Unfortunate spelling aside, this little lo-fi gem really surprised me early this year. Constructed from over two years of sound captured on a little handheld voice recorder, Merrill Garbus’ BiRd-BrAiNs is an amazingly catchy and truly odd pop record of African-inflected beats and off-kilter ukelele, dripping with sound clipping and tape hiss. While the cut-and-paste charm of the album is an asset, it never becomes a crutch to buoy itself—Garbus’ songwriting chops hold their own, a feat unmatched by most of her lo-fi contemporaries. In fact, it came almost as a harbinger of kindred spirits Dirty Projectors and their pop-infused Bitte Orca, sounding something like Timbaland stranded with a four-track recorder in an alternate universe.
Garbus’ voice is especially something to behold. It is idiosyncratic without ever turning twee, often with violent intensity, often laced with sweetness, and sometimes both at the same time. Garbus, not only as a singer, but as a songwriter, as a producer, as an artist, (and especially as a performer, as I learned firsthand last month,) creates from an entirely free and open place. And BiRd-BrAiNs is a testament to that—lucky us.