Urszula Dudziak, Vampire Weekend, Cyndi Lauper
The first time I saw Merrill Garbus, aka tUnE-yArDs, was at a small venue in San Francisco about a year ago. I'd never heard the name before, and only attended on the earnest suggestion of a new friend. Yes, like everyone else now weighing in since her sophomore album w h o k i l l dropped April 19th, I can agree that her name's funny stylization turned me off. But not two seconds into the show you'd find me bent over picking chewed gum and loose hair from my jaw after it fallen off and rolled under the seat in front of me.
The promiscuous nature of tUnE-yArDs' influences parallels the quirky typography of her name; each lush, heterogeneous song journeys the peaks and valleys of everything from folk and reggae, to soul and hip-hop, with a strong emphasis on South African beats. For a split second you're at a loss as how to digest her cyclone of sound, but this shepherdess of roiling beats has certainly mastered mass pop appeal (a song of hers has been used in a blackberry commercial). Her chants are as addicting as they are complex.
Garbus weaves familiar textures, but we can guarantee hers is a sound you don't run into just anywhere. Mastering the simple loop machine, she quadruples the disarming affect of her powerhouse vocals, leaving behind no prisoners with her collage of yodels, sirens and scats. Coating them in hypnotizing patterns of drum beats and ukulele strums, pounds of brass and Nate Brenner's bass, her layered live act is referred to more often than not as a performance art piece. The hot pinks, yellows and lime greens that her music conjures in your head sometimes explode on stage in tribal face paint and costume.
Exactly a year after my first tUnE-yArDs experience, I saw her again at SXSW, only this time it was Sean Lennon I had trouble recognizing front row with his face all melted off. I can only imagine where she'll be this time next year, no doubt blowing more minds wide open.