Monday, April 6, 2009

Review: Mirah - (a)spera (* * * *)

Hailing from Portland, Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn has been making great music for a dozen years or so, earning a generous amount of critical acclaim in the process. I'm going to be showing either my relatively young age or perhaps my ignorance of one of indie rock's premier singer/songwriters here, but Mirah's fourth studio album (and first in four years) has served as my introduction to this talented songsmith. Fortunately, (a)spera is easy to appreciate all on its own, and Mirah's talent is quite obvious. The record is a striking collection of beautiful, well-written songs that is both diverse and remarkably cohesive.

The album begins with "Generosity," a gorgeous way to start, with Mirah's delicate vocals backed by dramatic strings and percussion. Following is the equally impressive and more haunting "The World Is Falling," which slides smoothly on subtle bass and guitar with some eerie backing vocals complementing the mood. Much of (a)spera has a gentle, almost fragile feel to it, with the varied selection of instruments that make appearances throughout the record adding some exquisite textures to Mirah's narratives. The lovely "Shells," features some stirring kora and guitar work, while the light, groovy "Gone Are The Days" has horns and keys as a backdrop. "The River" keeps things especially simple, with soft electric guitar, faint horns, and keys leaving plenty of room for the airy vocals that meander through the song's nearly eight minutes in a Mark Kozelek-esque folk style.

Midway through the album, Mirah throws two fantastic and captivating curve balls into the mix that give the record a welcome kick. The upbeat, rhythmic "Country of the Future" has a great Latin feel to it, with staccato drums, Spanish guitar, and bouncing bass in a love song full of mystique and real romance. "The Forest" starts softly than expands into a rock 'n' roll tune with crunchy guitars, blaring horns, and thundering percussion adding dramatic flair. These more upbeat songs are good enough that I at first wished there were more of them to be found on the album, but the flow and pacing of the record along with the generally solid material keeps the entire 43 minutes an experience worth having.

Mirah's stories are unique, descriptive, and fascinating, the kind that work their way under your skin as you give yourself the time to pick out the intimate details. It's her way with words that really elevates the record above the majority of her peers, though her stellar voice certainly doesn't hurt. (a)spera is an album that takes some time to fully reveal its magic, but after a few listens, you're likely to have difficulty removing yourself from the album once you've started.