[16 May 2004]
Ask and you shall receive. With the release of her third full-length album, Olympia, Washington’s Mirah shouts out to the heavens with the plea C’Mon Miracle. Luckily for her rabid fans, her prayers were answered and the resulting album is the best evidence of the existence of the almighty since Joan of Arcadia smashed her boyfriend’s art sculpture in a recent episode. In comparison to 2002’s Advisory Committee, C’Mon Miracle is a slight affair. Stripped of many of the cinematic and orchestral arrangements that made Advisory Committee a difficult dualistic blend of stunning virtuosity and bloated missteps, C’Mon Miracle is built around two key elements. The pure and unadulterated beauty of Mirah’s voice and a new found conviction in the power of pop songwriting. Hints of Mirah’s songwriting skill were detectable in past releases, but only on C’Mon Miracle is this potential finally realized. This is the most consistently enjoyable album in her young catalogue.
From the outset a shift in the fabric of Mirah’s sound is perceptible. The opening strains of “Nobody Has to Stay” features dulcet strings as an accompaniment to Mirah’s sugar spun vocals. Instead of building into a roaring cacophony of instruments, as was the norm on Advisory Committee, the song sticks to its strengths, honing in on melody and storytelling. This attention to the song and the voice as the primary means of communication demonstrate the real deviation, and ultimate growth, that has occurred between Advisory Committee and C’Mon Miracle.
It also appears that Mirah has spent some time studying her indie rock history. The sounds of other heroines are evident throughout these eleven tracks. “The Light” exudes a certain post-punk pulsing groove that finds Mirah sounding much like a young and cocksure version of Elastica’s Justine Frischmann. The sexually macabre “Don’t Die In Me” and “Nobody Has to Stay” both sound eerily similar to the melodic folk sounds of cult female indie rocker and folkie Lois Maffeo. The rhythmic rocker “Look Up!” draws so many memories of Bettie Serveert’s debut Palomine that you would think Carol van Dijk popped by the studio to take over vocal duties. A final fitting comparison is between the disarming vocal quality of Mirah and, former Blake Babies leader and solo artist, Juliana Hatfield. On “The Struggle” there is a quality of feigned indifference conveyed that recalls the beastly cool best exhibited on Hatfield’s debut Hey Babe.
A considerable amount of the allure of these songs is the presence of seasoned producers Phil Elvrum and Calvin Johnson. The equal weight of their joint presence is most felt on the uptempo “Look Up!” which merges a penchant for percussion that Elvrum demonstrated on his last studio album Mt. Eerie under the moniker Microphones, and the joyful low fidelity chaos that Johnson perfected with his deceased group Beat Happening. Often considered a headphone wizard in the studio, Elvrum earns the reputation on this album. “The Light” uses fractured electronic pulses in concert with fuzzed out guitar and drum beats as a murky counterpoint to Mirah’s searing sweet vocals. Elvrum keeps a stead hand throughout, resisting the urge to overcomplicate simple and precise arrangements. Both “Don’t Die in Me” and “You’ve Gone Away Enough” feature exquisite and exact accompaniment whether it’s a panned marching drum beat or a wall of feathery strings brought forward in the mix. Here Elvrum perfects his role as producer and allows his work to act as enhancements for the compositions and the performances of Mirah.
In many cases musicians fail because they are unwilling to err on the side of simplicity. There are too many records in each of our collections that leave us musing on what could have been if the artist would have been true to their craft, focusing on the songs and their voice. Even though Mirah is calling for a miracle, it doesn’t seem as if she needed any otherworldly assistance this time around. C’Mon Miracle stands on its own as a beautiful work created under the watch of a promising artist.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/mirah-cmonmiracle/