[sic] Magazine

Tune-Yards – sketchy.

Tired after relentless touring, Merrill Garbus and Nate Brenner were jaded with all it entailed. Starting again from scratch in the studio, the pair found comfort in the organic nature of a bass guitar and IRL drumkit, shelving newer electronic influences until later in the recording process. With half the album thus coming from a period of self-reflection and the other from a more colourful place as the blood began to pump once more, sketchy already has a less sure footing than its giddy predecessors.

While the Afro-inflected roots remain, the trademark Tune-Yards activist alt-pop is blunted as a result. The abstract lyrics are less memorable, even the customary gobbledegook that Garbus spouts in between celebratory standards purposefully written to entertain. The rhythms and effects still come from leftfield, but it’s the same field we’ve heard before. sketchy seems put together from cutting room scraps, a using up of leftovers and as a consequence feels quite ordinary, something that you would never expect to say of Garbus in particular.

Punchy debut single “nowhere, man” is sequenced first for a reason, its buzzed-out funk, kitchen-sink percussion, and slight digital corruption a promising opening, but this is a good as sketchy gets. What follows are more restrained takes on a similar sound, general mucking about with the pitch-shifter and straightforward synth patterning. Second single “hold yourself” is downright boring despite its free-form sax skronk to close and, worse, you find yourself zoning out to the sub-Jools Holland worldbeat pop that backs it up … and someone really should have nixed the indulgent, mid-order 60-second silence no matter its intentions.

Mercifully, sketchy finally bares its teeth during the closer, “be not afraid”; the big sub-bass parts and wonky rhythms have attitude – it’s different; it’s bold; it’s what’s the album’s been missing, but even it doesn’t go for broke, settling down when it should be going berserk and it too ends up being predictable. A couple of years ago Garbus and Brenner were in a league of their own; now they’re coasting, in need of a genuine competitor to push them on.

Best track: “nowhere, man”

~sketchy. is released March 26th 2021 via 4AD.~