WVAU Top Music of 2011: #6

Alex Rudolph, Brian Waligorski

#6 Album: tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

This year’s lists of best songs and albums feature a fair amount of work from solo musicians, or at least bands with a strong leading presence (your M83s and your Girls, for example). The bedroom-recording boom of the last few years has been conducive to making albums which serve as homespun personal manifestos, albums with particularly transparent portrayals of their creators.

For Merill Garbus’s second album, w h o k i l l, she moved her tUnE-yArDs project out of the bedroom and into a proper studio to record her own personal musical statement, and the results were some of the most dazzling and celebratory music of 2011. The lyrical scope of w h o k i l l is vast‰ÛÓwomanhood, body image, race, national identity, sex, Oakland’s urban blight, gang violence‰ÛÓand Garbus packages these topics in an ecstatic blend of folk, funk, Afro-pop, and R&B.

w h o k i l l sounds like little that came before it, but its exuberance makes it an easy album to love. Joyful moments abound: the breakdown in “You Yes You” recalls the feel-good anthems “Kiss” and “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”; “Powa” contains some of the most unexpectedly diva-esque vocals since “Stillness is the Move”. These ten songs are brimming with Garbus’s sense of self-identity and confidence, and they came together to form one of this year’s most compelling personal statements.

By Brian Waligorski

#6 Song: EMA – “California”

As a native Californian, I‰’m ambivalent about the Golden State; as a transplant from the Midwest, Erika M. Anderson is anything but. Anderson, performing solo as EMA after splitting from her old two-piece Gowns, hates everything about California, but she mostly communicates those feelings through her slam poetry delivery (the extra effs Anderson pushes out in opening line “Ffffuck California, you made me boring‰” get more emotion across than most artists can over the course of entire albums) and the cacophony of violins, guitars, drum machines and pianos that form her backing track.

The lyrics of “California” don‰’t rage against the state as much as they seethe about everything that happened to Anderson when she lived there. She gives us stray lines about abusive relationships, mental illness and feelings that she abandoned the people she grew up with, but none of these is generally tied to California. When she does directly address the state, her delivery is the only thing cluing anybody into Anderson‰’s anger; the line “You’ve corrupted us all with your sexuality/tried to tell me love was free‰” would be 100% less sinister if delivered by any other voice. This is not a song about California – it‰’s a song about tying memories of a long, destructive series of events back to a specific time and place. When EMA sings “You rubbed me raw and I heave when I think of you,‰” she‰’s attacking everything that happened to her over the last few years, and when singers this good deliver lyrics this honest, all you can do is think “amen‰” and start the song over again.

By Alex Rudolph