Before Amrit headed out to see Beirut at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg the other night, we knew to be on the watch for Merrill Garbus, aka tUnE-YaRdS, which is why he showed up early with a notebook. On record, Garbus’s one-woman DIY workshop concocts an impressively assured sort of lo-fi World (as in World Music) pop world (as in her own secret territory) by mixing tenor ukulele, digital loops, toms, and (most importantly) a powerful, shape-shifting voice. (At her MySpace she writes that her catalog was recorded with a Sony digital voice recorder and tracked in Audacity.) At times, she’s a self-contained Sublime Frequencies compilation, jumping between blues, African tunes, shiny reggae-esque sprawls, and lo-fi folk. Live? As previously noted:

By the end of the set she had six similarly face-painted people with her, harmonizing to her beatboxing, baritone sax echoing her discordant arias, pounding syncopated skins while on stage (and the venue’s floor while off it).

Garbus self-released her debut Bird-Brains — hence the feathers — going the pay-what-you-want option. (It’ll be reissued in later this year on vinyl by Marriage Records.) As an introduction, take a listen to her “Sunlight”:

There’s contemporary work to be heard in her catalog (Dirty Projectors, the Blow), but these are Influences listed at her MySpace:

Woody Guthrie. Woody Guthrie. Woody. Guthrie. Bertholt Brecht, Ruth Garbus, Charlie Chaplin. Hukwe Zawose, Bread & Puppet, cassette tape mixes, Roy Hart Theater. Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis. Free to Be…You and Me.

You can download the record (for a price of your choosing) at It’s available until 3/10. After that, start looking for the vinyl version on Marriage (or the cassettes she made to bring on tour with her). If you aren’t convinced, go to her MySpace and check out “Hatari.”

Comments (33)
  1. Well, that sounded nothing like Woody Guthrie. Is listing Portishead as an influence not cool enough or something?

    Pretty good though.

  2. Candid  |   Posted on Feb 6th, 2009 0

    The world would be a more peaceful place if people didn’t confuse influences with how a band or artist actually sounds. Not everyone wears their influences on their sleeves.

    • yeah  |   Posted on Feb 6th, 2009 0

      I don’t know, I definitely heard some Charlie Chaplin in there.

    • And I say you’re confusing influence with inspiration. Influences are predecessors that have direct relevance to someone’s art — not just “stuff I really like.”
      Yay, semantics!

      • Nick  |   Posted on Feb 7th, 2009 0

        I think the key point here is that “direct relevance to someone’s art” doesn’t necessarily apply to sound or lyrics or even style. An influence could contribute something as invisible (from the outsider’s perspective) as Motivation, which would make it not all that dissimilar to “inspiration” as you seem to understand the word.

        Maybe the knowledge that somebody out there transformed a life during the great depression into something positive influenced this Merrill Garbus character to make music in the first place.

        Or maybe semantics just doesn’t seem all too important when you’re slapping crap up onto a myspace page.

        • joe  |   Posted on Feb 7th, 2009 0

          I think the key point is that if “direct relevance to someone’s art” doesn’t apply to “sound, lyrics or even style” then it’s not direct.

  3. Candid  |   Posted on Feb 6th, 2009 0

    Ouch, that is going to leave a mark on my soul. I agree with you that it is awesome, and I think that the way people interpret words, like music, differently is beautiful (cue feel good music or feel good hit of the summer T_T)

  4. i love tuneyards. i’m amazed and pleased as hell to see her here. she wowed a basement full of hipsters here in bloomington, il right off the bat. love her to death. hell yeah merrill, congrats!

  5. At a glance I thought this post was about the boy from MGMT.

  6. this song is great, but this isn’t even her best song! check out Little Tiger if you wanna hear that…

  7. People actually willingly listen to that?? I don’t like this post at all.

  8. NOah  |   Posted on Feb 7th, 2009 0

    This girl is also in Sister Suvi who are also awesome.

  9. Mike  |   Posted on Feb 7th, 2009 0

    So this is great music…but how is it that no one has mentioned the Slits or late-period Raincoats as influences? It’s plain as day.

  10. harvy  |   Posted on Feb 7th, 2009 0

    Like the production and instrumentation a lot. Find the vocals extremely underwhelming. Oh well.

  11. Carly  |   Posted on Feb 7th, 2009 0

    Saw her in Montreal last night. She immediately made the opening band (Shapes and Sizes) look sloppy and amateurish.

  12. RRMM  |   Posted on Feb 7th, 2009 0

    Dear Stereogum,

    In the future, please refrain from using the SF label’s name in vain, ie, in connection with stupid face-painted hippie twats.


  13. Richie  |   Posted on Feb 7th, 2009 0

    I really like the song!.. but the aLtErNaTiNg CaPs in the band name and kooky promo photo makes me want to hate them.. confusing.

  14. anon  |   Posted on Feb 8th, 2009 0

    this is not an insult: this song is a 21st first century siouxsie and the banshees’ “monitor.”

  15. GT  |   Posted on Feb 11th, 2009 0

    Tune Yards is good to see live.
    Merrill has a very strong voice.

  16. She is one of the rare acts to be championed by Stereogum that I don’t think are utterly pointless.

    In fact, I think she’s really interesting.

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