[sic] Magazine

tUnE-yArDs – BiRd-BrAiNs

There is a fine line between oddball eccentrics and the plain annoying. Those that get it wrong are either lampooned for years or forgotten about instantly. Those that get it right earn a special place in cult record collections and favourable mentions in trendier-than-thou locations and become cyclical, periodically getting rediscovered and pawed over afresh. This is true of the mythical Daniel Johnston and true of Iceland’s Mugison and his 2004 album Mugimama, Is This Monkey Music? And it probably ought to be true of one of 2009’s most original albums Jewellery by Micachu & The Shapes.

When Micachu (née Mica Levi) wasn’t writing for the London Philharmonic and performing at the Royal Festival Hall she was producing Jewellery, a real kitchen sink of an album that employs the vacuum cleaner, clapping beats and general squeaks ‘n’ pops. Her madcap lo-fi caused a small ripple that may yet reach shore, the same shore that tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus now inhabits. BiRd-BrAiNs equally treads the line and happily, for the most part, falls on the right side of it.

Her approach is similarly lo-fi, unsurprising for an entirely self-produced record. What is surprising is the real presence of melody that Garbus has woven into an album on which haphazard indulgence would perhaps have been more expected. The stark drum machine patterns jitter and her digitally affected vocal warms. BiRd-BrAiNs approaches the amiable peculiarities and harmonies of Dirty Projectors, particularly on the discordant yet rhythmic “Hatari”, but concedes as ever on production values.

Spoken samples chatter on varied themes such as blueberries, guitars chime and slow-time, wonky, fuzzy beats build the slightest of glitchtronica overtones. It may all seem a little alien to begin with but makes more and more sense with exposure. In particular, the limping rhythms in “Lions” become hugely appealing with time. The pulsing drums and driving lo-fi guitar of “Jamaican” seem spot on for showcasing Garbus’s manic whisper.

tUnE-yArDs may well be keen on stylising but behind the posturing lies real substance. Be it all carefully composed or by blissful accident, BiRd-BrAiNs is really rather intelligent.