Nikki Nack, the third full-length release from Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus, crosses familiar but ever-slightly more accessible waters on its way from afrobeat to pop. Thanks to a lengthy wait between this and her last release, 2011’s Whokill, fans have been chomping at the bit to lunge into Garbus’ unique blend of worldbeat and experimental jam tunes, and now that it’s finally here I doubt they’ll be disappointed.
Opener “Find A New Way” sets the scene perfectly: a bizarre Casiotone intro starts off a track deeply entrenched in its groovy bass-line. It’s not immediately apparent at the beginning, but Nikki Nack definitely owes more to pop music than its predecessors. The two singles from the record, “Water Fountain” and “Wait A Minute”, are almost straight-forward in their attack on Garbus’ unique musical background and softly chilling voice. Particularly on the latter track, interesting minor chords still creep into the chorus, but the rock-solid electro-pop stylings definitely make Nikki Nack an easier river to wade.
The real star of Tune-Yards’ summer offering is absolutely the killer beats. Blink and you might miss some of the most fascinating drum-machine blips and chirps, crafted from samples that span the range from glass to wooden barrels. Though sometimes lost in the mix behind the electric bass (“Hey Life”) or glimmery synths (“Stop That Man”), they’re also responsible for just what makes Tune-Yards so special. This particular brand of experimentalism won’t appeal to everyone—particularly those that, wading in after hearing “Water Fountain” on the radio, will try to dance to every track on the record. But for those, audiophile or otherwise, that get hooked on the cascades of vocal melodies, afro hooks, and even traditional chants (“Rocking Chair”), Nikki Nack provides a beautiful look into a completely different world of musical influences than we’re used to gracing the airwaves. It’s a concrete step away from the avant-garde bizarre that made Whokill such a great rollercoaster, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Nikki Nack is a strong addition and a smart change of pace for this New England native, and a serious contender for summer album of the year.