Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards walks the walk when it comes to advocacy and political awareness. In 2015 she started the Water Fountain, an organization that raises funds for antipollution and clean water efforts around the world. She’s also the host of C.L.A.W. (Collaborative Legions of Artful Womxn), a radio program that champions the work of female-identified musicians working on the fringes of pop. On her new Tune-Yards album, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life (4AD), she dives headfirst into evolving ideas about white privilege and eroding privacy. Though there’s no faulting her for coming to terms with how tilted the scales are in this country these days, as with so many artist’s attempts to address politics in pop music, her messages come off as heavy-handed; in “ABC 123” she sings, “But all I know is white centrality / My country served me horror coke / My natural freedom up in smoke.” Making her lyrics harder to swallow is that the album’s melodies and production (created with longtime collaborator Nate Brenner) suffer from similar issues; she seems to be trying to reach a broader audience, but in the process has flattened out the crafty arrangements of her previous records, instead revealing a mostly electronic soundscape that veers toward aerobics workout music. Garbus is a massively talented artist, so I’m hoping this is a temporary descent into pop mediocrity.
Tonight, I’m more excited about opening artist Sudan Archives, the performing name of Los Angeles resident Brittney Denise Parks. Last year she released her self-titled debut for Stones Throw, on which she serves up homemade electro-soul with serious sensuality and inventiveness. Her hypnotic, tightly coiled vocal melodies cast a narcotic spell, while her tracks meld hip-hop-style rhythmic loops and highly effective violin and kalimba riffs (both of which she plays herself) summoning musical traditions of East and West Africa. The music has insinuated itself into my brain over the last week, and I hope she doesn’t ditch the rustic charm when she records her next one. v