Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Celebrating Our Anniversary with Merrill, Miles, and monsters

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Merrill Garbus means bizness. Her one-woman band tUnE-yArDs, based in Oakland, has been building up substantial buzz since the release of her madly experimental BiRd-BrAiNs album in 2009, and her latest single, “Bizness,” is doing even more to drive it to fever pitch. Less experimental than her previous work, but miles ahead of anything she’s done before, “Bizness” is an exhilarating blast of rave-up Afro-soul. Over African drums, oily bass, and a digitally manipulated scat vocal arpeggio, Garbus roars in a voice that’s half Odetta, half Hugh Masekela, and all wild beast. The background is extremely well-crafted, but it seems to devolve into manic wildness as soon as Garbus lets her voice loose. Organized chaos has never felt this good.

“Chocolate Ice Cream & Sixteen Candles”
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Of course Miles Atkins was going to have his multi-part acoustic opus sooner or later, but nobody really gave it too much thought. “Chocolate Ice Cream & Sixteen Candles” seems to be it, a gently devolving sprawl of seething attacks and yearning for the happier yesterday. It’s also a massive step up from anything he’s recorded before. While his debut EP flirted with emo, this song’s self-analytical wallowing is closer to something we might hear from someone like Doveman (to whom Atkins bears a vocal similarity) than any generic woe-is-me teen songwriter, especially when the song hits the hissing “I hate when” bridge. Then the song devolves into lonely handclaps and sped-up self-duets, sending the listener tumbling into Atkins’ uncertainty.

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Eschewing the twisted folk style of old, this new single by teen quartet The Infractiond finds the band switched-on and electric but keeping the same aesthetic as their early acoustic tunes. The guitar harmony is so sloppy it couldn’t not be deliberate, and the macabre, slightly gothic lyrics are still there in abundance. However, the group sounds a bit like they’re tackling a new task with their new instruments, and they do begin to drift into generic garage-band territory--they sound almost as if they’d be happier doing it the old way.

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