Soul Sisters (and Brother)

Tune-Yards borrows from a diverse group of musical influences

Tune-Yards’ Merrill Garbus.

Tune-Yards is primarily the work of Merrill Garbus, a 32-year-old songwriter with an old soul-singer’s growl and an avant-gardist’s heart. Her second album, “Whokill,” is built from sampled drums, looping bass lines (from bandmate Nate Brenner) and a sense of rhythm straight out of Caribbean and African music. It’s a strikingly fresh sound, but Garbus’ artistic antecedents are right there for the discovering. We break them down in this handy cheat sheet.

Bjork: She’s the most obvious influence. Like Bjork, Garbus loves to growl, grunt and shriek while singing. And like Bjork, Garbus tweaks the minute sounds, strange structures and layered rhythms of a tune, which can make a good song great.

Nina Simone: Simone’s powerful singing can reach into your chest and grab your heart like a vise. While Garbus is more like Bjork in that she jackhammers her way into your torso, there’s an undeniable link between Tune-Yards’ sound and the more finessed stylings of Simone.

Yoko Ono: If you think Ono is a screaming banshee, you’re only partially right. The way Ono uses her voice like an instrument — albeit one that seems in need of tuning at times — and the infinite confidence she has in her art are reflected in Tune-Yards’ music.

Rokia Traore: West African superstar Traore is a guiding goddess for Garbus, who has spent time in the East African country of Kenya and can speak Swahili (“Hatari,” on “Whokill,” is sung in the language). Traore is a songwriter and guitarist who works in Mali’s distinctly male-dominated griot tradition.

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry: The haunting style called dub gets created when Jamaican music is stripped down to bass and drums, with effects piled on as voices and other instruments drift in and out of the mix. Perry was one of the masters of this style. Garbus uses dub to give her music tension and release.

Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; with Pat Jordache, Sat., 6 and 9 p.m., both shows sold out; 202-667-7960. (U St.-Cardozo)

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Marc Silver · October 5, 2011