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Mirah : Advisory Committee

REVIEW: Mirah: Advisory Committee
7.22.2002 by Sean

Mirah: Advisory Committee [K Records, 2002]

Two words? Stumbling noise.

"Cold Cold Water", this album's first track, is the Song of the Year. Granted it's still a little bit early to be declaring such a judgment, but if anyone tops these epic, bombastic, utterly wonderful five minutes of pop, I will be absolutely astonished. "Cold Cold Water" sends us from strumming alt.folk to rumbling, stormy timpani, serenading strings and oboes, cacophonous riot-grrl shrieking, joyous choral harmonies and then all the way back, while ever-sustaining Mirah's coaxing, sexy-little-girl voice and incisive, poignant lyrics. It is a masterpiece; it is wonderful; it must be heard, at high volume, several dozen times.

I wish I could say the same for the rest of the disc.

Mirah's last release, You Think its Like This But Really Its Like This, was a collection of small, understated songs, each quite wonderful, each sung in her unmistakeable, somewhat mournful voice. "Mt. St. Helens" and "Make It Hot" approach this aesthetic, but the latter suffers from the flaw which overwhelms Advisory Committee. Where it begins (and could end) in a perfectly delightful, simple form, instead it is stretched into an over-produced, droning yowl. Throughout the album, the Microphones' Phil Elvrum takes fine-and-good songs, and seems to muck 'em all up just for the halibut. His innovation and skill works great on "Cold Cold Water", but everywhere else, it favours style over substance, losing Mirah's lyricism under feedback and fuzz. The blurry background on "Body Below" reduces the song to nothing more than a fat 'pbblt!' raspberry, and "Advisory Committee" - a beautiful song when I heard it on a Mirah bootleg - becomes muddy, distant.

With Advisory Committee, Mirah has buried her lovely compositions under mounds of unnecessary studio effects, and while (like any hypocrit), I can appreciate it when it works (again, see "Cold Cold Water"), for most of this disc it does not. Though her turns of phrase continue to echo in my brain, though her sideways-cocked vision and self-affirming voice continue to surprise, the songs here are too far away - third-degree, fourth-degree, self-conscious and postmodern. The confessional ukulele strum hides from the listener, the arrangements mute the intensity of Mirah's feelings. It's not that the music is poor, it's that it won't look me in the eye, and while I wait for beauty and truth to step shimmering from ugly & indistinct garb, while I listen and listen with fingers crossed... there's the unsettling feeling that these are idle hopes, and that "Cold Cold Water" is the diamond in this rough.

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