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Craig's Music Club
Music CD Recommendations

Spotlight on: Mirah
C'mon Miracle by Mirah
Joyride: Remixes by Mirah (and the remixers)
Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project
by Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn and Ginger Brooks Takahashi and Our Friends

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Cover of Joyride: Remixes by Mirah Mirah, Joyride: Remixes

Like most K Records artists, Mirah has never been afraid of collaboration. She's been on several other K Records artists' albums, and has never shied away from having guests on her own albums. (And, of course, the entire concept of Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project was about collaboration.) This work style culminated in her allowing several other artists to remix her songs, a project that resulted in the double-disc offering titled Joyride: Remixes.

Apparently some songs are just as popular with remixers as they are with her fans, as "The Light," "La Familia," "Make It Hot," "Don't Die in Me," "Apples in the Trees," and "Advisory Committee" are all given two different treatments. And some of the remixers weren't satisfied with just go-round, so Bryce Panic, YACHT, and Shawn Parke give their reimaginings of two songs each. Also, songs from Advisory Committee were chosen most often, with C'mon Miracle a close second and, surprisingly, You Think It's Like This, But Really It's Like This a distant third.

Of course, the level of tinkering differs from track to track, from adding just a little enhancement to completely rearranging or obscuring the song to the point where it's all but unrecognizable (Pash and screamclub, how could you do that to "Apples in the Trees" and "We're Both So Sorry," respectively?). From my perspective, the highlights tended to be the ones that rethought the original execution and came up with something new that changed the song without losing the essence of Mirah. Some good examples are the darker tone Ben Adorable added to "Sweepstakes Prize" (making it sound a bit like a Cure song) and how YACHT's Jona Bechtolt (also of The Blow) slowed down Mirah's vocals on "Jerusalem" (though in the end, I felt Bechtolt's take detracted from the meaning of the song).

Surprisingly, some remixes actually improved on the originals, like Electrosexual & Abberline's "Cold Cold Water," which not only changes the tone, but also enhances the lyrics, and Shawn Parke's "Nobody Has to Stay." DJ Beyonda also brings the lyrics of "The Light" to the fore, even more than the original version, by focusing on percussion and letting Mirah's voice take the melody all by itself (it's certainly powerful enough to do so).

Some other highlights are how Chris Baker takes the heart of "La Familia" straight to the dance floor, and Bryce Panic gives "Apples in the Trees" a taste of '80s new wave and adds a Singers–style recording of the chorus in Spanish. A lot of the remixes on Joyride, though, are simply misguided. The otherwise-brilliant Mount Eerie adds an interesting rhythm section to "Don't Die in Me" but also clogs it up with found sounds and reverse tracking. Krts' "The Dogs of B.A." tries for drama that already exists in the song, so adding to it feels overwrought. The "Make It Hot" remix by Tender Forever has a schizophrenic feel, as if there was no guiding concept. And Lucky Dragons' "Pollen" has a confusing rhythm that only occasionally matches the meter of the lyrics.

Remixes in general are hit or miss, and this music anthology is a perfect example of that. Several of the remixes make you wonder what the remixer was thinking, but many of them succeed at offering a new perspective of a time-tested song. Mirah fans will likely react in different ways to different songs, but that can only lead to interesting discussions about the merits of each piece. But what's better, Joyride: Remixes encourages a new appreciation of the source material, Mirah's original songs.


Cover of C'mon Miracle by Mirah Mirah, C'mon Miracle

I thought it was about time that Mirah got back into the studio to do what she does best, and where she belongs. I mean, I loved Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project but the confines of a studio atmosphere really ironically allow for the fleshing out of her ideas better than their stripped down counterparts.

I think something happened to our Mirah during her trip up into the Black Mountains. Perhaps it was the influence of cabin partner Ginger Brooks Takahashi, but Mirah has returned with a new outlook on songwriting. The songs on her previous albums were serious enough musings on love, sex, and friendship, but she's moved on to--while not less personal, certainly heavier subjects. There is nothing on C'mon Miracle to match the epic heights of "Cold Cold Water" (evidently a one-shot deal), but these are songs on subjects that are obviously very meaningful to her. My only concern is that they may turn off her fan base, who look to her to sing what they're thinking and feeling about their own lives, and that these songs may be too personal to reach universality.

The very mellow "Nobody Has to Stay" introduces the mood that pervades the album, with "Jerusalem" (download)--an open letter to the Holy City--only upping the tempo slightly. Heavy production first crops up on "The Light" (one senses the hand of usual producer, and Microphone, Phil Elvrum). The grinding, popping, and blipping accompany Mirah's voice nicely, and an added bonus is a jangly guitar bridge that takes this sweet song to its end.

