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I've had a couple of harsh lessons, recently, in not judging a book by its cover; or, more specifically in not judging a band by its name. There'd never been any real impetus for me to listen to Cloud Nothings, given what an insipid a moniker they go by, but Here and Nowhere Else blew me away with the sheer force of its energy. Similarly, I found Future Islands' name decidedly uninspiring, and unwisely deemed them unworthy of my time and effort; suffice to say that Singles has since put me unequivocally in my place on that score.

Bearing that in mind, I probably shouldn't jump to any snap conclusions about tUnE-yArDs on the basis that Merrill Garbus chooses to stylise her stage name in such viscerally off-putting fashion. I'd imagine it'd also be best if I didn't offer too detailed an opinion on Nikki Nack's hideously garish cover art. The smart money suggests I should take both as stark indications of Garbus' steadfast rejection of any kind of artistic compromise.

The uninitiated should know that Garbus' modus operandi as tUnE-yArDs is to back her deep, naturally soulful tones with unremittingly experimental instrumentation. She carved out her own sonic niche on w h o k i l l back in 2011, capitalising on the opportunity to begin to build on the lo-fi stylings of her early work, and Nikki Nack doesn't stray too far from the template established on that record - at least to begin with.

'Find a New Way' and 'Water Fountain' are both underscored by subdued percussion - handclaps on the latter - with the former punctuated by synths so primitive that they sound as if they've been plucked from a 16-bit video game. They both keep their basslines non-intrusive too; a defining feature of the record's sound is to ensure that the rhythm section never truly threatens Garbus' vocals for prominence.

It's not until 'Look Around' that she breaks away from that stripped-back, groove-driven template; it's an indication of how much control Nate Brenner's bass playing exerts over proceedings, slowing things almost to a crawl and providing Garbus' consistently off-kilter inflections a little room to breathe. It's a shame, then, that the record's production seems to have been deliberately engineered to keep everything secondary to Garbus' vocal delivery, which ultimately suffers for its superficial resemblance to Nina Simone's; the apparently arbitrary eccentricity of her performances quickly begins to grate, and certainly lacks the high priestess of soul's conviction.

'Wait for a Minute' and 'Rocking Chair' both serve as examples of how well tUnE-yArDs can do minimalism; the former pairs a solid beat with a wandering bassline and splutters of squelching synth, whilst the latter, almost a capella but for the most scant of hand-driven backing, is gorgeously rootsy. It's a shame, then, that elsewhere they frequently appear to have a pretty limited handle on the most effective way in which to exploit their exploratory style; 'Sink-O' is a overcrowded mess of too many ideas and nonsensical, try-hard lyrics, and closer 'Manchild' features wobbly bass that seems to be at cross-purposes with the rest of the track's instrumentation.

tUnE-yArDs set out their stall pretty clearly with w h o k i l l; I can't imagine that fans of that record - and there were certainly many in critical terms - will be put off by Nikki Nack's largely similar offering. For me, though, Garbus' sound is still a little too vague, still in need of some real streamlining; the promise remains blindingly obvious, but the execution, for my money at least, is still missing.

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