Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Miko - Chandelier

Album Review
December 8, 2010


Australia's Lawrence and Rebecca English have spent the past few years proving that the everyday can be avant-garde. The husband-and-wife pair run Someone Good, while Lawrence curates sister imprint Room40, a preeminent experimental label that has recently put out records by the ambient-inclined Grouper and Tim Hecker. The Aussie couple are also the curatorial minds behind Someone Good, an imprint that takes a more modest, domestic view of gorgeous textural abstraction, releasing music often by Japan-based artists: avant-twee couple Lullatone, piano minimalist Akira Kosemura, Tenniscoats offshoot Nikasaya. This is simple yet elegant stuff.

As Miko, Tokyo-based Rie Mitsutake assembles vividly mic'd piano, acoustic guitar, and off-kilter percussion-- along with field recordings and her own hushed vocals-- into languidly immersive sound worlds that make the familiar wonderfully strange. Her 2008 debut, Parade, successfully introduced the basic elements of Miko's developing aesthetic, but that effort placed a greater emphasis on glimmering electronics and at times used near-shoegaze levels of ear-splitting distortion. Sophomore album Chandelier, like Kosemura's excellent Polaroid Piano last year, takes a turn toward the organic. The result shapes restrained, homespun instrumentation into something at once quaint and futuristic.

Someone Good is billing Miko's latest as a "new kind of folk music," and that's apt. Bird-like squawks and delicate vocals transcend their potential cutesiness to attain a sort of ascetic grace ("Sea House"); Talk Talk-inclined drums gently splash behind indie pop plinks and plonks ("Kikoeru"); saxophones drift past thrumming acoustic guitar ("New Town"). When Miko sings the word "America", on the hypnotic track of the same name, she conjures up a faraway place vastly different from the one I know. Compared with traditional folk song, there's certainly more attention paid to what words and sounds suggest rather than their literal meanings. (Apparently Miko chose the title Chandeliers as much for its spoken sound as for its associations with light and warmth). But there's also a sense of intimacy, of basic human connection, on which the old avant-garde might look with disdain. That would be missing the point.

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