03 April 2021 (released)
03 April 2021
Oakland, California-based project Tune-Yards released their fifth studio album, Sketchy, last Friday on London-based label 4AD. The record, which marks the first release in three years for the duo composed of Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner, features a welcomed and triumphant departure from the band’s trademark glitchy, collagist sound. Embracing warm melodies and three-part harmonies, Garbus dives deep into a sound that derives much of its identity from traditional genres like R&B and classic soul. With lyrics that echo the importance of holding each other accountable amidst what feels like an increasing trend in fraudulent behavior, corruption and malfeasance across the cultural spectrum, Sketchy’s socio-political message is less defined by its historical context than by its occasionally naive prescriptions for cultural anxiety.
Fortunately for the listener, however, every time the band’s disappointingly sophomoric and predictable lyrical content appears to falter, Garbus and Brenner make up for it with snug and sultry melodies that weave intricately around tight rhythms that stay well within the pocket. This focus on tightness is new for the band as it isn’t a quality that has previously characterized their songwriting. Typically known for displaying a more abstract and Avant-Gard sound marked by disjointed rhythms and dissonant chord changes, in Sketchy, the duo aptly showcases their intimate understanding and mastery of more conventional composition. In turn, the album’s emotional effect is heightened as the listening experience feels spontaneous, and the sound becomes increasingly elastic, highlighting the merits of the group’s polished and meticulous approach.
In that sense, the record serves as a reminder that an album’s worth should derive from its musical character instead of its ideological or political exhortations. No matter how strong or tempting the impulse to do so might be, the diaristic chronicling of one's surrounding milieu should never be a substitute for creative musical composition or studio experimentation. It’s the music that the good and attentive listener is after and which, fortunately for Tune-Yards, will keep them coming back to Sketchy long after the pressing worries of our current era have come to pass.