Under Review: Thao & Mirah – Thao & Mirah

The musical pairing of Thao Nguyen (of Thao With The Get Down Stay Down) and Mirah Zietlyn (of, well, just Mirah) at once makes sense and is a bit surprising. Each artists’ own music doesn’t especially sound like the other’s, as Thao opts for a more expansive, full-band sound compared to Mirah’s sparse folk-influenced meditations. For the first album as Thao & Mirah, the duo finds a solid middle ground between their styles that ends up bringing some great material from both. Thao & Mirah opens on a thrilling, if a bit misleading, note in “Eleven.” With clattering percussion loops, buzzing synthesizer lines and tempo-shifting sections, the presence of co-producer Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs is made very apparent. That the rest of Thao & Mirah sounds little to nothing like its opener is mildly disheartening, though it’s a testament to the duo’s desire to present an eclectic set. Mirah’s “Folks” gives a more accurate representation of the album’s major tone. A lilting melody over a delicately-picked guitar, “Folks” also marks the first appearance of one of Thao & Mirah’s most effective secret weapons: the horn section. Those horns are put to best use in the latter half of “Runies And Rocks,” where they blare out lines that meld R&B funk with freeform jazz.

Throughout the album, Thao and Mirah split lead vocal duties pretty evenly, and back each other up when not directly in the spotlight. They also trade off arrangements, each taking on both subdued and more freewheeling styles. Muted loops of organic percussion underscore Mirah’s “Little Cup” and Thao’s “Teeth,” and the ladies trade lines on the easygoing “How Dare You.” In the number of years that Thao and Mirah have been writing, performing and recording on their own, they’ve hardly struggled to find their own unique voices. By coming together in a collaborative project, they’ve shown that the only thing better than one delightfully acclaimed singer-songwriter is two (or three if you count Garbus’ cameo). As Mirah alludes to the immortal melody of Leonard Cohen in “Hallelujah” and Thao scrapes a slide across her guitar strings on closer “Squareneck,” Thao & Mirah asserts itself as a disarming and charming effort. Hopefully Thao and Mirah plan on spending more time together in the future.

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~ by E. on April 28, 2011.

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