I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life (4AD/Remote Control)
It’s so easy to sum this album up. Tune-Yards, darling of the alt.pop underground, border crosser of the avant-garde and the mainstream’s left flank, explorer of rhythms from around the world, makes a dance record.
Disco and house, glitter balls and lit-floors. No worries. Let’s boogie. Done.
Yeah, maybe hold off on that for a second there buddy. Merrill Garbus and right hand man Nate Brenner may well have made an album where dance is an imperative. May indeed dip into the bag of tricks devised in New York and Detroit in the ‘70s, Chicago in the ‘80s, London and elsewhere in the ‘90s.But if you think this is (a) easy and (b) empty, you’re barking in the wrong tuneyard.
As with St Vincent and David Byrne, Joan As Policewoman and TV On The Radio – all of whom share some ground with Garbus and Brenner – Tune-Yards use familiar tropes and appear on first listen to be punching hard from their hips and feet to yours.
There are big House vocal runs and piano breakdowns and looped patterns on cheap rhythm boxes, loose-goosey basslines and string/synth string flourishes, gated and Linn drums and layered rather than harmonised backing voices, Afro touches and smooth moves that might be being executed in matching suits and synchronised dance.
It is a physical album, engendering movement as often involuntary as voluntary. It feels made for large rooms and close bodies. And at times, such as Honesty, not a million miles from a dank but hip downtown New York bar sometime in the early heroin years.
However, as with aforementioned art dance types St Vincent et al, Tune-Yards’ dance may be under a mirror ball but the light is bouncing off at slightly askew angles and shining in odd places. There’s a nagging subtext, the kind that catch you as you confidently plant your foot for the next move.
Not enough to throw you out of rhythm - as happens in the fractured and fascinating Now As Then - but enough to make you hesitate fractionally. You’ll dance but you’ll be peeking over your shoulder to make sure you haven’t lost your place.
This is though, a totally appropriate result because lyrically this is an album that questions not just your step but your place, your intentions and your privileges. By “you” I mean Garbus, first of all, but most of us who may sit comfortably in middle class privilege, or white comfort, or long running cultural appropriation, or supposed safe-from-global-warming interiors, or just intellectual superiority.
The most unforgiving song in this form here is Colonizer as - over a dragnet groove and irritant percussion, punctuated by raking saxophone - Garbus is hyper aware of her imposition and assumption, her “contextualising with my white woman friends” the stories that may not be hers to tell.
“I use my white woman’s voice to tell stories of travels with African men … I smell the blood in my voice.”
But even when less brutal, Garbus’ words keep prodding at her bruises and our sensitivities: every line of ABC 123 is a stab. If you feel you’re being questioned a bit, be assured she doesn’t spare herself from the probing enquiries. And discomfort is the twin sister to dance here.
Put it this way, consider that album title: I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life. There’s just enough suggestion of positivity in that to keep a veneer of smoothness visible but take a second look and it’s just that little bit disturbing, that little bit off.
You can dance, if you want to, but it’s not going to be a mindless dance,