MIRAH – Advisory Committee

For the uninitiated, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn (not to be confused with Mirah, a Danish pop star), is an American singer songwriter. Typically, she uses sparse arrangements and electronic loops. ‘Advisory Committee’ is probably one of her best known releases, though still, at the time of writing this, she’s still very much a cult artist. Most of her work to date has been issued on the K Records label, based in Olympia, WA. Typically of that label, most of Mirah’s work has a lo-fi feel with a DIY ethic.

This album offers fourteen songs in total and feels very much like an album, as opposed to a collection of songs. ‘Cold Cold Water’ was released as a single, though listening might leave you wondering why. There is no obvious hook here, though musically it follows a tried and tested quiet verse, loud chorus formula. Though unlike others who’ve popularised this technique, there aren’t guitars upfront – there are strings, voice and pounding drums. The arrangement seems unstable, almost feeling like its swaying about. A bold move for both opening cut and single and promises a great deal for the album as a whole. ‘Monument’ is gentle folk-pop and it’s here that you’ll probably realise you’ll either love or hate Mirah’s vocal style. There’s an innocence at play, it seems, but thankfully she never adopts that faux little girl squawk that Joanna Newsom seems to think is somehow endearing.

‘After You Left’ is fuzzy. Droning but gentle, there’s something here which makes Mirah sound distant; the track itself sounds like a work in progress that somehow made the finished album. ‘Light The Match’ is largely based around the accordion. Never my favourite instrument, this isn’t so easy to listen to, but balanced against the strings here, this song has very much an Eastern European feel. It doesn’t feel as personal as some stuff here, but maybe that’s the accordion forcing me not to listen quite as closely as I might. ‘Special Death’ features prominent xylophone sounds in the intro, when combined with the light vocal and guitar instrumentation feels quite spooky; it doesn’t quite live up to initial promise, truth told, but the use of strings in the backing arrangement is effective, as it’s so sparse. Not so sure about the Christmassy bells. It’s on stuff like this where Mirah begins to feel like the anti-Feist, offering a sometimes similar gentility, but not always beauty.

‘Recommendation’ is a short track based around a programmed drum loop, very mechanical with a nod towards the early 80s new wave. Lyrically, it seems to concern parting, but the song is over almost as soon as has begun, leaving the listener wanting more. Strangely, for something which doesn’t feel like a focal point, its one of the album’s stand outs. ‘Body Below’, in contrast, is four minutes worth of fuzz guitar and feedback drone, coupled with hushed vocals. Pavement and Sonic Youth may be obvious comparisons (especially the latter), but this experimental approach works well for Mirah here. ‘Mt. St. Helens’ begins with a gentle, almost lullaby vocal. After this, as a listener, it’s expected that the arrangement will pick up a little. It does, in a fashion, as Mirah hammers on her acoustic guitar, which seems to be in a muddy tuning. As always here, I’m left with the feeling that it’s not the music that’s important, but at that point, electronic loops play backwards and are at complete odds with the once hushed voice and acoustic sounds. ‘The Sun’ employs a similar guitar tuning and in this case, it doesn’t seem to work. There might be a nice twee tune in here somewhere, but the off-centre vocal and guitar work obscure the melodies. The end part of the song is electric indie-rock and works better, but it’s not memorable in the way a few of these songs are. ‘The Garden’ employs a similar clunkiness to the end of ‘Recommendation’, but with little else to focus your attention on, this is far to stark for music in the usual enjoyable sense; but yet, it’s not out-there enough to be considered even slightly avant-garde.

‘Advisory Committee’ is not an album which can be recommended to everyone, hovering as it does somewhere between twee and discordant. Like some of the works by The Magnetic Fields, though, this is very rewarding to patient listeners.

November 2007