Music Time: Tune-Yards – “Riotriot”

“THERE IS A FREEDOM IN VIOLENCE THAT I DON’T UNDERSTAND! AND LIKE I’VE NEVER FELT BEFOOOOOOORRRRRRRREE!!!!!” And with that top-of-her-lungs chant from singer/songwriter Merrill Garbus…it’s samba time! For all of about twenty seconds, that is, before “Riotriot” resumes the twitchy, nervous-sounding, quiet minor key groove it occupies for the bulk of its duration. I don’t want to give the impression that the song isn’t interesting up until that dramatic point — not at all. Something about its timid swing and Garbus’s hushed vocals suggests that it’s being delivered on tiptoes, looking over her shoulder to see if anyone’s listening. And that’s fitting given that Garbus is singing about seeing a riot cop in action from her window and having a sexual fantasy about him. But deep into the song things start getting a little buzzier, a little crackier and more urgent, and Garbus’s vocals start crescendoing, and then BLAM! this huge, huge moment hidden like an Easter egg at the 2:47 mark. Garbus does this sort of thing on all three of the highlight tracks from Tune-Yards’ excellent second album Whokill: there’s also the ecstatic horn section that comes from out of nowhere in “Bizness,” and the sections that involves shouting “MY MAN LIKES ME FROM BEHIND!” (every word delivered like a punch) and gorgeous woo-ooh-ooh high notes respectively in “Powa,” I feel rewarded by songs like that — it feels like their creators did something extra to make each part interesting and unpredictable, and gave me a payoff for sticking around that a traditional verse-chorus-repeat structure just wouldn’t deliver. I suppose it’s the same sort of thing I like about “Liar”‘s genuinely dangerous-sounding transitions between rest and aggression, “End Come Too Soon”‘s magnificently miserable ending, “Long Distance Runaround”‘s flipped switch between jaunty piano piece and forward-leaning math-funk. And though I hate to be the guy who takes something he likes and then says “unlike all that other shit,” fuck it: Surely Garbus’s attention to things like dynamics and song structure are what help put Tune-Yards head and shoulders above so much of indie rock’s unimaginative, amorphously strummed same-iness, where within fifteen seconds you’ve heard every trick up a given song’s sleeve, while her ability to take a sentiment as disturbing as finding freedom in violence and slam convincingly it into a “Fool in the Rain”-style party interlude is roughly twelve bajillion times more interesting, entertaining, insightful, and listenable a treatment of violence in art than some trollish shithead putting out two albums’ worth of rape jokes and daring you not to get them.

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