37:50 min • K Records • March 19, 2002
Andrew Darley reviews
An extraordinary feeling occurs when you discover an album that is genuinely unconcerned by definitions. In 2002, Mirah delivered her third album, Advisory Committee. Audibly more confident and ambitious, it is a work of musician coming into her own, unafraid to cross boundaries. Teaming up with Phil Elvrum, best known for his work with The Microphones, the collaboration resulted in an album that plays with big and small, using them to their best advantage. Opening with ‘Cold Cold Water’, it quietly starts off with folky pop strumming before thundering in with electric guitars, dramatic drumrolls and bemoaned wails that make you feel like you just stumbled into a Western shoot ‘em up (complete with horse trotting sounds). It’s imaginative. It’s gripping. Totally unexpected.
In many ways, the first sets the benchmark for the breadth of the songs ahead: expect anything. The surface theme of the album is succinctly put in the opening number when Mirah sings of “how tough it is to be in love”. The album is an exhibition of introspective thoughts and insecurities. Her way with words at times feels like an internal monologue, describing the things we talk ourselves through when alone, the things we never got to say and reliving moments that have passed. It could be lazily boxed into a confessional record because of its lyrics and recording style but Mirah has made something that is much more than that.
Mirah and co-producer Elvrum disregard the concepts of lo-fi and streamlined studio production in favour of simply giving the songs the treatment they need, and taking them wherever they need to go. As a result, the album makes a number of sonic shifts in communicating the emotion of the songs. The foundation of ‘Body Below’ is a buzzy, swirling loop of reverb that is repetitive, disorientating and disenchanting, cleverly echoing the hypnotic words of fading love. ‘Special Death’ sounds like a mourning sung whilst walking through the streets of a French town which is juxtaposed by the next song ‘The Garden’ featuring a snaring powerful stomp of unrequited love and abandonment. A sense of inhibition underlies the songs as they incorporate several instruments, including string sections, guitar, percussion, accordion, melodica, synthesizers and Caribbean-sounding xylophone to bring them to life. She seems to channel on some level the finer moments and power chord structures of the ‘90s rock scene in the album’s bursts of chaos. On the title track, the gushes of guitar on the chorus call to mind Sonic Youth and the early albums of Cat Power.
By the time ‘Monument’, and the closing untitled song comes around, it feels as if you’ve been on a trip through the singer’s life lessons and lost loves. There is a sense of resolve and acceptance of the way things are in life. As the record title suggests there is an element of advice and comfort to this album. Her closing lyric of the record offers a sense of reassurance,
If you feel an emptiness, if you want to hide
Think about the blood that’s pumping keeping you alive –
Her palette is wide and she uses many colours. There is a simple in joy in finding an artist whom is arguably unaware of the lightness and spirit their music embodies with an air of effortless. Advisory Commitee is an assertive, sprawling record with moments that jump out to surprise and describes our conflicted dynamics in life.