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tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l – (Review)

4 1/2 Stars out of 5

Often times the label Feminist can be a major impediment for a musician’s career. This is not to say that there have been great female performers over the years such as Joni Mitchell or Patti Smith but rather the lack of females getting headline performances or the fact their message gets labeled as being strictly for females.  I am not sure what the opposite would be for men, possibly “Cock Rock?!?!?” Point being is that a preachy Ani Difranco-type might woo a female listener, but often times this alienates the men from giving it a chance. It’s often the dangers of women’s empowerment movements that I see where men feel marginalized. Having a powerful female voice can often be less about being on the pulpit and more about providing a vision or image, illuminating the listener to what they feel or see.

Being a Chicagoan, let’s take a look at two of the major festivals over the summer, Lollapalooza and Pitchfork. For Lollapalooza, you have to scroll down to the fifth line to find a Female act – Crystal Castles, led by the truly invigorating Alice Glass, who had more stamina than most male performers. Even after breaking her leg, she still performed several live shows, performing against doctors orders.

Pitchfork might be slightly better but far from preferable. It does have Neko Case performing in what would appear to be the pre-headlining for Animal Collective’s show but that is about hit for the top-billing artists.

Women have a much more difficult time getting into the racket and are often much more heavily scrutinized for their lyrics and/or image.  While this probably deserves a full on essay at some point, the truth is, when a female artist arrives on the scene with a powerful voice, many times it is given some notice.

In this case that voice is Merrill Gerbus, who created the band tUnE-yArDs, is as exciting as they come and another in the line of smart and intelligent female voices musicians that deserves to be heard. She is not your prototypical female musician. Looping her voice and drums onstage, she’s not just nailing down the craft as a musician but her cracking soulful voice is as powerful as Janis Joplin.

Her album “w h o k i l l” reminds you of the Dirty Projectors gone R&B. Her voice smokes through this album leaving an indelible impression on you as she bangs her drums.

Consider the opening track, “My Country”…

“My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, how come I cannot see my future within your arms?”

Garbus is not preaching, she is interpreting the world as she sees it, striving to find an understanding for whatever inequities we are faced with. Coming from the female perspective offers a semblance of power that is often missing in today’s music.

As much as I love my navel-gazing psychaedelic trance electronica, there are also times when we need to start a new country up, underneath the riverbed, dot, dot, dot.

And like a similar album that was released last year by Janelle Monae, these artists are often overshadowed with this intent that a woman does or should not have an opinion.

If these were just lyrics on a piece of paper, they are one thing, but her music is full out powerful.  Her sound is expanded on this second release giving herself more room to grow. She understands the basis to getting people off their asses and that is having a good beat.

The music is as much lo-fi as it is R&B. Listen to the storyline of ‘Riotriot’, she shutters, “There is a freedom in violence that I don’t understand and like I’ve never felt before”, before there is all out assault musically.  This is not proselytizing, but rather asking questions.

Or consider the infectious build-up to the song “Bizness” that cries to us how we face with self-loathing and what better than screaming that self-loathing right out of you.

While the album deals with issues like violence, it treats them in a playful manner allowing the listener not only to open their ears but their eyes. Garbus is the real deal and the album succeeds as being one of the few truly essential albums of the year.

As a personal note, my excitement grew at the prospects that she is going to be playing Pitchfork this year. While she is playing an early slot, chances are in future years,  they will be increasing the font-size for tUnE-yArDs on those festival posters.

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