When singer-songwriter Mirah first caught the public eye, it was the late ’90s. She was a subtle explosion: with a sweet voice, smart lyrics, and a lo-fi kick, Mirah had every vital characteristic of a genuine indie rocker in perfect proportion, and just enough of an edge to continually captivate.
On Sundial, Mirah retools six songs from her back catalog with the help of composer Jherek Bischoff, a string quartet, and about two decades of musical experience. The time has served her particularly well; the new arrangements are stronger for the years they’ve spent steeping in Mirah’s repertoire.
Leading into her reworked classics is the album’s title track, the only brand new song of the bunch. Both airy and thoughtful, “Sundial” stretches heavenward with rising strings and Mirah’s voice at its most ethereal as it describes a cluster of ancient beings watching from everywhere in the universe at once — stars, urging the people on their orbiting planets to make their own happiness. It makes for a transcendental start.
Once “Sundial” fades away, Mirah hits the ground with a heavy tread on “The World Is Falling Apart”, a song that has always had a pounding pulse, and here sounds stronger than ever. Her voice clear and potent, Mirah anchors the track as the strings add grandeur. Their combined power, both here and throughout Sundial, takes Mirah’s music from its fiery origins to a place of maturity that refreshes rather than rehashes.
Nowhere is this growth more fitting than on “Cold Cold Water”, a track that, in its original form, tried to fit a sweeping story of lust and adventure into a small, DIY soundscape. Now, Mirah gives it the scope it deserves, and the strings carry her out into a vastness that better suits the song. Dynamically, the song moves like never before, swelling and fading by turns until it comes to a desperate climax, the “taste of the cold, cold water” that Mirah seeks.
Later on, “Fleetfoot Ghost” begins with a deceptive calm — Mirah and a single acoustic guitar, both ringing with echoes of her past style — before the rest of the strings flutter in to buoy her up to the surface and keep her there. It sounds more readily recognizable to old-school Mirah fans than any of the more ornate songs on the album, and the familiarity eases the album forward to the last track: a short, acoustic version of formerly electronics-heavy “The Light”. There, the violin crosses that intangible but unmistakable line into fiddle territory, giving the new arrangement a considerable country twang and wrapping up the album on an upbeat note.
All of this is not to cast aspersions on Mirah’s body of work up to this point; stripped down to the thinnest layers of sound, she has proven she can still hold her own. Sundial simply gives her a chance to stun in the thick of it, with a sensuality unburdened by the responsibility of carrying all the sonic structure on her own. It may be short, but Sundial adds a new dimension to Mirah’s rocking body of work.