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ALBUM
TUNE-YARDS: WHOKILL
(4AD)

There are certain singers whose voices are so fresh and distinctive that you never forget the first time you hear them. Tune-Yards front woman Merrill Garbus is not yet an equal of Billie Holiday or Johnny Cash, but her big, brassy instrument elicits the same kind of physical shock. Vaguely recalling those of South African singer Miriam Makeba, blues artist Odetta, and folk legend Joni Mitchell, Garbus’s delivery ricochets from jazzy scatting to wide-screen hollering to hushed crooning. Now the 32-year-old has followed up her first album—and the appearance of one track, “Fiya,” on a BlackBerry ad—with a sophomore release, Whokill, that will likely increase her growing cult tenfold. On the disc, Garbus—along with bassist-drummer Nathaniel Brenner and two sax players—crafts jittery, euphoric musical landscapes out of clitter-clatter percussion, honking brass, amplified ukulele, and that voice. And since her recent move to Oakland, her lyrics have become as dense and urban-feeling as her music. Throughout, she tackles the gun violence (“Doorstep”), white guilt (“Killa”), and nuanced police interactions (“Riotriot”) that come with living in a sketchy neighborhood where things like Oscar Grant’s death can happen. Each hearing reveals more of the dread, wonder, and beauty of city life. Whokill is a stunner. A