tUnE-yArDs | I can feel you creep into my private life | Album Review

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars
Record Label: 4AD Records
Photo courtesy of Paste Magazine

Merrill Garbus, the force behind tUnE-yArDs, continues her quest in both musical exploration and political provocation in her latest record, I can feel you creep into my private life. Her evolution in sound, as well as cultural sensitivity, is well documented. The folksy sound in the 2009 release BiRd-BrAiNs hardened its edges in the 2011 record WHOKILL and felt woefully uninformed with lyrics like, “What’s a girl to do if she’ll never be a Rasta?” So it comes as no surprise that I can feel you creep into my private life takes a stab at yet another stylistic and political message: understanding white guilt through a pop album.

Explaining the influence on her new style of lyricism in a letter addressed specifically to music critics, Garbus writes, “Some of my older lyrics were barely-formed reflections that make me squirm today.” Garbus attempts to take ownership in addressing an important problem of cultural appropriation in music. Garbus half-sings, half-states, “I am the exception. I am a contradiction / I’m fascinating. Not enough, too much,” in “Now as Then,” in a critical and honest self-reflection.

For a pop record, the composition is complex and diverse, which is not uncharacteristic of Garbus. She has methodically crafted each track with glitchy jumps and layered vocals, each sub-melody lasting just long enough to repeat itself without sounding repetitive—a contradiction aptly captured in tracks like “Now as Then” and “Honesty.” 

She weaves her new-found knowledge in “Colonizer,” which repeats the line “I use my white woman’s voice to tell stories of travels with African men.” Occasionally that line is interrupted with other observations, yet for her perceived awareness of white supremacy, she sure does sing about herself a lot. The lyrics in this album did not aim to achieve anything more than a self-examination of her role as a white woman in music. That much is evident, as these lyrics overall either hit too directly on the nose—like in “Colonizer”—or have no depth at all, like in “Look at Your Hands.”

Perhaps her letter—and this album— serve as a step toward undoing the past, like cutting off her dreadlocks. As if, as a white woman, her privilege did not give her the platform to have a voice in the combative and oppressive industry of music.

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