The first of two songs recorded while Mirah was in Argentina, country-folk strumming and some restrained brushwork (from Bryce Panic) are a part of "Don't Die in Me," a definite highlight of C'mon Miracle that starts out simply but slowly builds to a crescendo of power that continues in "Look Up!" which showcases Mirah's voice to great effect. Unfortunately, her voice is the only good thing in "We're Both So Sorry," yet another breakup song that is way too weird musically and, thus, way too long.

"The Dogs of B.A." (Buenos Aires, this is the other Argentinian recording), however, is a quick, poppy, bass-driven song that is infectious and the usual recipient of a press of the Repeat button. The spoken Spanish interlude near the end only adds to the charm, even though I have no idea what is being said. (That's probably best.)

There's no particular standout along the lines of "Words Cannot Describe" (from You Think It's Like This, But Really It's Like This), "Cold Cold Water" (from Advisory Committee), or "Oh! September" (one of the Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project), but despite the many musical styles evident (and the few duds present) on C'mon Miracle, it is Mirah's most cohesive recording yet. Even the lesser songs fit well in the whole scheme of the album and Mirah's songwriting just keeps getting more and more interesting. This reviewer, for one, expects that more great things are in store.


Cover of Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project by Mirah and Ginger Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn and Ginger Brooks Takahashi and Our Friends,
Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project

In the tradition of Henry Thoreau (or something like that), Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn and Ginger Brooks Takahashi (who, for the sake of my wrists, shall heretofore be known simply as Mirah and Ginger) temporarily forsook the familiarity of Olympia, Washington (the home of K Records), to make music in the mountains of North Carolina. And they didn't let the fact that they'd only known each other for a short time--and had certainly never written together--get in the way of their dream. I, for one, am thankful for their spontaneity and ambition--and that they had the talent to pull it off.

Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project is the result of their journey--a collection of nine songs peppered with nine tracks of musical experiments and found sounds that enhance the surrounding cuts and remind you that you're listening to an album not likely to be duplicated.

Not being a musician myself, I'm not experienced with a good time-to-music ratio, but it seems to me that nine songs in a month is pretty solid production. That would be enough in itself even if the songs were not as good as they are. Sure, they're stripped down, and perhaps the choice of instruments is rather unconventional (not that I'm complaining--I love the steel drum!), but looked at on their own terms, songs like "Pure," "The Knife Thrower," "Life You Love," and especially "Oh! September" would be fine additions to any musician's repertoire.

The album begins with "Lil Bit (of Baritone)," a mild baritone ukulele piece that is a lovely opener. After crickets and what sounds like the guts of a jack-in-the-box, the next tune is "The Red Curtain," which introduces us to the eclectic instrumentation that is the signature of the project. Steel drum, melodica, a Middle Eastern inspired ukulele melody are just some of the interesting choices made on this song. It's a moody piece that, while challenging the listener's perceptions, speaks directly to one's pop sensibilities. It is almost certain that this kind of experimental album could only be released on the independent-minded K Records.

"The Knife Thrower" is the first song from the Project to have lyrical content, although I'm not sure I could tell you what it's about. Nevertheless, it quickly became a favorite in my household due to its similarity to the kind of songs that used to appear in Disney movies (e.g., the Mary Poppins era) before Randy Newman took over. "The Party," despite being the third tune in a row to feature steel drums (everything in moderation, I say), is catchy enough for its minute-plus running time, but "Life You Love" is where the listener begins to look at this collection as something more than a novelty. "Mirah goes country" is as apt a summary as any, with lap steel guitar featured and Takahashi's ubiquitous ukulele standing in for the expected banjo.

Our first real introduction to Takahashi's smooth vocals comes in the form of "Pure." Using the sounds of crickets as a backing track, she is accompanied by a mellow hand drum and drone, with the occasional backing voice and guitar, as she opens with the mesmerizing "hypnoti-ize, hypnoti-ize" and sings about her lack of the title virtue in another of the highlights of this album. "While We Have the Sun" is reminiscent of Mirah's solo work, reminding the listener why she is one of K Records' flagship artists. "Rock of Ages," however, is a misfire. The out-of-tune piano jars and the different vocalists can't seem to get their acts together. But even this song has a pleasant group vibe going for it.

They've saved the best song for last and "Oh! September" is one you'll be humming for weeks to come. How they brought Olympian indie pop to North Carolina I'll never know, but this encapsulation of the experience the participants shared in the creation of the Black Mountain Music Project uses the basic bass, guitar, and drums motif (with handclaps and "doo-wop" backup) to create a catchy pop confection with its invitation to "meet me at the back shack baby/you'll bring your little ukulele" and "let's make a song on the eight-track tonight."

More people should "get away from it all" if such products as Songs from the Black Mountain Music Project would be the result. It truly embodies the independence ethic and shows that music-making doesn't need a studio to be of a certain quality. Take a romantic notion (music in the mountains and marking the end of summer) and combine it with two intensely creative individuals--invite a few friends over for social interaction--and hopefully you'll come up with something that resembles this album.



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