tUnE-yArDs – Whokill – Round 7:Tom’s Choice

For our 7th (!) time around, I chose Whokill by the band with the most annoying name to type in the history of rock music. I chose it because it is a remarkable record.

I suppose that if a relationship with a record is a bit like a relationship with a person, Whokill and me are in our first flush of love, where we can not wait to re-acquaint ourselves, to spend a little ‘quality’ time together. Most of my other choices for DRC are much longer in the tooth, resembling a couple approaching their ruby anniversary – we respect each other, we have our many good days and the occasional bad day, we know when to give each other space but we’re there for each other in our time of need. Will Whokill ever get beyond first base?….Only time will tell, but at the moment things are looking good (and writing this inane drivel has made me realise that owning a record collection is a bit like being a Mormon. Maybe I should move to Salt Lake City and be done with it). I literally can not wait to slap it on the turntable and lose myself in its myriad sounds and ideas. And it needs to be played loud – as in LOUD. This is no shrinking violet!

The last time I felt this way about a record was when I first put the needle to Actor – St Vincent’s amazing 2009 offering. Although sounding nothing alike, the two albums share much common ground. Both are supremely confident records, both unpredictable and surprising and both attempt (and succeed?) to be something that is unlike anything else that has ever been recorded. Which is easy if you’re happy to hit a badger over the head with a croquet mallet whilst stamping in a vat of blancmange, but is more of a challenge if the aim is to make a coherent, listenable and enjoyable album. In my opinion, both of these artists pull this off magnificently.

But whereas Annie Clark’s album has sweet tunes sung by a sweet voice in abundance – admittedly most have been skewered at some point or other – Whokill is possibly harder to pin down. Funky baselines accompany clatter and clutter and a holler that is unlike anything you’ve heard before. In the course of one song, Merrill Garbus’ voice can veer from an (only slightly) female version of Shaggy (the reggae star not the slacker cartoon character – now, that WOULD be something), to a guttural, unnerving roar, to a voice of almost Ella Fitzgeraldlike purity. It really is remarkable.

Whokill is an unusual album as it starts with three of its most awkward, challenging songs – My Country, Es So and Gangsta. Get through these exhilarating offerings and you’re rewarded with one of the albums warmest and most accessible cuts – Powa (described by Nick as ‘almost like a torch song’). Side two of the vinyl is simply stunning – the single, Bizness, is a highlight but, for me, the following two tracks (Doorstep and You Yes You) reach even higher peaks. The album takes an unexpected change of pace and texture on the lullaby Wooly Wolly Gong and then signs off with the typically choatic Killa.

Rob will no doubt want to expand on this (as it was his observation) but Whokill is a bit like an inverse of Bitte Orca by Dirty Projectors. The albums have similarities in terms of their sound but Bitte Orca’s pop sensibilities tend to be hidden deep within its tangential song structures and crazily altering time signatures. It takes a bit of work. Whokill comprises of what are, essentially, ten pop songs which have been smashed to pieces, liquidized, but are still pop songs at heart. It is a truly remarkable record, one that it would be very hard not to have an opinion about, and that has to be a good thing.

Nick listened: I’m undecided regarding what I thought of tUnE-yArDs, beyond the fact that I will only ever copy&paste their name and never faff around typing it ‘properly’ myself. It veered wildly from crazy, multi-directional, non-linear collage-esque sonics (with vocals just as erratic), to much more straightforward blues & soul style songs (sung in a straightforward blues & soul style way – I asked if Merrill was black, although i didn’t expect her to be), seemingly front-loading the oddest three numbers and then (almost) evening out into more placid territory afterwards. I’m aware it’s garnering rave reviews, but I suspect it’s the type of record that needs to be picked-apart to a degree and absorbed rather than fallen in love with straight away. But who knows? People are different.

It reminded me of lots of different things: the Micachu album from 2009; Beck circa Odelay; various blues singers and songs. It didn’t particularly, and thankfully, remind me of Dirty Projectors (I’m really not keen on Bitte Orca). It didn’t really remind me of Actor by St Vincent either though, which is a shame, because I love that record to bits. I felt like it would take me multiple exposures to get to grips with Who Kill, and I wasn’t sure the payoff would be worth the effort.

Rob listened: This was the second time I’d heard the album. I really enjoyed it. Particularly intrigued by her voice which seemed belt out the tunes whilst being weirdly difficult to get a handle on.

Albums which need work to get to know tend have to take their chances with me. Whereas Tom listens 6 times to anything before he’s happy to pass judgement, i’m perfectly happy to be wooed first time around. As Tom has mentioned, ‘Whokill’ seemed to me great avant-garde pop with strange undercurrents, rather than an initially difficult record which slowly reveals pure pop beneath the surface, like ‘Bitte Orca’. I have a feeling, from the way it’s being written about, that this will be top three in lots of end of year lists


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