In a 2012 conversation with St. Vincent found on the Noisey Youtube channel, Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs described intentionally putting “ugliness” in her work. “There’s a lot of ugliness that I put intentionally in my voice,” the artist said, later agreeing with St. Vincent that ugliness can add a level of intrigue to otherwise simple pop music. On her latest album titled sketchy., Merrill continues down her path of ugliness as a form of beauty and interest, forming a scrapbook of sounds that scrambles with color and shape.
When sketchy. kicks off, Merrill’s vocals are thinly veiled behind a layer of distortion. But soon, the singer’s voice jumps to the front of the mix on “make it right.” As drums trample the song, Merrill is jumpy, singing “make me human.” The track’s layers and texture call back to the fusions of sound found on tUnE-yArDs’ earlier work as well as albums like Volta by Björk.
sketchy. is a bolder step forward in the tUnE-yArDs catalog. Compared to 2011’s WHOKILL, Merrill and collaborator Nate Brenner’s sound dives deeper into the experimental waters they’ve always explored. After the patchwork of “silence pt. 1 (when we say “we”),” tUnE-yArDs gives us a part two which is almost entirely soundless. Later, “under your lip” continues experimenting with Merrill’s production forcing her vocals into a dotting, synth-like melody.
Through textured production and songs that are just plain catchy, tUnE-yArDs has created another enjoyable album. Although portions of sketchy.’s runtime are less boundary-pushing than they should be, the project as a whole stands strong with interesting lyrics and bold sounds.