate themselves from the suffering their decisions make, it’s the moment where the dissonance and the distress are actually moving in the same direction. 

That’s not to take anything away from the more sublime moments that cloak equally less palatable discussion. All in all, though, if you’re looking to sketchy for surprises, beyond that one moment you might be disappointed. If you’re happy to just off on some soaring, joyous and celebratory music – even when the message is a little less sunny – then this is for you. The sound of Tune-Yards really hitting their stride and honing their art to new refinement - rather than new extremes.

sketchy arrives 26 March via 4AD.

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Photo: Press