For her debut LP,The Magician’s Private Library, singer/songwriter Holly Miranda enlisted the aid of TV on the Radio as well as their frequent cohorts, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. TVOTR’s resident knob-twiddler, Dave Sitek, handled production duties, Kyp Malone provides vocal support and Antibalas frequently slather on their horn-y goodness. While this all sounds wonderful in theory, the execution creates an unfortunate predicament: I can’t tell where TV on the Radio ends, and Holly Miranda begins. This is doubly tragic as an artist’s debut is where they should be cementing their own identity, not borrowing one from another artist.
It’s difficult to ascertain where the blame should be cast. In the past, Sitek has jokingly referred to himself as an “overproducer” and he seems to have carried over that “cough medicine/Tinkerbell” vibe from his time working with Scarlett Johansson. On the other hand, if you contract Sitek to produce your record, you should know what to expect by now. Not to mention, by inviting the rest of the TVOTR gang to augment your tunes, you’re pretty much guaranteed to end up with something that resembles a TV on the Radio album.
This line of criticism would be less relevant if Holly Miranda boasted a singular voice and a strong set of tunes to keep the spotlight on her. Sadly, whatever talent Ms. Miranda has is overwhelmed by the contributions of her collaborators. Naturally, the album is loaded with Sitek’s warm, reverb-heavy production, but too often it feels as if his grandly orchestrated atmospheres are propping up Miranda’s wobbly songs. I fear the majority of The Magician’s Private Library would sound even worse if left to stand stripped of all its sonic dressing.
Unsurprisingly, the two bright moments on the album are the two songs featuring Kyp Malone: “Forest Green, Oh Forest Green” and “Slow Burn Treason”. The former is the album’s lone knockout: a woozy, twinkling march greatly abetted by the Antibalas horn section. However, in both cases, Miranda sounds like a guest on her own song. Maintaining the lead while duetting with a vocalist like Kyp Malone might be a fool’s errand, but, then again, Miranda could have worked the mix to her favor.
As it stands, The Magician’s Private Library is an anemic batch of songs that drifts by in a blur – albeit a rich, multi-hued blur. Whenever she decides to record her sophomore album, I only hope that Miranda goes truly solo and attempts to create her own identity. For all I know, she has something more original and affecting to offer. Until then, I can only judge her on The Magician’s Private Library.