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Merrill Garbus' aka Tune-Yards is as experimental as it gets. Producing a debut album in Lo-fi is about as risky a move as you could imagine. She joins bands such as the Vivian Girls in using the intentionally underwhelming technique. If you don't already know, Lo-fi is when the standard of recording is intentionally reduced to achieve a particular sound. This sound can be created using numerous techniques, however Garbus decided to create this album on a laptop and some free software, before being released on a 'pay as you like' basis. Quite a way from X factor isn't it? This is an album that contains numerous styles and sounds. Hatari for example begins with African chanting before switching in a split second to the sound of ukulele. The ukulele is a permanent fixture throughout Bird Brains but it's at its best on News. Providing the bedrock for the track is a constant drumming that merges perfectly with a set of yodelling vocals. In-between tracks the listener is often greeted by the voice of children as well as random sounds recorded in Garbus' home. These techniques only add to the 'at home' theme of this album. Despite the crazy experimenting throughout the album, there are tracks which display orthodox song writing patterns. An example of this is Fiya, containing a very Elvis 'you were always on my mind' it's easily the most pop track on the album and is also where the production comes off best. Throughout this album you feel like you and the artist are alone in a room while she plays the album to you for the first time. It sounds improvised yet fresh and contains brilliant drum beats as well as an array of atmospheric vocals. A great example of home recording and low-fi production.
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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 blissful accident, BiRd-BrAiNs is really rather intelligent.