Tune-Yards (stylized as tUnE-yArDs) is the music project of New England native Merrill Garbus. Garbus’s music draws from an eclectic variety of sources and utilizes elements such as loop pedals, ukulele, vocals, and lo-fi percussion, in addition to electric bass played by Nate Brenner. Tune-Yards’ 2011 album Whokill was ranked the number one album of that year in The Village Voice’s annual Pazz and Jop critic’s poll.
Garbus was born in 1979 and was raised in New York City and in New Canaan, Connecticut. She attended Smith College. She was a puppeteer for the Sandglass Theater in Vermont and lived in Montreal where she played ukulele in the band Sister Suvi with guitarist Patrick Gregoire and drummer Nico Dann. Merrill’s sister Ruth Garbus is also a musician who has played solo and in the band Happy Birthday. After releasing her first Tune-Yards album in 2008, she moved to Oakland, California, where her partner in Tune-Yards, Nate Brenner, also lives.
The first Tune-Yards album, Bird-Brains (stylized as BiRd-BrAiNs) was originally self-released by Garbus on recycled cassette tape. It was recorded using only a handheld voice recorder. A limited edition vinyl was released in June 2009, via the Portland-based imprint Marriage Records. In July 2009, it was announced that Tune-Yards had signed to 4AD, and a limited edition pressing of Bird-Brains was released on August 17, 2009. A full worldwide release followed on November 16, 2009 (and November 17 in North America). The autumn 2009 pressing was remastered at Abbey Road Studios by Christian Wright, and includes two new bonus tracks: “Want Me To” and “Real Live Flesh.”
A second album, Whokill (stylized as w h o k i l l), was released on April 19, 2011. A single from it, “Bizness”, came out in February 2011. It was produced by Garbus and engineered by Eli Crews at New, Improved Studios in Oakland, California. Applying the live approach to Garbus’ studio work for the first time, Garbus works with bass player Nate Brenner, who co-wrote some of the album’s songs. Comparing the act to Sonic Youth, Frontier Psychiatrist said, “if Bird-Brains was Garbus’ Evol, a record bursting with musical ideas that attempted to subvert the notion of song, who kill is Garbus’ Sister, a record that embraces the traditional pop song as a vehicle to convey those ideas.” The album as well as singles “Bizness” and “Gangsta” received mention on many top 2011 album and song lists, including Time, Rolling Stone, Spin, and the New York Times. In early 2012, the Village Voice’s annual “Pazz and Jop” poll of critics named Whokill the No. 1 album of 2011. The song “Fiya” is featured on a 2010 commercial for the Blackberry Torch, while the song “Gangsta” has been used in the television shows Orange Is the New Black, Weeds and The Good Wife and the song “Bizness” was used in Season 3 of Transparent.
Garbus started recording material for her third LP during the latter half of 2013, with a working title of Sink-o. A May 6, 2014 release date was later announced with the title Nikki Nack.
A fourth album was released on January 19, 2018 called I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life.