Look Around – Tune-Yards

When I talk about music, it’s hard not to use metaphors that involve romantic love. There’s just something about the intimacy and immediacy of great music that, for me, evokes the same feeling of existential euphoria that falling in love does. When I find a new artist or new record that I fall in love with, I become as evangelical (and likely as annoying) as someone who has just fallen in love with a person. I can’t stop telling everyone about it, I listen to it night and day, I think about it when I’m not listening to it, I use exalted language to describe it.

I bring all of this up as a form of both explanation and apology. If you are inclined to roll your eyes over the overwrought expressions of young lovers, well, this post may not be for you. (Who am I kidding? This blog may not be for you…) Be aware, I’m about to talk about Tune-Yards…

Tune-Yards (the musical alias for Merrill Garbus) is not new, but she is new to me. The first time I sampled some of the music from her newest album, Nikki Nack, I thought it was interesting, but not immediately gripping. There was something about it that stuck with me, though, so a few weeks later I took another listen. And then another. And then another. I could easily write at length about any number of songs on this amazing album (and I also subsequently bought her other two albums too), but I’ve decided to focus on the song that has the most meaningful lyrics on the record for me – Look Around.

When you listen to Look Around, though, probably the first thing that will strike you is the music, not the lyrics. Tune-Yards music is remarkably strange, even unsettling at times. The time signatures in this song are wonderfully bizarre – it feels like the musical equivalent of your car engine fluctuating between stalling and surging forward. I find it both off-putting and deeply comforting at the same time. It’s such an interesting dynamic, I can’t help but be pulled inside the song every time.

There will be
Always something you can lean your weight into
There will be
Always something you can rely on
I will be
Always something you can lean your weight into
I will be
Always something you can rely on

Right from the start, these lyrics strike such a chord (accidental music pun!) in my heart. Something, someone, you can lean your weight into – this lyric immediately made me think of particular people in my life. People of substance are a precious commodity, and it’s only people like that who have both the strength and the willingness to let you fall into them – or sometimes push up against them. These simple words carry such a profound commitment. They’re words I want to repeat to all of the people I truly love.

In the middle of the song, though, comes a passage that brings me to tears nearly every time I listen to it:

You won’t believe what I saw in the city tonight
The most brilliantly rhyming terrors
I come home zipped up so tight
Bare my metal teeth to you
The power went out, so I started hoarding water
How do you open your arms so wide?
Never burned by fear and fire

There are few passages in song that affect me as deeply as this one. I feel like these are thoughts that were plucked from my head and put into words far more eloquent than I could ever manage. I am, seemingly by nature, a person who is inhabited by fear. People who are concrete by nature, the kind of people who can be described as always having their feet on the ground, don’t seem to be gripped by fear – it’s too abstract, too remote. But if you’re brain is permanently stuck in the ether, in the world of possibility rather than probability, fear becomes the only thing that does seem realistic. But for this very reason, I love this line: “…the most brilliantly rhyming terrors.” I like how those words seem to convey something that is both terrifying but fascinating, something that is dangerous, but not necessarily ugly or cruel. Sometimes even fear has a certain beauty to it.

Nonetheless, fear makes you lash out, sometimes in a somewhat subtle way (“Bare my metal teeth to you…”) It also makes unreasonable responses to minor threats seem wholly rational (“The power went out, so I started hoarding water…”) It’s in moments like these that I am utterly astonished by, and incredibly grateful for, the open arms of someone who hasn’t lost their optimism. And someone who is willing to remind me of the reasons why even optimism is rational sometimes.

Much like with romantic love, I can’t always tell whether or not my relationship with a certain album or artist will stand the test of time. Sometimes love for music flames out without warning. Sometimes I can’t remember why I ever even loved a certain song or band after some time has gone by. But other times, I know in my heart when I’ve found something to love forever. That’s how I feel about Look Around and so much of Tune-Yards work in general – it’s truly something I can lean my weight into.

You know…musically speaking.


So what are your thoughts on this song? Tune-Yards in general? Leave a comment or email me – I’d love to get your take.

Purchase Look Around from Amazon: http://goo.gl/KWXgLK