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tUnE-yArDs - BiRd-BrAiNs

The art of home recording in the Beck or Sebadoh tradition has lost a lot of its charm since giant leaps in technology now allow amateurs to produce overblown prog workouts with a million billion overdubs. Merrill Garbus’ debut album as tUnE-yArDs reclaims the intimacy and immediacy of early-'90s DIY, updating it with beats, baritone uke and a vocal audacity that makes this one of the most unique pop records of the year so far. Like Dirty Projectors' Bitte Orca (another 2009 classic) and that record's frequently clear ties to African guitar playing, Garbus puts her remarkable vocal timbre to good use in the out-there pygmy yodels on “Hatari” and the faux-dancehall-meets-Laika of “Jamaican”, while on “Fiya” she delivers a tender affecting performance with dense ukelele arpeggios and a twittering rhythm track. This is an impossible album to pin down, as it shapeshifts not so much between genres, but rather invents new ones at each turn while still sounding contemporary.

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