Thao & Mirah, Thao & Mirah

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 03.08.11 in Reviews

Thao & Mirah

Thao & Mirah

If there is a common thread between the music of Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn and Thao Nguyen, it is in their mutual fascination with the mystic. That preoccupation manifests itself in different ways. Thao is primarily concerned with the physical: In her songs, the human body seems supernatural, full of strange powers and capable of endless surprises. Mirah tends more toward strict fantasy, loading up her lyrics with strange spells and magic words. Aesthetically, they're different, too — Thao's songs jab and poke, fitting for music so physically obsessed — where Mirah's cuddle and coo.

Rhythmic music that offsets even its gentlest moments with busy, skittering tempos

Rather than trying to either sublimate or blend their instincts, on their first recorded collaboration they instead dream up something wholly other: rhythmic music that offsets even its gentlest moments with busy, skittering tempos. And so a Thao ballad — called "Teeth," of course — is hurried along by shivering handclaps and a Mirah ballad — "Spaced Out Orbit," about a magic, far-away place where people kick up "space clouds" — takes place over a thudding boom-box backbeat. Occasionally, this sonic shift in focus leads to epiphany: The frenetic "Rubies and Rocks" sports a giddy Afropop horn chart and "How Dare You," finds the two principles playing ex-lovers, arguing call-and-response style over a chintzy, sputtering drum-machine. The record was produced with Merrill Garbus, who records as tUnE-YaRdS, and is herself no stranger to the virtues of busy rhythms. She also contributes the chaotic album-opening sound collage "Eleven," which is built around a single repeated refrain: "When love is lost, don't let it go away." Like everything else on Thao & Mirah, it's as much tempo as chorus.