When Merrill Garbus records under the typographically difficult name tUnE-yArDs, she often builds her songs around a little ukulele, her remarkable voice, and looped samples. Loops are everywhere in music these days, of course, but Garbus’s loops are rough at the edges, so you’re always reminded that you’re listening to an artificially repeated sound and not a musician playing an instrument.
On her home-recorded debut, BiRd-BrAiNs, this might have been the result of a low budget or inexperience with recording, but she does the same thing with the recently released w h o k i l l (again, the typography — the title was originally going to be Women Who Kill), which she recorded mostly in a proper studio. Onstage, Garbus is accompanied by Nate Brenner on bass and on some dates by a small saxophone section, but she still creates rhythm loops on the spot with the help of an effects pedal.
So, what’s all this looping about? Garbus is signed to the respected record label 4AD, and she’s earned worshipful reviews; if she wanted to hire a drummer, she could easily find one. But the looping in the music works because it calls attention to the looping in Garbus’s vocals. In the vaguely R&B-sounding “Powa,” Garbus adopts a deep voice, somewhere between sultry and scary, and sings an explicit tale of sexual politics, repeating “Your power inside/ It rocks me like a lullaby.” By the end of the song she’s asking her lover to “bomb me with lies, humiliations every day.” The repeated phrases in the song are like the repeated phrases an abused woman tells herself.
Rafter and T.V. Mike & the Scarecrows also perform.
TUNE-YARDS: The Soda Bar, Sunday, June 26, 8 p.m. 619-255-7224. $10.