Merrill Garbus and her impossibly hard to present name (often stylised as tUnE-yArDs) return for a fourth album, but this time with long-time partner Nate Brenner co-producing, heavily influencing not just via his basslines but also the shape of the songs themselves. These songs are more ‘traditional’ than ever before but still feature much experimentation and elements of the avant-garde within.
With all tracks bar one nestling between three and four minutes long, it’s a more upbeat, accessible and dancey affair, while thematically I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life tackles race, politics, feminism, identity and environmental prophecies. Garbus is less pointing fingers than embarking on a voyage of discovery about herself, and what she can do about it all, recently saying: “Yes, the world is a mess, but I’ve been attempting to look more and more inward: how do all of these ‘isms’ that we live in manifest in me, in my daily activities, interactions?”
Inspired in part by C.L.A.W (Collaborative Legions of Artful Women), her radio show highlighting female-identifying producers, Garbus continues to be imaginative, whilst flirting with the dancefloor and musing on the aforementioned issues that dominate the album. Such as on the infectious ‘ABC 123’, where burbling bass, drum machines, synth key lines and multiple vocals work in harmony as she sings about her worries of impending environmental tragedy, whilst imploring me and you to take a simple, yet head-on, approach to being aware of these problems at the very least, wrapped up in a blanket of childhood innocence (hence the title): “Sun sun sun burn down on me / Atop this hill so I can see / My skin boils red and scabs and stings / But I must be witness to everything“.
Anxiety is ever present on I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life. On album opener ‘Heart Attack’ a nu-disco soul sound palette counteracts the content: “Giving me a heart attack, so don’t let me lose my soul. I’m only human“. While ‘Coast to Coast’ imagines a New York swallowed by rising seas. Indeed, Tune-Yards has recently set-up The Water Fountain, a fund for water-related causes which has donated over $75,000 to various non-profit organisations since its inception.
‘Colonizer’ meanwhile explores Garbus’ appropriation anxieties: “I use my white woman voice to tell stories of travels with African men/ I hear the blood in my voice”, she sings against a backdrop of meaty post-punk bass and head-spinning techno, the abrupt end following very short coda providing the basis of the album title. While ‘Look At Your Hands’, built on a foundation of classic 80s electro, is simply about the answer being in your hands.
The album’s musical eclecticism and semi-complicated arrangements are further highlighted by the deep and spacious dub-like grooves of the spectral ‘Home’, the moody MIA-esque cacophony of ‘Private Life’, There’s also the crunchy beats, dubbed out bass and elasticated soulful vocal (Garbus sounds similar to a Joan Wasser, aka Joan As Policewoman, here and there) of the schizophrenic ‘Now as Then’, and the retro warped house grooves and cut-and-paste feel of ‘Honesty’, which even features a little fleeting jazz sax for good measure.
The slinky bass work provides much of the foundation for the album, along with the atypical polyrhythms and textures utilising aspects of pop, dub, house, soul and electro in forging a distinctive, lively and no excess fat sound. Despite all theses disparate elements, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life gels surprisingly well, possibly propelling Garbus into previously uncharted commercial territory.