Another sonic gift from NPR to follow up last week’s—First Listen is featuring the soon-to-be-released Nikki Nack from the always imaginative, always innovative Merrill Garbus, AKA tUnE-yArDs. And, though the album retains her trademark glitchy, hyper-rhythmic, anthemic sound, the songs seem catchier and more accessible than ever.
Turns out, the pivot in musical direction is very much intentional. Of the shift in sound, Garbus told Pitchfork’s Jayson Greene last month:
“I really went all the way back to square one: I walked into an open public library and checked out Molly-Ann Leikin’s  book How to Write a Hit Song. I learned that the chorus should hit in the first 30 seconds. That was a big one. And just a lot of really nuts-and-bolts stuff: ‘You need to respect your writing time, make a date with yourself and keep it.’ And she has great exercises for brainstorming: ‘Picture a red schoolhouse. Now write everything you can describing that red schoolhouse. Is there a boy playing basketball outside?’ I really needed to unlearn everything I had done so far.” She continues, explaining the desire for the shift—”I got kind of sick of myself. After hearing so much about yourself and your own music, you say, ‘I know it’s not all about me, so what is it all about?’ I had to go and figure that out. And I took voice lessons last spring—just learning about belting and how to do it healthily. My voice sounds different to me on this record.”
Even for those who’ve found tUnE-yArDs grating, maybe, or too harsh or even annoying in the past, we’d encourage you to give Nikki Nack a listen over at NPR, where they’re streaming the album in full. It sounds like a positive step in evolution for Garbus and one that’s resulted in a friendlier, popper sound that we’re loving.
The best example of that—the first single from the album, “Water Fountain”, which takes the traditionally quirky, previously less-accessable sound of tUnE-yArDs and turns it on it’s head while still staying true to its musical origins, ending up with a beautifully unique pop gem. It’s currently available as a free download (along with some other nice picks) from NPR’s Heavy Rotation.