Eight years ago, a voice recorder, GarageBand, and Merill Garbus’ feminist pop punk genius were the bare bones necessities used to make tUnE-yArDs’ debut album, “BiRd-BrAiNs.” The Guardian claimed, in its five star review, that “BiRd-BrAiNs” was “the find of the year.” The band’s popularity grew through word of mouth, and around the world, crowds filled every venue the band visited on their first tour. tUnE-yArDs has enjoyed a high level of success in a short time, demonstrated by the reception of their next two albums, which built off of the strength of their first release. The albums released post “BiRd-BrAiNs” grew in their musical and lyrical strength, resulting in a highly acclaimed pop punk duo who have managed to change the way contemporary listeners view the construct of feminist music.
The second album, released in 2011 and titled “W H O K I L L,” was featured on NPR’s Tiny Desk concert and appraised by club goers and feminists alike. The album explores the constructs of femininity and sexuality, combining these experiences with the threats of violence Garbus experienced in her daily life. The veracity of Garbus’ live shows translate into the work, making it the perfect album for the socially conscious concert goers and living room dancers alike. “W H O K I L L” appeared on all end of year lists, and was named Album of the Year in the Village Voice’s highly prestigious Pazz & Jop poll, based on the votes of 700 of America’s most notable music critics. tUnE-yArDs’ last album, “Nikki Nack,” was released in 2014 and produced by highly acclaimed artists such as Malay—who has worked with Alicia Keys, Big Boi, and Frank Ocean—and John Hill, known for his work with M.I.A., Rihanna, and Shakira. Although “Nikki Nack” is the first tUnE-yArDs album created in a recording studio, Garbus remains true to her sound. “I had to let go of tUnE-yArDs being rigidly my production,” she writes in an online statement, “I have a very specific vision for the sound of the band and I don’t think women producers get enough credit for doing their own stuff, so I was resistant… it turns out that’s what’s most important [is]: the songs, not my ego.”
Breaking nearly four years of studio silence, tUnE-yArDs has finally released a single titled, “Look at Your Hands.” The band has also informed its loyal following that its new album, “I can feel you creep into my private life,” will be released on Jan. 19. Bandleader Merrill Garbus wrote the lyrics for the record and has formally announced that longtime producer and collaborator Nate Brenner is an official member of the band, making tUnE-yArDs a duo.
In a press release, Garbus comments on the meaning of “Look at Your Hands” by noting, “Yes, the world is a mess, but I’ve been attempting to look more and more inward: How do all of these “isms” that we live in manifest in me, in my daily activities, interactions?” Like other music from the band, the single manages to discuss political unrest while seamlessly maintaining an over the top disco beat. With blood-pumping vocals and an unforgettably glitchy hook, the single is more brash and kaleidoscopic than any of the band’s previous music. Garbus comments that the “80’s throwback production came from wanting the vocals to sound robotic, maybe to counter the sincerity of the lyrics.” The combination of 80’s club music and modern feminist punk allows the single to be both poppy and socially inclined. Whereas the majority of tUnE-yArDs’ past music has relied on narrative lyrics to depict both feeling and meaning, “Look at Your Hands” is assertive in its sound, producing high energy, exhilarating music. Although the song might upon first listen sound one dimensional, closer analysis of the lyrics provides a deeper understanding. Lyrics such as “sell me my own water off of my own land” or “my own father is a wicked man,” reveal the underlying power struggle in the song. Paradoxically, Garbus asks us to look at our own hands, the part of us which is supposed to symbolize agency, all the while pointing out the authority we do not hold. By the bridge, the music becomes ever more chaotic over a hook that repeats the word “harmony.” Garbus twists her voice over the lyrics to elicit an unnerving feeling. However, although the sound may become increasingly overwhelming, the music is always controlled just enough for the audience to stay in the message and the music. The combination of thoughtful lyrics and punk pop sound is what tUnE-yArDs has become known for, and “Look at Your Hands” demonstrates how effectively Garbus is able to achieve this challenging blend.
tUnE-yArDs will begin touring Dec. 1, and will be visiting the East Coast. If you are interested, you can catch them either March 8 at the Royale in Boston, or March 9 at Brooklyn Steele.